Lake Effect Snow and High Winds Could Impact Sunday’s Game
The Buffalo Bills are set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday in an AFC Wild Card playoff showdown at Highmark Stadium. While the matchup itself promises to be hard-hitting and competitive, all eyes are also on the weather forecast which is predicting a potentially major winter storm .
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the Buffalo area beginning late Saturday night through Sunday evening . Forecast models are indicating the potential for heavy lake effect snow with snowfall rates possibly exceeding 2 inches per hour at times . Blowing and drifting snow could also be a major hazard with wind gusts possibly reaching 50 mph or higher .
In total, 1-2 feet of accumulation is possible in the most persistent snow bands . Whiteout conditions are likely at times. Needless to say, this extreme weather could significantly impact Sunday’s playoff game.
Game Could Be Moved to Neutral Site
There has been some talk of moving the game to a neutral site if the weather is deemed too dangerous for play . FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland has been floated as a potential backup venue if necessary .
While the Bills and the NFL will likely try to avoid this outcome, player and fan safety will remain the top priority. A final decision would likely be made 24-36 hours before kickoff on Sunday .
Teams Preparing For Adverse Conditions
Both the Bills and Steelers are no strangers to playing in cold and snowy weather. The Bills even added offensive lineman, interior linebackers and tight ends in recent years partly with winning games like this in mind . Still, the potential conditions on Sunday would test even these teams’ resilience.
When asked about the weather earlier this week, Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens offered a direct response: “I’m not going out there to throw no snowballs. I’m going out there to play a game that I love, and I know that we’re going into their territory, but I ain’t finna go out there and start doing no sledding and building no snowmen, I’m going to play some football.” 
Meanwhile, the Bills have been practicing outside in the elements all week to get acclimated. Safety Jordan Poyer noted “It’s January football. This is what you sign up for when you play in Buffalo, New York. The weather is not going to be perfect. There might be rain, snow, wind. So that’s what we practice in. And we’ll be prepared.” 
Run Games Likely Featured on Both Sides
With the potential for low visibility, high winds and slippery footing, passing the ball effectively could prove very difficult on Sunday .
As such, both teams will likely lean heavily on their ground attacks. For Buffalo, the tandem of Devin Singletary and James Cook behind a sturdy offensive line anchored by center Mitch Morse presents a formidable rushing attack . They face a Steelers defense that has been gashed on the ground recently, giving up over 150 rushing yards per game over their last six contests .
The Steelers will counter with the emerging one-two punch of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Harris comes in rested after missing time late in the season while Warren has ascended into a key complementary role. Pittsburgh will need to produce on the ground to have a chance to keep pace and control time of possession.
|Rushing Yards Per Game (Rank)
The team that has more success running the ball will have a major advantage, especially if passing game output is hindered by conditions.
Defenses Face Stiff Test
On the defensive side of the ball, slowing down dynamic playmakers like Bills quarterback Josh Allen and receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis will be critical for Pittsburgh . Allen’s mobility also poses issues, especially with the Steelers missing star pass-rusher T.J. Watt. Linebacker Myles Jack and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will need to spy Allen and keep him contained.
For Buffalo’s defense, their stellar secondary led by safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde will be tested by Steelers emerging quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Bills pass defense has shown some vulnerability recently and Pickett has demonstrated composure beyond his years. Receivers George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth pose difficult one-on-one matchups that could give Buffalo issues.
Ultimately, which defense rises to the occasion in potentially adverse conditions could swing the game. The unit that forces more takeaways and limits big plays will gain a monumental edge.
Game Outcome Hard to Predict
Most oddsmakers and experts originally installment the Bills as heavy 10-point favorites playing at home . But winter storm projections have already moved betting lines, with the Bills now 7.5 to 8-point favorites as of Friday . This line shift indicates the potential impact Mother Nature could have on the contest.
Veteran running back LeSean McCoy, who played for both clubs, predicts a close, low-scoring game determined in the trenches favoring the Bills 17-13 . Meanwhile, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin boldly guaranteed that the Steelers will keep it close and has a path to victory .
Regardless of the projections, once the whistle blows neither team is likely to go down without a fight. And whoever emerges victorious will have certainly earned their right to advance in a game that could go down in NFL playoff lore.
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