Weekend Look Ahead

Presented by

6 things to watch for in Bills at Steelers | Week 15

121319-weekend-lookahead-allen-mcdermott-tomlin-conner

There's a matchup of brother versus brothers. There's a couple of former college teammates going head-to-head as NFL Head Coaches. It's a Sunday Night Football neophyte against a franchise that is comfortable on the national stage.

But first and foremost, there are playoff spots on the line Sunday, when the Bills travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

Here's what fans need to watch for this weekend as the Bills roll into Week 15 of the NFL season:

1. WIN AND YOU'RE IN

The scenario couldn't be simpler for the Bills — a win Sunday night in Pittsburgh puts them in the postseason for the second time in three years.

But the doubters remain for the 9-4 Bills after last week's disappointing loss to Baltimore. There shouldn't be any doubt about Buffalo's playoff viability, according to NBC Sports NFL Analyst Chris Simms. The former NFL QB told One Bills Live the Bills are legitimate contenders.

"One-hundred-percent they are. No doubt about it," Simms said. "The Buffalo Bills are not only legitimate playoff contenders, you don't want to play them in the playoffs. I don't care who it is. If it's Kansas City they end up having to go to, or Houston, whoever it is – they don't want to see the Buffalo Bills and their running game and Sean McDermott and his ability to game plan on defense. And then to deal with Josh Allen and his running ability and that rifle he has for a right arm—that's scary. The Bills are a good team and they're really close to being a great team."

2. STEELERS DEFENSE IS FOR REAL

The Steelers are pretty good, too, especially on defense. They lead the NFL with 48 sacks. They've got more takeaways than anyone else in the league—33. They're on pace to finish the season leading on both sacks and takeaways, and they'd be the first NFL team to do that since the 1974 Steelers of the "Steel Curtain" era.

3. OUTSIDE THREATS

The strength of the Pittsburgh defense is probably their two young players at outside linebacker. They've got two former first round picks there in Bud Dupree (2015 first rounder) and T.J. Watt (2017).

Dupree had three tackles for losses and a sack last week in Arizona. Watt had his third career interception against the Cardinals and is the only player in the league with 10 or more sacks (he has 12.5) and two interceptions this season.

NFL Insider Field Yates of ESPN says Dupree and Watt are a dynamic duo.

"Pittsburgh has Bud Dupree playing at a very high level," Yates told One Bills Live. "His fifth-year option was exercised this past offseason. He has met and delivered on those. Bud Dupree is probably going to be paid a lot of money."

"And you do that opposite of T.J. Watt, who has just been remarkable for the Steelers this season. He's creating turnovers, he's sacking the quarterback, he's good in pass coverage. He's got a couple of interceptions, he had one this week in the end zone. He's emerged as not just one of the Steelers best weapons, but one of the NFL's best players, based on how well he's played so far this year."

4. BAD JUJU

Keep an eye out for weekend updates on the status of Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster. He was scheduled to return to action Sunday after missing three weeks with a knee injury, but Smith-Schuster apparently aggravated the injury in Thursday's practice. ESPN's Adam Schefter says he's not expected to play now after leaving the practice early.

The Steelers do expect to get injured running back James Conner back for the Bills game. He's missed five of the last six with a shoulder injury but has practiced full all week.

5. WILLIAM AND MARY REUNION

The head coaches in this Bills-Steelers game have connections to each other through their alma mater, William and Mary College in Virginia.

And the man who coached them both there, Jimmye Laycock, will be at Heinz Field to see both of his proteges coach against each other for the first time.

Laycock just retired in 2018 after 39 years as head coach of the Tribe. He's coming to the game with family and about 40 other William and Mary alumni.

In an appearance on One Bills Live, Laycock was asked what it was about the school, and his program, that produced successful NFL head coaches.

"You've got intelligent young men who have chosen coaching as their profession," he said about Sean McDermott and Mike Tomlin. "They've done that, because they had a very positive experience at William and Mary, and I think they learned a lot. Not only about X's and O's and fundamentals, but about other things to be a good coach. It's exciting to me that they have chosen this profession, because these guys would be successful whatever they decided to do."

6. PATRIOT WATCHING

By the time the Bills kick off at 8:20 pm Sunday night, we'll know the score of the Patriots 1 pm matchup in Cincinnati against the Bengals. We'll know if the Bills still have an outside chance of catching New England and winning the AFC East. And we may know more about the strange episode last week in Cleveland, when a Patriots entertainment video crew admitted shooting sideline shots of the Bengals coaching staff.

The NFL is continuing to investigate. NFL Network Host Kyle Brandt, appearing on One Bills Drive, says New England's history of violating league guidelines on video makes this worth watching

"Any one of the other 31 teams and it's not a big thing," Brandt said. But with this one, there's so much scar tissue and it's so fascinating, and there's such a rabid following. I don't know the facts of it. It is a little bit odd. The fact that they've been down this road before means it's going to be a thing. I don't think this is going to go away as quickly as some others do, but we are right in the thick of it."
Brandt expects that whatever the outcome, New England is likely to use the controversy about the video shoot as motivation.

"Here's the most irritating part," he said. "The Patriots could turn this into some sort of fuel. Watch. They'll use this as a slight, and the timing is perfect. I bet the Patriots find a way to somehow channel this."

Related Content

Advertising