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Bills preparing to face physical Steelers team and inclement weather for Super Wild Card Weekend

FTLR Steelers Practice

If you're going to Highmark Stadium Sunday afternoon, you might want to bring a pair of gloves. And a big coat. And a hat.

With a high in the mid 20s, wind between 20-35 mph and a potential for snow showers, Sunday could provide Buffalo's first inclement weather game of the year.

"The wind may move the ball a little bit," said quarterback Josh Allen after Wednesday's walk-through practice. "Typically, it's going to be, with weather like this, a game that both teams are going to run the ball and it's going to be very possession-limited, so we got to make these possessions count."

For the Bills, playing in the cold and windy weather is nothing new.

"We've been through a lot of games here where we've had to, no pun intended, weather the storm that way, right," said head coach Sean McDermott before practice. "It affects how you play the game, how you manage the game. So when we have that here, it's an added dimension to our preparation."

While the wind could affect how special teams approaches the kicking game and how reliant quarterback Josh Allen is on the deep ball, defensive tackle Ed Oliver hasn't changed his mindset one bit.

"There's no adjustments. We know what we have to do," Oliver said after practice. "Your body kind of gets calloused to it, so you're more, I guess, better suited to play in it because we live in it and we walk outside in it."

Oliver repeated throughout his time with the media Wednesday that the Bills approach to each game hasn't faltered, not for the weather and not even for the playoffs.

As many players have pointed out over the past several weeks, the Bills have been in a playoff mindset since losing their sixth game of the season to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12. While hindsight has made it clear that they could have afforded a loss, by treating their remaining five games as win-or-go-home situations, the Bills have built up a playoff mentality that has seen them skyrocket in the playoff standings, from the 11 seed to the 2 seed.

"The mindset doesn't change," Oliver said. "It's the same mentality, the same tenacity, the same effort, the same execution, the same emphasis on every game. We've been in the playoffs for five weeks now. Every game is a must-win. Every play, every snap, every second of every day counts towards one goal and that's winning."

The team currently in the way of that goal, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has won each of their last three games since naming Mason Rudolph as the team's starting quarterback. Under head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have never had a losing season and made the playoffs in 11 of his 17 seasons with the team.

"This is a good football team, undefeated under Mason Rudolph and well-coached playing good on both sides of the ball and special teams. So I think when you watch the last three games in particular, they're playing high quality football," McDermott said.

Since making his first start this season against Cincinnati, Rudolph has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions. With Rudolph under center, running back Najee Harris has rushed for over 110 yards in each of his last two outings, adding three total touchdowns. Jaylen Warren has emerged as a strong complement to Harris, adding 858 total yards and four touchdowns on the season.

McDermott said that the Steelers running game was one of many reasons behind them being perhaps the most physical team they will have faced all season.

"It's a physical game, they're a physical team," McDermott said. "If we want to have a chance, we got to play physical, there's no negotiating around that or finding a way around it. That's the style of football you have to play in particular this time of year and against this football team."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh defensive front has been putting its physicality on display over the past three games, allowing just over 84 rushing yards per game – the fourth-best mark in the league in that timespan.

With 2.8 sacks per game, the Steelers have been effective at getting to the quarterback this season. However, with pass rusher T.J. Watt out with a MCL knee sprain, the Steelers' front could suffer a dip in productivity.

In the 2022 season, when Watt missed seven games with a pectoral injury, the Pittsburgh defense averaged nearly 8.5 more points allowed per game, 100 more yards allowed per game and went 1-6 without their star edge rusher.

Allen made sure to point out that the Steelers defense still has a wealth of talent despite missing Watt this weekend.

"I know they ruled Watt out, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear," Allen said. "They've got a very good defensive line, one of the better players interior that's played this game in Cam Heyward, he's an animal. [Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith] on the left edge, he's playing at as high a level as anybody in the league right now. So, we're gonna have our hands full."

Check out some snowy photos from above of both the new construction and current stadium.

Injury report

Wide receiver Gabe Davis (knee), cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee), defensive end Leonard Floyd (vet rest), edge rusher Von Miller (vet rest) and safety Taylor Rapp (calf) did practice Wednesday.

Left tackle Dion Dawkins (hand laceration), linebacker Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) and running back Ty Johnson (concussion) were limited while quarterback Josh Allen (neck), safety Damar Hamlin (shoulder) and safety Micah Hyde were all full participants.

Ratings roundup

Buffalo ranked as the No. 1 TV market for Sunday Night Football on NBC during the 2023 regular season, beating out the Kansas City and Cincinnati markets. The Bills were 2-1 on SNF this season (vs. NYG, at CIN, at MIA). 

Buffalo's AFC East clinching win over the Dolphins averaged 23.0 million viewers across NBC and Peacock, making it the most-watched Week 18 game of the week.

The Bills-Steelers Wild Card game will be broadcast on CBS with the No. 1 crew of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson on the call. This will mark the fifth Bills game this year the trio has called.

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