Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

AFC division preview: Chiefs-Steelers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Smith endured watching film of the Chiefs' meltdown in Pittsburgh this season "a bunch of times" last week, still trying to figure out where everything went wrong.

As if he hasn't relived it enough in his nightmares.

Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes. Le'Veon Bell starred in his return from a three-game suspension.

The Steelers scored 22 first-quarter points, led 36-0 before the Chiefs finally scored and proceeded to route the eventual AFC West champions 43-14 that October night.

"It's been a long time," Smith said, "so they've changed. Over the course of the season, they've progressed and gone a certain direction. There's a lot they change week to week as well."

But the Chiefs are a different team, too.

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has made a name for himself as one of the NFL's most dynamic rookies, going from special-teams standout to offensive difference-maker.

Top pass rusher Justin Houston is also expected to be available after missing the first meeting while recovering from knee surgery.

And this matchup with the Steelers is at loud Arrowhead Stadium rather than Heinz Field, and a spot in the AFC title game awaits the winner.

"We got embarrassed in the first meeting," Chiefs center Mitch Morse said, "and we had to come back and kind of take a step back and realize, 'We're a good football team.' We had to understand where we were. We learned a lot from that game, and we were able to take the next step."

Indeed, the Chiefs ripped off five straight wins after that loss in Pittsburgh, a stretch that turned around their season.

They wound up overtaking Oakland for the division title on the final day of the regular season, earning a first-round bye and a home playoff game.

The Steelers basically had a bye, too: They routed Miami last weekend to advance.

"I think a postseason challenge on the road is one thing," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "but at a legendary venue like (Arrowhead Stadium) is something else. We're excited about it. We respect it."

But they aren't going to be intimidated by it. The Steelers have been in enough big games over the years that it takes more than a trip to Kansas City, where the Chiefs have not won a playoff game since the 1993 season, to leave them quaking in their cleats.

"If you need the 'revenge factor' in the playoffs to help you win, something is wrong with you," Roethlisberger said. "You're in the playoffs, so you need to throw everything out, whether you played them before or didn't play them before, personnel or whatever it is. You need to start fresh."

As the Chiefs and Steelers prepare to meet again Sunday night, here are some keys to the game:

LACE UP YOUR SKATES: Forecasts for Sunday called for a near 100 percent chance of freezing rain that could leave the turf, re-sodded last week, with a thick glaze.

The game was supposed to kick off at 1:05 p.m. but was moved to 8:20 so stadium and road crews, and local and state authorities could ensure roads and parking lots were safe.

"No weather is a part of our ball," Tomlin said. "We don't overanalyze that."

BYE, BYE, BYE: Chiefs coach Andy Reid has compiled a 16-2 record in the regular season after a week off, including a road win over Oakland this season. He was also perfect in three division playoff games in Philadelphia when his teams earned a first-round bye, including one season that ended in the Super Bowl.

"I don't know if there's a secret," he said. "I think everybody does it the same way."

OVER THE HILL: By the end of the regular season, Hill had returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns, and scored six times through the air and three times on the ground. But he also had a 78-yard punt return touchdown against the Steelers brought back by a penalty.

Tomlin called him "a weapon to be reckoned with," but Steelers kicker Chris Boswell said dealing with Hill's speed is more difficult than simply kicking away from him.

"One return man, you have to put the ball in play," Boswell said. "It also depends on weather. He is going to return. It's just a matter of covering and tackling."

TURNOVER TROUBLE: The Chiefs led the NFL with a plus-16 turnover differential this season, thanks mostly to 18 interceptions and 15 fumbles recoveries. They also scored 27 percent of their points off takeaways, one of the highest percentages in the league.

They were minus-2 when they faced the Steelers in October.

ROAD WEARY: Much has been made of Roethlisberger's Jekyll-and-Hyde home-road splits, but it's more than just a talking point. He has completed 71 percent of his passes for 320 yards per game with 20 TDs and five interceptions at home, and 59 percent for 238 yards per game with nine TDs and eight picks on the road.

Not that the Chiefs wonder which version they'll face Sunday.

"He is who he is," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. "A great quarterback."

AFC division preview: Chiefs-Steelers 01/15/17 [Last modified: Sunday, January 15, 2017 12:44am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Road to Atlanta: Tell us how you really feel, Jimbo

    College

    Topped out

    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 21:  Rashaan Evans #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) 775042495
  2. Journal: USF gets support on the road

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — Perhaps it was the chance to witness the first USF-Tulane game ever, or an opportunity to frolic in the French Quarter for a weekend. Or both.

    USF running back D'Ernest Johnson (2) stiff-arms Tulane cornerback Parry Nickerson (17) on a run during the second half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH111
  3. Joey Knight's takeaways from USF-Tulane

    College

    1. Saturday's triumph will do little to fortify USF's strength of schedule, but its strength-of-character quotient might have increased. On the road facing an eclectic offense, the Bulls built a huge lead, then made critical plays in the waning moments after some defensive lapses. In short, they survived. Isn't …

    South Florida defensive end Greg Reaves (41) reacts after a defensive stop against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH107
  4. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  5. Lightning journal: Tighter defense fuels hot start

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — See what happens when you keep the crease clean, limit the traffic in front of G Andrei Vasilevskiy and limit Grade A scoring chances?

    Yanni Gourde, right, gets a late first-period goal that follows a big save by Andrei Vasilevskiy.