Oh what a difference a week makes. After one of the most lackluster “Sunday Night Football” matchups of the season comes one of the most intriguing between a pair of AFC playoff contenders sitting at 2-1 on the year. Both the Chiefs and the Steelers are entering this week’s matchup coming from vastly different ends of the spectrum however, with Kansas City rolling over the New York Jets last Sunday while Pittsburgh is a team questioning just about everything after their worse loss in more than two decades at the hands of their in-state rivals.
The Steelers were a trendy Super Bowl pick in August and looked the part in a pair of season-opening wins. Then the bottom seemed to fall out completely last week against the Eagles after getting torched 34-3 on the road. Many expected the defense to be a question mark and that certainly showed up at an inopportune time but it was an uncharacteristically bad outing for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense that really put the brakes on the team being the class of the AFC. Perhaps the loss will serve as a wakeup call as a very good team will be coming to town on Sunday with equally high standards and aspirations.
The Chiefs are hoping their momentum continues to build after one of the most impressive routs of the season in which they forced a whopping eight turnovers during their beatdown of the Jets. The team is still missing several key starters on that side of the ball but will get a nice offensive boost this week with the return of All-Pro tailback Jamaal Charles. He’ll team up with quarterback Alex Smith, who is having a productive start to the season but can be the team’s Achilles heel if the offense gets out of its rhythm.
This is the third straight season the teams have faced off against each other, splitting the last two meetings with the home team coming out on top. Pittsburgh does have a slight 4-2 lead in the series during the past decade however and will be looking to keep things rolling in front of a raucous home crowd in Week 4.
Kansas City at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, October 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Steelers -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Peters vs. Brown
Kansas City corner Marcus Peters has been playing at an All-Pro level to begin the year and leads the league in interceptions. He has been dealing with a bout of the flu and missed most of practice leading up to the game, but hopefully he will be back to full health by game time because his opponent is one of the best in the NFL in Antonio Brown. The Steelers’ wideout is averaging nearly 13 yards a catch on the year and is tops in receptions through four games. He doesn’t just beat you over the top with his speed either, so seeing how Peters handles Brown when he runs quick slants or screens will be fun to watch.
2. Return of the tailbacks
Both teams are expected to receive a nice boost in the ground game on Sunday night with the addition of two All-Pro running backs. Le’Veon Bell is back in black after serving his three-game suspension and is likely to start right away and take on his usual heavy workload. DeAngelo Williams looked good in his place so the combination of the two staying fresh is a scary thought for the rest of the AFC. On the other sideline, Jamaal Charles returns to action for the first time since undergoing knee surgery. He probably won’t be truly 100 percent healthy in his first outing but should be able to split carries with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West as well as contribute in the passing game.
3. Steelers’ secondary
Pittsburgh defensive backs would like to put last week’s outing as far from their minds as possible after getting torched by rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in a runaway blowout. That game was the culmination of a shaky start to the year for the new-look unit that has allowed more than 300 yards through the air all three games. Expect Alex Smith to pick on rookie corners Artie Burns and Sean Davis plenty after they looked overmatched last week. If there’s any positive for the Steelers’ back four, it’s that they know what adjustments to make after seeing the same offensive scheme for the second week in a row.
If you would have asked folks to take a look at this matchup after Week 2, just about everybody would have picked Pittsburgh and not thought much about it. After all, the Steelers looked like one of the best teams in the league in their two wins and the Chiefs had just come off a loss to the Texans in which they couldn’t really do a whole lot offensively.
Fast-forward to this week and things are a much different story. Those alarm bells about the Steelers’ defense went off in a big way in their loss to the Eagles and the offense was puzzlingly absent as well. It could have just been an off game for both sides of the ball but the pressure is going to be on, at home, to prove that this team is much better than what it looked like against their in-state rivals.
The Chiefs on the other hand are coming off one of the most suffocating defensive performances of recent memory. They had a six-pack of interceptions among their eight turnovers collected and probably would have won by even more had their offense had any urgency sitting on a lead. The ground game hasn’t quite gotten going like head coach Andy Reid wants but perhaps this is the week things turnaround on that front with Charles coming back and a weak Pittsburgh defense showing up.
The end result could be a bit of a shootout on Sunday night between two offenses that have several home-run hitters among their skill position players. Last week was probably a bit of an aberration from both teams (Kansas City on defense, Pittsburgh on offense) so we could see each return to more of what we saw through the first three games. With the Steelers being at home and likely playing a little angry, they get the slight edge in this battle between AFC contenders.
Prediction: Steelers 35, Chiefs 27
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.