A lot of important games to potentially preview on Sunday: Broncos-Titans, Texans-Colts, Saints-Bucs, Seahawks-Packers and Cowboys-Giants to name five. But I think the Steelers-Bills game from Buffalo has some really interesting story lines, so that's the choice.
I would like to declare with certainty that the losing team in this game misses the playoffs and its head coach is fired this offseason. I can just about promise both if it's Buffalo. At 6-6, it's pretty impossible to see the Bills getting a wild-card spot with a loss Sunday. They are currently 11th in the AFC as it is. But if Buffalo wins? It's very conceivable of finishing at 10-6 as the remaining schedule is vs. the Browns (needs no explanation), vs. the Dolphins and at the Jets (a hot mess too). Remember, there were reports entering this season that Coach Rex Ryan and GM Doug Whaley have been given a playoffs-or-else ultimatum. Buffalo has the longest postseason drought in the NFL and ownership needs to get some momentum going for the franchise as it hopes to get a new stadium built. I highly doubt Ryan gets another head-coaching gig if he's let go.
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As for Pittsburgh, It potentially has a lot more wiggle room than Buffalo because the Steelers (7-5) can win their division unlike the Bills. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are tied atop the AFC North -- although the Ravens currently win the tiebreaker and the Steelers are outside of the playoff field. The Steelers are one of the most stable, loyal franchises in NFL history so I'm not saying that Coach Mike Tomlin would be in trouble if this talented team misses the postseason for the third time in five years, but he might be. That said, Pittsburgh should be favored the rest of the way: at Bengals, vs. Ravens, vs. Browns. I think it wins the division.
Steelers at Bills Betting Story Lines
Pittsburgh has won three straight games, each by double digits since a four-game losing streak. It ended the visiting Giants' six-game winning streak last week with a 24-14 victory. Ben Roethlisberger was solid, throwing for 289 yards and two scores. Le'Veon Bell rushed for 118 yards and caught six passes for 64 yards. Antonio Brown added a touchdown. But there were two better pieces of news from that win. First, tight end Ladarius Green, who didn't make his season debut until Nov. 13 due to injury, caught six passes for 110 yards and a score. A lot was expected of Green to replace the retired Heath Miller. If he's fully healthy and playing like that, this offense could be unstoppable.
Meanwhile, this Pittsburgh defense won't make anyone forget the Steel Curtain, but it has now allowed just 30 points in the three-game winning streak. I'm not getting too excited yet as one win was against Cleveland and one against a Colts team missing Andrew Luck. But holding Eli Manning and Co. to really seven points (last TD in final seconds was meaningless) is impressive. After totaling 13 sacks through Week 10 (tied for NFL low), Pittsburgh has 13 in its last three games (tied for most).
Buffalo had a two-game winning streak snapped in Oakland last Sunday, 38-24 after leading 24-9 in the second quarter .The Bills are built to hold leads because they run the ball as much as anyone but they can't afford to turn the ball over and giveaways (both by QB Tyrod Taylor) led to the Raiders' big comeback. Buffalo is still tied for the NFL lead with only eight giveaways.
The running games certainly should decide this. The Bills rushed 30 times for 212 yards and three scores against Oakland. Buffalo leads the NFL with 1,943 rushing yards and is second (to Dallas) with 357 attempts. Pittsburgh's run defense has held teams to less than 4 yards per carry in four of the last five games. Meanwhile, the Steelers have run the ball on 38.4 percent of their offensive downs for the season, but in the last three weeks that has risen to 48 percent. Bell has 80 carries the past three weeks combined. Buffalo is 26th in rushing yards allowed per game.
A few injury notes. Steelers backup RB DeAngelo Williams could play. He hasn't since Nov. 6 due to a knee problem. Bell would still be a workhorse but at least could take a few carries off. Kicker Chris Boswell missed last week with an abdomen injury but also might go. If not it's Randy Bullock again. Bills tight end Charles Clay missed last week when his wife gave birth but will be back. No. 2 receiver Robert Woods returned to a limited practice this week and might play. But the Percy Harvin experiment is already over as he's done for the year with migraines.
Steelers at Bills Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 1-point favorite (-120) with a total of 47. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -128 and Bills +108. On the alternate lines, the Steelers are -1.5 (-115), -2 (-110) and -2.5 (-105). Pittsburgh is 7-5 against the spread (3-3 on road) and 3-9 "over/under" (1-5 on road). Buffalo is 5-7 ATS (2-3 at home) and 9-3 O/U (5-0 at home).
The Steelers are 10-2 ATS in their past 12 December games. The Bills are 4-1 ATS in their past five after allowing more than 30 points in their previous game. They are 2-5 ATS in their past seven following an ATS loss. The Bills are 1-5 ATS in their past six overall. The under is 17-5 in Pittsburgh's past 22 on the road. The over is 7-1 in Buffalo's past eight overall and in past five at home. The Steelers are 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 4-1 in the previous five.
Steelers at Bills Betting Prediction
Pittsburgh has won the past six meetings, but the teams haven't played since 2013 when the Steelers won 23-10 at home. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 204 yards with a touchdown, Le'Veon Bell added 96 total yards and a score. The Bills' QB that day was EJ Manuel and they had only 227 yards.
I could have made it easier on myself this week to pick a game that doesn't look so evenly-matched. I would certainly take the Steelers at home or on a neutral field. And I will here, too, since I don't have to worry about giving many points. Go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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