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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills: A Complete History of the Rivalry

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In the NFL’s 100th season, a look at the Steelers and Bills, now and through history.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With all the NFL 100th Season lists, I’ve been thinking about the histories of various Steeler rivalries. So every week for the rest of the year, I’ll post a retrospective preview, considering the two teams and setting up for the upcoming game.

This week: Buffalo Bills


2019 Comparison

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Current Records:

Pittsburgh : 8-5 (2nd AFC North)
Buffalo : 9-4 (2nd AFC East)

2019 Off/Def Comparisons:

....................................... Overall........... Pass ........... Rush........... Score

Pittsburgh Offense........290 (28th).......196 (31st)........95 (25th).......19.9 (23rd)
Buffalo Defense…..........297 (3rd)........192 (3rd).......105 (14th)......16.3 (2nd)

Buffalo Offense...............342 (20th).........207 (27th).....135 (5th).........21.1 (20th)
Pittsburgh Defense.........311 (5th)...........210 (5th)…...101 (9th).........18.6 (6th)

2019 Defensive Comparisons (advanced stats):

Percentage of opponent drives that end in a …score / …turnover / (net difference)

Pittsburgh…...28.3…...21.1…..(-7.2)
Buffalo..……...22.3…....10.1…..(-12.2)

Opponent Passing …TDs / …INTs / (net difference)

Pittsburgh.…..21…..18…..(-3)*
Buffalo………..12……9…..(-3)

*The Steelers gave up 6 passing TDs and grabbed 0 INTs in the two weeks before Minkah Fitzpatrick arrived. That brings their TD/INT difference to +3 over the past 11 weeks.

Opponent Passer Rating:

Pittsburgh…...81.2*
Buffalo….…....77.5

*The Steelers allowed a passer rating of 131.3 before Fitzpatrick showed up. Their team rating in the last 11 weeks has been 71.5.

Opponent rushing TDs

Pittsburgh.……5
Buffalo…..…...11

Opponent Rushing yards per carry

Pittsburgh.……3.78
Buffalo……..….4.39


HISTORY:

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

All-Time Records:

Steelers : 664-583-22 (.532)
Buffalo : 438-496-8 (.471)

Steelers have the 4th most wins in NFL history; 11th best all time winning percentage. Buffalo is 23rd in both wins and winning percentage.

Since Merger:

Steelers : 502-315-3 (.614)
Buffalo : 371-425-2 (.467)

The Steelers are the winningest team in the NFL since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. The Bills are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals at 22nd.

This Century:

Steelers : 212-115-2 (.648)
Buffalo : 136-181-0 (.429)

The Steelers are the #2 team in the NFL this millennium. Buffalo sits at #28.

Coach in Common:

Mike Mularkey (Steelers Tight End 1989-91, Tight Ends Coach 1996-2000, Offensive Coordinator 2001-03; Bills Head Coach 2004-05)

Mularkey made a pro bowler out of Kordell Stewart in his first year as Steelers O.C., then rode Tommy Maddox to a playoff run the following year. His reward was a two-year run heading the Bills, in which a 14-18 record was enough for the Wilson family to pull the rip-cord. Bizarrely, Mularkey keeps getting head coaching opportunities (Jacksonville 2012, Tennessee 2014-15), but never seems to get more than a season or two to turn a team around.

What Number 4 Represents:

Steelers : Four Super Bowl Titles from 1974-79 (4-0)
Buffalo : Four Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93 (0-4)

All-Time Running Back Controversy:

Steelers : Franco Harris (1972-83) vs Jerome Bettis (1996-2005)
Buffalo : O.J. Simpson (1969-77) vs Thurman Thomas (1988-99)

Best Penn State Linebacker:

Steelers : Jack Ham (1971-82)
Buffalo : Shane Conlan (1987-95)

(Note: Buffalo coach Marv Levy drafted three linebackers from PSU in the 80s, explaining, “as Gloria Venderbilt said, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Penn State linebackers.”)

Longest Stretch of Failure:

Steelers : 1933-71 – zero playoff wins, one (unscheduled) playoff appearance
Buffalo : 2000-2019 – zero playoff wins, one playoff appearance

Division Rivals in another Universe?

Distance Pittsburgh and Buffalo : 214.7 miles
Nearest AFC East team to Buffalo: NY Jets – 373.4 miles
Distance Pittsburgh to Cincinnati: 289 miles
Distance Pittsburgh to Baltimore: 248 miles
* only the Cleveland Browns are closer to the Steelers than Buffalo


HEAD TO HEAD:

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills

All-Time Series:

Steelers : 16 – 9

Playoff Series:

Steelers : 2 – 1

Current Streak:

Steelers : 6w

Longest Streak:

Steelers : 6 games (2001-16)
Buffalo : 5 games (1986-93) *includes one playoff game

First game:

October 11, 1970
Steelers : 23
Buffalo : 10

This was the Steelers’ first win in 17 games, having finished Chuck Noll’s first season on a 13 game losing streak, and starting 1970 at 0-3. They’d finish the year on a promising run, going 5-6 after that winless start. But this was not a good team. The defense held O.J. Simpson to 60 yards on the day, and Steeler quarterbacks (Terry Hanratty and rookie Terry Bradshaw) combined for a stat line of 7-22, 50 yards and a touchdown. Yikes. The Steelers young D (already featuring Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Andy Russel, and L.C. Greenwood) records five sacks and five takeaways, and that’s enough to take the day.

Most Recent game:

December 11, 2016
Steelers : 27
Buffalo : 20

Le’Veon Bell carries 38 times for a team record 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers shut down a scrappy Bills team in the Buffalo snow. Ben Roethlisberger had an uncharacteristically ugly game, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns, so Bell had to carry the day, and he did. This Steelers team had started 4-5, before going on a tremendous nine game winning streak (including two playoff victories). This was the fourth victory in the run, and the only one in which they ran for more yards than they passed.

Biggest Game in the Series:

December 22, 1974 (AFC Divisional Playoff)
Steelers : 32
Buffalo : 14

This was the first poststeason step on the Steelers journey to the first of their four 1970s Super Bowl victories. The Steelers scored 26 points in the second quarter, as Franco Harris ran for three touchdowns and Rocky Bleier added a short touchdown reception in the quarter. The Steelers defense held O.J. Simpson to 49 yards, and kept Buffalo to 100 as a team, while they ran for 235 yards themselves. This game was also an example of a suffocating defense, but not a big-play D: the Steelers recorded one takeaway and zero sacks, and yet outgained the Bills by 174 yards. The win sent the Steelers to Oakland for a conference title tilt with the hated Raiders.

Other Memorable Games:

November 28, 2010
Steelers : 19*OT
Buffalo : 16

The Steelers were on their way to their second Super Bowl in three years; the Bills would finish the season 4-12. This should have been a rout, but somehow Buffalo hung in there and knotted the score at 16 at the final gun. On to overtime, where Ryan Fitzpatrick (yup) caught the Steelers secondary out of position and threw the game winner deep to Stevie Johnson, who dropped it. This opened the door for Rashard Mendenhall (151 rushing yards) to set up Shaun Suisham’s game winning field goal.

Amazingly, Johnson logged into Twitter after the game and answered one of the great sports questions: since winners always seem to thank God for their success, why does no one ever blame God when they fail? Johnson’s tweet: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...” Reading about it later, many of us thought this was an Onion headline at first. Nope.

January 2, 2005
Steelers : 29
Buffalo : 24

The Steelers entered the contest at 14-1, having already clinched the AFC’s number 1 seed, while Buffalo needed a win to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. The game seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Bills, as the Steelers rested their starters. Unfortunately, the Steelers JV squad was still the better team. The game is significant in that it completed the only 15-1 season in AFC history. As a side story, since Duce Staley was still injured, Bill Cowher rested Jerome Bettis, and was forced to start an undrafted rookie running back named Willie Parker, who recorded 102 yards in his first NFL start. As so often happened in those days, the game sealing points came from the defense, as a backup OLB named James Harrison brought back a fumble 18 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown.

January 6, 1996 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Steelers : 40
Buffalo : 21

The Steelers get playoff revenge for their 1993 loss (see below) by trouncing the fading Bills dynasty. The Steelers will host Indianapolis the next week, and when the dust settles, Pittsburgh will wind up in the Super Bowl to take on the Bills’ nemesis and their own 70s whipping boys, the Dallas Cowboys. It will be the Steelers’ first Super Bowl in 15 years.

January 9, 1993 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Steelers ; 3
Buffalo : 24

The two-time defending AFC champion Bills had survived the Wildcard round by executing the biggest comeback in NFL history, defeating the Houston Oilers 41-38 after trailing 35-3. Meanwhile, the Steelers came in fresh, after rookie coach Bill Cowher led them to the AFC’s #1 seed. On paper, the game reads like a passing of the torch, particularly since the Bills would be starting backup quarterback Frank Reich in place of future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Unfortunately, Buffalo is not ready to let go of the conference’s mantle. The Bills defense will sack Neil O’Donnell seven times and force three turnovers without committing one themselves (the Steelers had led the league in takeaways in 1993 with a whopping 46). In the end, the Bills blast the Steelers at Three Rivers, and qualify for their third straight Super Bowl. There, they will be trounced by the Dallas Cowboys 52-17, in a game most famous for Bills wideout Don Beebe running down a showboating Leon Lett before Lett can reach the end zone and score on a fumble return. Kind of an anticlimax, but I guess those happen sometimes.