Week 1 of the NFL season features a massive matchup as the Bills host the Steelers. These two teams both figure to be in the mix for playoff spots at the end of the season, so it's not too early to think about potential seeding implications. This is a rematch of a game in Buffalo last season that the Bills won 23-15 behind two touchdown passes from Josh Allen. Overall, Pittsburgh has won 10 of their last 13 meetings with the team out of the AFC East.
The Steelers are coming off a 12-4 season that ended with a whimper and a pair of losses to the Browns including one in the postseason. Ben Roethlisberger stayed healthy and was able to rack up 3,803 passing yards and 33 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions despite waning arm strength. The problems came with a run game that managed a meager 3.6 yards per carry in 2020. Defensively, the team was as strong as ever, and with the group almost intact, they figure to do so again in 2021.
Buffalo lost in the AFC title game to Kansas City 38-24 after a 13-3 regular season that saw the Bills take home the rare AFC East crown. Last season was all about the continued maturation of Allen, who accounted for almost 5,000 yards between his passing and rushing output. He cut down the turnovers with just 10 interceptions and four fumbles lost, so we'll see if he can be even better in 2021. The addition of Stefon Diggs really paid off as he racked up 1,535 receiving yards on 127 receptions. The defense was fantastic with 16 different players picking up sacks.
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bills -6.5
Three Things to Watch
This is usually the spot in my previews where I will point out scheduling spots and if a team will be more focused on next week than this week. That won't be the case here, as the Steelers host the Raiders in Week 2 while the Bills travel to Miami to play the Dolphins. The one thing I will point out is the difference in the snaps for the starting QBs in the preseason. Josh Allen went 20-for-26 for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the final preseason game vs. the Packers. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger had only 10 pass attempts a couple of weeks ago against the Lions. The time off shouldn't matter, though, for the veteran, even if it's something to watch early on.
2. Run run running game
Neither of these teams emphasized the run last year, as both struggled to get it going. Allen accounted for just under a quarter of the Bills' rushing yards, with Devin Singletary leading the way at 687 overall. He's back in the backfield once again with Zack Moss who probably needs more work since he's got more tools in his arsenal. The Steelers don't allow much on the ground, but Buffalo needs to keep Pittsburgh's D honest.
The Steelers went the rookie route, drafting Najee Harris in the first round at No. 24 overall. He figures to get a boatload of carries with James Conner now in Arizona. Conner averaged 4.3 yards per carry last year, but he had only 169 attempts because of injuries and ineffectiveness. Benny Snell Jr., who had four rushing touchdowns in 2020, and Kalen Ballage are the backups. Buffalo's run defense was middle-of-the-pack statistically last season, so don't be surprised if the Steelers give it to Harris early to see if he can't get going right away.
3. Home-field advantage?
We all know that Buffalo has one of the best fan bases in the league, and Bills Mafia will be back in full force at Highmark Stadium for this one as the NFL welcomes fans back in the stands. Three of the Steelers' losses last season came on the road, including one in mid-December to the Bills. Buffalo went 7-1 at home last year with the only loss coming to the Chiefs in a game that was rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. I think early on we will see a boost across the league for the home teams who will be excited to be playing in front of full crowds.
There could be a little bit of regression coming for the Bills after last season, but it won't show up here. Buffalo's defense is really strong, and a one-dimensional Steelers team could struggle to move the ball. There was a little bit of reshuffling on the Pittsburgh O-line, and it could show up here. Give me the home team in a tight game.
Prediction: Bills 24, Steelers 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.