NFL 2019 (Week 15): Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers

Russell S. Baxter

NFL 2019 (Week 15): Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers

By Jesse Pierson

Special to Pro Football Guru

With only a few weeks of the NFL season remaining, the playoff picture is taking shape. Few things are finalized (only Baltimore, Kansas City and New Orleans have clinched their divisions), so berths and seeds are still up for grabs. Heading into Sunday, the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers are positioned as the AFC’s two wild card teams, and it is only fitting that they face each other in prime time. The two teams share similar philosophies in that defense is their calling card, but their offensive identities have diverged this season. While Buffalo has built a run-first system around second-year quarterback Josh Allen, Pittsburgh is now starting its third quarterback of the year--undrafted rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges--after Ben Roethlisberger’s injury and Mason Rudolph’s demotion. As one might expect, the Steelers’ offense has been largely unsettled due to injury and quarterback play, but the team is still riding a three-game winning streak and has taken seven of their last eight. Buffalo has been consistently good all season, yet they have been largely overshadowed by the dominance of intra-division rival New England. A win against a traditional power on Sunday Night Football would go a long way toward proving their legitimacy on a national scale.

Bills: Allen, Frank Gore and Devin Singletary have all rushed for over 400 yards and Allen’s passing has improved dramatically from last year. The Bills’ catalyst, though, has been its defense. They are second in the league in points per game (16.3), third in yards (296.8), and ninth in total sacks (38). In fact, Buffalo has 15 players who have recorded at least one sack. They have only given up over 24 points twice (both in losses), and in their other two losses, the offense failed to score more than 16 points. This is the type of football that wins in bad weather, and no one knows more about bad weather than the Bills fan base. If this team can win out, they will capture the AFC East and end the Patriots’ run of 10 straight division titles. Focusing squarely on Pittsburgh, Allen will need to avoid sacks and turnovers, as the Steelers’ defense leads the league in both categories (48 sacks and 33 takeaways, respectively). Buffalo has a better record on the road than at home this year (5-1 versus 4-3), so don’t expect them to be intimidated by the Heinz Field crowd.

Steelers: Pittsburgh will assuredly be counting on their home crowd to help them out, as they are dealing with injuries to their starting running back, receiver, and tight end at the moment. Juju Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald has already been ruled out, but James Conner is listed as questionable. Hodges has been efficient thus far, but offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has not asked him to carry the team yet. He may need to work some magic if Conner is held out of action. James Washington has quietly led the team in receiving yards and Benny Snell has announced himself as a capable replacement to Conner in spot duty as well. Like Buffalo, Pittsburgh goes as its defense goes, and T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush seem to have no problem with that. They will focus on taking away the Bills’ running game and forcing Allen to beat them from the pocket. Although they cannot catch Baltimore in the division race, Pittsburgh can vault itself into the fifth-seed by overtaking Buffalo in this one.

Prediction: Buffalo steals a defensive struggle to keep their dream season going.

Buffalo Bills 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 13

Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.

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