Playoff football is here, and it’s beautiful! Last night saw the Cincinnati Bengals win their first playoff game in 31 years, making a play right at the end defensively to keep the Raiders out of the endzone before the Buffalo Bills trounced the New England Patriots.
Today sees Philly travel to Tampa Bay and the Cowboys host the Niners before the Kansas City Chiefs welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers, in what’s probably Ben Roethlisberger’s last ever playoff game. The final of those three is the one that’s of interest to us today.
Mike Tomlin’s 9-7-1 7th seeded Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Arrowhead this evening to take down Andy Reid’s 12-5 Number 2 seed Chiefs team. Two of the best coaches in the league, with two quarterbacks who look destined for the hall of fame right now, backed up by defensive stars, it’s what the playoffs are all about.
Let’s start with the main talking point heading into the game, the potential end of Big Ben’s career. He’s not officially announced his retirement yet, but all signs are pointing to it going that way, he’s not expecting to be the Steelers’ QB next season. So that puts us here, possibly the last game of a hall of fame career, perhaps not off the field, but definitely on it. He’s certainly achieved a lot.
Ben’s career started out on an interesting note, being caught up in the Manning-Rivers San Diego debacle, subsequently falling to Pittsburgh at 11. Roethlisberger was considered by many to be the 2nd best QB in the class. Looking back at it now, that QB class is possibly the greatest of all time. He was the best of the three in season one, winning the 2004 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and breaking the record for the most consecutive regular-season wins (as a starter) to begin a career, with 15, 13 of those in 04, and two to start the next season. That may never be broken. He wasn’t the starter right away, sitting behind Tommy Maddox to start the year, but was thrown into the lineup when Maddox got hurt against Baltimore in Week 2. The rest was history.
He went on to reach three Super Bowls, winning two, and losing one to Green Bay, as well as six Pro Bowls, amassing a 164-81-1 record as a starter. He’s 3rd all-time in 4th quarter comebacks, with only Peyton Manning (43) and Tom Brady (42) having more than his 40, and also holds the record for the most 500+ yard passing games with 4. While you can clearly see that he’s not the same quarterback now, the offense was nowhere near the same without him. Duck Hodges, Josh Dobbs, and Mason Rudolph aren’t/weren’t it.
Mike Tomlin has done a great job coaching up these Steelers to a playoff berth. He needs to be in the coach of the year conversation, especially if Pittsburgh wins this game. It sounds like Najee Harris is good to go, which is brilliant, whilst it seems that Juju Smith-Schuster is back too. I’m interested to see how he’ll be used. I’m just hoping the offense shows up this time, unlike when they last played KC, for all our sakes. Matt Canada is a very controversial figure to say the least. PFF have them second last in the league on that side of the ball.
TJ Watt is fresh off equalling Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, and if on his game will cause Kansas City problems. Paired with Cam Heyward and co, that defensive line can cause the Chiefs problems, in both the run and pass game. But then again we already know that. If the linebackers and defensive backs step up, and the offense scores more than 20 points I can see Pittsburgh causing an upset.
Moving over to the home team Chiefs, they’ve been on one hell of a ride this season. Sitting at 3-4 after a loss to Tennessee in Week 7, that side looked to be on an uphill battle to get here today. A 20-17 win over the Giants to get to 500. the next week kickstarted an 8 game winning streak. Their defense really stepped up, allowing 103 points in that span. In the seven games prior to Week 8, they allowed 203 points. That’s 100 points less in one more game. They faced the Steelers in that win streak, demolishing them 36-10. I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot closer than that.
Patrick Mahomes has got better over that time too. He’s cut down on the picks, having only thrown 4 interceptions since the loss to the Titans, compared to the 9 in the first 7 games. That may be because he’s pushing the ball downfield less. Over the first 7 games of the season, his average depth of target was 8.24 yards, while on the last 10 it was 7.16 yards. That’s a big difference. It’s working though. 9 out of 10 wins in that stretch is impressive.
A big contributor to that will be the emergence of the run game, it’s San Francisco-like. Not necessarily usage-wise or by the run-pass split, but more by the situational deployment to move the chains however possible. Whether it’s Darrell Williams, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Derrick Gore, or Jerrick McKinnon, the Chiefs are averaging 4.5 yards per carry and helping out their quarterback. Hats off to Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy. And then there’s the offensive line and the emergence of Creed Humphrey. He’s the best center in the league as a rookie! Brett Veach and Reid rebuilt the o line over the offseason after Tampa exposed the previous unit in the Super Bowl, and have hit on pretty much everyone.
Prediction: Kansas City 23, Pittsburgh 20
I can’t look past the Chiefs on this one. Sorry, Steelers fans! While the two defenses will keep this close, I trust the Kansas City offense to score more than the Pittsburgh one. It’s as simple as that. I’d 100% take the under (46.5), and PIT to cover though as the Chiefs are favoured by 12.5. I don’t see them running away with it.