Sunday Night Football Preview: Can Josh Allen Lead Buffalo to a Road Win in Pittsburgh?
Bettors are favoring the Bills +1 when betting the spread, with 62% of the bets and 62% of the money backing Buffalo, per our oddsFire tool. The moneyline is an even starker difference, with 77% of the betting and 70% of the money taking the Bills -102. Pittsburgh is traditionally a favorite of the betting public, so it's interesting to see the Bills getting so much support. The lowly over/under of 36.5 is drawing 52% of the bets on the over while 54% of the money is coming in on the under.
In a showdown of two good defenses, this contest may turn on the play of the passing games. Let's check out our projections and metrics to find an edge in what looks like a close game.
Passing Game Preview
Buffalo enters Week 15 with the NFL's 20th-ranked passing offense, producing 0.06 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Josh Allen has played much more consistent football in his second year in the league than he did as a rookie, but he has struggled in his two matchups against top-three defenses.
Versus the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots, Allen has combined for 30 completions on 67 attempts for 299 yards passing, throwing one touchdown and three interceptions while taking 10 sacks and producing a -0.42 Passing NEP per drop back. In his other 12 games, Allen has thrown 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions while producing 0.07 Passing NEP per drop back. Of course, Allen produces much of his value on the ground, with 32.95 Rushing NEP on 83 carries, with only the immortal Lamar Jackson generating more NEP on the ground.
Of Allen's receiving options, John Brown and Cole Beasley have easily been his most targeted and most efficient wideouts. Brown leads the team with 101 targets, and his 0.83 Reception NEP per target leads all Bills receivers who have seen 10 targets or more. Beasley ranks second on the team in targets with 87, and his 0.77 Reception NEP per target ranks just behind Brown's clip.
There's a steep drop after Brown and Beasley, however, with tight end Dawson Knox ranking third in targets with just 45, and his 0.59 Reception NEP per target sits third on the team among all pass-catchers with 10 or more looks. The Bills are lacking a dependable third target, so shutting down Brown and Beasley is the key to stopping this Buffalo passing game.
The Steelers have been lights out on defense this year, allowing -0.03 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back in 2019, good for the fourth best mark in the league. Pittsburgh hasn't allowed a 300-yard passer since Week 6 and hasn't allowed a 200-yard passer since Week 10, when Jared Goff needed 42 attempts to get to 243 yards passing while posting a -0.44 Passing NEP per drop back.
After holding Kyler Murray to a -0.07 Passing NEP per drop back last week while intercepting him three times and recording five sacks, this Steelers' D is on a roll. Pittsburgh held Murray to only two rushing yards on six carries last week, but they also allowed Lamar Jackson to amass 70 rushing yards on 14 carries in Week 5, so Allen may be able to have some success on the ground.
Pittsburgh's passing offense ranks 24th in the league with 0.02 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back on the season. Devlin Hodges has taken over at quarterback for Mason Rudolph and provided some stability, posting positive Passing NEP per drop back in each one of his starts, resulting in a respectable 0.17 Passing NEP per drop back for the season. Hodges has been very reliant on big plays as he is a low-volume passer at this point in his career. Hodges has single-game highs of 21 passing attempts and 212 yards passing on the year, and he has yet to throw for more than one touchdown in a game. He's still an upgrade over Rudolph, though, and has managed to keep the offense moving enough to win some games.
James Washington has been the Steelers' best wide receiver in the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will miss yet another week with a knee injury. Washington's 0.87 Reception NEP per target leads all Steelers among those who have seen at least 10 targets, and his 57 targets rank third on the team. Washington has been a big-play threat, and taking deep shots is a staple of this passing game.
Diontae Johnson leads the Steelers with 69 targets on the year, though his 0.64 Reception NEP per target lags significantly behind Washington's mark. Johnson led the receiving corps last week against the Arizona Cardinals, catching six of eight targets for 60 yards and a touchdown while also returning a punt for a touchdown. Washington had been the lead target previously, so Johnson's big game was a nice reminder that Pittsburgh has two explosive young receivers.
The rest of the passing game is a bit barren due to the absences of Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald due to injury. The remaining targets will primarily go to the running backs, and in a low-volume pass offense, there aren't many targets left over after that.
Buffalo enters the week with a strong pass defense, allowing 0.03 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, seventh best in the league. The Bills have certainly faced some poor quarterbacks this year, but they have proven themselves lately against tough competition. Last week, Buffalo held Lamar Jackson to 0.07 Passing NEP per drop back while keeping things close against a Ravens team that has been blowing away opponents. The week before, Buffalo limited Dak Prescott to 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back in a win against the Dallas Cowboys. The Bills have racked up big sack totals at times, and they figure to give Hodges all that he can handle this week.
Rushing Game Preview
The Bills come into Sunday night with the league's seventh-best rushing offense, checking in at 0.07 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. While Allen leads the way with 0.40 Rushing NEP per carry on his 83 attempts, Devin Singletary's 0.14 Rushing NEP per carry on 115 attempts ranks fourth-best among all running backs with more than 50 carries this season. Frank Gore's -0.14 Rushing NEP per carry on 150 rushes has really been an anchor -- in a bad way -- on this offense, and his snaps are dropping as a result.
This is a rushing offense on the rise as Singletary is given the keys to the backfield. Although they will face a tough matchup, Buffalo will certainly look to establish the run and play to the strengths of their offense.
It's going to be strength versus strength, though, as Pittsburgh allows -0.13 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry on the season, making them the second-best run-stuffing unit in the league. They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and are relatively healthy on defense, making this a tough matchup for the Bills. With the home crowd on their side and an equally excellent pass D, Pittsburgh should be able to contain the Bills' rushing offense for stretches of this game.
Pittsburgh ranks dead last in rushing this year with -0.13 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, a troubling sign for an offense built around a third-string quarterback. James Conner looks on track to return from injury this week, which would be a big boost to a struggling group of running backs. However, Conner hasn't been good running this year with -0.11 Rushing NEP per carry on 102 attempts, but he has been a big asset in the passing game with 0.54 Reception NEP per target on 34 targets.
Jaylen Samuels has filled in as the pass-game back, but his 0.16 Reception NEP per target is a far cry from Conner's rate, and Samuels has been even worse than Conner on the ground. Benny Snell Jr. has filled in, more or less, as the lead back since Conner's absence, producing a slightly better performance as a runner. But with just three receptions on the year, Snell is a near zero in the passing game. Conner may not get the full workload in his first game back from a shoulder injury, but his versatility should be a boost to the running back position going forward.
Buffalo's defense is exploitable on the ground as the 23rd-ranked run D, giving up 0.05 Adjusted defensive Rushing NEP per carry this season. This isn't a unit getting gashed by the run, but they have been unable to truly shut down many rushing attacks. With Pittsburgh struggling to run the ball, this looks like a spot where the Bills will be able to hold their own for the most part. Keeping Pittsburgh's running game suppressed and forcing them to pass into the teeth of this Bills' defense will be a key to the game.
To read all premium content, upgrade to a Premium account with numberFire
If you're not a Premium subscriber, it takes just a few seconds to sign up. You'll get access to all of our insider information, game projections, handicapping advice, DFS tools, advanced statistics, and more.