Author: Daniel Theal
Now that the 24 hour rule of mourning over the Bills missed chances against Baltimore has expired, we turn our attention to the game that the entire nation will be watching next Sunday Night. Here are five reasons why the Bills clash against the fellow playoff hopeful Steelers is so critical:
1) Locking up a playoff berth early
The Bills only need to win one of their remaining three games to qualify for the playoffs, but a win on Sunday Night will lock it up with two games to spare. If the Bills were to lose to the Steelers, then the pressure would be on Buffalo as they head to Foxboro in Week 16 in order to avoid a potential must-win game vs the Jets in Week 17 – A game in which the Jets would be hungry to play spoiler.
2) Locking down the 5 seed
If the Bills defeat the Steelers on Sunday Night, they would finish no worse than the 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. The division would still be in play (more on that later), but assuming the Bills do not win the AFC East, the 5 seed would likely face the winner of the AFC South (Houston, Tennessee, or Indianapolis), which appears to be an easier Wild Card round opponent at this stage in the season than one of the other current division leaders (Baltimore, New England, Kansas City). Further, having the 5 seed locked up would allow the Bills to go into Foxboro in Week 16 with nothing to lose (other than injury, knock on wood) and everything to gain. That mental freedom cannot be quantified but may allow them to play a little looser in a game that New England will certainly feel the pressure to win.
3) Division still up for grabs
Even if the Bills lose on Sunday Night and the Patriots defeat the Bengals in Cincinnati earlier in the day, the Patriots cannot clinch the AFC East in Week 15. Patriot losses against the Bills and Dolphins in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively, as improbable as that sounds, would grant the Bills a path to the division title, assuming they defeat the Jets in Week 17. If the Bengals happen to pull off a miracle upset against the Patriots on Sunday afternoon, the Bills would control their own destiny heading into Sunday Night: Win out and take the division title. If that were to occur, any failure by the Chiefs to win their remaining three games (vs DEN, at CHI, vs LAC) would result in the Bills earning a first round bye.
4) Rest for the starters
If the Bills were to defeat the Steelers on Sunday Night and subsequently lose to the Patriots the following Saturday, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East. Having already clinched the 5 seed via defeat of the Steelers would allow the Bills to rest their starters in a now meaningless Week 17 matchup against the Jets. That would serve as an effective bye heading into the Wild Card round, which would be extremely valuable to the players’ collective health after four grueling months of regular season football. It is possible that the AFC South title will not be decided until the Week 17 matchup between the Titans and Texans, and assuming that the winner of that game would be the Bills opponent in the Wild Card round, neither potential opponent would have the same luxury of resting their starters.
5) Break the curses
The Bills have historically struggled when playing in Pittsburgh, winning only 2 of 12 games since their first matchup in 1970. The Bills last win in Pittsburgh was in January 1993, in the divisional round of the playoffs where the Bills eventually won the AFC Championship for the third consecutive season. Since then, the Bills have failed to score more than 10 points in five of their last six meetings in the Steel City. Additionally, although appearances on what I will call the “Prime Time Game of the Week” (ABC’s Monday Night Football 1970-2005, NBC’s Sunday Night Football 2006-Present) have been rare, the Bills have been blown out in their last two appearances on the big stage and have not won such match since 1999, when they defeated the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Ironically, 1999 was the last season the Bills beat the Steelers (at home) and was also the last season where the Bills have won 10 or more games. A win on Sunday Night against the Steelers would remove a few proverbial monkeys off the Bills backs.