Steelers vs. Bills Expert Pick – January 15, 2024
STEELERS VS. BILLS EXPERT PICK – January 15, 2024 – The Pittsburgh Steelers travel up north to face the Buffalo Bills in a classic AFC Super Wild Card Playoff showdown.
Editor’s Note: Due to extreme weather in Buffalo, this game has been rescheduled for Monday, January 15th. Much of the handicapping information in this article relied on the weather report for January 14th.
A few weeks ago, both teams were considered long shots for the playoffs, as the Steelers locked in the last seed and the Bills won the AFC East winning five straight games to end the season.
(10-7 SU, 10-7 ATS)
(10-7 SU, 11-5 ATS)
When: Monday, January 15, 2024, at 4:30 PM ET
Where: Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY
Stairway to Seven
The oddsmakers have spoken and the Steelers are officially the longshot (+12000 according to DraftKings) of the NFL playoffs to win the Super Bowl. You may find some prognosticators in the national media picking Pittsburgh with the 10-point spread, but it will be hard to find any pundit picking them to defeat the Bills and move to the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs.
“That is for Vegas and all the other naysayers,” veteran Cam Heyward said Wednesday. “We’re excited to be in this opportunity. We understand (that being) the 10-point underdog doesn’t decide the game. It’s in between the lines. It’s the team that executes. It’s the team that wins the turnover battle, the team that wins the rushing battles. Ten-point underdogs is a whole lot of nonsense to us.”
The great equalizer in this matchup may be the weather as the AccuWeather forecasts are calling for a high of 24 degrees, 6-10 inches of snow, and wind gusts up to 40MPH. There were conflicting reports about the game being moved to Cleveland Browns Stadium but, for now, the game is still in Orchard Park, NY at 1pm.
Nerves of Steel
The Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens last week while playing in freezing rain, but wind was not a factor. With this forecast expect to see a heavy dose of the running game led by Najee Harris who ran for 100 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Mason Rudolph must limit mistakes and make the splash play when needed.
Last week it was receiver Diontae Johnson who provided the spark highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown to seal the game over the Ravens while George Pickens wasn’t targeted at all.
“They double-covered him most of the game. I told him I’m very proud of the way he handled that,” Rudolph told the media in his postgame press conference. “I thought it was a very mature, team-first attitude. He was not whining or asking for the ball.”
The Steelers have rallied behind Rudolph who has thrown for 719 yards and three touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception in his three-game run. His passer rating and QBR are better than any other starting quarterback in the playoffs over that span.
The offense will look to control the tempo and the clock to keep the dangerous Bills offense, led by Josh Allen, off the field. With T.J. Watt being injured last week and out for this game nursing his knee injury, it’s imperative that the offense minimize mistakes.
Pittsburgh will fill the void left by Watt’s injury using a rotation at defensive end with rookie Nick Herbig and veteran Markus Golden. Herbig has impressed in limited duties while Golden’s veteran presence has added much needed depth.
With a dual threat quarterback, such as Allen, the focus from the edge rushers may not be sacks but containment and force him to make mistakes. It’s time for the “standard to be the standard” and “next man up,” just a couple of the head coach’s famous ‘Tomlinism’ references.
Let’s Get Physical
The Bills are perhaps the hottest team entering the playoffs with five straight wins. Furthermore, they have not lost a game since Joe Brady became the offensive coordinator as his ball-control offense has limited the turnovers that plagued them earlier this year.
With the inclement weather expect to see them continue to lean on the run game with James Cook and Leonard Fournette leading the way; mix in Allen’s running ability and the Steelers’ defense has its work cut out for them.
“It starts with a mindset. You have to have that,” explains coach Sean McDermott. “That’s really where it starts. It’s a physical game, they are a physical team. If we want to have a chance, we have to play a physical game. That’s the style of football you have to play, particularly this time of year and against this football team.”
The Bills strength on defense, which is primarily against the pass, may be nullified by the winter weather. The Steelers running backs have amassed over 1800 yards this season and face a defense that ranks 27th against the run. Buffalo will look to force Pittsburgh into third-and-long situations to keep Harris and Warren at bay.
Since Super Wild Card Weekend was introduced in 2020 there hasn’t been a single #7 seed upset the #2 seed. In a league of parody, it’s time to end this trend. This is going to be a crazy game that will come down to turnovers.
The Steelers are the least turnover prone team in the league while Josh Allen majors in throwing to the opposing team. Consequently, he had to bail himself out last week as he threw two interceptions in their win against Miami. He can’t help himself!
Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will dominate this game. The #7 seeded Steelers will defeat the Buffalo Bills outright to continue their Stairway to Seven march towards a championship. Mason “the Red Nosed” Rudolph leads this team through the lake effect blizzard conditions and shocks the world leading the Steelers to a 17-6 victory over the Bills.
Steelers ML +390