My confidence in the Kansas City Chiefs winning at Arrowhead Stadium tonight grows as I look further into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 schedule. Sure, the Steelers won their last seven games in the regular season, but two of those wins were against the Cleveland Browns, and only one was against a 2016 playoff team. The only playoff teams Pittsburgh beat this season were the Chiefs and the New York Giants – a Wild Card team that lost by 25 in the first round of the playoffs. That is the unabridged list of Pittsburgh's impressive regular season wins. Seriously, the Steelers managed to win just three games against winning teams. They beat the 8-7-1 Washington Redskins in Week 1, then they beat up the Chiefs in Week 4 and defeated the Giants in early December. That’s it. Embarrassing KC was the high-point of Pittsburgh's regular season.
By the way, if we want to put any stock in that Week 4 Chiefs loss, when Pittsburgh crushed KC 43-14, then we must do the same with Pittsburgh's 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3. The Eagles went on to claim a losing record and last place in their division this season, while KC only lost games against winning teams. We can forget those fluky failures in the early season for both teams, as the mentality and makeup of both squads is undoubtedly different now that it’s playoff-time.
After that win against KC and an easy victory over the Jets, the Steelers faced the toughest stretch of their schedule. They needed to travel to Miami to face the Dolphins, and then head back home to play the New England Patriots. Then, they traveled to Baltimore for a heated rivalry game, and then finally hosted the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10. Pittsburgh lost by 15 in Miami, lost to the Pats by 11 at Heinz Field, lost by a touchdown in Baltimore and lost 35-30 to Dallas. When the Steelers faced consecutive legit opponents, they started losing like losing was cool. When KC faced their toughest stretch of this year’s schedule – facing Denver, Atlanta and Oakland in consecutive weeks – the Chiefs managed to win every game.
When you look at the good teams KC already defeated this year, it seems clear that beating the Steelers is possible for the 2016 Chiefs. This team already played a prolific offense in the Atlanta Falcons, and KC limited that offense just enough to sneak away with a win in the Georgia Dome. The Chiefs already played three games against teams with top-3 sacks totals this year, and neither the Broncos nor the Panthers could stop KC from achieving victory. The Chiefs have seen defending Super Bowl champs, current Super Bowl contenders and numerous elite offenses, and KC proved they could persevere every time.
That should scare fans in the Steel City, but it’s the balance of this Pittsburgh team that should scare fans in Chiefs Kingdom. Kansas City must limit the production of the league’s best wide receiver, arguably its best running back and one of NFL history’s most underrated QBs. Eric Berry's ability to jump up a level and act like an extra linebacker on running plays makes his effectiveness against Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell critical to KC's success. The snaps when Antonio Brown lines up against Marcus Peters won’t terrify me, but every snap when it’s Brown on Steven Nelson will get hearts racing in Kansas City tonight.
Whoever runs the ball with more success will most likely win the game (depending on turnovers, as usual.) While we’ve often discussed KC’s struggles with stopping solid running backs this year, Pittsburgh isn’t the run-stuffing juggernaut they used to be, either. The Steelers D ranks 13th in rushing yards allowed per game this year, and the Chiefs allowed a frighteningly high 121.1 rushing yards per game, which is better than only six teams in the NFL. No team that allowed a higher average than KC reached the playoffs.
That doesn’t bode well for the Chiefs, but KC’s offense will attempt to limit Pittsburgh’s offense simply by keeping them off the field. That means winning the time of possession battle, and that means the Chiefs must also run the ball successfully to keep this game close. This is why Spencer Ware’s play tonight is so integral to how this game plays out at Arrowhead.
Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 127 yards and two TDs to LeGarrette Blount in their loss to New England, not to mention 204 yards and two TDs to Miami’s Jay Ajayi. Cowboys’ rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot also pounded Pittsburgh for 114 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately, Spencer Ware isn’t experiencing the kind of success we’re seeing from Zeke or Ajayi, but this bye week gives the Kingdom reasons to believe he’ll play well tonight. Andy Reid gets an extra week to prepare and an extra game to analyze, while Ware’s body enjoys an extra week of rest. If early-2016 Spencer Ware shows up to play tonight, he becomes a crucial component to KC’s game-plan. Even without a solid night from Ware, a combination of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce is tough for any team on the planet to defend.
We’ll have numerous Hall of Fame-level play-makers on the field at any given time tonight, which makes this a thrillingly unpredictable game. I can confidently predict a wet, raucous Arrowhead Stadium crowd that’s hungry for greatness and thirsty for revenge. The Chiefs will survive a memorable mud-fight tonight by the score of 27-23, and my vocal chords will ache for a week.