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The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers feel like organizations headed in opposite directions. The Bills are on the rise, with Josh Allen blossoming into a superstar while Ben Roethlisberger struggled down the stretch a season ago.
Now, the Steelers head into Buffalo as 6.5 point underdogs. All of this sets up something we love to do here at CHFF, fade the hype and follow the numbers. For all of the narratives surrounding this one, the data shows these teams to be quite close.
Allen Stepping into Elite Territory
Allen placed in the top four of all three CHFF passing metrics last season, joining Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in that elite group, and getting down-ballot MVP votes. With the bulk of the offense returning, including Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll, Allen should have another strong season.
However, if any defense can contain the explosive Buffalo offense, it’s Pittsburgh’s. The Steelers placed in the top two of each of our CHFF defensive passing metrics, including first-place finishes in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and Defensive Passer Rating.
Watt Leads Steelers Defense
They also topped the league in Negative Pass Play Percentage per the Defensive Hog Index, with T.J. Watt leading the way. The bulk of the defense is back and should be able to get after Allen, who still has a tendency to hold the ball (only Jalen Hurts and Baker Mayfield took longer than Allen to throw in 2020.)
On the other side of the ball, it is undeniable that Ben Roethlisberger faded down the stretch last season. The offensive line play fell off a cliff, drama engulfed the receiving corps, and the run game became so bad it was almost unusable. While the line still has some question marks, particularly with David DeCastro’s release, the receiving corps still has tons of talent.
Despite their issues with drops and TikToks, Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool form one of the league’s best receiving trios, and Najee Harris should provide some spark on the ground, even if he is hampered by the line.
The Bills' defense did play better in the second half of last season, finishing near the back half of the top ten in our passing defense metrics. The secondary, anchored by Tre’Davious White is the strong point of the unit, but they will need to get a little more from the pass rush to return to their 2019 heights.
NFL Week 1 Line Dancing - Making a Play
They checked in at just 23rd on the Defensive Hog Index, creating an interesting dynamic where both lines are rather weak when the Steelers' offense is on the field.
The three key CHFF indexes also went in Pittsburgh’s favor by a 2-1 margin, though the Intelligence Index was incredibly close. Both Mike Tomlin and Sean McDermott are solid coaches, and Tomlin always seems to relish the underdog role that his team will play this Sunday.
The Bills are the better team, and deserve to be favored, but it’s legitimately close, and the 6.5 point spread is simply too large to justify. Back Tomlin and the Steelers to keep this one close.
The Pick: Steelers +6.5 (wait for the public to push the line to +7 if possible, but play down to +6 if needed)