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Steelers Analysis

Can Familiarity with the Bills Lead to Success for Steelers?



Steelers QB Mason Rudolph Bills
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph avoids a Buffalo Bills rush to make a pass on Aug. 19, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and while Pittsburgh Steelers have seen a lot of the Buffalo Bills over the last the last few seasons, there doesn’t seem to be any elevated level of dislike between then teams or fanbases.

But the Steelers have a hope that familiarity can breed something else: success.

The Pittsburgh and Buffalo  will play on another on Sunday for the sixth time in five years, including preseason, regular season and postseason games. That’s by far the Steelers’ most-played opponent outside the AFC North in that stretch.


9 Browns
8 Ravens, Bengals
6 Bills
4 Colts, Seahawks, Titans
3 Buccaneers, Chiefs, Eagles, Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Patriots, Raiders
2 Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons, 49ers, Jets, Rams, Packers, Texans
1 Bears, Commanders, Giants, Saints, Vikings

Steelers Bills

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris drags three Buffalo Bills tacklers on Sept. 12, 2021. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The reason the Steelers have hope for that familiarity leading to success is the fact that they’ve played very well against their division teams that they’re also familiar with. The Steelers went 5-1 in the AFC North this year. No one else did better than 3-3. It’s the fourth year in a row that the Steelers have either had or tied for the best record in the division.


Bengals 2-0
Browns 1-1
Ravens 2-0
Bills TBD

Steelers Bills Playoffs

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) scrambles with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) defending during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. — Adrian Kraus / AP

Steelers running back Najee Harris was asked late in the season about the Steelers’ success in the AFC North, and his answer was that Mike Tomlin has a higher level of game plan for teams that he’s played over and over again.

“Divisional opponent, I think we kinda know what they do,” Harris said. “Mike T has the game plan. He tells us what to expect, what we need to do, how to execute. How to beat this person, how to beat this team. This is my third year here, and ever since I got here, he always told us that the divisional play is what keeps you in Pittsburgh.

“He always gives almost the blueprint of how to beat teams in our division because he is so well in knowing the other teams because he’s been here for a long time. I think really just Mike T. That’s why he is who he is right now. He’s one of the best coaches. It’s him giving us the blueprint for how to beat these teams, is I think, why we’re winning.”


Dec. 15, 2019, Heinz Field: Bills 17, Steelers 10
Dec. 13, 2020, Bills Stadium: Bills 26, Steelers 15
Sept. 12, 2021, Highmark Stadium: Steelers 23, Bills 16
Oct. 9, 2022, Highmark Stadium: Bills 38, Steelers 3
Aug. 19, 2023 (PS), Acrisure Stadium: Steelers 27, Bills 15

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen runs with the ball in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 20, 2019. — Ed Thompson / SN

With the Steelers facing Buffalo for the second time this season, and the sixth time in five seasons, I asked Harris if those same thoughts could apply to this Sunday’s AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Bills.

“Yeah, I think so. 100 percent,” he said. “Mike T even said some stuff about some times we’ve played them. Some tendencies that they have on defense and where they struggle at, and even some players.

“Josh Allen is an incredible player and well all know that, but we think there’s some things that we can do to slow him down a little bit. It’s going to be hard to do that in general, but I think we have some things up our sleeve where we can maybe stop him or slow him down and create opportunities for the defensive guys to make plays.

“On offense, it’s executing in these areas they struggle at or in some zones they struggle at. If we can execute in those areas. Some types of tendencies they bring on blitzes, we can do that, too, just based on the film that we’ve seen. We know how they play us in all types of ways.”

Tomlin, playing to his own tendency, gave a soundbite instead of Harris’ lengthy response about the Steelers success against familiar foes.

“It’s chess not checkers,” he said.

If he can come up with a game plan to stymie the Bills’ offense, Tomlin can prove that he’s a grandmaster.