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It’s part of the NFL’s life cycle that stuff ends in the playoffs.
They can all come to an end with the wrong outcome. And that’s how it’s going to be between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
If the Chiefs lose, there goes the defense of their AFC title and a great run that has seen them win postseason games in 2018-21, including the Super Bowl in February 2020.
If the Steelers lose, there goes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger riding off into retirement — the apparent end of an 18-year career that delivered 53 game winning drives, 41 comebacks and two Super Bowl titles.
It sounds somber and maybe even depressing, but there’s no getting around the idea that, in this one, the Steelers are going to topple the conference champs or Patrick Mahomes is going to make Big Ben strike midnight on a career.
“I mean, I haven’t even thought about it like that,” Mahomes said this week. “He’s an all-time great quarterback that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame one day, but he’s still playing great football right now.
“If you look at the big-time throws he’s made to keep their season alive, we know it’s going to be a great challenge for us. Not just him, but that entire team. They have an attitude about them, a mindset they play with. So we’re not taking them lightly at all.
“They’re a team that’s beat a lot a good football teams, and so to get to play against Big Ben is an honor for me. He’s great football player.”
The Chiefs, you should know, finished the regular season by winning nine of their last 10 games. The one loss was by a field goal to Cincinnati.
So even if the Chiefs are not the No.1 seed in the conference, they’re kind of good. And by kind of good, I mean they’re first in total offense and second in passing yards in the conference.
The Steelers are not that. The Steelers have the 13th-worst record of the 14 playoff teams. They are the lowest seed in the AFC. And they got into the postseason, basically, because Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 18 yard line early and called a dumb time out late against the Raiders.
These facts, no doubt, were the reason Roethlisberger was more than a little snide in assessing his team’s chances in the game.
“I would assume as a group you understand that we probably aren’t supposed to be here,” Roethlisberger told reporters. “We probably are not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams that are in, we’re probably at No. 14.
“We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs. So, let’s just go play and have fun and see what happens.”
Yes, very inspiring.
Did I mention the Chiefs dismantled the Steelers on Dec. 26?
In that 36-10 whipping, the Chiefs built a 30-0 lead as Mahomes threw three TD passes. And it happened while tight end Travis Kelce and three other starters missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols.
So can the Chiefs perform like that again?
“I think with any game, just like when you play a divisional opponent, you keep a little bit of
stuff here and there, but you got to come with a different game plan for sure,” Mahomes said. “They’re going to go through and watch the game and try to take away that stuff we had success with the first time.
“We’ll have some elements in there, but we’ll have stuff to go off of from the game before. We had a great game that day where we executed at a very high level, but this is a good defense. They’re going to come with answers. They have great coaches who have coached for a long time and had a ton of success, so we know it’s not going to be easy.
“It’s going to be a battle each and every play, and we’ll come in with the mindset knowing that if we don’t play our best football, we’ll be at home the next week.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero