Steeler Nation, we’ve officially made it. There is a crisp breeze in the air, the leaves are starting to fall, and football is back. After an eventful off-season eventually capping with the TJ Watt contract extension announcement, the Pittsburgh Steelers head up to Buffalo, New York to take on the Buffalo Bills on the NFL’s opening weekend. With the Bills being one of the top AFC teams going into the 2021 season and the Steelers featuring an entirely new squad to face them, this game will definitely be different than what we saw back in Week 14 of last season.
Let’s take a look at some things we can look forward to.
MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE
Offense: Amongst other things, the Steelers are bringing their new running game to Buffalo. This includes a new offensive line with rookies Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green, rookie running back Najee Harris, and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. In 2020, the Bills were ranked 16th in overall defense. Specifically looking at their run defense, they gave up 21 rushing touchdowns and allowed 4.6 yards per carry to opposing offenses. To pile onto that, Bills’ starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will not play this week due to a calf injury. Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada will need to take full advantage of a relatively weaker Bills rush defense to maintain possession of the ball and keep the Bills offense off the field. It will be interesting to watch Harris in his first regular reason game and how effective the new running attack will fair.
Defense: The Steelers are bringing a fresh defense to Buffalo that will look much different than who played back in December. For reference, the Steelers defense allowed 230 passing yards, 104 rushing yards and a 50% third-down conversion percentage in their last matchup. It is important to note that this was a defense without Robert Spillane, Joe Haden, Devin Bush, and Joe Schobert. Furthermore, Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs accounted for 130 receiving yards on 10 completions with a touchdown. That means over 56% of the Bills’ total offense was because of Diggs. For the Steelers to shut down quarterback Josh Allen and get off the field on third downs, the secondary needs to blanket Diggs. If the Steelers’ secondary doubles Diggs and maintain pressure along the line, this will likely be the key to a Week 1 victory.
Don’t expect another score of 26-15 this go-around. With the key to a Steelers’ victory this week being a successful run game and slowing down the Bills’ offense, I see a lower scoring and closer game than what others anticipate. With that said however, I think the Steelers’ offensive line will still be in their “growth” stage in getting to mesh with each other and this will ultimately be the deciding factor. I’m predicting a final score of 24-20 in favor of the Bills. But don’t worry; we’ll see them again in January.
The Steelers are 16-11-0 all-time against the Bills. In the last 20 years, the Steelers are 4-1 against the Bills in Buffalo. This week, the Steelers are 6.5-point underdogs. In 2020, the Steelers were 10-6 against the spread. As an underdog, they were an NFL second-best 4-1 against the spread (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were first with a 5-1 record). As an away underdog, the Steelers were 3-1 against the spread in 2020. In their only game as 6.5-point underdogs (Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns), they covered. The Bills were only 2-2 against the spread when they were favored by 6.5 points in 2020. What all of this means is, although the Bills are going into this week as a top 5 team in the NFL, this is definitely going to be closer than what analysts think. It also helps that this won’t be the third game for the Steelers in a span of 11 days, which is what they faced in 2020. Who knows, maybe with all the other media outlets picking the Bills to win, the Steelers may play spoiler in the Bills’ home opener.
What are you watching for tomorrow? What do you think the final outcome will be? Let us know in the comment section below!