Super Wild Card: Steel Curtain Predictions - Merged all Steelers Threads

Predict the Margin of Victory

  • Bills 1-3

    Votes: 3 25.0%
  • Bills 3-10

    Votes: 2 16.7%
  • Bills 10+

    Votes: 6 50.0%
  • Steelers 1-3

    Votes: 1 8.3%
  • Steelers 3-10

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Steelers 10+

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters


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2. Buffalo Bills (11-6)​

Odds to win Super Bowl: +600
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 25.8%

First game outlook: The Bills are making their fifth straight playoff appearance and start this postseason by hosting the Steelers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Bills and Steelers did not play this season and have not faced each other in a playoff game since the 1995 divisional round, when Pittsburgh prevailed. This is their fourth postseason meeting, with the Steelers holding a 2-1 advantage.

Reason for hope: The Bills got hot at the right time and have plenty of playoff experience. The Bills have won five straight games and six of the past seven with the team basically in playoff mode with so little room for error. The Bills' defense is playing well and getting healthy at the right time with starting defensive tackle DaQuan Jones back from injured reserve. On the experience side, this team has a significant number of players that have been around the organization for a while and know what the playoffs bring, as they have won four straight AFC East titles and made five consecutive playoff appearances.

Reason for concern: Offensive inconsistency. This offense has shown how good it can be -- look to wins against the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Dolphins in Week 4 for examples -- but it has also struggled to get going early in games and suffered from miscommunication. The Bills have allowed teams that they should beat convincingly to stick around, like the Patriots and Chargers, because of offensive miscues and not putting points on the board early. Drops are an issue (16 of their 24 coming between Weeks 10 and 17) and quarterback Josh Allen had a career-high 18 interceptions this season. At its best, this offense is unstoppable, but avoiding mistakes will be paramount if they want to make a deep postseason run. -- Alaina Getzenberg

Stat to know: Buffalo ranked fourth in pass block win rate this season, and one big reason has been Dion Dawkins, whose 93% pass block win rate ranked fourth among all tackles. Dawkins was deservingly selected to the Pro Bowl. -- Walder

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7)​

Odds to win Super Bowl: +15000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 0.6%

First game outlook: The Steelers haven't won a postseason game since 2016 and will try to change that when they play at the Bills on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Steelers didn't play the Bills this season but have a 2-1 record over Buffalo in the playoffs, though this will be their first time playing a postseason game in Buffalo.

Reason for hope: QB Mason Rudolph. Yes, you read that right. Once the scapegoat and punchline in Pittsburgh, Rudolph's resurgence over the season's final three weeks has the Steelers back in the playoffs. His willingness to throw the deep ball -- and success doing it -- has opened up the offense and led to a balanced attack. Under Rudolph, the Steelers' offense scored more than 30 points in back-to-back games (Weeks 16-17) for the first time since Weeks 5-6 of the 2020 season.

Reason for concern: Once the strength of the team, the Steelers' defense has been marred by injuries, including an MCL sprain to T.J. Watt in the third quarter of Saturday's win against Baltimore that will make him almost certainly unavailable in the first round of the playoffs. All three of the Steelers' free agency additions at inside linebacker have missed time because of significant injuries, including season-ending injuries to Kwon Alexander (Achilles) and Cole Holcomb (knee), which has the Steelers leaning on three players who were either retired or on practice squads for significant snaps. And All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick suffered a knee injury against the Colts in Week 15 and hasn't played or practiced since. -- Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: Rookie CB Joey Porter Jr. allowed 0.9 yards per coverage snap as the nearest defender heading into Week 18, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the fourth-lowest mark by an outside corner with at least 250 coverage snaps. He has allowed 75 yards via penalty, but his numbers this season were mighty impressive. -- Walder

Will the Bills play down to their opponent again or ride an emotional hard fought win over the fins??

I'm saying at Home, they come out on fire and win big!
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This team does not know how to NOT play down to an opponent. Its in our DNA. Once again we will make it harder than it needs to be. Think Miami playoff last year vs their 3rd string 7th round rookie.

Bills win, but again it won't be pretty
28-27 Squeelers, too many mistakes, too little discipline, too little situational awareness, they'll fuck away what could be their best shot at Lombardi silver.
It's sooooo frustrating to anticipate which one of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team is going to show up. Weather wise I'm guessing low scoring.

Bills 17 Steelers 10.

Go Bills!

Super Wild Card Weekend is here, and as expected, weather is going to have an impact on two of the AFC games. This means the battle in the trenches will be put even more in the spotlight. We’re going to see old-school football being played because of the weather. Which of these teams can win with this brand of football? Here is one important matchup to look out for in each of the AFC wild-card games.

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)​

Key matchup: OT Charlie Heck vs. DEs Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith

When the Browns played the Texans in Week 15, Heck gave up a whopping 15 pressures and two sacks, according to Telemetry Sports, and Garrett wasn’t even lined up across from him a majority of snaps. I’d imagine Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn’t going to hold back and will exploit this matchup Saturday. Heck could be the weakest link in the Texans offense, and him against either of the Browns edge rushers could be the biggest mismatch of the game. Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik will do as much as he can with chip blocks and double-teams, but the Browns blitz so much that it’s hard to dedicate resources to helping Heck. Also, Heck was getting bull-rushed, which made it harder to help him with chips.

Week 15, 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, third-and-2


On third down, the Texans put one of their top receiving threats, Dalton Schultz, into the backfield to help Heck with a chip on Garrett.


However, Garrett pushed Heck so far into the backfield with a bull rush that Schultz didn’t have anything to chip. He essentially was wasted on this play and became just a checkdown option.


The right guard even tried to help and hugged Garrett around the waist. No hold was called, but despite the extra attention, Garrett forced quarterback Davis Mills off of his spot.

C.J. Stroud was remarkable against pressure last week against the Colts in a playoff environment type of game. He was pressured 10 times in 31 dropbacks against Indianapolis. He was sacked twice but completed 5 of 7 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown without an interception. He’s been good against pressure all year, but every quarterback has a hit count. Some have a higher threshold than others, but when you hit or pressure a quarterback enough, it’ll eventually affect his play. This Browns defense is certainly capable of harassing Stroud into a bad performance, and the Texans simply aren’t good enough in the run game or defensively for Stroud to have an off day.

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs (8 p.m. ET Saturday)​

Key matchup: DT Christian Wilkins vs. the Chiefs interior

The Chiefs beat the Dolphins 21-14 in Week 9 in Germany. Kansas City jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, but the Dolphins scored 14 in the third quarter and drove the ball to the 31-yard line with a minute remaining before Tua Tagovailoa fumbled the game away. Points will be at even more of a premium in Kansas City, where temperatures are expected to dip below zero and there could be snow. This is expected to be one of the coldest games in history.

Even without the weather, the once high-flying Dolphins offense has been sputtering and marred by injuries. Tyreek Hill is still dealing with the effects of the high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 14. Coach Mike McDaniel said he’s optimistic that Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert, who both missed Week 18, should be back, but I wouldn’t expect them to be 100 percent. Waddle is also dealing with a high ankle sprain, which is the type of injury that lingers.

In five games against teams with winning records, the Dolphins average only 1.65 points per drive, which is similar to the worst offenses in the league. Luckily for the Dolphins, the Chiefs offense has also been struggling and the Dolphins defense has been a top-10 unit since Jalen Ramsey returned in Week 8. Since Week 8, they rank ninth in points allowed per drive (1.66). Though I have a lot more faith in Patrick Mahomes throwing in adverse conditions than Tagovailoa, this game could come down to who can rush the ball most effectively. In Week 8, the Chiefs couldn’t run the ball against the Dolphins’ front with any consistency as only 27.8 percent of their rushes were successful. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins was a big reason why the Dolphins were so effective in stopping the run.

The Chiefs have one of the league’s best offensive interiors with Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. They’ll have to be much better against Wilkins and the Dolphins’ interior than they were in Week 8 to give running back Isiah Pacheco a chance to put his stamp on this game. Also, with the Dolphins’ top three edge rushers out for the season, it’ll be up to Wilkins to create pressure on Mahomes when he does drop back.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET Sunday)​

Key matchup: Steelers edge defenders vs. the Bills pulling tackles

The weather might be even more of a factor in the Bills-Steelers game with gust winds expected to reach over 40 mph. The last time the Bills played in a game in similar conditions, the Patriots beat them 14-10 in 2021. Mac Jones attempted only three passes, but the Patriots rushed for 222 yards. Josh Allen struggled to throw the ball, completing only 50 percent of his passes for 145 yards. The Bills have been much better on the ground this season. James Cook is easily the best back that Allen has ever played with and Leonard Fournette could be a factor in this game, as well.

The Steelers will be ready to heavily feature the run game on offense, but will the Bills be able to replicate the success they had against the Cowboys? Buffalo ran the ball 46 times (not including kneeldowns) for 269 yards and a rushing success rate of 62.8 percent against Dallas. The Steelers finished third in defensive rush success (66.3 percent). They’ll have to be at their best to bottle up Cook and see if Allen can pass through the howling wind.

One of the Bills’ base run plays is a tackle trap in which one of their tackles pulls to the front side and blocks the defensive end. All-Pro T.J. Watt is out, meaning Alex Highsmith and Markus Golden will have to be effective playing against trap blocks by Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown.

Week 18, 12:33 remaining in the second-and-5


On the Bills’ first rush of the game against Miami, they ran their tackle trap to the tight end side with Brown pulling to the left. Ideally, the Bills want to kick out the end so Cook can cut into the C-gap.


The end did a good job of going flat down the line and “wrong arming” the trap block or taking on the block with his outside shoulder. By using this technique, he forced Cook to bounce outside, which gave his teammates time to bounce outside. The Bills tackles can also “log” the ends, meaning instead of trying to kick them out, they’ll try to hook them so the back can safely bounce outside. I’d imagine the Steelers will mix up how they play the tackle traps, but the main thing is those Steelers edge defenders show up with physicality.

Congratulations. You made it through another season of bad backup quarterbacks and worse officiating. It’s time to see if any of these flawed teams can step up in the playoffs and prevent an inevitable Super Bowl rematch between the 49ers and Ravens.

While we would never call an NFL team soft, the Miami Dolphins — our preseason long shot — appear to be fortitude-challenged when it comes to playing the better teams in adverse conditions …

And, as luck should have it, they open up in Kansas City against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in what might be the coldest playoff game ever.

Meanwhile, we love the Joe Flacco story — and even more so going against inexperienced QBs in the playoffs — but we’re not sure the Cleveland Browns get out of the first round.

We limped to the finish line with our picks the last few weeks, but it’s a new race. Let’s go …

Last week: 6-10 against the spread, 2-3 on best bets.

Regular-season record: 135-130-7 against the spread, 48-41-1 on best bets.

All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (+2) | 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBC​

Here’s the money stat when it comes to picking playoff games, updated and shared to backslaps and free drinks every year: Quarterbacks making their first playoff start versus QBs who have playoff experience are 17-35-1 against the spread (32.7 percent) since 2002. (They are 17-36 straight up.) Flacco versus C.J. Stroud is the first of four such matchups this weekend, and Flacco has been very good to us. With a win Sunday, Flacco would surpass Tom Brady (seven) for most road playoff wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history.

Here’s the problem: Houston just got a look at Flacco three weeks ago, and though Amari Cooper torched them with 265 receiving yards, he is battling a heel injury. And the Texans were missing key defensive players in that 36-22 loss, including rookie dynamo Will Anderson Jr. The Texans also didn’t have Stroud (concussion) in that game, and while the Browns defense was elite at one point, there has been slippage on the road and late in the season. And the Browns’ pressure shouldn’t bother the rookie that much. Stroud did not throw an interception in 146 pressured pass attempts during the regular season, the most such attempts without a pick by any player since Aaron Rodgers in 2018 (159). We’re taking the home underdog.

The pick: Texans

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5) | 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Peacock​

Damn the wise guys. I had no intention of backing the Dolphins in Kansas City, but I also am allergic to traps. And an opening line of the Chiefs favored by 2.5 at home is definitely a trap — it’s up to 4.5 and climbing as everyone and their grandma knows the Dolphins lost by an average of 26 points at Buffalo, at Philadelphia and at Baltimore. The Chiefs have serious issues at receiver and tight end Travis Kelce has been slowed by injuries, old age and the paparazzi. And it’s not like they will be able to run the ball. The Dolphins rank sixth in the NFL in opponent yards per rush (3.8) and Miami has allowed the third-lowest percentage of rushes to go 5-plus yards (30.7 percent). Meanwhile, the Dolphins will be able to run. The Chiefs defense ranks 24th in yards after contact per rush (2.96). I think it’s a field goal game either way.

The pick: Dolphins

Tyreek Hill could get a win back in Kansas City if Raheem Mostert and the Dolphins running game take over. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (-10) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS​

Tip of the cap to Mike Tomlin. He took a bad team to the playoffs, thanks to winning three straight games. He probably loses to the Ravens’ B-squad last week if not for the fact QB Tyler Huntley somehow has gotten worse in four seasons as Baltimore’s backup. Mason Rudolph, on the other hand, is not terrible anymore, though he gets a much tougher test with the Bills defense this week. And the Steelers offensive line is not very good. Rudolph ranks 22nd in yards per attempt against pressure (6.2) since his first start in Week 16. From a clean pocket over the same span, Rudolph ranks first at 12.2. Did we mention that T.J. Watt is out for the Steelers? The Steelers have pressured opposing QBs on 37.7 percent of dropbacks with Watt on the field the past two seasons — fourth in the NFL. Without him, that number drops to 28.1 percent — which would rank dead last. Blowout city.

The pick: Bills

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys (-7) | 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox​

If you’re paying attention, we have gone against the magic formula two out of three times, as Tua Tagovailoa is making his first playoff start against Patrick Mahomes, same as Stroud against Flacco. This is the fourth game, and we are going back to common sense — like we did with Rudolph against Josh Allen — and we’re picking veteran Dak Prescott over Jordan Love. We have had zero success predicting Love’s roller-coaster season, and we are worried about Packers running back Aaron Jones. The Cowboys rank 29th in rush defense success rate, second worst among playoff teams. (Only the Eagles have been worse at 58.1 percent.) But you just can’t go against Prescott and CeeDee Lamb at home this season. The Packers, by the way, have allowed 8.8 yards per attempt on passes to players who lined up in the slot, 30th in the NFL.

The pick: Cowboys

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions (-3) | 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC​

Dan Campbell decided to play his starters last week (they had a tiny shot at a higher seed) and paid the price when the Lions lost tight end Sam LaPorta to a knee injury. He said Thursday he’s optimistic about suiting up, but a fully healthy LaPorta would have been huge this week, as the Rams have allowed 8.4 yards per attempt on passes to tight ends this season, worst in the NFL. Not to mention eight touchdowns, second worst to only the Broncos (10). But we’re still picking the gritty Lions? Because we love some backup tight end named James Mitchell? No, because we think Jared Goff is very good at home and he will get some revenge against Sean McVay and his former team. Plus, the week off resting players may actually hurt the rhythm that Matthew Stafford — set for his return to Detroit — and the Rams offense had going down the stretch when they were 7-1.

The pick: Lions

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) | 8:15 p.m. ET Monday, ABC/ESPN​

If things weren’t going bad enough for the Eagles, A.J. Brown (knee) and Jalen Hurts (finger) suffered injuries in last week’s loss to the Giants. Hurts has already been playing with a bad knee and has not been very good for a while now. Hurts has a 58.9 passer rating when pressured during the Eagles’ current 1-5 stretch, which ranks 22nd in the NFL in that span. Hurts ranked sixth over the first 11 games (86.5). It’s not all on him, as the offensive line has also been bad and the defense even worse. They are so bad, they really have no shot at stopping the Buccaneers’ Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans and Rachaad White on the road. Yeah, you read that right. I wonder if Jim Harbaugh wants to coach the Eagles.

The pick: Buccaneers

Byes: Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers

Best bets: Bills over the Steelers and Cowboys over the Packers.

Upset special (spread of at least 3 points): Buccaneers take down the defending NFC champion Eagles.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills might identify with each other’s paths to this point.

Both teams withstood injury and drama in 2023 and capitalized on late-season heroics to reach the postseason. If any teams are prepared for the rigors of the NFL playoffs, it’s these two.

The Steelers attempt to become the first No. 7 seed to win a playoff game while the Bills aim for a fourth consecutive wild-card win Sunday. It’ll be cold and windy in Orchard Park, N.Y., too, which could set the scene for a physical affair.

The Athletic’s Mike DeFabo and Joe Buscaglia break down all things Steelers-Bills ahead of Sunday’s matchup.

These two teams have had roller coaster seasons. How would you describe the 2023 season for the team you cover?​

DeFabo: The 10-7 record is exactly what I predicted before the season. But the way they got here? No one could have ever anticipated that.

The Steelers looked dead in the water, reeling after losing three games in a row — including back-to-back home letdowns to the two-win Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots and a no-show performance in Indianapolis — to fall to 7-7. At the time, their playoff odds dropped to 4 percent, according to Austin Mock’s projections in The Athletic. Kenny Pickett was hurt. Mitch Trubisky was ineffective. The opportunistic defense that carried them to seven wins was missing the top four safeties and two of the three inside linebackers. Yet, somehow, third-string afterthought Mason Rudolph stepped in and rallied the Steelers to three consecutive wins and Pittsburgh got the help it needed to get into the playoffs. To put that in perspective, Rudolph was building his resume last offseason and considering a career in commercial real estate. Now, he’s starting a playoff game.

Buscaglia: The Bills have been trying to understand who they are in 2023. Having been accustomed to a lot of regular-season success over the previous three seasons, the Bills entered this season with an extremely talented roster and tons of questions following another premature exit in the postseason. Sean McDermott took over calling the defense after Leslie Frazier left the organization. Ken Dorsey remained the offensive coordinator but the offense hadn’t grown enough with him in the post. Their in-game results were as unpredictable as they’d seen since Josh Allen’s second season in 2019. There were a few catalysts throughout the year, though. It began with the Dorsey firing and the appointment of Joe Brady as the interim offensive coordinator, to which the Bills definitely felt a boost. Then, after a gut-wrenching overtime loss in Philadelphia, the Bills went to their Week 13 bye, knowing any other losses could mean their season was over. While it wasn’t a perfect stretch of football, they found their identity and watched as both sides of the ball took turns bailing out the other. Now the Bills enter the playoffs, having seen their absolute lowest point earlier in the year to being at their highest — with room to grow as an offense. There is a lot of optimism inside the building heading into the postseason.

What is the one thing that must happen for the team you cover to win Sunday?​

DeFabo: I’ll do one better and give you two: Najee Harris needs to go beast mode in the snow and an opportunistic Steelers defense that’s relied on timely turnovers needs to force Josh Allen into mistakes.

Since Week 9, when the Steelers inserted first-round pick Broderick Jones into the lineup at right tackle, Pittsburgh transformed into the league’s fifth-best rushing attack, averaging 145 yards per game. Harris is coming off back-to-back 100-plus yard performances and is playing the best football of his career. He should be able to take advantage of a Bills defense that allows 4.6 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth-worst in the league. On the flip side, Allen has turned the ball over the second-most in the league (22) and the Steelers defense was tied for the eighth-most turnovers produced (27). To me, a lot of this game is going to come down to how many times Allen turns the ball over, when and where.

Buscaglia: McDermott started the week saying how the Steelers were one of the most physical teams they’ve seen the entire year. It would be one thing if the weather was going to be pristine Sunday, but the closer we get, the more it looks like both snowfall and wind are going to be factors. While their physicality has improved dramatically as the season continued, the Bills have not had to go up against an imposingly big and physical offensive line like the Steelers have in a bad weather game. The Steelers have made it clear their running game will be a factor regardless of conditions. Making matters worse, the Bills may not have their best run-stuffing linebacker on the active roster in Tyrel Dodson, who is dealing with a shoulder injury and did not practice Thursday. They’ll need the defensive tackle duo of Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones, two of the Bills’ best players, to be factors against the run and keep their linebackers, safeties and nickel corner Taron Johnson clean from blockers. Jones is the big addition because they’ve barely had him available this season, and the defensive line is different with him in the lineup at one-technique. If the Bills can do that, and stack the box to limit the Steelers’ effectiveness on the ground, they should be able to do enough on offense to claim a win.

Injuries are prevalent for both teams heading into Sunday, particularly on the defensive side. How does Pittsburgh deal without T.J. Watt? How can Buffalo deal without Rasul Douglas if he can’t play or isn’t fully healthy?​

DeFabo: T.J. Watt has a legitimate case for Defensive Player in the Year after leading the league with 19 sacks and finishing fifth in TFL (19), fifth in forced fumbles (four) and third in fumble recoveries (three). He also added an interception and defensive touchdown for good measure. On any snap, he has the potential to reshape the entire game. Without him, the Steelers historically have struggled. They’re just 1-10 all-time.

That said, the Steelers are in a much better place to handle an injury to their star edge rusher than ever before. They added nine-year veteran Markus Golden to the fold this offseason. Just last game, he recovered a fumble in a critical moment and recorded one of his four sacks on the season, a stat that’s pretty impressive considering his limited playing time. Rookie Nick Herbig has also been capitalizing on every opportunity he gets. A perfect example was two games ago in Seattle when he had just two defensive snaps, but used one to create a strip, sack and fumble recovery. Fans in Pittsburgh have been clamoring to see more of Herbig — and they’ll get it on a huge stage.

Buscaglia: Not to keep things going with the weather talk, but if there’s one thing that does benefit the Bills, it’s that not having their top cornerback in Rasul Douglas available won’t be as big of a detriment as it usually would. The Bills have specialized in a zone-heavy defense that asks their front four to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, which takes pressure off the seven players in coverage when the defensive linemen get home. When the Steelers do drop back to pass, expect to see a lot of that to make up for Douglas. If he can’t play, the bigger loss might be Dodson, with how much the Steelers figure to run. Dodson is not a great coverage linebacker, but he usually excels in limiting the run between the tackles. Without him, that likely puts Baylon Spector into the lineup who, after last week, has 37 career defensive snaps. Spector played well enough last week replacing Dodson, but that lack of experience could come back to haunt the Bills on Sunday.

These two teams should be used to playing in cold weather, but how might Sunday’s cold temperatures and wind affect the team you cover? Could they be equalizers?​

DeFabo: The company line in Pittsburgh is that both teams have to play in the weather, so it’s not an advantage or disadvantage. That’s a lie. The worse the weather, the better it is for the Steelers. They need heavy winds to help ground Allen and the Bills’ dangerous passing attack. On the flip side, they built this team for brutal weather. They want to hand the ball to Harris 20 times and get in a sloppy, low-scoring rock fight.

Buscaglia: It can definitely be an equalizer for these two teams because it favors what the Steelers are the best at on offense. But the flip side is that it likely makes the Steelers far more one-dimensional than they are now, which could allow the Bills to stack the box with eight players — likely dropping safety Jordan Poyer to help out more often than not. Allen’s legs can also be a bit of a cheat code in a game like this one, as the Bills have gotten more comfortable using him as a rusher to support their standard running game since Brady took over as offensive coordinator. And as I said before, the Bills also will not be afraid to throw the ball in any condition. Look no further than the windy game against the Patriots in 2021, where the Bills threw the ball 30 times. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that sometimes the weather report can be a bit on the optimistic side for snow accumulation around the stadium. Orchard Park snow is built differently.

Bills fans still want a little more out of Stefon Diggs, who hasn’t seen a 100-yard performance since October. Meanwhile, it’s George Pickens’ first playoff game as a Steeler and he continues to improve. What are you looking for from each receiver Sunday?​

DeFabo: The very first pass Rudolph threw in his first start against the Cincinnati Bengals, he hit Pickens on a quick slant that the freakishly talented receiver turned into an 86-yard touchdown. That play is like a microcosm of Pickens’ last three games. Rudolph’s willingness to stand in the pocket, take a hit and deliver the deep ball has reinvigorated Pickens. But when it comes to expectations, the question is: How much attention will the Bills pay him? Frequently, opponents have provided safety help over the top or bracketed Pickens to try to take him out of the game. I imagine the Bills will take a similar approach.

Buscaglia: Especially if they’re without Gabe Davis on Sunday, I expect Allen to get Diggs involved very early in the game, either through quick screens or on underneath routes. Diggs proved again last week that his route-running skills remain some of the best in the NFL and he can win against any cornerback. But Diggs will also be supported by the up-and-coming receiving options Khalil Shakir and tight end Dalton Kincaid, who have become instrumental to the Bills’ passing attack. Getting those contributions from both players last week could give the Steelers pause from focusing too much on Diggs. The Bills know the stakes after being pushed out of the playoffs earlier than they would have liked the last two seasons and having Diggs be a central figure in their offense could be the difference between a win or a loss.

Both teams’ offensive coordinators were fired midseason. How has each offense changed since then? Better, worse or same?​

DeFabo: Through the first 11 games under former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the offense was truthfully painful to watch. It was a mess of three-and-outs that produced just 15.0 points per game. With quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan calling the plays and running backs coach Eddie Faulkner serving as interim offensive coordinator, that number has improved to 19.7 points per game. While this is still Canada’s playbook, we’ve seen subtle schematic changes. One thing in particular that’s changed is the Steelers have utilized 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) much more recently to help add bigger bodies and add extra gaps for the opponent to defend. The other part of this is that Rudolph has provided a real spark. The Steelers didn’t score 30 points the entire season. They accomplished that goal twice in both of Rudolph’s first two starts.

Now here’s the thing, the Bengals team Rudolph faced in his first start is arguably the worst defense in the league. The Seattle Seahawks were among the league’s worst rushing defenses. And the Baltimore Ravens rested their stars. This will by far be the best defense Rudolph has faced this season. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his three starts, but I wonder if he can continue that against a ballhawking Bills defense that’s produced the third-most turnovers this year.

Buscaglia: The Bills aren’t running markedly different concepts with Brady as their offensive coordinator. Still, since he’s taken over the role, the team has isolated the things that make them most successful. They’ve shown more attention to running the ball to help the passing offense, and perhaps the biggest change, we’ve seen the Bills playing with a lot more energy since the Dorsey firing. McDermott knew the Bills needed some kind of change after disappointing losses to the Patriots and the Denver Broncos, and Brady entered at the perfect time with a fresh voice and perspective. Brady has established an excellent, collaborative relationship with all the offensive players on the roster and has continued to try new things while paring down the playbook to concepts they like running the best. Between Allen running the ball a bit more, utilizing more pin-and-pull and tackle-lead rushing attempts, targeting receivers with screens and having Kincaid become a high-snap player, the Bills have seen their offense have a more cohesive plan every week.

Snowplows are out.

That means it’s running back season.

Although the Buffalo Bills organization revolves around quarterback Josh Allen, coach Sean McDermott is a staunch believer that teams must run effectively when the weather gets nasty. Much of Western New York’s winter has been mild so far, but — just in time for the playoffs –- the game day forecast as of Friday morning is for a high temperature of 24 degrees, a 90 percent chance of snow, accumulation between 3 to 5 inches and wind gusts exceeding 30 mph.

“That’s playoff football,” Allen said, “especially in the Northeast.”

Right on cue, here come the Pittsburgh Steelers into Highmark Stadium to crack open the postseason. They’ve survived a turbulent campaign, but the logo and the colors still symbolize that smashmouth ethos.

No team has rushed more since Week 9 than the Steelers, who have averaged 32.3 attempts for 145.2 yards and 1.3 touchdowns a game. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 1,819 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

“It’s a physical game; they’re a physical team,” McDermott said. “Look, if we want to have a chance, we’ve got to play physical. There’s no negotiating around that or finding a way around it.

“That’s the style of football you have to play in particular this time of year and against this football team.”

Time to giddyap, James Cook.

One of only two Bills voted into the Pro Bowl, the sophomore tailback could prove the most pivotal player on the field. That’s because McDermott will want to run, but also because Cook has struggled with ball security even in normal conditions, let alone when it’s slick and sloppy.

“Typically, it’s going to be, with weather like this, a game where both teams are going to run the ball,” Allen said, “and it’s going to be very possession-limited. So we’ve got to make these possessions count.”

Cook emerged this year as Buffalo’s most dangerous playmaker aside from Allen. The only backs with more scrimmage yards than Cook’s 1,567 were MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey and high-volume catcher Breece Hall.

“His talents are significant,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Cook. “He’s a dangerous guy.”

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Cook, however, also ranked third among all running backs with six drops, five coming in the past seven games. Two should have been touchdowns — against the Philadelphia Eagles, again last Sunday versus the Miami Dolphins — and occurred on drives in which the Bills didn’t score. Three other drops happened on third down, forcing a punt and two field goals.

Drops aren’t an official stat, but Pro Football Focus charted Cook for drops on 11.3 percent of his catchable targets, behind only Cleveland Browns tailback Jerome Ford for the NFL’s worst at any position.

Cook also fumbled four times on 281 touches. Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers was the lone running back to fumble more, with five on 230 touches.

“Things happen,” Cook said about his philosophy of moving on from his blunders. “That’s life. Things like that’s going to happen. You just got to play the next play, and when the next opportunity comes, you just got to make it count.

“If you get caught up in (the moment) so much, you can lose focus. Next-play mentality, you always got to have it.”

Based on McDermott’s coaching history in winter weather, Buffalo’s backs will carry a heavy load behind an offensive line that didn’t lose a man-game to injury all season.

In the 11 games McDermott has coached in freezing weather, the Bills have run the ball on 45.6 percent of their plays, seventh highest since the club hired him in 2017. The average NFL team runs 39.5 percent of the time when it’s so frigid.

But the Bills offense has been more productive than the average NFL team when it’s 32 degrees or colder — and arguably the best, considering the number of games. They’ve averaged 27.8 points, 6.9 points over the league average and more than any team that has played more than twice in icy conditions since McDermott became coach.

The Bills average 161.5 rushing yards a game (51.4 yards above the league average) and 4.9 yards a carry (0.7 yards above), while passing for 206.1 yards a game (13.2 yards below) but netting 6.9 yards a throw (0.5 yards above). They’ve converted 53.7 percent of their third downs (14.6 percent above).

“We’ve been through a lot of games here where we’ve had to — no pun intended — weather the storm in that way,” McDermott said. “It affects a lot of things. It affects how you play the game, how you manage the game. When we have that here, it’s an added dimension to our preparation.”

McDermott and offensive coordinator Joe Brady unleashed Cook in a soaking, chilly rain against the Dallas Cowboys a month ago.

Cook busted out with 25 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown and added two receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown. Buffalo ran 49 times. Allen attempted just 15 passes.

Buffalo’s five busiest ground games have happened since Week 11. Since Brady took over for Ken Dorsey, but also as the weather has gotten worse and Allen has gotten more aggressive with scrambles, Buffalo has averaged 36.9 carries for 149.6 yards and 1.4 TDs a game.

“They’ve been doing a good job of really blocking, and their runner is running really well,” Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “He is a hard tackle. He can slide. He can jump cut. He gets to speed fast. I think they’re doing a good job. I think they’re really doing a good job scheme-wise of blocking.”

Pittsburgh allowed only nine rushing touchdowns, third best in the NFL, but opponents averaged an ordinary 4.3 yards per carry.

For the record, the Steelers tied for eighth in takeaways: 16 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries. Four of those turnovers went to edge rusher T.J. Watt, sidelined by a knee injury.
Well whenever I pick the Bills winning in a blowout they win in a squeaker so let's try guessing a close win.

16-13 Bills. Steelers punch them in the mouth out the gate and it looks like a blowout. Bills defense adjusts, Allen pulls a few miracles out of his ass, and it ends with a big 4th down stop at the end.
Normally I'd be oozing confidence about this one. Pitt barely made it in by beating Baltimore's backups and their offense is epic bad. But alas mother nature is playing a fast one on us. For once the weather is not an advantage. Pittsburgh is used to playing in harsh conditions too and its looking like its gonna be so bad on Sunday that it actually plays into their type of game. Low scoring, boring, physical, run game type of day.

Are we up to the task?? Our run game is very on and off. Somedays it just does not exist. The conditions mean a possibly neutralized Allen.

I mean, we still should win. We better. But the weather has leveled the playing field and I'm officially nervous about this one.

Bills 24

Pitt 16

The NFL is monitoring the status of Sunday’s Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers wild-card game as Western New York braces for an incoming winter storm. New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Friday in several Western New York counties due to the strong winds, freezing temperatures and lake-effect snow starting Saturday. The game is scheduled to proceed on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y., at 1 p.m. ET.

The temperature for Sunday’s game is expected to be in the 20s and the National Weather Service has issued a “winter storm watch” for the area over the weekend. A foot of snow is expected to fall in the area Saturday evening.

“When you get in those snow bands, it’s zero visibility, and the snow’s accumulating a couple of inches in an hour, then traveling becomes extremely difficult, dangerous, if not impossible, so there are gonna be problems in western New York,” Tom Kines, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said.

The Bills have moved games due to snow in the past. In 2014, Buffalo’s matchup against the New York Jets was moved to Detroit’s Ford Field due to severe weather. If changing the venue is not logistically possible, one potential option could be moving the game to Monday or even Tuesday, which the NFL did in 2021 after a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The Steelers (10-7) head into Sunday’s matchup riding a three-game winning streak while the Bills (11-6) are also riding a hot streak — winners of their last five games and six of their last seven.