Bills host Steelers in AFC wild-card matchup of surging teams

PITTSBURGH (10-7) at BUFFALO (11-6)

Sunday 1 p.m. EST, CBS

OPENING LINE: Bills by 10, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Steelers 10-7; Bills 7-10

SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 17-12.

LAST MEETING: Bills beat Steelers 38-3 in Orchard Park, New York, on Oct. 9, 2022.

LAST WEEK: Steelers beat Ravens 17-10; Bills beat Dolphins 21-14.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Steelers plus-11; Bills plus-2.

STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Mason Rudolph’s unlikely late-season emergence helped Pittsburgh rip off three straight wins to reach the playoffs for the 11th time in coach Mike Tomlin’s 17 seasons. Rudolph is set to be a free agent in the offseason and how he plays on Sunday could go a long way toward determining his future in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

BILLS PLAYER TO WATCH: With WR Gabriel Davis’ status uncertain because of a knee injury, look for Khalil Shakir to take on an even bigger role in the Josh Allen-led passing attack. Shakir’s stock has already been rising over the past three games, in which he’s combined for 13 catches for 198 yards, and coming off a six-catch, 105-yard outing against Miami.

KEY MATCHUP: The Bills defensive front vs. Steelers RB tandem of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. In closing the season by winning five straight, Buffalo is allowing an average of 96 yards rushing, but has given up six TDs rushing. Harris has heated up in combining for 312 yards rushing and four scores in his past three, with Warren contributing 132 yards rushing and a score over the same span.

KEY INJURIES: The Steelers will be without star OLB T.J. Watt. The NFL’s sack leader is out with a left knee injury sustained in the season finale at Baltimore. Rookie Nick Herbig and veteran Markus Golden will fill in. Pittsburgh is optimistic safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) will return after missing the past three games. … Buffalo’s depleted defense could be missing two more key players with CB Rasul Douglas (knee) and S Taylor Rapp (calf) not practicing on Wednesday. Douglas indicated he could have returned after being hurt against Miami. WR Davis’ status bears monitoring after he hurt his knee last weekend. LT Dion Dawkins is expected to play after requiring stitches to close a deep cut on his hand last weekend.

SERIES NOTES: The Bills have won three of four, including a 38-3 rout in their most recent meeting in which Allen threw four touchdown passes, and Buffalo totaled 552 yards. The outing was Kenny Pickett’s first career start, in which he went 34 of 52 for 327 yards and an interception, with a majority of his production coming in the second half, which began with Pittsburgh trailing 31-3. … The winning team in each of their three playoff meetings has gone on to reach the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh beat Buffalo in the divisional round in 1974 on its way to winning its first Super Bowl title. Buffalo beat Pittsburgh in the 1992 season divisional round, before going on to lose its third of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. And the Steelers beat Buffalo in the divisional round of the ’95 season playoffs, before going on to lose to Dallas in the Super Bowl.

STATS AND STUFF: Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and Buffalo coach Sean McDermott were college teammates at William & Mary in 1993 and ’94. McDermott has a 3-1 edge against Tomlin. … The Steelers are looking for their first postseason victory since the divisional round in 2016. They’ve dropped four straight playoff games since and their seven-year postseason victory drought is the franchise’s longest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. … While Rudolph has helped spark one of the NFL’s worst offenses down the stretch, the running game is what has powered the Steelers over the final three weeks. Pittsburgh is averaging 156.7 yards on the ground over its past three games and will likely try to lean heavily on it with gusty winds and temperatures in the 20s expected. Steeler RBs Harris and Warren both topped 1,000 yards of total offense this season, the first time Pittsburgh has had a pair of backs reach that mark since Walter Abercrombie and Earnest Jackson in 1986. … Herbig, a fourth-round pick, has been a solid contributor in a smaller role. That role will expand with Watt out. The Steelers have struggled without the all-time leading sacker in franchise history during his seven-year career. Pittsburgh is 1-10 when Watt isn’t in the lineup since he was drafted in 2017, including their 2022 loss at Buffalo. … The Steelers’ 62 playoff games are the most in the NFL since the merger. Pittsburgh’s 36 postseason wins are tied with San Francisco and New England for tops in the league over that span. The Steelers, however, are just 6-7 in the wild-card round, including losses to Kansas City in 2021 and Cleveland in 2020. … Tomlin is 8-9 in the playoffs but just 3-7 since the Steelers reached the 2010 Super Bowl against Green Bay. … Pittsburgh managed to get into the playoffs despite an offense that struggled most of the season thanks in part to taking care of the ball. The Steelers committed just 16 turnovers in 17 games, the third fewest in the NFL and the team’s fewest in a season since 1990. Pittsburgh’s plus-11 turnover margin tied with New Orleans for third best in the NFL. … Rudolph’s biggest impact has been his ability to get the ball down the field. He is averaging a healthy 9.7 yards per attempt since becoming the starter, with each of his three touchdown passes going for 61 or more yards. … The Steelers took the unusual step of practicing at Acrisure Stadium this week in an effort to mimic the feeling of the turf they will play on in Buffalo. … The Bills are 5-1 against the playoff field, and the hottest team entering the postseason having won five straight. It marks the fourth straight year Buffalo has won at least four straight entering the playoffs. … Buffalo is making its fifth straight playoff appearance and sixth in seven years under McDermott, who took over in 2017. Before McDermott’s arrival, Buffalo endured a 17-season playoff drought. … Allen finished the season leading the NFL with 44 touchdowns (29 passing/15 rushing), but ranked 32nd with a career-worst 18 interceptions. Allen has a career record of 38-26 in regular-season games he commits a turnover, and is 1-3 in eight playoff appearances. … With 107 catches for 1,183 yards, WR Stefon Diggs is the NFL’s third player to have four or more consecutive seasons with 100 catches, joining Antonio Brown (2013-18) and Marvin Harrison (1999-2002). … Buffalo opened the season 2-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer, before finishing 6-6. … In its past four outings, Buffalo has allowed allowed 64 first downs and giving up an average 259 yards. Opponents have converted just 27 of 81 third down opportunities over the same span. … Since 2019, Buffalo is 21-2 against quarterbacks with 16 or fewer career starts. Those QBs have combined for 12 TDs passing, thrown 34 interceptions and been sacked 70 times.



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