The Kansas City Chiefs will look to continue their win streak against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs will face a stout Steelers’ defense led by T.J. Watt. After playing the Los Angeles Chargers on December 16th in L.A. the Chiefs should be well-rested. This matchup will feature contradictory styles of play. The Steelers will try and combat the Chiefs’ pass-heavy offense with their great pass rush. An offensive line unit that was a weakness in Super Bowl LV against the Buccaneers has become a strength for the Chiefs. Although few teams have success against Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s defense, Patrick Mahomes and company did the last time they played. The last matchup played between these teams was a 42-37 shootout. Mahomes threw for more touchdowns (6) than he did incompletions (5).
With the number of players in the NFL on the Reserve/Covid List on the rise, here is a look at the status of Chiefs and Steelers players heading into Sunday’s game. The Chiefs announced on Tuesday that Willie Gay Jr. and Josh Gordon were activated off the Reserve/Covid List. Wednesday it was also announced that Chris Jones and Charvarius Ward were activated. As of 1:30 PM central time on Friday, the Chiefs have 11 players on the Reserve/Covid List. Most notably stars Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce remain on the list. On defense, the Chiefs are currently without linebacker Nick Bolton and Rashard Fenton. The latest update on Friday is that punter Tommy Townsend has joined kicker Harrison Butker on the Reserve/Covid list.
When the Chiefs Are On Offense
The old cliche “The game is won in the trenches” might very well be true on Sunday when the Chiefs and Steelers square off. The Steelers’ defense features the NFL’s leading sack getter, T.J. Watt. Watt has 17.5 sacks this season as well as 4 forced fumbles. In the four games where Watt has forced a fumble, the Steelers have a record of 3-1. The play of offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie will be crucial to stopping Watt. Steelers’ defensive tackle Cameron Heyward will also demand a lot of attention. Although he does not have stats as flashy as Watt, Heyward’s impact is felt in both the run and pass game. As the Chiefs face a stout Steelers’ defense, the availability of key offensive players is something to watch for.
When the Chiefs Are On Defense
The matchup between the Chiefs’ defense and the Steelers’ offense could be an interesting one. Over their last 5 games, the Steelers have managed just 30 points through the first 3 quarters of each game. Despite getting down by multiple scores in most of these games, the Steelers have managed to win 2 out of those 5 games. A once-dominant offensive line for the Steelers has been very mediocre this year. Much of this mediocre play can be attributed to a young, in-experienced unit. Running back Najee Harris has been featured more than anyone on this year’s Steelers offense. Harris has over 76% of the Steelers rushing attempts this year and is the only Steeler rusher to eclipse 100 yards rushing this season.
Sunday’s game might very well come down to two things. The first being can the Chiefs’ offensive line protect Patrick Mahomes. If the Steelers pass rush is not able to affect Mahomes, the Chiefs will like their odds. The second major factor will be the Chiefs ability to shut the door on the Steelers offense in the fourth quarter. While their play hasn’t been consistent all year, the Steelers are well-coached and resilient. Expect this game to come down to the fourth quarter, and which defense makes key stops down the stretch. While both teams have been depleted by Covid, the Chiefs are down their two top playmakers which should keep this game close. Expect wide receivers Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Josh Gordon to take on increased roles. My final score prediction is Chiefs-23 Steelers-19 thanks to some late-game heroics from Mahomes and company.