We are now three days away from the Kansas City Chiefs’ first playoff game of 2022 — and hopefully not the last.
Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been embracing their underdog label from sack-leader T.J. Watt to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You cannot take this experienced contender lightly, however, because there’s a reason they’ve made the postseason eight out of the last 12 years.
Today on January 13, news dropped that the Steelers could be getting a major reinforcement back in time for Sunday’s head-to-head.
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JuJu Returns to Practice
After Thursday’s practice, NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted: “Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who practiced today following shoulder surgery that landed him on IR, does have a chance to play this weekend. It’ll depend on how he does in practice, but coach Mike Tomlin called it a start.”
Smith-Schuster signed a one-year deal to return to Pittsburgh in 2021, but it ended up being a bad decision after fate intervened. The Steelers playmaker dislocated his shoulder in Week 5 and initial reports expected him to be out for the season.
It turns out he did miss the final 13 weeks of the regular season but no one said anything about the playoffs. Smith-Schuster would be a major boost for this offense, which ranked 23rd in yards per game in 2021 and 21st in points per game.
The former Pro Bowler posted a 1,000-yard campaign in 2018, accumulating 1,426 receiving yards off 111 catches. He came just short of triple-digit receptions in 2020 with 97, despite a lower yardage total of 831.
Much of that transition has been an adaptation to his quarterback’s game. As Big Ben has gotten older, this passing attack has shifted more into a mindset of short and intermediate routes.
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Steelers WRs Get Vocal
Smith-Schuster did not comment on his potential return but instead, let his eyes do the talking.
By that, I mean his virtual eyes. The Pittsburgh star quote tweeted a mention of him practicing with the wide-eyed emoji.
Teammate Diontae Johnson had a bit more to say, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.
“Once we win, don’t be hopping back on that bandwagon,” Johnson relayed to the NFL world through the media.
The Steelers have been one of the more popular franchises for a long time but with popularity comes an uptick in hatred, as Chiefs Kingdom is learning the past few years. Many rooted against the black and yellow even making the postseason in Week 18, preferring a tie between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
It appears the combination of social media chatter, plus the overwhelming betting odds, could be fueling Pittsburgh as the ultimate motivator in round one. That’s something KC must be wary of.
They may have blown the Steelers away in December — final score of 36-10 — but factors like intensity and drive account for half of the wins and losses in this league and don’t let anyone tell you differently. If the Chiefs come out sleepwalking on Sunday night, they’ll meet an opponent who’s very eager to teach them a lesson.
I’m not saying don’t care of business, just remember to do so with respect.
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