The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round of the AFC Playoffs. It is the Steelers’ first playoff game of the 2021-2022 postseason.
When looking at the matchup between AFC foes, there are players who can be viewed as ‘X-Factors’.
What is an ‘X-Factor’?
I would describe an ‘X-Factor’ as a player who can truly alter the outcome of the game, single-handedly. Not just a plug and play type player, but a player who always has to be accounted for, no matter what.
As a clear-cut example of what an ‘X-Factor’ player would look like, think Troy Polamalu. Polamalu’s skill set made him a force to be reckoned with on every play. So, who are the ‘X-Factors’ for the Steelers playoff game vs. the Chiefs?
Let’s take a look...
X-Factor: Pat Freiermuth
Why: There are many of you who are probably thinking I was going to go with Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger this week, and that makes sense. It is Roethlisberger’s last run in the postseason, and they’ll need him to play as big as ever if they want to upset the Chiefs.
But I wanted to think outside the box a little when making my pick. The more I thought about this matchup, the more I thought the Steelers need to do to the Chiefs what the Chiefs do to so many other teams on offense. They use their talent in a way where you can’t cover everyone. Want to take away Tyreek Hill, then you leave Travis Kelce open. Want to cover both Hill and Kelce and the running back in the flat will burn you for a big gain. Believe it or not, but the Steelers have that type of talent at skill positions, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster back for this playoff game.
This is where I came to the conclusion of my X-Factor for this game. You know the Chiefs will want to limit the Steelers’ weapons on the outside and limit Najee Harris. In my opinion, this means there is one player who is a mismatch and could completely change the outlook of this game from the start.
If the #Steelers want to win, a player who needs to have a huge role in the offense: pic.twitter.com/2iYWCSH739— Jeff Hartman (@JHartman_PIT) January 16, 2022
Is Freiermuth the next Kelce? That might be a bit much, at least right now, but he certainly has an athleticism at the position Steelers fans haven’t seen in decades. Throw in Freiermuth’s size and he is a nightmare for linebackers to cover. The Steelers coming out and having the rookie tight end being a focus could be just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers to move the ball on the Chiefs. Oh, and let’s not forget Freiermuth’s red-zone dominance, when he is given a chance. Get the ball to the former Nittany Lion early an often.
X-Factor: T.J. Watt
Why: I feel like a broken record having T.J. Watt being the X-factor for the game, but when you’re the best defensive player in the NFL, and someone who can completely wreck and take over a game, your ability to do so is important. Add in the fact that T.J. Watt has never had a postseason sack, it is important for him to step up in this game and not get caught up in the crowd. The last time the Steelers played the Chiefs, Watt was dealing with an injury and not really himself, therefore he was contained. This time, the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year needs to be the biggest factor in the game, much like when he took over the matchup against the Browns two weeks ago and ended five of their first eight drives.
Who would be your X-Factor for the playoff game Sunday? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!