The surging Steelers (5-3) welcome the Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) to Pittsburgh Monday night for a clash of AFC teams on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum.
The Steelers have won three in a row after starting 2-3 and are unbeaten at home (3-0) in 2012, while the Chiefs have been outscored by 76 points over their last five games and still do not have a regulation lead this season.
Pittsburgh also hasn't lost a Monday night game since 1992, the first year for Bill Cowher on the Steelers sidelines.
Suffice to say, the odds are stacked against the Chiefs tonight.
Here are five matchups that will decide whether the Steelers continue their roll or the Chiefs pull off a stunning prime-time upset:
Steelers OTs vs. Chiefs OLBs
If the Chiefs have one advantage Monday night, it may be with their defensive pressure package off the edges.
According to Pro Football Focus, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have combined for 45 quarterback disruptions (11 sacks, five hits, 29 hurries) this season. Left tackle Max Starks will draw Hali, while rookie Mike Adams gets Houston on the offense's right side—both equally important matchups.
Kansas City needs a big night from both Hali and Houston to keep this close. If the two can't keep Ben Roethlisberger uncomfortable or force a turnover or two, the Chiefs will be in trouble defensively.
Steelers Front Seven vs. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles
Defensive coordinators have quickly found that bringing extra defenders into the box to stop Jamaal Charles is the easiest way to beat this Chiefs offense. Without Charles or the running game, the Chiefs have struggled to figure out defenses with the quarterback position.
Charles can count on seeing a lot of eight-man boxes Monday night, especially early. The Steelers will dare quarterback Matt Cassel—the main architect to the NFL's most turnover-prone offense—to take chances in the passing game. Charles has to be able to provide balance offensively to keep Pittsburgh honest and take some pressure off Cassel.
Steelers RBs vs. Chiefs Front Seven
Surprisingly, the Steelers have evolved into the NFL's rushing juggernaut over the last three games. In wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins and New York Giants, Pittsburgh rushed for an NFL-high 465 yards (155/game). Through the first six games, the Steelers averaged less than 80 a game.
Both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman put together 100-yard performances during the last three games, and both will be healthy for Monday night. Redman is likely to get first crack at touches, but Dwyer should get a number of carries too. The hot hand will prevail.
The Chiefs have allowed at least 125 rushing yards in four straight games and will be without Glen Dorsey Monday night. If Kansas City can't keep Redman and Dwyer from chewing up yards and time of possession, this one could get ugly in a hurry. Holding Pittsburgh under 80 rushing yards is a goal the Chiefs need to accomplish.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs
The Chiefs were allowing 30 points and nearly nine yards a pass attempt through the first eight games, so head coach Romeo Crennell essentially fired himself as the team's defensive coordinator. Now, the play-calling is on Gary Gibbs, who has to find a way to beat one of the game's elite quarterbacks.
Roethlisberger has completed over 70 percent of his passes in three straight games, and he's only thrown four total interceptions all season. His passer rating is above 100 at 101.1.
Gibbs had an extra day to get his pass defense ready for Roethlisberger, but confusing the veteran will be difficult on the road. It won't get any easier if the Chiefs offense turns the football over in difficult spots, either.
Chiefs QB Matt Cassel vs. Himself
If the Chiefs are going to have any chance of pulling off the upset, Cassel will need to be smart and protective with the football. Turnovers, which the Chiefs have more of than any other NFL team, will turn this prime-time game into a blowout faster than any other factor.
Almost unbelievably, the Chiefs have 29 turnovers (14 interceptions, 15 fumbles lost)—10 more than any other team and nearly four times as many as the Steelers' eight.
In the NFL, it's much easier to lose football games before the chance to win even arises. Far too often, Cassel has been at fault for putting the Chiefs behind the winning eight ball. That must change for the Chiefs to get their second win on Monday night.