KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just like Sunday’s upcoming Super Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, when these two met in the AFC Divisional Round in 2017, it was a rematch of a regular-season matchup.
In 2016, the Chiefs and Steelers met in Week 4 in Pittsburgh where they obliterated the Chiefs 43-14. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns, and Le’Veon Bell ran for 144 yards.
They scored 36 unanswered points until Tyreek Hill scored a touchdown for the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.
When they met in the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium the following January, it was a much more defensive battle. The game, scheduled for a noon kickoff, was pushed back to a night game due to an ice storm.
The Steelers won the very close game 18-16, all points coming from field goals.
Bell was able to run wild again on Kansas City, rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards and an interception but was able to use the quick passing game to keep the chains moving without scoring a field goal.
The Chiefs scored a touchdown on their first and last offensive drives of the game. The last drive (13 plays, 75 yards, seven minutes) helped the Chiefs get within two points of the Steelers (18-16) needing just a two-point conversion to tie the game with 2:43 left on the clock.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith converted the two-point play but a questionable holding penalty called on left tackle Eric Fisher overturned the call. On the next try, Smith’s pass to Jeremy Maclin was incomplete; Pittsburgh would get a first down to seal the game on the next drive.
Travis Kelce was very vocal about the flag that took the Chiefs’ points off the board.
“Refs wanna take over the game and make it their own platform,” Kelce said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. That wasn’t a hold on my guy Eric Fisher, and sure enough, I hope 72 doesn’t go the entire offseason thinking it was his fault.”
“This sucks… Alex [Smith] just drove us down there, fourth down after fourth down, making plays, making plays, the momentum [is] getting on our side and just get our jugulars ripped out because ref felt bad for James Harrison falling on the ground. It’s ignorance.”
“Ref number 51 shouldn’t even be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. Shouldn’t even be able to work at f—n’ Foot Locker.”
“It takes a lot to believe what is happening,” receiver Jeremy Maclin said in The New York Times after the game. “This is the best football team I have played on, by far. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Fast forward to this season. With the Chiefs blowing out the Steelers in their first matchup 36-10, they’re heavy favorites coming into this game. And this Chiefs team is a bit similar to that Alex Smith-led team.
In 2016, the offense ranked in the middle of the pack in point scored (13th) and yards gained (20th); the 2021 Chiefs are in the top five in both. Both defenses ranked in the top 10 in allowing the least points but are near the bottom in allowing many yards to be gained. Both defenses also ranked in the top five with the most takeaways.
The biggest difference between these teams: the ceiling of the offense.
With Alex Smith and then-offensive coordinator Brad Childress, the offense had its sparks but wasn’t as dynamic as the offense is now with Patrick Mahomes at the helm and Eric Bieniemy at offensive coordinator.
Also, save for a few players like Mahomes, Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Chris Jones, and Dan Sorensen, this roster is much improved from the 2016 version.
But both teams were also susceptible to the run. The current Chiefs have shown throughout the season that they can be run through. And with the Steelers most likely to lean on the run if it works, that could spell danger for Kansas City.
If the Chiefs can learn anything from this game in 2017, it’ll be to stop the run and don’t leave the game in the hands of the referees.