Jordan DeFigio, @fidgenewton
In just a little while, the Pittsburgh Steelers will make the trek north to the frozen tundra of Buffalo to battle it out with the Buffalo Bills.
Actually, it’ll be 40 degrees and raining.
Still not ideal.
This will arguably be the biggest, most important game of the season for this 11-1 Steelers team who is coming off of a mortifying loss to the Washington Football Team. If they’re able to pull out a win in Buffalo, they would clinch a playoff berth. If they are able to win AND the Cleveland Browns lose, they’ll clinch the AFC North division title.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The game, which will be nationally broadcast on NBC this Sunday at 8:20PM, presents a slew of challenges the Steelers will have to overcome if they want to bounce back and crawl closer to the playoffs.
MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE
The Steelers are even more understaffed on defense now than they were a week ago. Steven Nelson is returning after missing the game against Washington due to a knee injury. That’s huge for the Steelers’ secondary. Equally huge are the losses of Joe Haden who is in concussion protocol, and Robert Spillane who will be out for several weeks with a knee injury himself.
Oh, and Vince Williams was placed on the COVID/Reserve list.
This means we’ll be seeing a lot of Avery Williamson, Marcus Allen, and Alex Highsmith. And they’ll need to fill in big-time against an explosive Bills offense led by electric quarterback Josh Allen with a supporting cast of Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Devin Singletary. Allen has completed 299 passes on 428 attempts for 3,403 yards and 26 touchdowns, and he’s rushed for 322 yards and 6 touchdowns. For some perspective, our starting running back James Conner has rushed for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns across 10 games. The linebacker unit is going to have to give Defensive Player of the Year candidate TJ Watt some serious support to put the heat on Allen and keep him from scrambling and eluding the pressure.
The secondary isn’t off the hook and will have some ground to make up in the wake of Haden’s absence. Together, Diggs and Beasley have combined for 1,834 yards and 8 touchdowns. And both receivers are averaging over 10 yards per catch. Expect the Bills offense to try to exploit mismatches and holes and take advantage of confusion on the Steelers’ end with all of the injuries.
The defense’s contribution to the game will be meaningless, though, if the offense doesn’t find a way to click. The blocking on the line has been atrocious. And that’s putting it kindly. David Decastro and Alejandro Villanueva have looked utterly lackadaisical and lost, and missed blocks by both Eric Ebron and Derek Watt quite literally cost the Steelers touchdowns. Luckily, both Maurkice Pouncey and James Conner are returning which should help to bolster the run game. If Randy Fichtner can muster up the creativity to call plays that work to the strengths of his players.
And then there are the drops.
Those damn drops.
15, to be exact.
From just about everyone. The biggest offenders being Diontae Johnson, Ebron, and surprisingly Chase Claypool. I sure hope these guys hit the jugs this week to try to rectify this problem. A problem that, once again, has cost them precious points.
For the first time all season, my prediction was more or less accurate. The Steelers lost to Washington and it was a low-scoring defensively tight game.
I hate that THAT was the first one I got right.
I’m going with my gut again, and this week I see the Steelers pulling off a win in Buffalo. It won’t be a blowout, but it will be a game where they rediscover their confidence and regain momentum. They’ve put too much into this season to flicker out at the end, or worse – lose the division to the Browns.
21-17 Steelers in this one.
Not only are the Steelers fighting to clinch a playoff berth, so are the Bills. At 9-3, the circumstances for them to solidify a spot are a little less clear cut, but it all starts with them winning on Sunday night. Which they will really want to do, especially at home.
The matchups will be tough. This is a good Bills team hungry to taste the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The Steelers, however, haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2017 season. Will we see the team that plays a full 60 minutes? The team that does whatever it takes to win? Or will we see the tired, worn down, defeated team that struggled against a depleted Baltimore Ravens team and lost to Washington? The team that shows up tomorrow will tell us a lot about whether or not they have the legs to go the distance and win Lombardi number seven.
What are your predictions for the game tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below.