The Kansas City Chiefs didn't earn a first-round bye to kick off their quest for a third straight AFC Championship, but bookies don't expect much resistance when they welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to Arrowhead Stadium for the Wild Card Round on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh narrowly slid into the NFL Playoffs thanks to a wacky Week 18 of the regular season. Now, oddsmakers are giving the Steelers nearly two touchdowns on the road against a team that flattened them 36-10 in this same stadium just a few weeks back. In other words, things aren't looking good for Ben Roethlisberger & Co.
Go wild this weekend with our NFL free picks and predictions for Steelers at Chiefs on January 16.
Steelers vs Chiefs odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
Kansas City opened as big as -13.5 for this rematch with Pittsburgh, having pounded the Black and Yellow by 26 points at home in Week 16. Early money, however, has sided with the Steelers and slid this spread as low as -12 before a market consensus at -12.5 as of Wednesday afternoon. The total opened at 46.5 points and has dropped as low as 46 at some books.
Steelers vs Chiefs predictions
Predictions made on 1/12/2022 at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.
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Steelers vs Chiefs game info
• Location: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
• Date: Sunday, January 16, 2022
• Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
• TV: NBC
Steelers at Chiefs betting preview
Steelers: Dwayne Haskins QB (Out), Cody White WR (Out), Anthony McFarland RB (Out), Tegray Scales LB (Out), Carlos Davis DT (Out).
Chiefs: Shane Buechele QB (Out), Josh Gordon WR (Out), Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB (Out), Rashad Fenton CB (Out), Darwin Thompson RB (Out), Joshua Kaindoh DE (Out), Prince Tega Wanogho OT (Out).
Find our latest NFL injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The Chiefs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five playoff home games. Find more NFL betting trends for Steelers vs. Chiefs.
Steelers vs Chiefs picks and predictions
Our predictions are compiled from the analysis of the spread and total and are indications of where we are leaning for this game.
Our best bet is the play that we like the most for this game, which we would actually put some of our bankroll behind.
Kansas City opened as a 9.5-point favorite for that December 26 run-in with Pittsburgh, and the spread jumped to as high as -11 on gameday before closing Chiefs -10. Patrick Mahomes & Co. then proceeded to build a 23-0 halftime lead and held a 36-3 edge until allowing a late touchdown with less than three minutes remaining.
Since that one-sided beating, Kansas City hasn’t looked its sharpest with a 34-31 loss at Cincinnati in Week 17 and a 28-24 victory at Denver last Saturday night. Granted, that season finale was a tough schedule spot for the Chiefs, who were playing their second straight road game on a short week in the thin air of Mile High – a tall task for any team.
Now, Kansas City is back home for just the second time in a month for this Wild Card contest. The Chiefs have been stellar in front of the Arrowhead faithful, especially on defense. The team has allowed 10 or fewer points in its last five homestands and owns the third-highest yards per point margin as a host in the NFL (+6.0).
The KC stop unit showed some soft spots in those final two games – missed tackles and blown coverage in the secondary – but may not have to worry about much against Pittsburgh’s pop-gun attack. The Steelers' offense ranks second-last in intended air yards and its biggest weapon – RB Najee Harris – is nursing an elbow injury heading into the weekend.
The game plan versus Pittsburgh is the same one rolled out in Week 16: a quick start. Kansas City jumped out to a two-touchdown lead in the opening frame, taking advantage of a Pittsburgh team notorious for slow starts this season (2.2 1Q points per game). From there, the Steelers have to stretch this offense further than OC Matt Canada would like – and further than a noodle-armed Ben Roethlisberger can carry it.
The Chiefs defensive line has been a difference-maker for this stop unit since getting healthy halfway through the schedule. Kansas City is able to get tremendous pressure upfront with just four rushers, leaving the linebackers to drop into coverage or close in quickly on ball carriers. The Steelers offensive line ranks out 31st in pass block win rate (49%) at EPSN and faces a Chiefs defense stirring up QB pressure on 26.4% of dropbacks (sixth highest).
With the swing back home to Arrowhead and the market somewhat soured on the Chiefs after two tough road games, getting Kansas City below two touchdowns seems like a gift considering the gap between these two offenses.
Prediction: Chiefs -12.5 (-110)
People want to point to Pittsburgh’s defense as a reason to like the underdog this Wild Card Weekend, but this unit has underperformed most of the season and has been far from elite in the home stretch of the schedule.
Save for the game-wrecking ability of T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh has been “meh” on defense. It ranks No. 14 in DVOA at Football Outsiders for the season but has been gashed when going up against the offensive elite recently. The Steelers hemorrhaged 36 points to Kansas City less than a month ago, gave up 36 to Minnesota, as well as a pair of 41-point regurgitations versus Cincinnati and the L.A. Chargers in Weeks 11 and 12.
That said, I don’t expect the Chiefs to lay it on too thick Sunday night. Pittsburgh’s pass rush is not to be toyed with, racking up a league-high 55 sacks on the season, which hasn’t allowed those rival passers much time in the pocket for deeper plays to develop. The Steelers have given up only 44 plays of 20 yards or more on the year.
Mahomes and this Chiefs playbook have kept it short and sweet the past few weeks with a bigger emphasis on the run game as well. Kansas City went from throwing the ball on 63.21% of snaps in the first 14 games to just 56.28% over the past three contests, chugging along for 4.8 yards per carry which has upped time of possession to 32:53 in that span – a near two and a half minute increase on its season average TOP before Week 16.
The Chiefs will not only try to alleviate pressure on Mahomes with a healthy dose of handoffs but also look to chew up the clock in the second half with a ground-and-pound approach after they get up on the scoreboard. The potential return of RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire could have KC picking up where it left off the last time it played Pittsburgh, marching for 127 yards on 35 carries.
Prediction: Under 46.5 (-110)
The one nod we have to give to this Steelers offense is that it never packs it in. Pittsburgh has shown zombie levels of life when thought dead, making NFL bettors sweat out the final minutes in many games this season.
Pittsburgh musters only 2.2 average points in the opening quarter and has managed only nine total tallied in the first frame of its last eight contests. The Steelers scoring doesn’t get much better in the second quarter either, with the team posting just 6.7 first-half points per game on the year – dropping to an average of 3.6 when on the road.
However, that output perks up in the second half - mainly due to trailing on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh’s offensive pace goes from 26th (29.20 seconds per play) in the opening 30 minutes to No. 1 in the second half (only 24.55 seconds per play), which has pumped out 13.1 second-half points per contest (65% of the team’s total scoring).
Knowing this tendency and with Kansas City’s propensity to start quick – Chiefs own a first-half margin of +6.4 at home compared to Pittsburgh’s first-half margin of -12.3 on the road – we’re going to avoid the zombie Steelers in the second half and lay the modest -7 (-110) with the home team in the opening two frames.
Pick: Chiefs 1H -7 (-110)