It took 256 regular season games, but we’ve finally whittled down the 32-team NFL field to just 12 teams that have rightfully earned their place in the 2016-17 NFL playoffs. After a disappointingly non-competitive Wild Card Weekend, we’re onto the divisional round, which is oftentimes the best weekend of football of the year. As we did for round one, we’ll be breaking down each game right here, with a special emphasis on the most important things, like who might win, why, and most importantly, by how many points. All lines and spreads are courtesy of Westgate Sportsbook.
Guaranteeing anything when it comes to picking games in the playoffs is a recipe for disaster, but I’m going to issue a guarantee right here, right now.
I, Bryan Altman, GUARANTEE, that the divisional round rematch between the Steelers and Chiefs this coming weekend will be absolutely NOTHING like the first time these two teams met back in Week 4 of the regular season.
I know, not exactly going out on a limb here, but the point is, that 43-14 Steelers victory over the Chiefs at Heinz Field that day was an anomaly, so we’re throwing it out when breaking down and picking a winner in this week’s game.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs – Sun. 1:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -1.5
Before I disregard the Steelers’ victory completely, let’s acknowledge its impressiveness for a second. The Steelers absolutely ran roughshod over the Chiefs. Le’Veon Bell gashed them for 144 yards on 18 carries, Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes and finished with a near-perfect 152.5 quarterback rating and the Steelers’ defense dominated the Chiefs, keeping them scoreless into the fourth quarter when the game was well out of reach.
But, the Steelers were home against the Chiefs that day, and were coming off their worst loss in 27 years, 34-3 to the Eagles, which had them out for blood.
After their humiliating Week 4 loss, the Chiefs only lost two games the rest of the year and collected impressive victories over the Raiders, Broncos and Falcons, proving that they have what it takes to beat the best of the best.
And now, they have a chance for revenge.
However, it’ll be easier said than done, as the Steelers are firing on all cylinders heading into Arrowhead. They haven’t lost in eight weeks and over that stretch they’ve averaged almost 27 points per game on offense. More impressively, they’ve put up some big numbers against some of the NFL’s best defenses, including the Ravens, Giants and Bengals, all of whom rank in the Top 10 in points allowed per game defensively.
The Chiefs also find themselves in the Top 10 there (seventh, 19.4 points per game) and they’ll need to bring everything they’ve got if they’re going to slow down the Steelers on defense.
Luckily, they have two major factors working in their favor.
For starters, they’ll have Justin Houston on the field. They missed Houston’s presence sorely the first time these teams met and Houston is a difference maker in both defending against the run and the pass.
On top of that, the weather is on their side. A major weekend storm will be parking itself on top of the Kansas City area from Friday through Sunday evening, bringing with it “ice, sleet and snow,” which doesn’t bode well for either unit offensively. If the conditions are that bad, it could make both teams one dimensional and reliant on the run, not to mention the fact that Roethlisberger may well be operating with one good leg. So how does this affect his mobility in inclement weather? We’ll find out Sunday, but it’s worth taking note of.
While the Steelers’ offense is all the rage, it’s the Chiefs who arguably have the biggest offensive playmaker on their side in this one. Tyreek Hill has been nothing short of stupendous this season and has stolen games for the Chiefs on offense and special teams multiple times this season. The Steelers’ defense has been much better late in the year, but containing Hill won’t be easy.
Even though Alex Smith has rightfully earned his reputation as a “game manager” with pedestrian passing numbers year after year, he can still be counted on in the clutch and has a great rapport with tight end Travis Kelce, who could wreak havoc on the Steelers as well as they’ve struggled to shut down opposing tight ends much of the year.
All things considered, I think the combination of playmakers on offense, a better defense, home-field advantage, and the weather limiting what Ben Roethlisberger and the high-flying Steelers offense can do puts the Chiefs in prime position to win this game.
It’ll be close all the way, but I like the Chiefs to pull this one out. Chiefs +1.5
Total: Right now, there’s a 100 percent chance of ice and snow for Sunday’s game, which makes it hard to take the over here. If that forecast changes, that 46.5-point total could be blown away very quickly, so keep an eye on the forecast. Under 46.5
Final: Pittsburgh Steelers 15, Kansas City Chiefs 19