The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to face the Buffalo Bills in what promises to be a game played in a blizzard-like environment on Monday night. Originally scheduled for Sunday, the game was moved to Monday due to weather concerns, sparking uncertainty about when and where it would take place. As of now, the game is confirmed to proceed as initially scheduled on Monday at 4:30.
The Steelers are up against a red-hot Buffalo Bills team that has emerged as the best in the league over the past couple of weeks, securing a #2 seed in the AFC Playoff picture with five consecutive wins. Just six weeks ago, the Bills were considered a long shot to make the postseason.
Similarly, the Steelers overcame a challenging three-game stretch, turning their postseason hopes around with three consecutive victories and with the help of some assistance. The matchup between these two teams, representing blue-collar towns, promises to be entertaining as they clash in the snowy conditions.
Leaning on the run game
Given the tough defense of the Buffalo Bills and challenging weather conditions, the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to heavily rely on Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. The success of the running game is likely to play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the game. This style of football tends to favor the Steelers, who have excelled in running the ball and have witnessed a resurgence in their offense in recent weeks, driven by their effective ground game.
Anticipating that the Bills will prioritize stopping the run, the Steelers aim to exploit any vulnerabilities in Buffalo's secondary, especially considering their injuries. If the running game proves effective, it opens up opportunities for shots down the field, weather permitting. The offensive line's ability to maintain its recent success will be key in providing Mason Rudolph the time to connect with his playmakers.
Acknowledging this Bills pass rush and the consistently strong defenses under Sean McDermott, the Steelers offense faces a significant challenge. To counter this, the best strategy for the Steelers is to physically dominate in the trenches, especially given the adverse weather conditions.
In a matchup like this, physicality becomes a determining factor, and success will likely follow whoever is the more physical team. Sustaining offensive momentum hinges on the performance of Harris, Warren, and the offensive line.
Life without T.J. Watt
Defensively, the Steelers will be without T.J. Watt. We're all aware of what life is like without Watt, but this year is different as they've been able to extract a lot of production from other players in that OLB room. With that being said, the Steelers welcome back some much-needed reinforcements in their secondary. Minkah Fitzpatrick is set to return from a knee injury, and Damontae Kazee will be back from suspension. This is excellent news for a depleted secondary seeking assistance when facing off against Josh Allen.
The Buffalo Bills offense poses one of the toughest challenges the Steelers defense has encountered in a very long time this season. The recent success of Buffalo can be attributed to the offense clicking, especially after the dismissal of Ken Dorsey.
The Bills have dived deeper into running the ball, moving away from relying solely on Josh Allen's heroics. James Cook has played a significant role in this transformed offense, making stopping him a crucial key to the game.
Both Buffalo and the Steelers will likely emphasize pounding the rock in the challenging weather conditions, making it imperative for Pittsburgh to halt the Bills' ground game. The threat of Josh Allen using his legs adds another layer to Buffalo's running attack, presenting a challenge for the Steelers defense.
While the absence of T.J. Watt is notable, the Steelers' pass rush depth pieces must step up significantly. To support Markus Golden and Nick Herbig, Pittsburgh needs to create pressure from various looks to contain the dangerous Josh Allen.
With Gabe Davis out for the Bills, the Steelers must ensure that if the Bills' passing attack functions, it does so without Stefon Diggs. Limiting Diggs's impact and forcing alternative receivers or tight ends to step up is a key defensive strategy.
For the Steelers to secure a win, they must actively seek to force turnovers, especially considering Josh Allen's being 2nd in the NFL in interceptions. Increasing opportunities for the offense by gaining more possessions and utilizing the ground game effectively can play to their advantage in this matchup.
What to expect in Steelers vs. Bills playoff game
Overall, this game has the makings of a low-scoring, defensive battle. Not many people are giving the Steelers a shot, and rightfully so. The Steelers, in their past couple of playoff appearances, have been less than stellar, and they are up against the hottest team in the league. However, when labeled as underdogs, the Steelers have a knack for finding a way to either win or keep the game close.
The majority of matchups between the Bills and Steelers have been closely contested, and I anticipate a similar scenario this Monday, considering the weather and the deep understanding between McDermott and Tomlin, tracing back to their college days. Depending on how the weather holds up, the Steelers possess the run game to potentially pull off an upset.
The outcome remains uncertain as it's tough to predict, given Pittsburgh's recent struggles, but with a Steelers team that has found its stride, one can never entirely rule out the possibility of an upset. Hopefully, they defy expectations and leave Buffalo with a win, setting up a showdown with their biggest rival, the Baltimore Ravens, next week.