Chiefs vs Steelers: AFC Wild Card Breakdown and Prediction
The 2022 NFL playoffs are here, and we have a Sunday night matchup featuring the highest line of the weekend. The Steelers (9-7-1) will travel to Kansas City tonight to take on the Chiefs (12-5) in what many expect (including the books) will be a rout. Are the Steelers equipped to pull off the upset of the year, or will the Chiefs end the Steelers season tonight? Let's take a closer look at this matchup and find out.
The Steelers somehow find themselves in the playoffs after having just a two percent chance of making it before their game against the Browns. After two wins against the Browns and Ravens and the Colts' embarrassing loss to the Jaguars, here we are. The Steelers have to wash the 36-10 loss to the Chiefs earlier in the season from their minds. The Chiefs only outgained the Steelers by 78 yards, but with a few turnovers and a 25% red zone success rate, the Steelers were never in it. The good news for the Steelers today is their injury report with essentially no key players on it. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be back tonight, and TJ watt is about 100% now. A bright spot for this Steelers team has been the play from the secondary with Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick on top of the stellar play up front from T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward. This group will undoubtedly need a big game to stop the tricky offense the Chiefs impose on their opponents. On offense, the addition of Smith-Schuster to the receiving core tonight will really help the offense and give the Chiefs another thing to plan for on defense. He missed the first matchup weeks ago, and against a Chiefs secondary ranked 23rd overall in DVOA, the Steelers could have an effective passing game tonight. Ben Roethlisberger can thrive tonight if he doesn't face much pressure, and the Chiefs rank 30th in sack rate overall on defense. The Steelers pass on 63% of plays (third in the NFL), and if they pose any threat through the air early on, that will open up the field for the talented rookie Najee Harris. I don't see this offense struggling as much today as they did in the first matchup.
After starting 2-3 this year, the Chiefs had a few question marks but quickly silenced any doubters by going 10-2 over their final 12 games. Mahomes has had another impressive year, leading the offense to a 3rd overall ranking offense by DVOA while throwing 4,839 yards and 37 touchdowns. However, the offense is banged up. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will miss another one tonight, Darrel Williams is questionable (it looks like he will play but is not 100%), and Tyreek Hill is listed to play but is dealing with a heel injury that seemed to affect his play last week. Still, many expect the offense to succeed today with many other offensive weapons on the field. They will be up against a Steelers secondary that ranks 8th overall in passing DVOA and is fully healthy. I expect the Chiefs to try and get Derrick Gore and Jerick McKinnon going to try and pull protection forward and open up the passing game. Both have averaged 5+ yards per carry, although with less usage, but can't be overlooked by a horrible Steelers front line that ranks dead last in the NFL with five yards per carry allowed. With all the Chiefs' options on offense, this feels like their game to lose, reflected by the double-digit spread.
It's hard to make an argument that the Steelers can win this game, but twelve and a half points is a lot in a playoff game. The Steelers had a lot of bad luck in the blowout meeting in week 16, and the box score was surprisingly closer than the result. The Steelers also have the injury advantage, with a near-empty injury report, and if they can keep pressure off Ben, they will have an excellent passing game today with the return of JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs will also be working with backup running backs, and if they can't get it going on the ground, the Steelers' secondary is equipped to limit big plays. Mike Tomlin has historically been very profitable as an underdog, and I think he will have a wise game plan for this team today. The Steelers sit at +12.5 on most books, and that's the number I will be taking for this one.
Pick: Steelers +12.5 (-110)