Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5, 47 o/u)
Sunday can’t get here fast enough for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1 SU and 2-1 ATS). After getting embarrassed by the Eagles and rookie QB Carson Wentz last weekend, Big Ben and company will be eager to get back in the win column when they host the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS) at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football (8:30 PM Eastern).
Week 3 was a complete fiasco for Pittsburgh. Both the highly-praised offense and under-the-radar defense laid an egg in Philly, getting routed 34-3 despite being four-point road favorites.
It was a stunner given how good the Steelers looked in their first two, easy wins over 2015 playoff teams Washington (38-16 away) and Cincinnati (24-16 home). Ben Roethlisberger (816 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions on the year) completed just 55-percent of his passes with a pick. Of course, it’s hard to be efficient and productive when you’re under constant pressure; the Eagles sacked Roethlisberger four times on the night and had him scrambling much of the game.
Antonio Brown (24 receptions, 305 yards, two touchdowns), meanwhile, was largely held in check, getting the bulk of his 140 receiving yards when the game was already decided.
Don’t expect the same type of performance from the Pittsburgh offense on Sunday. Not only will Roethlisberger have a lot more time to throw now that he’s facing KC’s non-existent pass rush, but star RB Le’Veon Bell will make his long awaited return from suspension.
The Chiefs have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, but Bell is the best in the business; not only is he arguably the most elusive runner in the league, he does a great job finishing his carries; last year, he averaged 3.4 yards after contact, the best mark in the NFL.
There’s some bad personnel news to go with the good for the Steelers. Standout linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) is out, while fellow backer Lawrence Timmons is laboring with a shin injury and wideout Eli Rogers battles a toe problem. The loss of Shazier is a particularly big blow for a defense that currently ranks 26th in yards allowed. The third-year pro has blossomed into the unit’s vacuum cleaner in the middle of the field, posting a team-best 20 tackles so far.
Look for Kansas City’s offense to take advantage of the depleted Steeler midsection by targeting TE Travis Kelce. The big man leads the team with 197 receiving yards on 17 receptions.
On the ground, Jamaal Charles is expected to miss another week. His absence hasn’t really slowed the Chiefs’ run game that much. Spencer Ware (202 yards and one touchdown on 41 carries; ten catches for 185 receiving yards) has been a decent replacement, with Charcandrick West adding some production.
The health of cornerback Marcus Peters is the big question for KC right now. Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year missed his second straight practice on Thursday with the flu. He’ll likely be tasked with covering Antonio Brown on Sunday; that’s a tall order at the best of times. If he’s at all slowed, KC will need a good backup plan.
Peters and the entire KC secondary had a field day last weekend, picking off a self-destructing Ryan Fitzpatrick six times in a 24-3 romp over the Jets. It’s tempting to say that the Chiefs’ defense were dominant in that one, but the truth of the matter is that Fitzpatrick was simply horrendous. Kansas City indeed has a solid secondary, but the defense as a whole isn’t really a top-tier unit (currently sitting 12th in total yards allowed), and it won’t be until it starts to generate a pass rush (three sacks, tied for second-worst in the league; 13 QB hurries, tied for fifth-worst).
This is an intriguing matchup between a prolific offense – which is both getting a dangerous weapon back and looking to rebound from a horrible outing – and a ball-hawking secondary. I see the Steelers coming out on top, but KC (5-2 ATS in the last seven on the road) isn’t the type of team to get boat raced. Alex Smith and the offense will be methodical in moving the sticks with Shazier out. I don’t think they’ll win, but I do think they’ll keep it within five.
Pick: Chiefs +5.
Photo credit: SteelCityHobbies, CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.