As Wild Card Weekend in the NFL approaches, here is a look at the week 16 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs:
Despite having several players including Travis Kelce unavailable against the Steelers in week 16, the Chiefs are almost entirely healthy heading into their Wild Card matchup. The only player that will miss Sunday’s game is Clyde Edwards-Helaire who is out with a shoulder injury.
The Steelers have a couple of questions heading into this weekend’s game. Firstly, the status of Najee Harris is unknown. After not practicing all week, Harris practied fully on Friday and is listed as questionable. Also, despite all odds, wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster is “trending towards playing” against the Chiefs.
WHAT HAPPENED IN WEEK 16
When the Chiefs and Steelers faced off earlier this season, it was very one-sided. Even without 3 starters (Travis Kelce, Nick Bolton, and Lucas Niang) the Chiefs didn’t miss a beat. The Chiefs jumped out to a 23-0 lead, and never looked back. Despite the Steelers being a team of comebacks this season, Kansas City haulted all of Pittsburgh’s comeback attempts, winning 36-10.
Worth noting is the fact that T.J. Watt was not his normal self in this game. Even though Watt played, his rib injury limited him from playing at his peak ability. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s sack record with 22.5 this season.
With Travis Kelce on the Covid List, and Tyreek Hill still recovering from Covid, the Chiefs needed someone on offense to step up. That help came in the form of Byron Pringle. The undrafted free agent from Kansas State has seen his role over the years evolve from a special teams star to one of Patrick Mahomes’ most trusted targets. Pringle excelled against the Steelers, hauling in 6 passes for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Steelers pass rush was highly destructive this year. A lot of this destruction can be credited to TJ Watt. Watt tied Strahan’s sack record with 22.5 sacks this season. TJ also showed the ability to just completely wreck games.
Out of the 15 games in which Watt played, 6 times he recorded 2 or more sacks in a game. In all, the Steelers led the NFL with 55 total sacks. While Watt may get a lot of the spotlight, and rightfully so, the Steelers came at quarterbacks with more than just TJ.
Cameron Heyward recorded 10 sacks, and Alex Highsmith recorded 6 of his own. If the Steelers want to give themselves a chance at pulling the upset in Arrowhead, getting pressure on the quarterback will be key.
NO FLY ZONE?
Although secondary wasn’t necessarily thought to be a strength of the Steelers heading into the season, the Steelers back end has performed well. The Steelers finished out the regular season ranking 9th in passing yards allowed. With the Chiefs full compliment of offensive weapons available, Pittsburgh will need a big performance from their secondary.
FRANK CLARK THE SHARK
At time this season, especially early on, Chiefs fans were asking why Frank Clark got paid 104 million over 5 years. The answer to that question is his elevated performance in the playoffs. While Clark may not be at the top of this seasons sack leaders like TJ Watt, he is near the top when it comes to playoff sacks. Clark is tied for 5th all time in playoff sacks.
RUN THE BALL
While the Steelers pass rush and secondary have been strengths for the Steelers, their run defense has not. The Steelers finished the regular season ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing 146.1 yards per game on the ground. Even without Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs have shown that they are able to run the ball effectively. Behind a re-vamped offensive line, players like Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore have been successful. Williams finished the year with over 1,000 scrimmage yards, and will be a key piece for the Chiefs on Sunday.
On paper this game shouldn’t be close. The Steelers just snuck into the playoffs, and the Chiefs narrowly missed out on getting a first round bye. But the Steelers are coming into Arrowhead with Ben Roethlisberger, who though out of his prime, does have tied with the 7th most playoff wins of all time. Furthermore, with Watt and Heyward, the Steelers have the ability to wreck this game and give the Chiefs’ offense fits.
The good news for Chiefs fans is that General Manager Brett Veach saw the offensive line as a weakness at the end of last season, and he addressed it. Mahomes was only sacked 28 times this year, tied for the 3rd fewest in the NFL. With the entire roster healthy, minus Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs should prevail in this game. My final score prediction is Kansas City 33 Pittsburgh 16.
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