NFL Preview - Kansas City (8-6) at Pittsburgh (9-5) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - With apologies to Paul Revere and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, winning is most certainly a "two if by land" proposition for the modern-day Kansas City Chiefs.
The 2014 Chiefs have lived and died based on the fortunes of running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, who've combined for 1,388 yards on the ground and scored 21 of the team's 36 touchdowns.
It'll be the same scenario for Week 16, when Kansas City visits Pittsburgh, whose run defense has allowed 183 yards and one score in its last two games. Davis had a pair of touchdowns in the Chiefs' 31-13 defeat of Oakland last week, while Charles is listed probable to face the Steelers after dinging up an ankle and undergoing a concussion test after a hard hit.
"Every game from here forward is a playoff game. We're taking that mindset into every game," Davis said. "For me, it's just a dream to be in the NFL. To make the big plays and help this team win is just huge all around."
Meanwhile, the drought continues for the Chiefs wide receivers, who've now gone 17 games across two seasons without a touchdown, matching Denver (1971-72) and Cleveland (2008-09) for the longest streaks since the AFL-NFL merger. Quarterback Alex Smith has 18 TD throws, including five each to Charles and tight end Travis Kelce and four to another tight end, Anthony Fasano.
The two Browns teams involved in Cleveland's streak were a combined 9-23, while the two Broncos teams were 9-18-1.
"The fact that they're still winning games and haven't been able to have passing touchdowns like that, it shows that they're a very resourceful team," Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said.
Both Pittsburgh and Kansas City will need some success this week to stay playoff relevant.
The Steelers, at 9-5, are tied for second with Baltimore in a competitively muddled AFC North, each sitting a half-game behind Cincinnati. The Bengals play Monday night against Denver - which has already clinched the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs - while Baltimore heads to Houston.
Pittsburgh finishes the regular season with Cincinnati next weekend. The Steelers beat the Bengals, 42-21, in Week 14, then came back and won at Atlanta, 27-20, last Sunday.
A win against the Chiefs and Pittsburgh will clinch at least a wild-card berth.
"The last couple of games have been playoff games for us," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We've had to take that approach and that mindset because of how important every game was where we were record wise, seed-wise whatever you want to call it. We've kind of had that mentality for the last couple of weeks that it's time to get hot and play our best football. So we're just going to continue to try to do that."
Kansas City was in prime playoff position about a month ago, before a three- game losing skid that was only halted by the win against the Raiders. The Chiefs are now among a gaggle of AFC teams at 8-6 or better and will finish the season against another, San Diego, next weekend.
"Every game is playoff mode," Charles said. "Every game, you've got to come with it."
Pittsburgh's offense have been the league's most prolific through 14 games, thanks to an eight-game stretch in which it's averaged 424.9 yards and 33.1 points. The Steelers are 6-2 during that run.
"We're trying to stack wins," cornerback William Gay said. "Playing against good opponents and just putting everything on the line."
The driving force has been the trio of Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has already exceeded 4,400 passing yards and he's completed a career-best 67.2 percent of his passes. His 29 touchdowns are three shy of his high watermark, set in 2007.
Brown's 115 catches are tops in the NFL and a franchise record for a single season. He's two yards from surpassing the 1,499-yard franchise record he established last year, and one more TD catch will make him the fourth Pittsburgh receiver to haul in 12 in a season, joining Hines Ward (2002), Louis Lipps (1985) and Buddy Dial (1961).
Bell has 76 catches of his own, far exceeding the previous team best by a running back - 51 by John L. Williams in 1994. His 2,043 yards from scrimmage are also a franchise record.
Bettering the numbers won't be a cake walk against the Chiefs, whose pass defense is No. 2 in the league with an average allowance of 199.2 pass yards per week.
"It's a good defense. We have to look at a lot more film because they get after the passer (and are) good in the secondary," Roethlisberger said. "This is going to be one of our toughest tasks of the year."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A Multi-Toned Bell
Pittsburgh's Week 15 foe, Atlanta, came in with an all-in strategy to stop the run, and they were successful in limiting Bell to just 47 yards on 20 rushes. Problem is, the run is not the only thing with which Bell can hurt a defense. He caught five passes for 72 yards - including a 44-yard catch and run - and will be a vital element regardless on which way the Chiefs attack.
Disrupt "Big Ben's" Timing
The Steelers have seen Roethlisberger sacked 32 times in 14 games, which doesn't sound terrific, but is still on pace to be Ben's lowest number for a season in which he started at least 14 games. Keeping that pace could be an issue, however, if the league's co-leader in sacks, Justin Houston, gets clear to add to his 17. He and fellow outside linebacker Tamba Hali have 23 combined.
It's probably not a preview of the AFC Championship Game. In fact, there's a far better chance that the team that loses this game won't even make the playoffs at all. What it is, though, is a meeting of two teams with significant talent on both sides of the ball. The difference, it seems, comes in the fact that the Steelers have more Plan Bs when the Plan As don't work. That's what'll matter here.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 20, Chiefs 17