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NFL playoffs: Three things to watch for in Steelers-Bills on Super Wild Card Weekend

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Due to inclement weather in the Buffalo area, the Steelers-Bills game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, has been moved to Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET, the NFL, in consultation with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, announced on Saturday.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 10-7-0
Buffalo Bills
2023 · 11-6-0

Two desperately hot teams are riding winning streaks into a playoff showdown in Western New York, where weather is expected to play a factor.

Yes, it's that time of year, folks. A foot of snow is anticipated in Orchard Park, New York, adding an element of uncertainty to a game that otherwise seems to set up for a Bills win. But can Buffalo sustain its late-season success amid a fresh coat of powder?

At 7-7, the Steelers were all but toast in the playoff race and were forced to turn to Mason Rudolph after Mitchell Trubisky proved he wasn't worthy of receiving another start. Since then, they've won three straight, dominating the Bengals, earning a hard-fought win in Seattle and taking down the Ravens, who were resting their starters, in Week 18. Mike Tomlin has once again found a way to lead Pittsburgh to the postseason, where it'll have to fight to stay alive -- and stay warm.

Is this matchup a matter of determining which team is tougher? Which team will run out of steam first? We'll find out Sunday.

Here are three things to watch for when the Steelers visit the Bills during Super Wild Card Weekend:

1) Bills ride winning streak into surprising home playoff game. When the Bills sat at 6-6, the NFL world was ready to bury them and send them to an early vacation. Buffalo refused to back down, though, instead finding a way to rattle off five straight wins to close the season, including a thrilling road victory over the AFC East-rival Dolphins to secure their fourth-straight division crown, reminding the football populous that title contenders don't simply fade into the night. The road to this point wasn't easy, either, requiring the Bills to take down a familiar foe in Kansas City, and a powerful Dallas team in New York, where Buffalo owns a 7-1 record and a point differential of plus-118. It's tough to beat the Bills at Highmark Stadium, especially lately, thanks in large part to Buffalo's sudden rediscovery of its running game, which has balanced the offense and seen the Bills gain nearly three minutes of additional time of possession per game. Josh Allen owns a 4-1 record at home, with his only loss coming to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round last year. And the Bills became the first team to own a .500 or worse record with five games remaining and manage to earn a top-two seed. All of this points to one of two realities: A team of destiny marching toward glory, or a desperate club that could run out of gas in the postseason. We'll receive a clue -- or a final answer -- Sunday.

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2) Rudolph leads the Steelers into a winter storm. Kenny Pickett's promising second season ended up being a flop due to injuries, bad play-calling and inconsistent play -- and his backup was even worse. Enter Mason Rudolph, the man who shares a name with a famous fictional reindeer and has embodied the character save for owning a red nose. Rudolph has led Pittsburgh's sleigh through a daunting final three weeks of the 2023 season, delivering three wins and finally opening up Pittsburgh's air attack. The Steelers are a threat in the passing game again, finally, and suddenly carry more potential than they'd displayed at any point prior this season. But will it be enough? Pittsburgh is 0-3 in the playoffs since 2017, won't have dynamite edge rusher T.J. Watt available and own a -20 point differential in 2023. Rudolph will be making his first career playoff start, and it's expected to be in a persistent snowstorm. Historically, first-time postseason starters haven't fared all that well, owning an average passer rating of 75.5. Add in the weather, and there's no telling what awaits us.

3) Pressure morphs for Bills. Look, the Bills have already been existing with their backs against the wall for a while now. With no room for error, Buffalo has responded with five straight wins. But a different kind of pressure arrives in the postseason for a franchise that has repeatedly failed to reach its goal: Win a Super Bowl. Coach Sean McDermott's name was tossed into the hot seat ring when Buffalo was 6-6, and despite all of the good vibes that have come from the team's winning streak, most of it didn't occur in pretty fashion. The Bills have won ugly, and will likely need to do so again in adverse conditions. Much like the last five weeks, they can't afford to falter; otherwise, it will spell the end of their season and send them into an offseason filled with questions. They've managed to survive to this point, but Pittsburgh is no pushover, not with the championship pedigree of Tomlin and the franchise coming to town. It's only Super Wild Card Weekend, but it's already time for the Bills to prove it.

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