The Pittsburgh Steelers are officially set to play their first playoff game in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era this week, traveling to Orchard Park, New York to take on the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round. The Steelers enter the weekend as nine-point underdogs, with many projecting a first-round exit for the Black & Gold.
...but what if it wasn’t?
On paper, this isn’t a game that favors the Steelers in any way, shape or form on paper. Take a look at their 2023 stats head-to-head for comparison, and you’ll see why.
Steelers vs. Bills: Head-to-head stats 2023
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Still, the Bills’ greatest weaknesses do play into the Steelers’ greatest strengths, which could set Pittsburgh up for a ground-breaking upset to advance to the Divisional Round.
On offense, the only real edge they have over the Bills is their lack of turnovers — tied for the second-fewest in the league with just 16 total giveaways on the season. It just so happens that giveaways also happen to be the greatest weakness for the Bills this season, tied for the seventh-most in the league (28). Superstar quarterback Josh Allen leads the NFL in total yards of offense (4,678) and total touchdowns (44)... but he also ranks second in the league in total giveaways, including 18 interceptions (second-most) and four lost fumbles (t-11th).
On the defense, their greatest edge might just be health, even despite being without star edge rusher T.J. Watt, who will miss the Wild Card round with a knee injury suffered in Week 18. The Bills, like the Steelers, have managed a number of injuries on defense this year, including the losses of starting linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Tre’Davious White to season-ending injuries. Though they’ve played the “next man up” game to perfection, even their backups at this point enter this game banged up, having already ruled out safety Taylor Rapp and top cornerback Rasul Douglas looking on the wrong side of questionable heading into this matchup.
That’s not to say the Bills don’t enter this game with a ton of momentum, of course. After starting their season at 5-5, they went on a 5-0 streak to close out the season, including wins over the Chiefs, Cowboys and Dolphins — all considered viable contenders for Super Bowl 58. Even with the injuries, their defense has performed well in any case, having held opponents to 22 or fewer points in each of those past five weeks.
Still... even with the loss of Watt for this game, the Steelers head into the Wild Card round with some momentum thanks to quarterback Mason Rudolph — yes, you read that right! Having started each of the last three weeks, Rudolph’s thrown for 716 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions with a 120.4 passer rating that ranks fifth among quarterbacks in that span. His presence under center has provided a spark to the offense, with 397+ yards and 30+ points in two of the past three games, also providing a spark to the run game with the tandem of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren.
That brings us to our final point — this game is supposed to be an absolute disaster in terms of weather. The National Weather Service has officially issued a Winter Storm Watch in effect from Saturday to Monday, with expectations for 1-2 feet of snow with wind gusts upward of 50+ miles per hour that will make it difficult for even a guy like Josh Allen to complete passes.
This game projects as a run-heavy, ground-and-pound matchup — the kind of game that the Steelers have always been meant to play. The need to emphasize the run, paired with the recent explosion of Harris, who’s totaled 312 rushing yards (6th among RBs) and 4 rushing touchdowns (tied-most) over the past three weeks with Rudolph under center. He and UDFA Jaylen Warren have been the ultimate 1-2 punch this season — just the fourth running back duo in Steelers history with 1,000 scrimmage yards apiece in a single season. The winds in particular for this game will play into their success running the ball as well as they have recently.
Though the weather will play into the Bills’ run game success just as well with Josh Allen and running backs James Cook and Leonard Fournette each playing their own roles, the Steelers can at least say they’ll be getting two of their top safeties back after a three game absence, including Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee. Fitzpatrick in particular has played a crucial role in run support when healthy — particularly important considering a number of injuries at linebacker for the Steelers over the course of the season.
Heading into the weekend, Steelers are installed as 9-point road underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook, with the line having moved just half a point in the Steelers’ favor since odds opened on Sunday. The point total sits at 34.5 — the lowest of any game in the Wild Card round.
54% of the point spread bets and 46% of the total money wagered on the point spread for Steelers-Bills has been placed on Pittsburgh to cover. The public is also backing the UNDER on the point total, with 53% of the bets and 67% of the total money wagered on the point total coming in on the under.
While an upset from the Steelers is unlikely… it’s also not impossible. Any given Sunday.