By Danny Cox
The 2016 NFL regular season has been unpredictable, to say the least. Teams that usually lead the pack find themselves trailing it, just as some of the usual cellar-dwellers sit atop their divisions. Football fans can thank parity for what’s becoming an annual upheaval.
A few teams must approach their final four games as playoff games if they hope to continue their seasons into January. Enter the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, both in the thick of the playoff race with little room for error. Their postseason hopes hinge on their matchup this Sunday.
CBS Sports’ lead sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, who will be covering the game in Buffalo with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, discusses who and what to watch for in this important AFC battle.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills – Dec. 11, 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: The Steelers came out and took down the streaking Giants, where did that dominating defense come from?
Tracy Wolfson: The Steelers are really coming on. I see the young players maturing. Players, such as Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, are healthy and playing great football. Sometimes, it just takes a little while for it all to come together. We saw some of it in the game against the Giants, and the Steelers know they can play even better and get into a rhythm even though there is a long way to go.
The Steelers do have a tough test coming up against the Bills’ offense, but what we saw in the Giants game is what the Steelers are working toward all the time.
CBS Local Sports: Up 24-9 on the Raiders in the middle of the third quarter, what happened to the Bills to cause that collapse?
Tracy Wolfson: The defense let up a little bit, it seemed. They allowed Oakland to march down the field, score a touchdown and get some momentum. At that point, the Bills’ offense became stagnant. First of all, these Oakland Raiders are extremely good. They find ways to win and take advantage of them when the door is opened. Buffalo allowed them to open that door, and Oakland simply took it and ran.
That loss had a lot to do with the defense letting up and the Bills just sitting back when they had a big lead.
CBS Local Sports: Has Le’Veon Bell cemented himself in place as the featured back for the Steelers?
Tracy Wolfson: No doubt. It would help if DeAngelo Williams was there because that one-two punch is always helpful for any team. Having another strong back also would allow Bell to stay healthy and fresh. Still, Bell is that featured back. Yes, he has had some fumbles in the last few games, but the Steelers don’t seem overly concerned with that.
CBS Local Sports: What must the Bills do to stop the multiple offensive weapons of the Steelers?
Tracy Wolfson: It’s something we’ve already talked about, stop Le’Veon Bell. The Bills need to stop the run. It starts there. That has to be their number one goal going into this game with Pittsburgh. It is the key right now. Once they do that, they can start pressuring Big Ben (Roethlisberger).
That isn’t always easy, though, but throwing him off of his game with the pass rush is extremely important. At that point, the Bills can focus on stopping guys like Antonio Brown, and that isn’t easy either. Stop the run, force the throw. Once they do that and get pressure on Ben, the Bills can focus on stopping the passing game. Just stop Le’Veon Bell first.
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.