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Saturday Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills

It’s gameday, with fans back in the stands as the Bills get ready to face a familiar opponent: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

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For as long as I can remember, the ongoing joke among Bills fans was that every year was “their year”. Fans, or maybe homers is the better word, would pick them to win the Super Bowl. Thirty years of joking aside, many believe that now truly is the year for the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen is the MVP favorite going into the season. he Bills have the 3rd best odds to win the Super Bowl. All that’s left is to play the games. Let’s dive in.

The Last Five

2020: Bills 26 Steelers 15
2019: Bills 17 Steelers 10
2016: Steelers 27 Bills 20
2013: Steelers 23 Bills 10
2010: Steelers 19 Bills 16 (OT)

Sean McDermott has gotten the better of his William and Mary teammate Mike Tomlin both times they have faced off, and both wins were significant ones for McDermott and the Bills. The 2019 win on Sunday Night Football clinched a playoff berth for the Bills. The 2020 win, also on Sunday Night Football, put the rest of the league on high alert that the Bills could play with anyone in the AFC as they knocked off the 11-1 Steelers in impressive fashion. Yet again, this game has the potential to be another memorable one for the Bills as they have an opportunity to show their superiority against a division contender in Pittsburgh truly. A hot start and dominating performance would send the already high optimism for the Bills through the roof.

What To Watch For: Bills

Offensive Hangover – The 2020 Buffalo Bills were record setters. Josh Allen rewrote the quarterback record books for the franchise, Stefon Diggs rewrote the wide receiver record book, and many others had personal career years. The most explosive offense in the league last year could not have higher expectations on them this year, and it will be interesting to see how they come out of the gate. If a few offensive series in the preseason finale were any indication, I’d think the offense will come out just fine on Sunday.

Given the most guaranteed money in NFL history, Josh Allen will feel the pressure all season long. You can expect a heavy dose of armchair quarterbacking when it comes to Allen with fans looking to call his contract too rich the first time he flinches. Every indication through the offseason indicates that Allen will pick up right where he left last year, which will be a significant problem for opposing defenses.

Zach Ertz – I am curious to see the type of role that Brian Daboll has carved out for Bills legend Zach Ertz. Sources tell me that Ertz has become the only player to be traded to a team six times in a single offseason but still not traded. Too soon?

Defensive Line Rotation – The Bills defensive line will be a unit to watch all season long. It is the position group that Brandon Beane singled out in his end-of-season press conference, indicating that they had to get bigger and better upfront to take the next step as a team. I expect Jerry Hughes to be better than ever this year. Star Lotulelei will not play in this game but should continue his strong play as a space-eating run defender when he returns to the lineup. Gregory Rousseau will have the eyes of many Bills fans on Sunday.

Sean McDermott has a pattern of easing his rookies into the lineup slowly, sometimes even scratching them mid-season to act as a wake-up call of sorts. Will Rousseau be the exception to this? His preseason play has shown that he may be ready for a significant role very early for this defense.

The #ReturnToTheRalph – The hashtag says it all. I hope that for the 68,000 people lucky enough to have a seat at the stadium on Sunday, it will become a “where were you when” moment for them. This game might be the best atmosphere for a Bills game that the stadium has ever seen. After being kept away during the best season in three decades, Bills fans have waited for this day for far too long and are ready to pop. The first Shout song of the year is going to be nothing short of a symphony. You better believe the crowd will be a factor in this football game. RIP every single table in the state of New York…the Mafia is back.

What To Watch For: Steelers

Big Ben’s Quick Release – There are two facets at play this week for the Steelers when it comes to the issues that the Bills’ defensive line could cause them. First, there seems to be considerable concern among Steelers faithful about the effectiveness of their offensive line. The Steelers will start rookie Kendrick Greene at center and rookie Dan Moore at tackle. One factor that will certainly assist the Steelers offensive line looking better than they are is how quickly Ben Roethlisberger gets the ball out. According to data gathered from PFF Roethlisberger gets the ball out of his hands in an average of 2.19 seconds, which is more than a half-second faster than the NFL average for quarterbacks. Given the Steelers question marks along the offensive line, I would expect to see more of the same quick releases from Big Ben on Sunday.

TJ Watt – Fresh off of signing the richest contract in NFL history, TJ Watt has an opportunity to disrupt the game in a big way on Sunday afternoon. Naturally, Bills fans were hoping that the contract dispute would not be resolved in time for this game, but the sides came together on Thursday and reached an agreement. Watt’s return would be significant against any team, but it is important in the opener as Buffalo’s offensive line might be their biggest question mark. If the Steelers have any chance of slowing down the Bills prolific offense, it begins up front with Watt. The more time Allen spends comfortable in the pocket, the greater chance that someone will break open down the field. Neutralizing Allen is the Steelers best shot at winning, and it begins with the $112 million man.

Najee Harris vs. Bills Run D – The rookie out of Alabama was the first running back taken in the 2021 draft. Harris is an explosive player that Bills fans wanted the Bills to draft at pick 30. Instead the Steelers drafted him in the 24th spot, Harris has a favorable matchup for his first game as a pro, as the Bills’ run defense struggled for well over half of the season last year.

From the Steelers standpoint, they will want to take as much pressure off of their 39-year old quarterback, who might very well be playing in his final season opener on Sunday. If the Steelers can establish a consistent running game and knock off gains of 5,6,7 yards on first down, they will give themselves a much greater chance at leaving Buffalo with a win. This matchup is a great test for both Harris and the Bills defensive line right out of the gate this year.

Prediction

Bills 27 Steelers 17 A ten-point game will never be as close as the score indicates, as Buffalo will get up early and control the pace of the football game. Brian Daboll and the Bills offense have a history of success in executing their game plan and their “scripted” plays to open a game. Sunday will be a special day for Bills fans; in the dark moments of 2020, many fans dreamed of days like this Sunday. We are finally here. The teams’ 2021 slogan says it best, One Family: Together Again.

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