The final quarter of the regular season is here and Buffalo’s next big test comes tomorrow night against the 11-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills are 9-3 and coming off maybe their most impressive and most complete game of the season, beating the 49ers 34-24 in front of a national audience on Monday night. Another primetime game against the Steelers puts them front and center for scrutinization of just how far they can go in the postseason.
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All Hands on Deck
During this season there were new names on the Bills injury report almost daily. The list was sometimes so long you had to scroll down the page to see it all. Crucial starters like Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Jon Feliciano and John Brown have all missed time. The bye week came and the Bills seemingly became much healthier and the list much shorter. Friday’s injury report had only backup safety Jaquan Johnson ruled out of Sunday’s contest and John Brown remains on IR for the third straight game. With the coaching staff not having to shuffle players in and out of starting roles and different positions along the lines, the team becomes more in sync as a cohesive unit. This has happened at an opportune time for the final push to the postseason.
The Steelers at home were handed their first loss of the season last week against a Washington team that had only four wins coming into that game. This is still the NFL and the cliche’ of “any given Sunday” still holds true especially with today’s parity in the league. Just remember how the Bills played against Tennessee. Heck, the law of probability tells us that even the winless Jets will defeat someone before season’s end. The Steelers defense has been the major contributing factor all year for their eleven-game winning streak. Even in their sole loss they gave up only two touchdowns. They are ranked third in the NFL in total defense, giving up barely 300 yards per game and under 18 points per game. Their passing defense is stingy, only allowing less than 200 yards through the air per game and lead the league in sacks with 44. TJ Watt is a machine and has 12 of those sacks himself, trailing only Aaron Donald who has half a sack more.
Big Ben vs Josh Allen
This one is comparable to a heavyweight fight. The older, more experienced, two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger on a collision course with the young gun, more athletic and coming into his own Josh Allen. A lot of attention has started to be cast upon Allen because of his breakout year with the Bills. Most notably, his throwing accuracy now stands at 69.9 percent, over ten percent higher than his 58.8 completion percentage from last season. The biggest knock on Allen was his lack of accuracy and he has silenced that conversation this year with his play. He already has a career high 26 touchdowns through the air as well as six more running against just eight interceptions. Last week against a very good 49ers defense, Allen threw for 375 yards, four scores and no interceptions. It was his third game of the season with at least 375 yards, three passing touchdowns and a passer rating of at least 130. The only other quarterback to do that in a season since at least 1950 is Drew Brees. Roethlisberger is putting another stellar year together almost under the radar in his first year back after an elbow injury that required surgery, sidelining him after only two games. His accuracy is over 66 percent and has 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Both he and Allen are on pace to surpass 4000 passing yards this year. The future Hall of Famer would be a lock for comeback player of the year if not for the amazing story of Washington’s Alex Smith.
Expect a hard-fought battle with both teams looking to jump out early to avoid playing behind against opportunistic defenses. The weather looks to be favorable by mid-December in Buffalo standards with temperatures in the low 40s, no expected precipitation and wind not playing a big factor. This paves the way for both teams and quarterbacks to do what they do best on offense and air it out. Mistakes will be magnified and ball control will be even more crucial than normal. In view of another national audience, the healthy Bills continue to progress and edge out the Steelers to get their win total to double digits.