Big game with AFC playoff implications on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh as the Steelers are 3-point favorites against Kansas City. A Steelers win and they are in the playoffs.
Chiefs Need Wins, Help
Kansas City (8-6) currently stands as the first team out of the AFC playoffs. The Chiefs are the highest 8-6 team as they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo and San Diego. The Chiefs do visit the Chargers in Week 17. A loss here essentially ends all hopes for Kansas City. It needs to win and root against Baltimore (9-5) and Cincinnati (9-4-1).
The Chiefs ended a three-game losing streak in Week 15 with a 31-13 win over the Raiders -- it was a loss at winless Oakland in Week 12 that could be the game that keeps Kansas City from the postseason. Alex Smith was very efficient in the rematch with Oakland, going 18-for-30 for a season-high 297 yards and two touchdowns.
Under Smith, the Chiefs rarely take shots downfield -- he doesn't have a great group of receivers, either. The Chiefs entered the Week 15 only 28th in the NFL in yards per completion (9.68) and 26th in yards per attempt (6.83). Their longest pass play through 13 games was 41 yards. Every other team had a pass play of at least 50 yards. Smith had a 70-yard touchdown pass to Knile Davis as well as completions of 48 and 37 yards vs. the Raiders. He averaged 16.5 yards for every completion and 9.9 yards for every attempt. Smith was 3-for-8 for 106 yards on passes that went at least 15 yards down the field. The attempts and yards were the highest since the season opener. The Chiefs looked like an actual modern-day NFL offense for one game.
Star running back Jamaal Charles had a quiet game vs. the Raiders with just 52 yards on 12 carries and one reception for 1 yard. Charles had been dealing with ankle and knee injuries and also suffered a huge hit and was pulled from the game, but he passed all concussion tests. He'll be in there Sunday.
On Our NFL odds Kansas City is 9-5 against the NFL betting spread this season and 5-9 'over/under.'
Win & In for Steelers
Pittsburgh (9-5) will clinch a playoff berth with a victory. However, the AFC North won't be decided until next week when the Steelers host the Bengals. The Ravens are still in the mix as well. They are favored this week in Houston, which will be using a fourth-string quarterback, and then will be in Week 17 at home against Cleveland. So it looks as if Baltimore will win out, meaning Pittsburgh would have to as well to take the North. In that scenario, the Steelers would win the division tiebreaker with the Ravens. Cincinnati could easily lose in Week 16 as it hosts Denver on Monday night. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are +160 on Bovada's NFL odds to win the North with Cincinnati at +200.
Pittsburgh has been inconsistent on the road this season -- that Jets loss is still puzzling -- but has won two straight games, both away from Heinz Field. After beating the Bengals by 21 in Cincinnati in Week 14, the Steelers won 27-20 in Atlanta last Sunday; no doubt Pittsburgh's cause was helped by the fact Falcons star receiver Julio Jones missed the game with an injury. Ben Roethlisberger didn't throw a touchdown vs. Atlanta (just second game this season without one) but had 360 yards. Big Ben's 4,415 yards are already a career high and his 29 TDs are three short of his best season. He has thrown for at least 340 yards in six of the past seven games and is just 77 behind NFL leader Andrew Luck on the year.
Roethlisberger's top target is easily Antonio Brown. He had 10 catches for 120 yards vs. the Falcons and has set the franchise record with 115 catches. Brown is going for the Triple Crown of receiving. He leads the NFL with 1,498 yards (No. 2 is Jones with 1,428), with those 115 catches (No. 2 is Denver's Demaryius Thomas with 96) and is No. 4 with 11 TD catches (No. 1 is Dallas' Dez Bryant with 13). Brown has caught at least five passes for at least 70 yards in 16 consecutive regular-season games, an NFL record. Running back Le'Veon Bell is No. 2 in the league with 1,278 rushing yards and his 76 receptions for 765 yards have set Steelers' single-season running back records. Bell's streak of games with at least 200 yards from scrimmage ended at three vs. Atlanta.
The Chiefs, it should be noted, are No. 2 in pass defense in the NFL. However, Kansas City has picked off only four passes, fewest in the NFL. Big Ben has thrown 107 consecutive passes without an interception. K.C. is 28th against the run.
Pittsburgh could get back three starters this week after they missed the Atlanta game (or longer): Cornerback Ike Taylor, outside linebacker James Harrison and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. Take the Steelers as your NFL pick; they are 7-7 against the spread at sportsbooks this season and 9-5 'over/under.'
NFL Free Picks: Steelers -3 on NFL odds and 'over' 46.5 points at 5Dimes. Pittsburgh has covered six straight on NFL odds against teams with a winning record. The 'over' is 6-0 in Pittsburgh's past seven at home and in its past seven overall vs. teams with a winning record.