The 2022 NFL postseason is officially among us and the Chiefs will be playing in the playoff’s opening weekend for the first time in five years. Their history during Wild Card weekend is lousy but the statistics foreshadow a change coming Sunday night…
For the first time in Patrick Mahomes’ budding playoff career (6-2) he is going to have to play a football game on Wild Card weekend.
That phrase would not be so outrageous to hear if Mahomes had not already made the playoffs in all three of his seasons as a starting quarterback, hosted the AFC Championship all three seasons, and won one of two Super Bowls he’s been to. So what is an extra playoff game to the former Super Bowl MVP?
This newfound experience would typically be worrisome but Mahomes is simply too talented and head coach Andy Reid has too much experience in the playoffs for fans of #ChiefsKingdom to actually be concerned.
Should the Chiefs be concerned though?
The team Kansas City is going up against–the #7 ranked Pittsburgh Steelers–is also filled with plenty of veteran players and coaches who have their own playoff experience and their own Super Bowl rings. Namely, 39-year old “Big Ben” Roethlisberger who could be playing in his final NFL game.
Yes, Roethlisberger has been here before. In fact he’s played in seven AFC Wild Card games during his eighteen seasons as the starting quarterback for Pittsburgh, which is tied for the second-most Wild Card appearances by a quarterback behind Brett Favre (8). This means Sunday night he’ll tie Favre but even with a win he would be still be second in wins behind him and former Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
Meanwhile, Kansas City has played in just eleven Wild Card games total throughout their 62 years as an NFL franchise.
In those eleven Wild Card games Kansas City is only 3-8 (27% win percentage) and have lost by an average of eleven points even though their last two losses (2013 & ’17) both came by only a single point.
Compare those stats to Roethlisberger (3-4 in Wild Card games) who, on one occasion (’05), led his team from the wild card weekend all the way to Super Bowl victory (SB XL). Over his seven wild card games Roethlisberger has accumulated 2,095 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a passer rating of 89.1.
Also, Roethlisberger’s 299.3 yards/game and 66.2% completion percentage in wild card games both rank third amongst quarterbacks with at least four wild card appearances.
Needless to say, Big Ben is ready for the challenge of this postseason and he’s not just going to “go in and play and have fun” like he lightheartedly joked about Wednesday morning.
How to repeat Week sixteen’s performances
In order to see why the Chiefs opened as 13.5 point favorites just go back three weeks to their week sixteen domination over this same Steelers team that beat Cleveland and Baltimore the final two weeks in order to squeak into the final 14 teams left.
But in order to repeat the the 36-10 win there has to be certain pieces that fall back into place like they did that day when Travis Kelce was missing due to COVID-19 protocols and Tyreek Hill only logged two catches for 19 yards (9.5 yds/catch).
Byron Pringle stepped up in Kelce and Hill’s absence when he caught six-of-seven targets for 75 yards (12.5 yds/catch) and a career-high two touchdowns. If Pringle, or someone else in the receiver room, steps up in a similar fashion then players like Hill and Darrel Williams–who were both injured in last week’s game–can get at least some sort of break since they do not have the bye like normal.
Derrick Gore also helped out when the Chiefs needed him to when he had over 100 yards from scrimmage for the first (and only) time this season, thanks largely to his fifty-yard catch late in the second quarter.
Although, with running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire (OUT) and Williams (toe) practicing earlier this week it might not be Gore who has the opportunity to show out Sunday night but after the way this season has matriculated for Kansas City it could literally be anyone on the offense who steps up.
Stopping Pittsburgh’s defense
The biggest thing stopping Kansas City from walking out of Arrowhead with yet another postseason win under Reid is the number one sacking defense in the league, led by Defensive Player of the Year favorite (-400) T.J. Watt.
Watt’s 22.5 sacks this season in just fifteen games not only tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record but it further solidified him as the key focal point for coach Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy all week.
What’s even more impressive is after week sixteen’s 26-point loss to Kansas City Watt announced that he was playing with cracked ribs which means that he was not 100%.
What does that mean for Sunday’s upcoming Wild Card matchup? Could Watt be back to 100%?
Whether or not Watt is fully healthy come Sunday the Chiefs offensive line has been poked and prodded heavily since the Steelers fell to the Chiefs three weeks ago:
- Right tackle Lucas Niang, who started seven games this season, tore a patellar tendon during the Bengals game and will miss the entire postseason.
- Backup offensive tackle Mike Remmers is still on injured reserve (IR) and won’t be available for the playoffs most likely
- Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who the Chiefs traded four draft picks to acquire in April, has been battling a calf injury since the Bengals game but has been practicing this week leading up to the Wild Card
- Left guard Joe Thuney has been switching between the left tackle and left guard to fill in for the aforementioned Brown Jr.
The Chiefs have been through this mishap before which might scare fans and sports bettors alike but the difference between this week and last year’s Super Bowl disaster is the massive depth that GM Brett Veach has built over the course of the past ten months.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire being out Sunday night due to a shoulder injury is also not helpful for this Chiefs offense going against a Steelers team that’s averaged the second-most sacks per game (4.7) and the second most takeaways per game (1.7) over the past three games.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are coming into the Wild Card matchup off a tough loss at Cincinnati and a game against Denver that came down to a sensational scoop-and-score by rookie linebacker Nick Bolton.
In those two games Kansas City has allowed an average of 419.5 yards per game which is second worst in NFL behind only the Jets (445.5). And even though Kansas City’s key players all look to be playing–outside of Edwards-Helaire–the opposing Steelers also have major players coming back.