GAMETIME: 7:20 p.m. CT on Sunday, January 15
LOCATION: Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri
HOW TO WATCH: NBC (KSHB Local)
HOW TO LISTEN: 101.1 The Fox
As if the buildup of the divisional playoff matchup between the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers and AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t great enough, the game being moved to the NFL’s Sunday Night Football surround due to icy weather conditions in Kansas City only enhances it.
For the second time this season, the world will be watching a Steelers-Chiefs matchup on Sunday Night Football, but this time it will be at Arrowhead Stadium.
“The way the league works is, it’s the commissioner’s decision,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said after the game time was changed late Friday. “The league office tells us when we’re going to play, so we looked at all of the options. We talked a lot a lot about the weather and what the experts were telling us. As many of you know, it’s changed so much in the last few days that we wanted to make sure that we had the most up to date information.”
The Chiefs and the NFL, together, deemed that moving the kickoff time back would be safest, leading to Sunday Night Football.
The last time the Chiefs played the Steelers back in Week 4, the result was less then desirable for Kansas City, as Pittsburgh opened the game on a 36-0 run and eventually won, 43-14.
“We didn’t play very well that day,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid recalled this week. “I’m not much on the predictions or comparisons. They’re probably a little different. We’re probably a little different. We’ll just see. We’ll go out and play them and see how we do. “
Of course, Reid’s right, as one single regular-season game matters very little in the grand scheme of things.
The Steelers went on a tough 1-4 stretch after the win, while the Chiefs went 5-0 during the same span and eventually finished one game better to clinch the No. 2 seed and first-round bye.
In addition to that, two defensive stars for both teams were out that week—Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier and Chiefs linebacker
Despite missing three games, Shazier still finished the season second on the Steelers with 87 tackles (55 solo). Houston, who played in just five games and missed the final two of the season, is still second in the league in sacks since 2013 (44.5).
“He brings a lot to our defense – a lot to our team really,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, describing Houston. “Like I’ve said many times about Justin—he not only can rush the passer, he’s a good run defender, he knows how to drop in coverage and he’s a smart player. You have a lot of things that you’re adding in our case, to our defense.”
The return of Houston will be key for the Chiefs, as they go up against three elite players at three of the most important positions. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, and running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown both finished fifth in the league, Bell in yards rushing and Brown in yards receiving.
Reid called Bell the most patient running back he has ever seen earlier this week, while the uniqueness of his running style made several headlines nationally.
“When you have a unique style, along with technique it’s a little difficult [to defend],” Chiefs safety
A Berry-led Chiefs defense that was the best in the league with 33 turnovers will be tasked with continuing that trend against Pittsburgh’s dynamic trio. Steelers tight end Ladarius Greene is officially listed as out for the game (FULL INJURY REPORT).
On offense, Chiefs QB
Highest career playoff passer rating:— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 11, 2017
Smith spoke about how this game could affect his legacy earlier this week.
The playmakers to watch for Smith could continue to be TE
The Chiefs said this week they fully expect the Steelers to punt the ball away from Hill, who led the league in punt return average this season.
“I think it’s probably going to happen this week,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “They’re going to try and kick it out of bounds. It’s easier said than done though—we went through the same thing in Chicago with Devin [Hester]. The weather has a lot to do with it, what kind of pressure you put on the punter, all of those things come into play without getting into more detail.”
Now that the game has moved to primetime, it is also worth noting that Hill was particularly spectacular in the Chiefs’ four night games this season—seven of his 12 touchdowns came under the lights.
Hill, Kelce and the rest of the Chiefs offense will be up against a Steelers defense that finished No. 12 in the league based upon yards per game. 10-year veteran LB Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 114 tackles (78 solo), while 14-year veteran LB James Harrison led the team with 5.0 sacks.
Pittsburgh cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns had impressive seasons as well, combining for 27 passes defensed.
Including last weekend’s 30-12 wild card win against the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers have won eight games in a row.
The divisional game Sunday will be the first home playoff game for the Chiefs since 2010, and perhaps their best championship opportunity since 2003, when they finished the regular season 13-3.
10 years prior to that, after the 1993 season, is when the Chiefs made it to their last AFC title game.
A Chiefs win Sunday in the latest kickoff time for a playoff game in NFL history accomplishes all of the above and would be 24 seasons in the making.