Due to a winter storm warning in Buffalo, Sunday’s wild-card game between the Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers has been rescheduled for Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day south of the border.
But Monday still figures to be the kind of game fans would expect the Bills to host in January, with forecasters calling for flurries and temperatures well below freezing for the 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff on the U.S. holiday.
The Bills typically have benefitted from foul weather given their experience playing in it, but given Pittsburgh’s offensive limitations, a slow track might actually benefit Mike Tomlin’s team, which is a 10-point underdog after eking into the playoffs when the Jacksonville Jaguars lost in Week 18.
Bet on Steelers vs. Bills
Just to host a first-round game as the No. 2 seed in the AFC signals how far the Bills came after splitting their first 10 games of the season and imperiling their Super Bowl aspirations. They won their final five games, three of them coming against playoff teams.
Steelers vs. Bills odds
|Steelers Moneyline Odds
|Bills Moneyline Odds
|Bills -10 (-110)
|37.5 points (over -110, under -110)
|January 15, 4:30 p.m. ET
|Broadcast: TSN, CTV
About the Steelers (10-7 SU, 10-7 ATS, 6-11 o/u)
The Steelers, who haven’t won a playoff game in seven years, got here with a late push of their own, winning their final three games, though the last of them came against a Baltimore Ravens team with nothing to play for and resting most of its regulars. The Steelers have the worst offence in the playoffs though it moved a little more smoothly under Mason Rudolph than it did with Kenny Pickett at quarterback.
In the three wins, Rudolph completed 74.6% of his passes for 716 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Steelers’ offensive line coalesced late in the season and it showed in the running game, with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combining to pick up 444 yards rushing and five touchdowns in those three games.
For the season, Pittsburgh finished 23rd in the NFL in expected points added per play, but that bumped up to fourth in the games Rudolph started.
Pittsburgh is here because of its defence, but it will be without its best player for as long as its postseason run lasts. T.J. Watt, the NFL sack leader, sustained a season-ending knee injury vs. Baltimore last week. How important is Watt to this unit? They finished seventh in EPA/play this season, up 20 spots from last year, when he missed half the season.
About the Bills (11-6 SU, 7-9-1 ATS, 6-11 o/u)
The Bills not only qualified for the playoffs, but won their fourth straight AFC East title and finished it off in style, with a road win against the Miami Dolphins.
Some of the Bills’ improvement boils down to eking by in close games, which often can be the product of luck. After starting the season 2-6 in games decided by seven or fewer points, the Bills won their last four under such conditions.
This Bills’ offence was much-maligned, in part because of quarterback Josh Allen’s glut of interceptions in mid-season, but wound up finishing third behind the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys in EPA/play.
Allen himself finished strong, completing 79% of his passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 15 times for 67 yards. If the wind is swirling as forecasters expect it to, look for Allen to scramble more often than normal or simply to hand it off to James Cook, who had 70 yards rushing or more in four of the Bills’ final eight games.
The Bills’ defence wobbled for a while after losing middle linebacker Matt Milano, but steadied itself admirably and finished top 10 in EPA/play, holding an explosive Miami offence to just 14 points at home.
For the Steelers to pull off this upset, they’re going to need their offensive line to continue a trend that began about mid-season, when they began bulldozing opponents’ fronts to make room for their two decent, but unexceptional running backs.
Expect a run-heavy approach that could take advantage of a Bills’ defence that allowed opponents to pick up an average of 4.6 yards per carry this season, more than all but five other defences.
In Pittsburgh’s last 10 games, the offence averaged 145.2 rushing yards per game, which would have ranked second in the NFL if it had been a season-long trend. Harris, the top back, picked up 1,035 yards on 255 carries while Warren had 784 on 149. This has been Pittsburgh’s best running game since the last time it made the Super Bowl in 2011.
The key for Pittsburgh’s offensive line will be getting to the second level of Buffalo’s defence and taking advantage of Milano’s absence to neutralize the other linebackers. The run-first approach also should work well given a quarterback making his post-season debut and the expectation of gusting winds.
Steelers over 0.5 rushing touchdowns
Aside from the massive hole Watt leaves, the Steelers are relatively healthy. S Trenton Thompson (neck) is on injured reserve, but that’s it for their injury report.
Buffalo will be without S Taylor Rapp (calf) and WR Gabe Davis (knee), with LB Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) and CB Rasul Douglas (knee) questionable.
Weather will still be a huge factor in this one as flurries are still expected to continue into Monday afternoon in Buffalo with winds gusting up to 40 km/h. Temperatures will be frigid, around -8 C feeling like -15 C with the wind chill.
The weather forecasts and the recheduling of this game have sent the total on a roller coaster ride all week. The total opened at 40.5 points at bet365 last Sunday, fell all the way to 33 on Saturday morning, and has now settled around 37.5.
- Both teams finished in the bottom 11 when it came to staying under the total, with only the L.A. Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers hitting a higher percentage of unders.
- Tomlin and Bills coach Sean McDermott were college teammates at William & Mary in 1993 and ’94. McDermott is 3-1 coaching against Tomlin.
- The Bills went 0-4 when favoured by nine points or more this season.
Player prop trends
- Harris has four touchdowns in his past three games and has scored in six of his last 10.
- Allen has thrown more frequently of late to TE Dalton Kincaid, who has seen 15 targets in the past two games, tied with Stefon Diggs for the team lead.
- The other Buffalo tight end, Dawson Knox, has gone over his receptions prop in 22 of his last 27 games.
Wagers to consider
- Pittsburgh will be desperate to establish a run game given the lousy conditions and as a way of keeping the ball away from Allen. Considering Warren fumbled twice last week, the coaches figure to give the vast majority of the opportunities to Harris. In addition to investing in Harris scoring an anytime TD (at +225), consider taking the over 60.5 yards rushing (at -110).
- The connection between Allen and Kincaid has been real and cold and windy conditions could force Allen to look for shorter passes, playing into the tight ends hands, quite literally. Taking the over on 3.5 completions (at -115) seems like a good play here.