Every Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers fan has had this game circled on the calendar since the schedule was released. Two of the league’s more talented teams come together for what could be an epic Week 6 battle.
I say “could” because the Steelers haven’t played anywhere close to their potential in limping to 3-2, and the Chiefs look like the most well-oiled machine in the NFL. Watching them through the first five weeks of the season, you’d think Kansas City was poised to blow out Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have traditionally played well against the Chiefs. They have also played better football when they’re the underdog. I think we’re headed for a shootout — the Steelers will get their offense on track.
Here are five bold predictions for the 4:25 Eastern kickoff this Sunday.
1. Alex Smith will throw his first interception of the season
In his last two starts against Pittsburgh, one in the regular season and one in the playoffs, Smith has thrown an interception, something he hasn’t done all season. Sunday he’ll throw his first, maybe on a tipped pass or a weird deflection, but it’ll happen. The Steelers have been semi-opportunistic the past few weeks, coming up with crucial turnovers despite their below-average level of play.
In four matchups against Pittsburgh as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Alex Smith has been sacked 13 times, which has been one of the keys to the Steelers going 3-1 in those games. (They lost with Landry Jones at quarterback.) The Chiefs have a couple offensive linemen banged up and could be forced to start Cam Erving at guard, so if Pittsburgh can take advantage, it could be the key to creating splash plays and forcing Smith off his game.
2. Tyreek Hill will roast Joe Haden or Artie Burns at least once
Five weeks into the season, Haden and Burns have yet to be exposed deep despite several opportunities for opposing offenses. One of these two will get “got” on Sunday. Hill’s deep speed and improving vertical routes make him one of the tougher covers in the league. Safety help will have to be provided over the top for both corners, especially Haden, who simply doesn’t have the wheels to match Hill’s speed down the field.
The Steelers haven’t faced a quality quarterback all season long, but that’s about to change on Sunday. Even if they get to Smith a few times and force a turnover, the Chiefs’ passing attack can win in so many ways that it’ll be very difficult to get them completely off track. Expect Smith and Hill to hook up on at least one occasion for a big play.
3. Le’Veon Bell will rush for over 100 yards
The Steelers’ rushing attack ranks just 24th in the NFL, but I think you’ll see them stay committed to it all game long with great success. When comparing the Steelers’ rushing offense against the Chiefs’ rushing defense, I liken it to the Bears’ run game vs. Pittsburgh’s defense in Week 3. In that game you knew Chicago was going to do everything it could to get the rushing game on track after a slow start to the season, while Pittsburgh had been generally successful against the run despite not being tested by a top-tier unit. The Steelers have a much better rushing offense than they’ve shown for most of this season, but they need more opportunities to carry the load. The Chiefs are ranked 20th in the NFL against the run, but they haven’t really faced a quality rushing attack this season. I think Pittsburgh will be a difficult test for them, especially with some injuries lingering on defense.
4. Kareem Hunt will break 10 tackles
Hunt has been an absolute bowling ball of destruction as a runner, seemingly unfazed by contact and rarely brought down by the first defender. The Steelers are extremely talented up front, but their flaws are gap integrity and tackling, both of which will get teams killed against a runner like Hunt. The rookie’s vision and decisiveness as a runner have been fantastic, allowing him to maximize his momentum by first contact, which has made him extremely difficult to tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus Elite, Hunt has forced 34 missed tackles this season, 28 as a rusher and six as a receiver. The next closest player has forced 23 total missed tackles. What Hunt is doing is simply on another level, and even if his offensive line is banged up, he will still find ways to create offense for himself.
5. Ben Roethlisberger will bounce back with an efficient game
In six career games against the Chiefs, Roethlisberger has completed over 72 percent of his passes for around 250 yards per game, while throwing 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Counting the playoffs he has won his past five games against Kansas City, and has lost only one start to the Chiefs, back in 2009. There are few teams Roethlisberger has had as much success against as the Chiefs, and even though he isn’t playing like the same quarterback he once was, I feel good about a bounce-back game as long as he can lean on the rushing attack to carry the offensive load.
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