If you're playing the "who is the better challenger to the Patriots" game -- and you should absolutely be playing this game -- this is a fascinating contrast. On one hand, the Chiefs have the sort of opportunistic defense and grinding, ball-control offense that should be able to keep it close no matter what, with a steady hand at quarterback who is famous for not turning the ball over. On the other, the Steelers have the sort of flammable offense that can score with anyone, even Tom Brady and company, especially a Gronk-less version.
It should make for quite the contrast in front of an Arrowhead Stadium crowd that might lose its damned mind.
No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC (moved from 1:05 p.m. ET due to weather concerns)
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Most recent meeting: Oct. 2: Steelers 43, Chiefs 14. This was a much different Chiefs team than the one we see today, but still: Yikes. This was Le'Veon Bell's first game back from suspension, and he was shot out of a cannon, running for 144 yards. It was 36-0 at the end of the third quarter. It was quite a blowout.
Simple Rating System numbers: Kansas City 5.6, Pittsburgh 4.7
Current Line: Chiefs by 1.
Ranking among four divisional matchups: Second. It's going to be outside, and cold, and in front of a batsh-t crowd, with a chance to take down Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the line.
How the Chiefs can win
1. Find out real quick if Ben Roethlisberger's right leg is OK. When Big Ben showed up in a walking boot at the postgame press conference after the Dolphins' win, everybody's Spidey senses went off. This was the whole point of the Steelers resting their skill position studs in Week 17 and trying to win against Miami nice and early. The Steelers have three otherworldly talents on the offensive end. But that talent won't make much difference if the quarterback can't even move as slowly as he usually does. A Roethlisberger injury, even a minor one, could be all the difference in this game. So, if you'll forgive the hacky reference, sweep the leg.
2. Get Travis Kelce some room to run. Tyreek Hill has opened up the Chiefs offense in all sorts of exciting ways, but the Chiefs don't necessarily need him to score multiple 70-yard touchdowns. They just need him to be a threat that Pittsburgh has to respect downfield, which is something the Chiefs haven't had in a half-decade, at least. The more he opens up downfield, or even in the slot, the more space Kelce -- the real offensive weapon -- has to move down the middle. Hill is precisely what the Chiefs have been waiting for, even if he doesn't score.
3. Get that crowd boomin'. Yes, yes, the Chiefs have, in fact, lost their last four home playoff games; the last one they won, their quarterback was Joe Montana. But this is the game these fans have been gearing up for for years. They finally got off the playoff schneid last year, winning their first playoff game since that Montana game. (Also against the Steelers! Whoa!) They won a huge Week 17 game that handed them the division title and allowed for this home game. And with the Patriots sure to pound the Texans on Saturday, this is the last home game of the year. Empty the tank, kids. A Chiefs crowd won't get crazier than this.
How the Steelers can win
1. Have nothing be wrong with Big Ben. And if there is something wrong with him, fix him through science or magic or some combination of the two. Roethlisberger hasn't exactly been his genius self on the road, anyway.
Big Ben at home this yr: 71%, 320 YPG, 20 TD, 5 INT, 102.8 QB RTG- Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 1, 2017
Big Ben on the road: 59%, 238 YPG, 9 TD, 8 INT, 78.4 QB RTG
But if he lacks mobility or can't plant his foot to throw deep to Antonio Brown, the Steelers are in big trouble. This game is going to be tough enough. The Steelers need that walking boot to be full of mystical healing juice.
2. Don't sell out for Hill. The addition of Hill has added a brand new dimension to the Chiefs offense, but this is still an inexperienced receiver who doesn't touch the ball that often. He's ideally used as a decoy, someone to keep the Steelers honest; the Chiefs are not going to start becoming the '99 Rams just because they finally got themselves a fast guy. So stay home if you have to: Kelce is the real weapon. If the Chiefs beat you because Alex Smith keeps throwing deep, well, fine, bully for you, Chiefs. But we all know that's not actually going to happen.
3. Unleash the Le'Veon. You have the most dynamic player in the league, who is as hot as anyone in the game. If Big Ben isn't healthy and can't go deep to Brown, well, then you'll have to play the way the Chiefs do: by grinding it out and trying to find some space for your fastest big-play talents. Fortunately, if this unfortunate scenario comes about … you're simply turning to the best running back in the game.
This is an insanely tough pick. There are a ton of variables, starting with Ben's ankle/leg/lower right half. Can the Chiefs find room to get Kelce in space? Can Brown make playoffs happen if his quarterback is hobbled? Can the Chiefs keep up their good turnover fortune? Can Bell show the planet just what he can do? Can this be the biggest Chiefs win in more than 40 years? Here's guessing that the Steelers have one more big play in their arsenal than the Chiefs do. But this might just end up being the most thrilling game of the weekend.
Steelers 24, Chiefs 21.