Steelers at Bills Preview: Matchups, Storylines and More

The trench battles will be crucial, according to Buffalo's Sean McDermott.
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The NFL probably couldn't have picked a better opening-day matchup for the Bills than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Both were playoff teams a year ago who enter this matchup with much to prove.

The Steelers must rebound to show they still belong among the league's elite after winning their first 11 games but then losing five of their last six, including a first-round playoff matchup against AFC North rival Cleveland.

The Bills need to show improvement after being beaten twice by Kansas City last season, the second time in the AFC Championship Game.

Each team has personnel groups the other believes it can exploit.

So let's get to the details.

THE BASICS

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.

Venue: Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.

Records: Season opener for both teams.

Betting info: Bills by 6½. Over/under 48.

TV: CBS.

COVID-19 restrictions: Unvaccinated fans must wear masks at all times. Vaccinated fans must wear masks whenever indoors. Tickets are 100% paperless.

Steelers depth chart

Bills depth chart

INJURIES

Steelers: LB Alex Highsmith (groin) is questionable.

Bills: DT Star Lotulelei (calf) is out. WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot) is questionable.

STORYLINES

Familiar Foes

Bills coach Sean McDermott and Steelers counterpart Mike Tomlin have a relationship that dates to their college days as teammates in the William & Mary defensive backfield.

"I'm a couple of years older than Sean," Tomlin told Bills Central on Wednesday. "So when he was getting established, I was on my way out. But he was always very professional and focused and a no-nonsense guy, even at 18 years old."

Striking Similarities

Bills quarterback Josh Allen goes 6-5, 240 and is hard to bring down. He came with a lot of question marks from a mid-major program (Wyoming) but finished second in the NFL MVP voting last season, his third in the league.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger goes 6-5, 240 and is hard to bring down. He came with a lot of question marks from a mid-major program (Miami of Ohio) but won the Super Bowl in Year 2 and again in Year 4 of his storied career.

Allen has been drawing comparisons to Roethlisberger but is well aware of where he stands in the NFL's hierarchy.

"I see the comparisons of where we’re at physically," Allen said. "But that’s a Hall of Fame quarterback, and I've got some time to go before we get into that conversation."

Levi Wallace survives ... again

Every season since cornerback Levi Wallace arrived in Buffalo from Alabama as an undrafted cornerback, he's been forced to win his starting job. Every season, he's responded.

This year, he heard about how the Bills might draft a cornerback early or trade for one or sign free agent Richard Sherman or some such.

Although they did none of that, they still opened up the job again. And in the end, Wallace was still standing, having survived a challenge from Dane Jackson.

"He's earned the job," McDermott said, and he's earned it in the last couple of years. So I think the key is to stay and continue to play with passion and compete every day, continue to hone one's craft weekly. And that's for the football team as well, not just Levi."

KEY MATCHUPS

Bills RT Daryl Williams vs. Steelers OLB T.J. Watt

Watt just signed a celebrated monster contract extension after leading the league with 15.0 sacks last season. He has 49.5 career sacks in 62 career games. He's what opponents call a game wrecker. Williams won't face a tougher assignment all season.

Bills pass rushers vs. Steelers offensive line

The Steelers revamped their line this offseason and will open with three new starters in rookie left tackle Dan Moore, center Kendrick Green and right guard Trai Turner.

Will this new group, especially Moore, be up for the challenge against a revamped Buffalo pass rush that includes newcomers Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham and Efe Obada?

Keep in mind that Roethlisberger is 39 and doesn't move the way he once did.

Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden and S Minkah Fitzpatrick

Three of the best in the game at their positions should see a lot of interaction in this one.

Diggs became Allen's favorite target last season, catching a league-high 127 passes for a league-high 1,535 yards. Like Diggs, Fitzpatrick was a first-team All-Pro last season, and the Bills are just happy the Dolphins traded him to the Steelers last year so they won't have to face him twice in the regular season.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders next Sunday.

The Bills visit the Miami Dolphins next Sunday.

PREDICTION

Although there is no denying the Bills' talent superiority, one question looms coming out of the preseason: Did their top players get enough real football in to prepare for Sunday's 60 minutes (and possibly more) of full tackle football?

That part is going to keep this game close because the Bills won't exactly be in midseason form. There will be some inevitable slop and some turnovers.

In the end, though, playing in front of fans for the first time since 2019 will be the difference. Bills 27, Steelers 24.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.