In many ways, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season should already be considered a success. Chosen by many to finish third or fourth in the AFC North, the Steelers instead finished second in the division with a 9-7-1 record. Their record was good enough to secure the AFC’s seventh and final playoff spot while ensuring Ben Roethlisberger’s last game would come in the playoffs.
If Pittsburgh wants to make this season truly special, it can do so by upsetting the Chiefs, who overcame a 3-4 start to capture the AFC’s second seed with their 12-5 regular-season record. One of the Chiefs’ wins this season was a blowout 36-10 win over the Steelers in Week 16. That game likely helped make Kansas City a 12.5-point favorite to beat the Steelers again. during the joker round. Sunday night’s game is only the second time the Steelers have been this playoff underdog.
We will preview the game and give our prediction for Saturday’s result. Here’s how to follow the action in real time.
How to watch
Dated: Sunday January 16 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Site: GEHA field at Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City)
TV: NBC | Flux: fuboTV (try for free)
To follow: CBS Sports app
Chances: Heads -12.5, O/U 45
When the Steelers have the ball
The big question is how effective Najee Harris will be after the Steelers rookie running back injured his elbow in last week’s win at Baltimore. If Harris is compromised, that puts more blame on Roethlisberger, who has been able to attack the Pittsburgh offense on scoring drives at times.
Harris is a crucial part of the offense, but the Steelers have other playmakers in receiver Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. Pittsburgh could also have JuJu Smith-Schuster after the former Pro Bowler returns to practice this week. Smith-Schuster has been out since suffering a serious shoulder injury in Week 5.
The Steelers’ beleaguered offensive line will have to stand up to a Chiefs pass rush led by Chris Jones and Frank Clark. The unit will need to keep an eye on former teammate Melvin Ingram, whose big forced fumble on Melvin Gordon set up Nick Bolton’s game-winning touchdown in the Chiefs’ Week 18 win over Denver. The Chiefs secondary continues to be led by Pro Bowler Tyrann Mathieu, whose fumble recovery from Johnson in Week 16 set up Kansas City’s grueling touchdown.
Speaking of turnovers, the Steelers committed three in their first meeting with Kansas City without forcing any on defense. Cleaning that up may be the biggest key for the Steelers to make it a close game going into the fourth quarter.
“They can’t turn football around,” former Steelers coach and current CBS Sports NFL analyst Bill Cowher said during the week. “That’s the most important thing, I think, going into this game. Find a way to keep him close to the fourth quarter and all of a sudden the pressure is now on Kansas City. And having one of the best kickers. in the league (Chris Boswell), one of the best quarterbacks in the league’s fourth quarter, if they get this game until the fourth quarter, they might have a chance.
When the Chiefs have the ball
The Chiefs’ offense struggled in the team’s 3-4 start. Patrick Mahomes continued to turn the ball over as opposing defenses began to anticipate low percentage passes. Mahomes still makes big plays from time to time, but the Chiefs’ offense has been much more methodical over the past 10 games.
The Chiefs started their Week 16 game against the Steelers with a 14-game, 73-yard drive that included two third conversions and a fourth conversion. The Steelers will need to earn more possession downs the second time around if they are to have any chance of pulling off an upset.
Pittsburgh’s passing rush, which led the NFL with 55 sacks, will need to constantly pressure Mahomes, who was sacked twice in Week 16. The Steelers have several formidable passing passers in TJ Watt (who tied the single season sack record of Michael Strahan with 22.5 sacks), Cam Heyward (10 sacks), Chris Wormley (7 sacks) and Alex Highsmith (6 sacks). Pittsburgh also has enough depth in the secondary to keep pace with the Chiefs’ talented players, led by Tyreek Hill.
The Steelers’ run defense will need to do a better job after allowing the Chiefs to rush for 258 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries three weeks ago. Wormley, who didn’t play in the Week 16 game, should help the rushing pass as well as Pittsburgh’s run defense.
Forcing turnovers, winning possessions and minimizing Travis Kelce’s impact will be the three biggest keys to the Steelers victory on defense. Kelce, who didn’t play in Game 1, is Mahomes’ favorite target. Limiting his impact while forcing Mahomes to look elsewhere will be critical to Pittsburgh’s success on defense.
Latest odds: Pittsburgh Steelers +12.5
A lot needs to go the way for the Steelers, starting with the health of Harris, who if healthy should be able to take advantage of the Chiefs’ defense that was 31st in the league in average yards allowed. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Steelers this season, it’s that Roethlisberger is still capable of putting the offense on his shoulders occasionally. If the Steelers can force turnovers on defense, that should allow the Steelers to keep things tight going into the fourth quarter. If that happens, fans could witness another game-winning drive from Roethlisberger, who would love nothing more than to end the Chiefs’ reign as AFC champions.
Goal: Steelers 23, Chiefs 20