The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL’s lone unbeaten team through five weeks and will play host to Pittsburgh for what will surely be the marquis game on Sunday afternoon. So why does it seem everyone is focused on the Steelers?
That will happen when you are supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and get routed at home by the Jaguars — and your aging franchise quarterback throws five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. It looks like we can trust the Chiefs to play like a contender every week; can we trust the Steelers? If they can’t hang with Jacksonville at Heinz Field, can they threaten Kansas City at Arrowhead?
In a word, yes. We’re not ready to throw dirt on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers yet. But they will certainly have their hands full this Sunday. When Pittsburgh won in Arrowhead last season in the playoffs, it was a grinding 18–16 defensive struggle. Given the way the Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense are playing, the Steelers may need to score twice as much to win this one.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Chiefs -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Big Ben get back on track?
Two weeks ago in this space, we again highlighted Ben Roethlisberger’s well-documented struggles away from Heinz Field and picked the Steelers to lose in Baltimore. Of course, they won that game before flipping the script in an ugly 30–9 loss to the Jags at home. So is Big Ben just bad everywhere now? We’re not going that far. The fact is that the Steelers have faced some very good defenses so far, and their offensive line has been uncharacteristically shaky. Other than putting up 173 yards against Baltimore, they haven’t run the ball well at all, and Roethlisberger has faced more pressure than the nine sacks allowed would indicate. As much as Roethlisberger has struggled away from home in recent years, the Steelers offense has too much talent to not break out eventually. This could be the week, because...
2. Injuries are piling up for the Chiefs, especially on defense
As good as the Chiefs have been, they rank just 27th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Granted, that is skewed some by garbage time drives after games had been decided, but this Kansas City team isn’t afraid to get into a track meet. Then again, they may not have a choice, because they are missing several key defenders. Defensive end Tamba Hali has been out all season with a knee injury, and corner Steven Nelson, who started 14 games last season, also has yet to play. Star safety Eric Berry ruptured his left Achilles in the season opener. And now leading sacker Justin Houston (calf) and nose tackle Bennie Logan (knee) are both questionable for this weekend.
3. Alex Smith, game manager no more
First in the NFL passer rating. First in yards per attempt. First in completion percentage. Third in both passing yards and touchdowns. Zero interceptions through five weeks. No, not Aaron Rodgers. We’re talking about Alex Smith. The guy who most everyone believed can only take a team so far and will be just good enough to get beat when it counts is now looking like a bona fide franchise quarterback. He will be tested this week, however, by the Steelers, who lead the NFL in pass defense and have allowed just three passing touchdowns while intercepting five passes so far. Pittsburgh has forced at least one turnover in every game and six total in three road games so far. Kansas City hasn’t turned the ball over since rookie sensation Kareem hunt fumbled on his first career carry in the season opener. If Smith and the Chiefs continue to take care of the ball, they will be tough to beat.
The Chiefs have never won a game that Big Ben has started and finished healthy. Short of knocking him out again, they will need to buck that trend. We’re not expecting Kansas City to roll though its schedule without hitting a speed bump or two, and Pittsburgh is probably the most talented team left on the slate. But we can’t bet on Road Roethlisberger against an unbeaten team in Arrowhead.