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Bills vs Steelers: Week 1 NFL preview

The Buffalo Bills open their 2021 season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a huge AFC matchup between the two playoff contenders.

For Buffalo, this season starts with clear Super Bowl aspirations. In Pittsburgh, it’s all about taking advantage of Ben Roethlisberger’s final years. Below, we preview this epic Bills vs Steelers NFL Week 1 matchup.

Bills vs Steelers: What you need to know

Click here to find out where the Bills and Steelers stand in our Week 1 NFL power rankings

Josh Allen vs Ben Roethlisberger

bills vs steelers week 1 preview: ben roethlisberger
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There was some thought given to the idea that Big Ben had played his final game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rumors persisted during the offseason that the two sides might part ways after 17 seasons. That did not happen. At least for one more season, this marriage continues.

The situation could not be any more different between Josh Allen and his Bills. Coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he led Buffalo to its best performance since the Jim Kelly era, Allen was awarded with a massive extension. He’s now looking to take this team to the next step.

  • Swan song for Big Ben: Neither the two-time Super Bowl winner or his team will say it, but this could be the end of the line for the long-term marriage. Roethlisberger will turn 40 during the 2021 season. With that said, he did put up a tremendous 2020 campaign in which the future Hall of Famer threw for north of 3,800 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
  • The new kid in town: Statistically speaking, Allen’s 2020 performance was one of the best in modern NFL history. He tallied nearly 5,000 total yards with 45 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He also led the Bills to an average of 31.3 points per game. Not even at his prime, Allen looks to continue that success against what promises to be a good Steelers defense in Week 1.

Advantage: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

JuJu Smith-Schuster vs Tre’Davious White

bills vs steelers preview: tre'davious white
Jamie Germano via Imagn Content Services, LLC

If Pittsburgh’s offense is going to take that next step after ranking 12th in scoring last season, Smith-Schuster must return to earlier-career form. He re-signed with the Steelers on one-year deal and has incentive to cash in for free agency next March.

On the other hand, White took somewhat of a step back this past season. The two-time Pro Bowler was still able to record 11 passes defended and three interceptions in 14 games. He’s as solid as it comes from the corner position.

  • Getting his JuJu back: Since jumping on to the scene with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards back in 2018, Smith-Schuster has seen his production decline. He’s tallied less than 1,400 yards over the past two seasons and averaged a mere 6.5 yards per target in 2020. Big Ben needs his still-young 24-year-old receiver to step it up big time if Pittsburgh wants to pull the road upset here.
  • The lockdown of Western New York: Over the course of his career, White has tallied 15 interceptions while yielding a mere nine interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks boast a 71.6 passer rating when targeting him. This type of shutdown ability can help mask what has been a lacking Bills pass rush. That must come into play with the potent Big Ben at the helm in Pittsburgh.

Advantage: Buffalo Bills

Daryl Williams vs T.J. Watt

bills vs steelers preview: t.j. watt
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

What can we say about T.J. Watt that has not been said. The former first-round pick remains one of the best edge rushers in the game and deserves to be paid like it. His game-changing ability against the pass can help narrow the gap between Pittsburgh and teams that experts perceive to be a tier ahead of them.

As for Buffalo’s offensive line, it allowed a mere 26 sacks of Josh Allen in 16 games last season. In addition to his scrambling ability, this is one of the reasons why the Bills’ offense was in domination mode throughout the 2020 campaign.

  • Banking on Watt: Pittsburgh registered an absurd 56 sacks a season ago. Watt led the team and the NFL with 15 take downs on his own. With Bud Dupree now in Tennessee, these Steelers are going to be relying on the NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate even more in 2021. That starts against an elite Bills offense in Week 1.
  • The underrated Williams: A stud performer with then Panthers assistant Sean McDermott from 2015-17, Williams seemed to be on the right trajectory before suffering a serious injury in 2018. After playing in Carolina in 2019, he rejoined McDermott with Buffalo last season. Williams ended up starting all 16 games while playing at a Pro Bowl level. While this Week 1 test will be huge, he’s more than proven to be up to the task in the past.

Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers

The bottom line: It seems far-fetched to believe that Pittsburgh can go into Western New York and come out with a win. Short of a COVID-19 outbreak happening within the Bills’ locker room, I fully expect Buffalo top open its 2021 campaign with a resounding win in front of the home fans. There’s just too much star power on offense.

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