On paper, it is difficult to put on the same plane some Chiefs who watch the rest of the American Conference from the top and some Steelers who accuse a season painted gray. Both, however, can be equally dangerous.
The Chiefs enter Sunday’s game at home with the playoffs in their sights thanks to an aggressive and timely defense (25 steals) and a Patrick Mahomes back to his optimum level, which have been the engines that have Kansas City ( 10-4) riding a seven-game winning streak – the longest active in the NFL.
That’s enough to set off alarms for the rest of the league.
The Steelers (7-6-1), for their part, don’t share many of those attributes. His offense has proven mediocre, to say the least, and his defense inconsistent, at best. But the fact that they are holding on to their last breath this season makes them just as dangerous.
If Pittsburgh is to enter the Arrowhead compromise with any advantage, it is health. The Steelers have somehow weathered a COVID-19 outbreak that has devastated campuses and disrupted schedules across the league.
Kansas City cannot say the same. During the week, the team had as many as 16 players on the COVID-19 list, including names like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones among the eight starters, and it is unknown if they will be able to count any of them on Sunday.
“It is part of the world we live in today,” Mahomes declared.
Pittsburgh could hardly have a better chance of competing with a heavyweight the likes of Kansas City. Or so you might think. In the rollercoaster that the Steelers season has been, they have won games in which they score 15 points and have lost games in which they score 37.
However, they enter Week 15 alive by virtue of two strong defensive performances in the past three weeks, both against division leaders (at the time) such as Baltimore and Tennessee. Repeating the trick against a Chiefs who average 32.87 points in their last five games is seen as a much more complicated task, one that could seal the fate of their season.
BROWNS (7-7) at GREEN BAY (11-3)
Trouble for the Cleveland Browns seems to have no end. To an outbreak of COVID-19 that left them without more than half of their headlines for the previous week’s meeting and a loss that sent them to the basement of their division, now we must add a visit to Lambeau Field to face the Packers They boast the best record in the entire NFL.
Cleveland’s problems don’t end there. While they will have head coach Kevin Stefanski back on the wings, the availability of starting quarterback Baker Mayfield (COVID-19) and star defensive end Myles Garrett (groin) remains up in the air. Not the best situation when your season is on the line.
On the other hand, last week, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week became the first, and so far the only, team with a playoff spot. Next on the list is to secure a stay at Lambeau Field for the entire postseason, starting Saturday against Cleveland.
Added to Cleveland’s health problems is an inconsistency that is clearly reflected in the fact that they have alternated wins and losses since week 6. Weighed down by an offense that, even with its best elements on the field, has had trouble adding points on the scoreboard.
That is a mortal sin when on the other side is Rodgers, again with MVP credentials, and who in this 2021 comes equipped with the 10th best offense in the NFL.
Week 16 begins Thursday night when the 49ers (8-6), who have won five of their last six games to clinch their contention for a wild-card spot in the NFC, visit the current Titans (9-5). Southern leaders of the AFC.
The day continues on Saturday with the visit of the Browns to Green Bay and, at night, Colts (8-6) will look to take another step towards the postseason in their visit to Arizona (10-4), which requires a win for make it to the playoffs.
The following games are scheduled for Sunday: Lions (2-11-1) in Atlanta (6-8); Buccaneers (10-4) at Carolina (5-9); Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati (8-6); Chargers (8-6) at Houston (3-11); Rams (10-4) at Minnesota (7-7); Bills (8-6) at New England (9-5); Jaguars (2-12) at NY Jets (3-11); Giants (4-10) at Philadelphia (7-7); Bears (4-10) at Seattle (5-9); Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas (7-7); and Washington (6-8) in Dallas (10-4).
The penultimate week of the regular calendar concludes on Monday with Miami (7-7), which will put into play their six-game winning streak at home to the Saints (7-7), who are still alive in the fight for a wild card in the Conference National.
HEADING TO PLAYOFFS
Green Bay is the only team classified to the playoffs so far and has already secured the title of the South Division.
The Cowboys and Buccaneers can secure their respective division titles, and their playoff spot, with wins this week without the need for further combinations.
The Cardinals and Rams can seal their playoff berth with two wins this week.
Chiefs can earn their postseason spot with a win on Sunday. It takes a win and a loss for the Chargers to secure the divisional title.
Patriots, Titans can secure their postseason ticket this week, but they require respective wins and other combinations of results.
Associated Press reporter Dave Skretta contributed to this report from Kansas City.
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Chiefs Seek Playoff Ticket; Steelers, survive