The countdown is on for the Kansas City Chiefs‘ first scheduled Wild Card game since Patrick Mahomes became the starting quarterback. Extending their streak — to four straight seasons — of entering the playoffs as the No. 2 seed or better, Kansas City will host the No. 7 seed Pittsburgh Steelers as 12.5-point favorites with the points total set at 46.
In the storied history of the Steelers, this is just the fourth time that they have entered a playoff game as double-digit dogs, and the 12.5 point spread serves as the greatest predicted margin in Wild Card round history.
Let’s take a look at this season’s trends and some history between these two teams to identify the best bet of the week.
All odds listed come courtesy of WynnBET
Chiefs vs Steelers over the years
When the Chiefs routed the Steelers in Week 16, 36-10, it was just the second time since 2009 that a game between the two was decided by more than 10 points. There is an incredibly rich history, dating back to 1970, between Kansas City and Pittsburgh that is defined by competition and has produced some all-time memorable moments for both organizations.
Sunday will mark the third time that these teams have squared off in the playoffs (1994 Wild Card, 2017 Divisional Round), and the two previous meetings, combined, were settled by merely 5 points. Pittsburgh is 2-0 in those contests.
In 2021, the Chiefs were a significantly better team than the Steelers, and, to paraphrase Ben Rothlisberger himself, Pittsburgh is likely the lowliest member of this years’ playoff bracket. In theory, it should be a cakewalk of an opening-round for Mahomes and company, but, again, the recent history between the two suggests that a vintage, smash-mouth, AFC showdown could certainly break out at Arrowhead.
Steelers regular season ATS
The Steelers went 7-4 ATS as underdogs this year (8-9 overall) and were only faced with a double-digit number one other time this year, which was Week 16 in Kansas City. Fourteen of their 17 games in the regular season were decided by 10 or fewer points, with the only lopsided games of the year coming in both of the losses they had to the Bengals and their contest with the Chiefs.
One could argue that Kansas City is one of the two teams that have their number this year, and another could retort that the rest of the season more justly defines the Steelers’ grit. Personally, my stance is that of the latter. Games against the Steelers, particularly in the past 20 years, seem to always carry similar weight and comparable dramatics to divisional matchups for the Chiefs.
Prior to the Mahomes era, looking back to 2001, the Steelers went 7-3 against the Chiefs, and those games, on average, were decided by 11.5 points. Six of those 10 games were decided by 6 or fewer points, and among the other four were some monster victories for Pittsburgh.
The point being, if you ask me, 12.5 points is too many in a game between these two. There may be some bias in my observation given that my fandom dates back to that 2001 window, but if this rivalry actually does have any semblance of divisional foes, you have to expect a tough game to break out on Sunday.
Steelers regular season points trends
Steelers games have only featured a points total set at 46 or higher three times this year, and they went over just once (Week 11 vs the Chargers). On the season, games that included Pittsburgh totaled for the over just 6 times (35%), much less frequently than games involving Kansas City, who hit the over in 10 weeks (58%).
One of the Steelers’ most notable deficiencies is their rush defense, which could help to explain why they ended the season with so many tight, low-scoring games. Teams attempted to run the ball 498 times against Pittsburgh this year—the 7th most attempts against any defense across the league—and they allowed 2,483 yards, the most of any team in football. The regularity of the league’s exploitation of this glaring weakness speaks to the results of their games as running the ball kills the clock and slows the pace of play.
Much of the narrative surrounding the Chiefs in 2021 was that they needed to “take what the defense was giving them.” If my prediction for a close contest is to come true, then the Chiefs will likely be taking the ground yardage that the Steelers can’t help but give up, and this game going under 46 will be incredibly likely.
Most of what can be found, read, or listened to in a preview of this game claims that the Chiefs will steamroll through the Steelers and continue paving their road to Super Bowl 56. I am still calling for a Kansas City victory, but the final score that I feel drawn to is 20-24. Images of Ben Rothlisberger pulling off a couple of vintage throws and Najee Harris rushing for 100 yards are haunting my dreams this week, so I will be taking a safe play of mixing the Chiefs on the money line (-700) into a spicy Super Wild Card Weekend parlay.
Hit me with your final score predictions and the bets you like in the comments below. Go Chiefs!