The Buffalo Bills take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Wild Card Weekend round of the 2024 NFL playoffs later this afternoon. The game was originally scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. EST, but due to weather concerns kickoff was pushed back until Monday at 4:30 p.m. EST.
Here’s what to look for as the Bills begin their playoff run.
Ramifications of rescheduling the game
Rescheduling the game was a surprise to most — something the NFL typically doesn’t do, but it ensures that the players, fans, and employees will travel in safer conditions on Monday. Besides the safer travel, here’s what rescheduling the game effects:
The major snowstorm that took place over the weekend should taper off before game time on Monday. There will be some snow showers earlier in the day on Monday but by the afternoon the sun will start to peak out. At game time it will be 16 degrees with 10 mph winds and a real feel temperature of 4 degrees. This weather forecast is significantly better than what Sunday’s weather offered.
This new forecast plays into the Bills’ favor. With Sunday’s forecast of 30-40 mph winds and heavy snow, it was likely going to be a low-scoring affair with lots of running the football. With the wind speed being at only 10 mph this should allow the Bills to be comfortable opening up their full offensive playbook.
The Bills came into the game listing two players as questionable: cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee) and linebacker Tyrel Dodson (shoulder). The game being pushed back gives them an extra day to rest and recover, which might allow them to be ready for the game where they otherwise wouldn’t have a day ago.
If the Bills win and advance to the divisional round next week, they’ll be playing the Kansas City Chiefs at Highmark Stadium. The Chiefs played on Saturday, and would enter that game having two extra days of rest over the Bills.
Practice squad call-ups
WR Andy Isabella and LB A.J. Klein were elevated from the practice squad for tomorrow’s game vs Pittsburgh— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) January 14, 2024
Isabella gives the Bills a wide receiver to replace Gabe Davis, who’s been declared out for this game. Linebacker A.J. Klein being active might be an indication that Tyrel Dodson (questionable) won’t be ready for action. In that case, we can expect linebacker Baylon Spector to get the start and Klein to provide depth. If Dodson is active then we might see some three-linebacker sets from the Bills, especially when the Steelers bring their three tight end sets onto the field.
No T.J. Watt
The NFL’s best defensive player, T.J. Watt, won’t be on the field Monday and Josh Allen won’t be complaining. Watt was first in the NFL in sacks (19.0), first in QB hits (36), and second in pressures (50). In Watt’s career, the Steelers are only 1-10 in games he’s missed. Watt being out is a giant blow to Pittsburgh’s defense — just look at these differences between when he’s in the lineup versus when he’s out:
Not only are the Steelers missing his production, but they’re missing the attention he garners from the opposing offense. With Watt out of the lineup, teams don’t have to send extra resources to slow him down.
Can the Bills’ defense force the Steelers to throw the ball?
In my opinion, the Steelers will try to control the clock and run their offense with a slow tempo to eat up time and “shorten” the game. Pittsburgh has been better at running the football of late and they don’t do anything fancy. The Steelers will play lots of tight ends (sometimes up to three) and try to make teams stop the run. They do have some play makers at wide receiver — Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are legitimate big-play threats who have found some chemistry with third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Pittsburgh wants to lull a defense to sleep with the running game, ripping off just enough yards to get first downs. Once they sell out to stop the run, the Steelers will utilize some play-action and try to beat defensive backs with their play makers at wide receiver. The Bills need to be able to hold up against the run without throwing too many resources at it, and they’ll have to depend on their defensive backfield to be on their toes for the play-action pass.
If Buffalo can get a lead early and show that they can defend the run, they should be able to make the Steelers throw the ball more than they prefer. If the Buffalo Bills can make the Pittsburgh Steelers one-dimensional and reliant on the passing game, the home team will find success.