Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5 SU, 10-6-1 ATS) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS)
AFC Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 8:15PM EST
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
by Scott, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PIT +2/KC -2
Over/Under Total: 44.5
At Arrowhead Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC divisional playoff matchup. The Chiefs sat out the first-round of the playoffs, recipients of the number-two seed in the AFC after winning the AFC West with a 12-4 mark. They get a tough opponent—the AFC North champion Steelers, winners of eight straight. To get to this spot, the Steelers beat the Dolphins handily in the wild card round, 30-12. Can the red-hot Steelers ride their dangerous offense and improving defense into the conference title game or will the still-overlooked Chiefs hold down the fort at Arrowhead?
The Steelers beat the Chiefs, 43-14, this season already. Those looking to justify a stance on the Steelers based on that result could be led astray. First of all, it was in week four of the season. The Steelers were playing well at the time, before they went into a swoon. The Chiefs were off to one of their customarily-slow starts and hadn’t really hit the ground running. And a game at Heinz Field in week four and a postseason matchup at Arrowhead in January are two different kettles of fish. Sure, two of Pittsburgh’s big-guns in Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell had huge games, but a lot of things have changed from that matchup.
Kansas City is an easy team to overlook, but those who do so could be in trouble. They were able to recapture some positive momentum heading into the postseason, capitalizing on Oakland’s misfortune to nab one of the top two seeds. With 70 combined points in their last two games, the offense is hitting a high-point at the right time. A team devoid of stars or any really compelling single trait, the Chiefs continue to win at a high clip. We see a team ranked 24th in defense and 20th in offense and yet they’re 22-4 in their last 26 games. They’re a team in the full sense of the word—a well-coached unit that excels in the underrated category of simply being able to win.
In the postseason, it can really help to have a smart quarterback like Alex Smith in there, calmly leading the offense with a cool hand. He thrives under pressure and doesn’t do a whole lot to undermine the team. Spencer Ware is a little dinged up with a rib injury that the Chiefs are hoping got better over the break. He slowed down some over the last half of the season, but remains a valuable weapon on the ground and through the air. Tight end Travis Kelce has become one of the very top few players at the position and should provide some matchup problems with the Pittsburgh defense. Just when you forget about Jeremy Maclin (questionable) and Chris Conley, they can sneak up and get some big plays. But over the course of the season and especially as of late, Tyreek Hill has given this offense the game-changing element they lacked. With multiple scores each on returns, aerially, and on the ground, Hill can make a major impact on a game and they hope he can make a resounding postseason dent.
It’s not that the Kansas City Chiefs defense hasn’t allowed points because they have. They aren’t always the stoutest of defenses. But they tighten up in critical situations and late in games, allowing for a lot of close wins over the season. They’re able to turn the momentum in their favor by making plays. In the pass-rush department, Dee Ford and Justin Houston will be depended upon to do damage this week. And the front will also be depended on to do a lot better against Bell than they did the first time around. The Chiefs defense secured 33 turnovers, scoring on five occasions this season. With Eric Berry (questionable) and Marcus Peters making a ton of plays in the secondary, they can really get after it.
The Steelers face a tough road test here, but are certainly hot on the heels of eight straight wins that righted the ship after some stormy passages this season. Against Miami, they relied on a lot of the same things they used to beat Kansas City earlier this season—with big doses of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Bell ran for 167 yards with two touchdowns against Miami, with Brown hauling in two TDs on 124 yards. While the main Steelers’ stars thrived in the wild card round, can they get someone else to step up on Sunday?
The Pittsburgh defense made a lot of strides over the last eight games. When in the midst of their funk, the defense couldn’t get much of anything right. They are closer to being at full-health now and we’re seeing them at their best. On Sunday, they had three turnovers. In the middle, they’re getting big play from Lawrence Timmons, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, and James Harrison, all of whom had sacks against Miami. They have DBs like Mike Mitchell contributing against the opposing run-game. They’re a physical group and if Pittsburgh is going to notch this big win, this side of the ball will need to be a big part of the recipe.
For all that Pittsburgh is capable of on offense, there are a few concerns heading into this spot. It’s a very tough road spot and we’ve sometimes seen a staler Steelers’ offense in these spots. With Kansas City’s defense honing in on Bell and Brown, the Steelers might need someone else to surface—something they’ve struggled to do at times this season. Roethlisberger can sometimes labor more in road spots, particularly ones as difficult as this one. And with Big Ben seen with a boot on his right foot leaving the game on Sunday, will he be at full-power?
Pittsburgh might be flashier, with the bigger star players. That gets a lot of attention and when breaking down a game, it’s hard to not give some extra reference to game-changers like Bell and Brown, in addition to the fact that Roethlisberger has navigated his way through the postseason before. I just think there’s a lot of hidden value with the Chiefs and they’re at home in a tough place to play. I’m taking Kansas City.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Kansas City Chiefs minus two points.
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