Steelers in the Playoffs

6 reasons the Steelers will beat the Chiefs … and 6 reasons they won’t

The Steelers are 1.5-point underdogs on Sunday. Here’s why they will win … or maybe not.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Updated, 3:35 p.m.

The Steelers beat the Chiefs 43-14 on October 2, as Le’Veon Bell had 178 total yards on just 23 touches and Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, two to Antonio Brown. The Steelers were up 29-0 at halftime and 36-0 by the end of the third quarter.

Don’t expect that to happen again.

The Steelers can win on Sunday (8:20 p.m. on NBC), but there’s little chance the Chiefs will just roll over and die again this year. They are a very different team than they were in Week 4. In order to win at Arrowhead, the Steelers may have to be as well.

Good football vs. Mother Nature

Arrowhead in the playoffs

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve talked so much about how good the Steelers franchise has been in the playoffs — 35-23 all-time, including 15-9 in the Divisional round — and yet, in those 58 games, the Steelers have only played 19 on the road, nine in the Divisional round. In those road games, the Steelers are 8-11 overall in the playoffs and 3-7 on the road in the Divisional round.

The Steelers and Chiefs have faced each other just once in the playoffs, in the 1993 Wild Card round, which the Chiefs won in overtime, at Arrowhead.

The Chiefs are just 9-16 in the playoffs all-time and just 2-7 in nine Divisional Round games. And for all that’s been made about the home field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City is just 2-5 at home in the playoffs, including 0-4 in the Divisional round.

Andy Reid in the playoffs

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Chiefs coach Andy Reid, in his NFL career, is 173-114 in the regular season (.602) but just 11-11 in the playoffs. Reid coached the Eagles to one Super Bowl appearance in his 14 years in Philly and has taken the Chiefs to the postseason three times in his four years in Kansas City, winning once in three games thus far.

Reid is 5-3 all-time in the Divisional round, losing last year at New England after winning in the Wild Card round at Houston.

Andy Reid after byes

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Reid’s teams have been traditionally well prepared coming off a bye. The Chiefs and Eagles, under Reid, are an impressive 16-2 when given an extra week to game plan. But there’s more to that. From Will Brinson at CBSSports.com:

But the success actually carries over to the postseason as well. Reid has acquired a bye week in the playoffs just four times in his 18-year career (which is really just proof of how hard it is to get a bye in the NFL). And in those four years, with 2016 pending, he’s undefeated.

Brinson outlined that not only is Reid undefeated in three games with a bye in the playoffs, but his defense held three top-10 offenses to an average of 12.3 points in those games.

Guess who has a top-10 offense?

Mike Tomlin in the playoffs

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
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Mike Tomlin is one helluva successful cheerleader. In 10 years (160 games) Tomlin has never had a losing record with the Steelers, finishing .500 twice and ending the year with double-digit wins seven times. His .644 winning percentage ranks 21st all time, 13th among coaches with 100 games coached, and fourth on the list of active head coaches behind Bill Belichick (.673), Mike McCarthy (.651) and Bruce Arians (.648).

In the playoffs, however, Tomlin is just 7-5. Since 2011, after winning a Super Bowl in his second season and getting back in his fourth, Tomlin’s Steelers are 2-3, including this year’s Wild Card win. Tomlin was on the media’s hot seat earlier this year, then had to face the nonsense of Terry Bradshaw’s ‘cheerleader’ comments late in the year. As a coach, he has nothing to prove, but in the playoffs, another win or two wouldn’t hurt.

Joey Porter: Distraction

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From NFL.com:

With a Pennsylvania district attorney dropping all but two charges against Joey Porter stemming from his arrest this week, the Steelers assistant coach is expected to coach in Sunday’s playoff game, sources informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

On Friday morning, Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement, “At this time, we have decided that Joey Porter will return to our coaching staff for the game in Kansas City this weekend.”

Porter released his own statement, too.

This can’t not be a distraction for the team, if only because every reporter in the locker room and press conference will ask how much of a distraction it is.

“Excuse me, [top player], is this question a distraction? How about this one? What about if I ask it while hastily shoving this microphone in your face? I could nudge the cameraman in front of me closer to you if that would perhaps be more of a distraction. Would it? Is it?”

Ben Roethlisberger in playoffs

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the full rundown of all of Ben’s numbers in the playoffs, check out the post we did on him earlier in the week (shameless plug. here’s a link. thankyouverymuch) but it’s worth repeating here that Roethlisberger has won twice as many playoff games as he’s lost, and he’s 4-1 in the Divisional round in his career.

He needs to not turn the ball over this weekend, a big key for the Steelers as a whole, but those questioning Roethlisberger this week (bum ankle or not) are not looking at historical trends at this point in the playoffs.

Ben Roethlisberger on the road this year

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
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Of course, those who may not trust Roethlisberger this week may be less interested in his historical playoff numbers and more interested in his very-much-not-great-this-year-on-the-road numbers.

  • At home this season, including the playoffs: 6-1 record, 173-for-244 (70.9 percent) with 22 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions, passing for an average of 301.7 yards per game.
  • On the road this season: 5-3 record, 168-for-283 (59.4 percent) with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, passing for an average of 238 yards per game.

What’s more telling than yards per game is yards per attempt. At home, Roethlisberger has averaged 8.66 yards per attempt this season, while on the road he’s at just 6.73 per attempt.

Alex Smith: Game manager

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
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Alex Smith has played in just five playoff games, winning two. He’s 112-for-186 in his playoff career (60.2 percent) with 11 touchdowns and just 1 interception. That’s … incredible.

Smith has averaged 7.04 yards per attempt in the playoffs, adding 198 rushing yards on 29 attempts and a score as well. Smith is exactly who Kansas City needs him to be. He will not lose this game for them. The Steelers need to figure out a way to make him need to win it.

In his career, Smith has an interception rate of just 1.6 percent when leading or tied, but when trailing, it jumps to 2.9 percent. Still good, but nearly double than when he’s more in command.

Smith’s QB rating is its worst in the fourth quarter, a full seven points lower than in the third quarter historically, and when trailing with under four minutes to go, his rating drops another 14 points, and his interception rate balloons to 4.7 percent.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
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Smith was 5-2 this season at home, 157-for-226 passing (69.5 percent) with 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He was sacked just 7 times (to 21 on the road) and averaged 7.73 yards per attempt, to 6.68 on the road. Again, he probably won’t lose the Chiefs this game. Not at home.

Le’Veon Bell for Second Half MVP

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Le’Veon Bell won’t win the NFL MVP, but he probably should. Bell finished second in the NFL in rushing despite playing just 12 games. He led the league in total yards per game (non QB) with 157, nearly 25 more than leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott.

Bell’s numbers since Week 11 are just insane. He’s rushed for 1,002 yards in seven games. Seven games! He’s carried the ball 190 times in that span (note to Mike Tomlin: that’s too many for any back in seven weeks) for an average of 5.27 yards. He’s scored eight touchdowns since Week 11 on the ground, adding another in the air, where he’s racked up another 263 yards receiving.

His 1,265 total yards and nine scores? That’s a good running back’s full season. Bell has done that in seven weeks, including a playoff game.

Tyreek Hill for Second Half ROY

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Tyreek Hill had five catches when the Chiefs last played the Steelers, scoring once in garbage time. He also had one rush and returned four kicks, giving him 10 touches. He will need to get more for the Chiefs to win.

The dynamic rookie has 61 catches this season (on 83 targets) with 24 rushes, for 860 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also returned three kicks for scores this season, all in the last six weeks.

Andy Reid is a genius at getting the ball in his playmakers’ hands in space. If the Steelers plan to beat the Chiefs, especially if there is bad weather, accounting for Hill is the first step.

Travis Kelce vs. Steelers defense

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Accounting for Travis Kelce is the second step. Kelce had 85 catches this season on 117 targets, the most of any receiver on the team. Kelce had more catches than any other receiver had targets, so stopping him will be the key to stopping Smith and the Chiefs on offense.

The Steelers were the 11th-worst defense against tight ends this season, allowing 84 caches for 965 yards and six touchdowns. Remember that this weekend, and hope the Steelers remember it too.

Antonio Brown vs. Chiefs secondary

Show of hands: Who is going to see 150-plus targets this season?
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There has been so much talk about Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger being the keys to success this weekend (here especially, we’re not putting that on other outlets), but Antonio Brown is the one guy no defense can account for. Teams can stack the box against Bell and make the Steelers throw. They can’t, however, plan for how to stop Brown an entire game.

Nobody can, because nobody really has.

Brown caught 106 balls this season, one behind Larry Fitzgerald for the NFL lead, and racked up 1,284 yards, fifth in the NFL, with 12 touchdowns, the most of any receiver besides Jordy Nelson. Oh, right, those numbers don’t include his five-catch, 124-yard, two-touchdown output against Miami in the playoffs.

The Chiefs secondary gave up the seventh-most yards to receivers this season. The only thing that may be able to stop Brown this weekend, is Mother Nature.