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Top 5 storylines to follow for Bills vs. Steelers | NFL playoffs


The Bills are hosting their fifth home playoff game in the last four seasons come Sunday afternoon. It'll be the first playoff meeting between Sean McDermott and Mike Tomlin as head coaches.

Here are five things to know ahead of Sunday's Wild Card game against the Steelers.

1. Injury updates

Several Bills players exited Week 18's game against the Dolphins and did not return. WR Gabe Davis (knee), CB Rasul Douglas (knee), LB Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) and RB Ty Johnson (shoulder) got injured throughout the game and did not see any game action after they came out.

Sean McDermott met with media on Monday afternoon but did not have any updates yet.

"I don't have much just because we got back so late a couple of guys are still going through it," McDermott said. "But I'll have more for you guys on Wednesday."

CB Dane Jackson and LB Baylon Spector were among a couple of the players that stepped up in the absence of those who were injured. Jackson finished the game with three total tackles and one pass defensed, and Spector collected four total tackles.

Regardless of who will be ready to go for Sunday, McDermott and his staff were impressed by those who were ready for the challenge when given the opportunity.

"That's big," McDermott shared. "And I mentioned this after the game, with those guys being ready to go and taking ownership of that responsibility for themselves, and coaches having them ready to go. And that just goes back to the process during the week of these guys paying attention, even though they're not the primary starter. They know all it takes is one snap and they're in there and they're going to be expected to execute, and those guys did a phenomenal job of just that."

The Steelers will be without their sack leader in T.J. Watt after injuring his knee during their Week 18 game against the Ravens.

"T.J. can be characterized as out this week with his knee injury," head coach Mike Tomlin told media on Tuesday afternoon.

"Playing without T.J. (Watt) is significant. But to be quite honest with you we've played without a lot of people this year."

S Minkah Fitzpatrick has missed the last three games with a knee injury but Tomlin said the safety will begin ramping things up this week.

"Minkah will be limited at the early portions of this week, we'll let the amount of participation and the quality of his participation be our guide," Tomlin shared. "But we are optimistic about his inclusion."

Tomlin also said that LB Elandon Roberts will be limited in the early portion of the week as well. Roberts missed Week 17 with a pec injury but was able to play in Week 18.

2. Can Buffalo continue the win streak?

The Bills are riding a five-game win streak after turning their season around once they came out of the Week 13 bye.

Since Week 14 on offense, they're averaging 24.6 points per game (10th in the NFL), 353.4 total yards per game (8th), 148.8 rushing yards per game (5th) and are converting 50% of their third down opportunities (2nd).

When it comes to what Buffalo will see from Pittsburgh's defense on Sunday, the team is allowing 19.1 points per game (6th), 342.1 total yards per game (21st), has 27 takeaways (t-8th), 47 sacks (t-11th) and is allowing teams to score touchdowns 46% of the time in the red zone (5th).

"They take the ball away at an extremely high level," interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. "They get after the quarterback with a lot of sacks. They take the ball away in the red zone, and they're one of the best teams at the end of the halves. In the fourth quarter, they don't give up a lot of points, and that's something, especially in the postseason, that's critical."

"They're solid, and that's with T.J. (Watt)," ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said on One Bills Live. "I think that if Buffalo plays the way that they did in the second half (against Miami), (how they) settled and don't hurt themselves, they should have a lot of success."

The Bills have been playing lights out defense in the last five games. Over that span, they are allowing 16.8 points per game (5th), 276.6 total yards per game (4th), 96 rushing yards per game (5th), 180.6 passing yards per game (5th), a 66 passer rating (1st), have 7 interceptions (tied for 3rd) and have allowed just 2 passing touchdowns (1sT).

This will be the first time the Bills and Steelers will meet on Super Wild Card Weekend. It will be their fourth all-time playoff meeting with their most recent one in 1996.

The last time these two played each other was Week 5 of the 2022 season. The Bills beat the Steelers 38-3, which was their largest victory ever against Pittsburgh.

The Steelers lead the series over the Bills with 17 wins and 12 losses. Buffalo has won the last three of four against Pittsburgh.

3. Buffalo's impressive home playoff numbers

The Bills are 4-1 in home playoff games since the 2020 season. This impressive record is thanks to the talent on the team over the last few seasons. And, Sean McDermott also thinks Bills Mafia plays a part in Buffalo's post season victories at home.

"Our fan base, I think that's number one," McDermott said of the importance of having a home playoff game. "Playing in Western New York, who knows what the weather will be like…but to play in front of our fans, it's tough to play here. And going on the road, it's tough I can tell you in the playoffs. When you're trying to run a play on offense and you can't hear, you can't communicate and you have to get everybody on the same page, that's a daunting task right there on the road."

It all starts with their QB Josh Allen who shines bright under the big lights. Allen has thrown at least three passing touchdowns and 300 passing yards in three out of Buffalo's last four playoff games. In front of a home crowd in the postseason, Allen is averaging 290.8 passing yards per game, 8.2 yards per pass attempt, 2.6 touchdowns per game and has a 104.9 passer rating in five games.

Buffalo's offense is averaging 27 points per game, 369.4 total yards per game, 274.8 passing yards per game, scoring touchdowns on 76.5% of their trips to the red zone and have just four turnovers over that span in home playoff games.

On defense, the team has allowed an average of just 20.4 points per game, 352 total yards per game, a 55.4% completion percentage, a 74.8 passer rating, has five interceptions and 12 sacks in five home playoff games since 2020

4. How to slow down a resurgent Steelers offense

The Steelers are riding a three-game win streak and have scored at least 30 points in two of their last three games.

QB Mason Rudolph has provided a spark to the offense along with several weapons coming to life. Rudolph has started in the last three games and is averaging 239 passing yards per contest, 9.7 yards per pass attempt, has three passing touchdowns and no interceptions, has completed 74.3% of his passes and has a 118 passer rating.

"He's making good decisions," assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington said. "He's getting the football out of his hands. He's making the appropriate checks at the line of scrimmage based on what he perceives the look to be from the defense. And then, I think he's just providing the type of veteran leadership at a critical position that the entire offense can rally around."

Pittsburgh's offense has definitely been able to rally as several players have seen an uptick in their production. RB Najee Harris has averaged 24 carries and 104 rushing yards per game over the last three. Harris has also found the end zone four times since Week 16. WR George Pickens has averaged 108 receiving yards per game over the last three and has two touchdowns. RB Jaylen Warren and WR Diontae Johnson have also been a big part of the mix as well.

ESPN NFL Analyst Dan Orlovsky shared what he thinks is the most important factor in stopping the Steelers on Sunday.

"One of the, if not the most important thing for this Buffalo defense versus Pittsburgh's offense is all 11 have got to be ready to tackle because Pittsburgh's number one goal right now in their run game is to get the ball to the secondary," Orlovsky said on One Bills Live. "They don't care if it's one-on-one at the line of scrimmage with a safety or a corner. That's all they want to do in their run game. Jaylen Warren has become their dynamic guy. You're going to have to tackle Najee Harris really well."

The Steelers have had 12 plays of 20 or more yards since Week 16, which ties for 10th most in the NFL. Orlovsky said they try to hit the big plays toward the end of a game.

"They have one goal, keep the game close," Orlovsky said. "And then if the game's close, they want to get a big play. They want to get Diontae Johnson, George Pickens or Pat Freiermuth to go make a big play. And they've done a very good job of that recently."

Pittsburgh is averaging 156.7 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks, which is third best in the league. Washington said it starts with stopping the run.

"We have to stop the run and we've got to do a great job of doing that from a variety of looks so that we don't compromise one thing in pursuit of trying to slow down something else," Washington said. "And stopping the run and defending the run is an 11-man operation, so we're going to need everyone involved and that includes our corners and safeties. But at the same time, we can't give up plays over the top. So it's a delicate blend and we just have to make sure that whatever we're doing, we are aware of how explosive they are via the ground and also in the air."

Buffalo has been one of the best at stopping the run since Week 14 allowing an average of just 96 rushing yards per game (5th best).

5. Early weather report

It'll be chilly for Sunday afternoon's game. The high on Sunday is supposed to be 24 degrees and the low is 17.

There's also a chance of snow. The weather report says there's a 50% chance of snow during the day with one to three inches expected. From 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM, there is a 50% chance of flurries. That number jumps to being a 60% chance of heavy snow beginning at 4:00 PM.

The wind might be a factor on Sunday too as the report is says WSW at 20 to 30 mph.

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