The old saying goes that revenge is a dish best served cold. Last Sunday, in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers avenged a regular-season loss to the Miami Dolphins, and did it in quite frigid temperatures at Heinz Field, winning by 18 points.
This Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), the revenge table is turned on the Steelers, as they travel to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to play the Chiefs in an AFC divisional round game. The start of the game was pushed back more than seven hours due to a ice storm expected to move through the area on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Oddsmakers have listed the home team as a one-point favorite.
In the first days of October, the Chiefs traveled to Pittsburgh and got hammered by the Steelers, losing 43-14 in a Sunday night game. The 29-point deficit was one of the season’s biggest blowout defeats suffered by a team that eventually made the playoffs. That loss left the Chiefs 2-2 on the season, but afterward it won 10 of the next 12 games and captured an AFC West division title.
But that game was a complete meltdown for the Chiefs and they are determined to back up their AFC No. 2 seeding by paying back the visiting Steelers.
“There are important matters in front of us now,” said K.C. quarterback Alex Smith. “There are a lot of emotions this time of year. Everybody’s put in a lot of work and sacrifice to have these kinds of opportunities.”
After getting their revenge against the Dolphins, the Steelers know what they will face in Kansas City.
“We have to understand that the same passion and dedication that we put in to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” said Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell. “We have to put that much more time into our detail. We have to do all the little things right because they’re going to try to take the things away that we did well last game and make us beat them a different way.”
Bell ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns last week against Miami. It was a record-setting rushing performance in Pittsburgh postseason history. Back in October, Bell put up 144 yards on 18 carries against Kansas City.
“He has a unique style about him — that delay to get to the line of scrimmage,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said of Bell. “It’s been effective for him. He’s really the only one that does it, so it’s unique. The obvious thing is you have to contain him and take care of your gaps.”
Pittsburgh is riding an eight-game winning streak and an AFC North title with more than just Bell. Wide receiver Antonio Brown was among the league leaders in catches (106), receiving yards (1,284) and touchdown receptions (12) for the fourth consecutive year. Brown had the first two touchdowns against Miami, connecting with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on scoring plays of 50 and 62 yards. When these teams met earlier, the Steelers’ quarterback threw five touchdown passes to four different receivers.
The Chiefs can test the Pittsburgh defense with big plays from wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Over Kansas City’s last six games, Hill and Kelce scored seven total touchdowns and contributed 45 percent of the offensive yards (470 of 2,150.)
“He is as dynamic as any tight end in football right now,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of Kelce. “He is a matchup issue — too athletic for linebackers, too big and strong often times for secondary people. Hill’s contributions have evolved since we played them. Now, he is very much a part of their routine offensive attack. He is an impactful guy and his speed and bursts are unique.”
The quarterback matchup is actually pretty even. In the regular season, Roethlisberger had 29 touchdown passes compared to Smith’s 15, but the Chiefs’ quarterback threw eight interceptions compared to 13 for the Steelers’ passer. Big Ben has a big edge in postseason experience, playing in his 19th game. Smith will make his sixth start, but he has an interception percentage of 0.5 percent in the postseason, the top mark in league history for passers that attempted at least 150 passes.
Roethlisberger was expected to play with no limitations despite aggravating an old foot injury in the victory over Miami.
“You have to play good football and do what got you here,” said Reid, with an 11-11 record in the postseason. “There is not a lot of room for error. That’s just not what this time of the year is about. You have to have good line play on both sides of the ball. That’s what you get this time of the year.”
There’s no time for revenge either said Tomlin.
“We don’t care about the nameless gray faces we’re playing right now,” said Tomlin, who has a 7-5 mark in the playoffs. “This is man versus himself. We’re trying to do what’s required to win. We’re not trying to settle vendettas and things of that nature. What happened during the regular season is of little importance. What is important is that you do enough to get out of these stadiums and advance.”