The Kansas City Chiefs last reached the AFC Championship game in the 1993 season, but now have the opportunity to end their 23-year wait in their divisional round clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Andy Reid’s men ousted the Oakland Raiders from the second seed in the last game of the regular season and now host the Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium to mount a surge for the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh will be a tough task to overcome for the Chiefs following their hammering of the Miami Dolphins in the wildcard round. Mike Tomlin’s side have won their last eight matches and will not be afraid of the battle ahead of them on the road.
Although the Chiefs finished the season strongly and have had a bye week to recuperate from their exploits, their home field has not been a fortress in the second half of the campaign.
Reid’s side lost at Arrowhead to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans, which in the long run could cost them as they would well be have been facing the Houston Texans this weekend rather than the Steelers.
Those two defeats left them two games behind the New England Patriots in the race for the number one seed and has exposed them to the offensive powerhouse of the Steelers.
They’re a solid side, but are not infallible even at home as those matches proved. They will have to be at their best to defeat the AFC North outfit on both sides of the ball given their opponents’ recent form.
Pittsburgh’s offensive trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown put on a clinic in their win over the Dolphins to send out a warning to the Chiefs as well as the Patriots. Should they fire on all cylinders once again then it might be enough to advance to the title game.
As a result of their fine performance against the Dolphins, backing the Steelers to defeat Kansas City is an intriguing option, with odds of +105 with Bookmaker EU sportsbook. The spread separates the teams by just one point and taking the Steelers at +1 would again the wisest punt.
The Chiefs cannot afford a letdown performance in front of their home fans. They worked extremely hard in the latter stages of the season and were afforded a huge slice of luck when Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr suffered an injury, allowing them to snatch the two seed.
Reid has had a habit of struggling in big games, particularly with his timekeeping. It has come back to haunt him twice against the Patriots. First when he was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX and again in last year’s divisional round when he failed to use his side’s timeouts correctly late in the fourth quarter.
He will face similar tough decisions on Sunday and he and his coaching staff must be flawless as their team are not one that can afford to make mistakes.
With Alex Smith at quarterback Kansas City are a side that commits few errors and relies on meticulous drives to notch their points, although the addition of Tyreek Hill in the return game has offered them another dimension.
Tight End Travis Kelce will also be vital as his ability to make big plays in the passing game could force the Steelers into a conservative gameplan, which could play into the hands of Smith and company.
Defensively, the Chiefs had 33 takeaways over the course of the season – the most in the NFL. Eric Berry and Marcus Peters lead a solid secondary, but both players will have to be at the peak of their powers to contain Brown.
Should they limit his production then it might be enough to turn the match in the favour of their side, putting further pressure on Roethlisberger and Bell to produce. Peters’ battle with Brown could be where the match is decided.
The Steelers displayed their firepower in their victory over the Dolphins. Bell and Brown dismantled Adam Gase’s men, with the former notching two touchdowns alone in the first quarter. From that point on the game was in their hands at Heinz Field.
Playing in his first playoff game Bell was to break Pittsburgh’s franchise post-season record for rushing yards in a single contest as he amassed 161 yards. His patient approach at the line and ability to weave in and out of tackles tormented Miami defenders throughout the contest.
The Chiefs have were the seventh worst team against the run in the NFL in the regular season, allowing 121 yards per game. Should Bell have another big day for his side then the Steelers will be able to control the tempo of the game along with sending a psychological message to Kansas City’s defense.
As mentioned before the matchup that will hold the key to victory is Brown’s battle against Peters. The Chiefs corner has built up a reputation as one of the strongest cornerbacks in the game, but Brown has been the best wideout in the NFL for the past three seasons. If the 28-year-old is allowed to thrive then the Steelers should be able to rack up the points.
On the other side of the ball, Tomlin’s men have improved significantly in the second half of the season. Rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis have become staples of the secondary and have played extremely well, while Javon Hargrove has stabilised the defensive line.
Their pass-rush has not been great throughout the campaign, but that will not decide this contest. They must be disciplined and limit Kelce and Hill in the open field, along with forcing Smith to beat them with his arm in a shootout.
This match is extremely close to call, although the crowd at Arrowhead will produce a cauldron of noise. It has played a part in huge victories in the past, but the home team will need to match the passion of their supporters with flawless execution on the field.
Pittsburgh boast three of the top playmakers in the NFL and that could be the decisive factor. Brown and Bell along with Roethlisberger pulling the strings might be too much for the Chiefs to handle, unless their own defensive stars can contain the All-Pros.
Should those players match their production of their win over the Dolphins then it will force the Chiefs out of their comfort zone and guide their side to victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers to beat Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday 15th January 13:05 ET (18:05 GMT)
Pittsburgh Steelers to cover +1 spread
Sunday 15th January 13:05 ET (18:05 GMT)