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Chiefs-Steelers pregame stretch

November 11, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Weather – or not?: Rain becoming showers, 48. Timing is everything here as the same weather that caused the turnover epidemic in Chicago Sunday night is heading for Pittsburgh on Monday. (It should be noted the Chiefs have 29 turnovers in eight games played in normal weather!) Right now, it looks like the worst weather will clear out before kickoff but, obviously, that could change. The Heinz turf/drainage has held up well since the Monday night debacco against Miami a few years ago, but the elements are there to test it again.

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Announcers: Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden

Annoyance factor: Frankly, two of the most overrated football announcers going right now. Tirico is smart and unflappable, but that often comes across as detached. Gruden is the new Madden, a cartoon character of an announcer who actually adds nothing toward understanding what’s happening on the field (but he grunts a lot).

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Referee: Carl Cheffers

Competence factor: Never have so many been so happy to see Carl Cheffers. Cheffers isn’t the best referee in stripes and he isn’t the worst, but the only thing that’s really important now is that he isn’t Bill Leavy. And while we’re talking about officiating, we’re starting to wonder if there hasn’t quietly been an effort to call fewer offensive holding penalties in the NFL over the past month or so. Remember early in the season, Pittsburgh couldn’t go a series it seemed without getting one. Then … nothing, to the point that Jason Pierre-Paul complained publicly last week that Steelers linemen were getting away with murder. Guess what? Zero holds against the Giants AND zero holds on the Giants, as well. We watched the replay of the game Tuesday night on NFL Network and we counted four egregious holds on James Harrison, most notably on the long pass to Martellus Bennett in the second half. Upon further review, Pittsburgh has been called for one offensive hold on a play out of formation (plenty on kicks) in the last four games (Heath Miller in second quarter vs. Bengals). Might be coincidence, but it makes us go hmmmmmm.

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The line: Steelers -12.5

Smarts say: This line has not budged an inch since it was set, meaning bettors are playing it pretty much down the middle. We all know the Steelers have won their last 14 consecutive home Monday night games, but they’re nearly as good on Mondays against the spead, going 20-12 since 1992. The Chiefs have not been a bad Monday night team, though, coming in at 13-10 since 1992. The over/under here of 41 means something like Steelers 27-14.

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Key matchup: Steelers offense vs. Chiefs red zone defense

Because: We told you beforehand the Steelers could lose to the Titans if they settled for field goals not touchdowns in the red zone and and, lo and behold, two of Pittsburgh’s first three drives resulted in 28- and 29-yard field goals en route to what still could turn out to be a season-trashing 26-23 loss. So let’s see if the Steelers can get it right this time because the same thing applies to this game. Because of the improved offensive line play, Pittsburgh is probably a little better equipped this time to grind out a few critical runs on second down (the most important red zone down!). And you know Todd Haley is going to have his foot politely on the accelerator in this game.

Quick hits:

+ We sure both Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu WANT to play against Baltimore next week, but we think it’s much more realistic that we might seem them Dec. 2 for the rematch in Charm City. Polamalu’s injury isn’t going to heal until the offseason (if then) so it’s a matter of how functional he can be weighed against the possibility of injuring himself more seriously. Brown looked to suffer a textbook high-ankle sprain, which is a nagging injury under any circumstances, but especially so for a skill player.

+ Speaking of the Ravens, we were glad to see them score 55 Sunday. Teams that usually enjoy such an offensive outburst (and whose quarterback is not named Brady), usually wish they had a few of those points back the next week. We couldn’t help but chuckle at John Harbaugh’s reply when reporters asked him what his thinking was in running a fake field goal with a 41-13 lead. “My thinking was that it was there,” Harbaugh said. Not politically correct, but funny.

+ With the way Pittsburgh’s offensive line in playing right now, Mike Tomlin and Sean Kugler would be nuts to change anything if they don’t have to. In theory, that means letting Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro heal completely. However, history tells us the chances of the Steelers making it through the rest of the regular season without an OLine injury are virtually nil. We’re guessing we’ll see Gilbert, for certain, and maybe DeCastro, too, before all is said and done.

The pick: Pittsburgh is battling for wild card position and needs to beat Baltimore twice to even think about a chance at a division title because the Steelers did not take care of business against two flat-out awful teams on the road. Don’t they say bad things happen in threes? They do, but that third loss is much more likely to come at Cleveland in two weeks than in this game. The Steelers offense continues to improve every game under Todd Haley and Dick Lebeau has the defense back at No. 1 in the league by backing off on the blitzing and using more nickel and dime coverages than he ever has before. The Chiefs don’t have a lot of weapons, but the ones they have are scary. Haley’s offense needs to neutralize Tamba Hali while the defense contains Jamaal Charles and everything else should take care of itself … Steelers 30-20.

Last week: Just like the Steelers, we’re rallying the past few weeks, correctly picking Pittsburgh not only to cover against the defending Super Bowl champs, but to win outright. That takes us to 5-3 on year against the spread.

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