The Pittsburgh Steelers head into Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs as they look to advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time in six years. The AFC West Champions, Chiefs find themselves in front of their own fans for a playoff game for the first time since a 30-7 defeat by the Baltimore Ravens back in 2010.
If you were to write down all the key ingredients for a playoff matchup for the ages then you’d be hard pushed to beat the showdown that’s before our very eyes. Chiefs I hear you cry? Yes and where have you been because over the course of the last two season the Chiefs have lost just nine of 32 regular season games.
Travis Kelce is among the top three tight ends within the NFL today. The 6ft 5″ 255lb Kelce has been a mismatch for opponents since entering the league reeling in 224 passes for 2862 yards and 14 touchdowns, and has had six games with over 100 yards receiving during the 2016 regular season. Chiefs fans know where the ball is going on any third down situation, so will the Steelers, but the question remains can they stop him? Most will perhaps point to the two teams week four meeting where Kelce was held to just 23 yards off five receptions during a 43-14 whitewash.
Wideouts Chris Conley and Jeremy Maclin along with running back Spencer Ware provide the Chiefs with plenty of weapons should the Steelers choose to focus on stopping Kelce. Not content with one game changer in their ranks the Chiefs have the luxury of two, thanks to rookie sensation Tyreek Hill who could prove to the deciding factor in a game of small margins, where field position could prove to be critical.
The Steelers have one of the most potent offenses around and have two generational talents at their respective positions in the form of wide receiver Antonino Brown and Running Back Le’Veon Bell. The duo have accounted for 3177 yards of the teams 6137 yards from scrimmage, that’s a staggering 51.76% of the teams offense.
Adding to the offensive prowess of these teams is the talent rich defense for either team. Both posses individuals that can produce a moment of magic at any given point within this contest. First up the Steelers and the father time defying linebacker James Harrison, who terrorized Miami during last Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins (1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble). Fellow linebacker Ryan Shazier’s evolution as a player and maturation on and off the field is showing up week after week,, not just an astute tackler Shazier has become a real game changer in coverage, no more evident than his last three games as he’s recorded an interception in each one. The rookie duo of cornerback Atrie Burns and safety Sean Davis helped to steady a ship that struggled earlier in the year, their performances down the stretch means the Steelers will be in good shape on the back end for a number of years to come.
Since entering the league cornerback Marcus Peters has been nothing short of sensational. Named defensive rookie of the year in 2015, Peters backed that up as he was named as a first-team ALL Pro for 2016 (Peters has 14 interceptions from 31 games). Should Big Ben manage to allude Peters he’ll have his work cut out to avoid safety Eric Berry who has patrolled the secondary with authority playing the best ball of his career. Between the pair they have amassed 10 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 29 passes defended and 97 tackles. Peters and Berry have also benefited from the pressure applied by the combination of Dee Ford and Tamba Hali, both will need to keep Ben Roethlisberger under pressure and contained in the pocket.
Finally we move on to the men under center, both veterans of the game, great competitors but very different in how they move their respective teams down the field. Alex Smith has recorded his second highest completion percentage (67.1) and career high (3502) in passing yards, and hasn’t thrown more than one interception during a game throughout the 2016 regular season. Whilst Smith may not light up the secondary he’s methodical, efficient and the death by a thousand cuts approach when moving the team down the field will be the perfect recipe to keeping the quick fire Steelers offense off the field. Ben Roethlisberger unlike Smith is happy to push the ball down the field to devastating affect, but with multiple interceptions in each of last two games and Berry and Peters lurking Roethlisberger would be wise to keep the deep contested ball limited in this intriguing matchup.