When the Chiefs and Steelers first met in Week 4, both teams looked very different. Justin Houston was injured, Tyreek Hill was not a major factor and the Steelers’ offense didn’t go through Le’Veon Bell the way it does now. Pittsburgh won that game 43-14 at home in what was undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of the season.
Now the teams will meet for a second time, at Arrowhead Stadium with a trip to the AFC Championship on the line. All of the key players will be healthy for this rematch, which should make for an exciting game between two AFC powerhouses.
However, when it comes to the most important players, these 11 likely will determine the outcome of this game.
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Marcus Peters, Chiefs CB
Yeah, the corner who will be shadowing Antonio Brown is pretty important. Peters has some of the best ball skills of any defender in the NFL, and with Brown certain to get his share of targets, Peters should be able to get his hands on plenty of passes. If he can limit Brown to 70 yards or fewer, it will be seen as a win for the Chiefs.
Ryan Shazier, Steelers LB
Shazier is a guy who can destroy the Chiefs’ plans to run the ball. He’s also terrific in coverage, which will help in limiting tight end Travis Kelce’s production. When he’s at his best, though, he’s shooting gaps and stuffing runners in the backfield. Doing so against Spencer Ware and Tyreek Hill will be key to getting the Chiefs behind the sticks, forcing them to throw the ball.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs WR/KR
Hill was not a major factor in the first meeting, touching the ball just six times for 22 yards and a touchdown. Since then, he’s exploded for 12 total touchdowns. He’s a sparkplug in the return game and can score from anywhere on the field. When he touches the ball, every defender has to keep their eyes on him because he’s dangerous.
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Alex Smith, Chiefs QB
It’s not often a team’s quarterback is just the eighth most important player in the game, but Smith is just that. He’s a good quarterback – a game-manager who can throw downfield when needed – but he’s not the centerpiece of Kansas City’s offense. His job is to avoid turnovers at all costs and feed Spencer Ware, Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin.
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Spencer Ware, Chiefs RB
Ware, along with Justin Houston, is expected to be ready to go for Sunday’s game after getting the week off thanks to the bye. That should help him reboot the Chiefs’ offense. He rushed for 921 yards on just 214 carries to go with three touchdowns, while contributing 33 catches for 447 yards and two more TDs.
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Travis Kelce, Chiefs TE
Arguably the Chiefs’ best playmaker in the passing game, Kelce is more of a receiver than he is a blocking tight end. In the middle of the field, he can make smaller defenders pay in coverage, while linebackers can’t match his speed. In other words, he’s a matchup nightmare and will cause serious problems for the Steelers in the passing game.
Eric Berry, Chiefs FS
Berry is a candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year, so he’ll be a major factor in this one. He can eliminate big plays to Brown over the top, while also limiting the number of yards Bell gains in the open field. Berry is one of the best defenders in all of football, and against a high-octane offense like the Steelers’, he’ll have to be at his best and avoid missed tackles.
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Antonio Brown, Steelers WR
Brown is only No. 4? Yep, and it’s because the Steelers won’t win this game by throwing it 40 times. They’ll advance by giving the ball to Bell and letting him do his best Barry Sanders impression. Brown will get his share of targets, and he’ll have to make the most of them the way he did last week, but the Steelers have so many weapons that they’re not reliant on him.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers QB
Have you noticed that the less Roethlisberger does, the more the Steelers win? He’s obviously still a big part of the Steelers’ offense, but he doesn’t need to throw for 350 yards and three touchdowns for Pittsburgh to win. All he has to do is protect the football and get it in the hands of his playmakers, Bell and Brown.
Justin Houston, Chiefs OLB
The Chiefs were without Houston in their first meeting with the Steelers, and his absence played a huge role in the loss. He’ll be back on the field this time around, and his presence will be felt in a big way. In just his second game returning from injury, he had three sacks against the Broncos. The Chiefs don’t need him to sack Roethlisberger three times, but a pair of sacks would be good.
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers RB
It’s no coincidence that the Steelers started their hot streak right when Bell’s production skyrocketed. He’s one of the game’s best running backs, and he’ll need to be exactly that on Sunday if the Steelers want to win. If Bell doesn’t get more than 100 yards from scrimmage and find the end zone at least once, you probably won’t see the Steelers in the AFC title game. He’ll be the Chiefs’ No. 1 target on defense as they’ll need to stop him to win.