NFL from the Sidelines

Who I like, Kansas City version

This is perhaps the most critical game of the Steelers' season.

Win, and they're in the playoffs. Lose, and they're back in the same situation they found themselves in a year ago, needing to win and get help to get into the postseason.

Here's why:

A loss to Kansas City would give the Chiefs the tiebreaker over the Steelers and give them identical records.

If the Steelers lose to Kansas City and Cincinnati beats Denver Monday night, Pittsburgh is in trouble.

They would then need to beat Cincinnati and hope that San Diego knocks off the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 17 to get into the playoffs, much the same way they needed Kansas City to beat San Diego lats season.

The Steelers can assure they don't need to worry about any of those scenarios by taking care of business Sunday.

And as it has been all season, the key will be their offense.

The Steelers need to get off to a fast start and force the Chiefs out of their comfort zone.

Kansas City wants to play things close to the vest, run the ball, play the field position game and win the war of attrition.

But if the Steelers come out and, say, score on their first couple of possessions, Kansas City will be forced to reassess its attack.

If they get the feeling they aren't going to be able to slow Pittsburgh, they'll be forced to open things up. And that's not what you want to do when Alex Smith is your quarterback.

Smith is a fine game manager. But he's not going to win a shootout with Ben Roethlisberger and company - at least not with the weapons Kansas City employs,

Le'Veon Bell will be the key.

Kansas City allows 4.9 yards per carry and has been torched over the past month by far lesser backs than Bell.

The Steelers need to establish Bell and then have Roethlisberger attack off of that.

If Kansas City is effective on early downs, that allows Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to get after the quarterback. And that's when bad things happen.

I think the Steelers will control the line of scrimmage and win this game.

Pittsburgh is a 3-point favorite and I like the Steelers to win, 30-21.

@ The Steelers will have a limited number of tickets available for a potential home playoff game the weekend of Jan. 3 or 4.

Tickets will be available beginning at 10 a.m. Sat., Dec. 20. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.Read full post: Who I like, Kansas City version

Mid-week news

After sitting out the past two games with a knee injury, James Harrison looks like he's more than healthy enough to return for the Steelers this week against Kansas City.

The  question now is whether or not the Steelers will play him?

At this point, it looks like they will, something I wasn't so sure of earlier in the week.

But if they do play Harrison, who sits?

The Steelers have dealt with a similar issue at inside linebacker the past two weeks with everyone finally healthy. They have dressed all four the past two games, with rookie Ryan Shazier playing sparingly.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said that Shazier hasn't been used more defensively because of he hasn't been where the team wants him to be in practice.

He also said that even though Marcus Gilbert practiced at right tackle last week, he decided to keep Mike Adams there because Adams had looked better - and more healthy - at practice last week.

The Steelers might be putting Harrison, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones in similar situation this week.

All three have been full participants at practice. The Steelers could take a look at who looks the best and go with those two, putting the other on the inactive list.

@ Kansas City is something of an enigma.

The Chiefs are one of just five NFL teams that enter this weekend averaging less than 200 yards passing per game. They haven't had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass all season.

And yet they are second in the NFL in red zone offense in touchdown percentage, scoring TDs at a 67.5 percent rate.

Defensively, they allow 4.9 yards per rushing attempt but have given up just two rushing touchdowns this season. They rank first in the NFL in red zone defense.

And though they do get after the passer, recording 38 sacks, they have allowed 39, a big number for a team that doesn't really throw the ball deep all that often.Read full post: Mid-week news

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