The NFL season comes and goes so quickly that it almost seems surreal that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing in their home finale this weekend. Major playoff implications are on the line as the Steelers will battle the Buffalo Bills for the fifth seed in the AFC. The good news is that Mike Tomlin has a habit of sending the crowd home happy as the Steelers are undefeated in home finales this decade and 11-1 all time under Tomlin. While history is often destined to repeat itself, here are all the other factors that will determine the outcome of Sunday night’s contest.
1 – Receivers may not have the primetime game they are imagining this Sunday because both of these teams have been two of the best in the NFL at shutting down receivers. The Steelers have only allowed two players to record 100 or more receiving yards in a game this season. There are only three teams in the NFL that have allowed fewer 100-yard receivers than the Steelers and the Bills are one of them, allowing just one 100-yard receiver this season. The likes of John Brown, Cole Beasley, James Washington and Diontae Johnson are going to have to work for all the yardage they can muster this Sunday night.
5.5 – Winners of three in a row, the Steelers are streaking! While the earlier four-game win streak was built on the backs of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush, this win streak has largely been because of the Steelers’ pass rush. Both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are rounding into form right in time for December football. Over the last three weeks, the two pass rushers have combined for 5.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. One key indicator of a Steelers’ victory is if both pass rushers can get to the quarterback. In games that both Watt and Dupree record a sack each, the Steelers are 5-1.
21 – Two people who will be largely responsible for taking away all the receivers listed earlier are Joe Haden and TreDavious White. Both cornerbacks are having tremendous seasons and have been red-hot over the last five weeks. Since week 10, Haden and White have combined for 21 passes defended and six interceptions. Haden leads the league in passes defended over the last five weeks with 11 while White is right behind him with 10. In total, the duo have recorded eight interceptions and 30 passes defended. It will be interesting to see how often they are targeted this Sunday as quarterbacks have not had much success against these two.
79.9 – The Bills’ defense may be the biggest test this offense has faced since they took on the San Francisco 49ers in week three. Teams have had a hard time moving the ball through the air against the Bills as their pass defense has been tremendous this season. Quarterbacks have a 79.9 passer rating against the Bills’ defense, third worst in the league. While the duck has spread his wings recently, Devlin Hodges is going to have to be accurate and smart this Sunday because this Buffalo secondary will be focused on keeping this duck grounded.
110.8 – Opposing teams have had a chance to win late in all five of the Steelers’ latest victories and each time this defense has been able to pull it out. Hopefully it does not come down to that again this Sunday as Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen has been incredibly effective in crunch time. Allen is carrying a 110.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter with seven touchdowns to zero interceptions. He has also led four game winning drives and three fourth quarter comebacks this season. While the moment may have been too big for other quarterbacks, Allen has shown great poise this season especially during the game’s final minutes.