Eking out a 20-19 win over Baltimore and nipping the Titans 19-13 have kept Pittsburgh’s boat afloat. T.J. Watt makes anything possible, especially against a Chiefs attack waiting to see if Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill make it off the reserve/COVID list in time for Sunday. Expect the spread to fluctuate as we learn more, but it’s a depressing turn for a back-from-the-dead Chiefs offense that posted 82 points over the past two weeks. Kansas City’s no-fluke defense is allowing 13.3 points per outing during the club’s seven-game win streak. Late-period Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t scare anyone, but he’s played his best football of the year in recent weeks and leads the league with six game-winning drives. This play comes down to COVID-spun chaos for K.C. and a personal belief that pesky Pittsburgh will still be alive and kicking come Week 18.
What to watch for: The Chiefs have generally protected quarterback Patrick Mahomes well, but here come the Steelers, who are second in the league in sacks. Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. played against Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt several times when Brown was with the Ravens and knows what a challenge Watt can be on every snap. “He plays with an effort unknown to mankind,’’ Brown said. “He’s somebody that very rarely are you able to keep him off a stat sheet.’’ The Chiefs’ ability to limit Watt’s numbers on the final stat sheet could determine Sunday’s outcome. — Adam Teicher
Pryor’s pick: Chiefs 24, Steelers 23
Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 23, Steelers 20
Pittsburgh Steelers (+7) at Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs -8.5
The Steelers are pretty much playing for their playoff lives, which won’t be easy against the best team in the AFC. The Chiefs have played great defense the last five games, which will make it a challenge for Ben Roethlisberger. The Chiefs offense has shown signs of coming to life lately, but they could be without Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Steelers will hang around here, but the Chiefs will win it.
Pick: Chiefs 24, Steelers 23
Head coach candidates
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs OC: He’s been passed over two straight offseasons (and you could argue three) for HC jobs. Bieniemy is a key part of what the Chiefs have going.
Todd Bowles, Buccaneers DC: Bowles has been at the controls of the league’s best rush defense since 2019 after four years as the Jets head coach.
Jim Caldwell: The former Colts and Lions head coach should have been on every team’s list last year and should remain on those lists this cycle.
Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
Why he belongs: The Chiefs selected Humphrey out of Oklahoma with the 63rd overall pick in the 2021 draft, and all the rookie has done since then is to become one of the best centers in the NFL, regardless of experience. This season, Humphrey has allowed just one sack (Week 4 against the Eagles) and 10 total pressures. As he was in college, Humphrey has also been an absolute mauler in the run game. This was one of the most egregious snubs at any position this year, but if Humphrey keeps it up, he’s going to have a boatload of Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods in his future.
Who’s off the roster? Ryan Kelly. The Colts’ center is a very good player, and he’s a key part of a dynamite offensive line, but he’s allowed more sacks (three) and more total pressures (24) than Humphrey, and Humphrey has displayed more root strength as a run-blocker.
Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel — Ryan Poles
Oct 10, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; A general view of the Super Bowl logo on the player tunnel before the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Just like Borgonzi, Ryan Poles has been with the Chiefs for 12 years, which means he must be doing something right as the team has had three general manager changes in that time. Additionally, Poles’ name has been pretty popular the last few offseasons, and ESPN’s Field Yates even has called him “one of the smartest young personnel minds around.”
Poles has a largely collegiate scouting background with the Chiefs, serving as their scouting assistant during his first four years with the team. Afterward, he received promotions to become their college scouting coordinator (2010-2016), director of college scouting (2016-2018), assistant director of player personnel (2018-2021), and executive director of player personnel (2021-present).
Throughout his time in Kansas City, Poles (and Borgonzi) have seen the team select notables like Justin Houston, Rodney Hudson, Eric Fisher, Marcus Peters, and Chris Jones, in addition to the names we’ve already mentioned like Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill. He seems to have come close to landing a job last season after interviewing twice with the Carolina Panthers, so maybe 2022 will be his year.
Around the NFL
“I’m planning on playing,” said Book. “You can’t just flip that switch on Monday morning, trying to get ready. It doesn’t work like that, especially at the quarterback position.”
Book was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Saints and the 23-year-old has plenty of big-game experience during his three years as a starter at Notre Dame. Book’s 30 total wins are the most in the program’s rich history, and his 72 touchdown passes are second-most for the Irish behind Brady Quinn (95).
Fields suffered an ankle injury during Monday’s 17-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Dalton has been dealing with a groin injury that flared up after he returned this week from the COVID-19 list.
Foles, whom the Bears acquired last season to compete with former starter Mitch Trubisky, has not played this season. Fields finished Monday night’s game and was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, but he did not practice Thursday or Friday.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
During his Thursday media remarks, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy fielded several questions about what the team might do without its superstar passing game targets — and what would happen if one or both players were to be activated late in the week.
“I’ll tell you what,” Bieniemy explained, “There’s going to be a whole lot of Kansas City Chiefs dressed up out there with uniforms — you’ll just be missing those two particular players. You know how we do things — the next man is up.”
Acknowledging the reality of how short-handed the offense may be, the former running back joked, “Hell, I might take a snap. It may not be good, but I’ll take a snap.”
One player who may be in line for a more significant role is rookie Noah Gray — currently the only tight end on the active roster. Bieniemy expressed confidence Gray is ready to step Sunday if needed.
“Noah has done a great job since he’s been here,” Bieniemy claimed. “I know during the offseason — when we first got him here — we were very excited about what he brings to the table. I thought he actually had a hell of a training camp, and he showed tremendous improvement.
“The kid loves to play the game. He’s sat in that room with Travis Kelce and has absorbed all of that knowledge — not only from him but from (Chiefs tight ends coach) Tom Melvin, who has coached Kelce up over the past few years. So, we’re not concerned or worried about what Noah’s not going to do; we just want him to go out there and maximize this opportunity — if that was to happen.”