Winners of three of their last four games, the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) are still in contention for the AFC’s lone undecided division as they take on the wild-card hopeful Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh is currently second in the AFC North, with the East, West and South divisions all already clinched, and another Steelers victory coupled with a Cincinnati Bengals win over the Denver Broncos will essentially set up a division title game in Week 17.
The Steelers and Bengals (9-4-1) have equal 3-2 division records, but Cincy’s tie in Week 6 with Carolina puts it in first place and Pittsburgh as the top wild card team despite its 42-21 win over the Bengals in Week 14.
But the Chiefs have just as much to play for even with the Broncos locking up the West for the fourth straight year. After snapping their three-game losing streak with a 31-13 victory over Oakland last week, the Chiefs are one game back of Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the wild card race.
In order to make a second straight postseason appearance under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs must first find a way to slow Pittsburgh’s diverse and powerful offense and then tame San Diego in the regular season finale at home next week.
Stopping the Steelers begins with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 11-year veteran has already set a new career-high with 4,415 passing yards, second in the NFL, and his 29 touchdown passes is the second-highest total of his career.
Roethlisberger also has the NFL’s top receiver in Antonio Brown and the league’s second-highest rusher in Le’Veon Bell. The former’s racked up 115 receptions for 1,498 yards and 11 touchdowns, surpassing the 100-yard mark in seven games this season.
The second-year back Bell has totaled 1,278 yards and seven touchdowns with 4.9 yards per carry, and he’s just as dangerous out the backfield with 76 catches for 765 yards and three more scores. Bell’s also scored at least one touchdown in four straight games.
But getting to Roethlisberger early and often is likely the Chiefs best strategy, and their pass rush roared back to life against Oakland. During their three-game slide the Chiefs totaled four sacks, but against the Raiders they equaled that mark and recorded four more quarterback hits.
Thus far the Steelers offensive line has played very well this season, allowing only 32 sacks, and Roethlisberger’s been sacked only twice in the last three games. The Chiefs have NFL sack-leader Justin Houston on their side, and he’s notched five of his 17.0 sacks in the last four games.
Last week’s victory also marked only the second time since Week 4 that Kansas City scored more than 30 points in a game. The Chiefs passing game is 30 th in the NFL and through 14 games no wide receiver has caught a touchdown. However quarterback Alex Smith did throw for a season-high 297 yards and two touchdowns against a stingy Raiders secondary, and his 115.6 passer rating was his highest since Week 4’s 41-14 smashing of New England.
Second-year tight end Travis Kelce has also helped out the receiving corps with 56 receptions for 747 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll face a Steelers defense that’s No. 25 against the pass, and will once again miss veteran cornerback Ike Taylor to a shoulder injury.
The Chiefs have largely relied on the steady production of top running back Jamaal Charles. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry, Charles was contained by Oakland for only 52 yards on 12 attempts, but in the three previous games he scored four touchdowns.
Start Time: 1 P.M. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Steelers -3
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Prediction: Pittsburgh over Kansas City, 27-17