Ifs and buts, candy and nuts. So close, yet so far away.
A couple weeks ago the Oakland Raiders had a chance to move into first place in the AFC West if the Kansas City Chiefs would have lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in a Monday Night Football game played in Mexico. They didn’t, the game was competitive, but in the end Kansas City stopped the Chargers on a last minute drive to eke out a seven point victory, 24-17.
Two weeks later, the Raiders had a chance to close in on the Chiefs in their division race, and Kansas City stomped them, 40-9. The Raiders meekly end their run in Oakland, get ready for Las Vegas, and complete another season without a playoff game.
Last week, the Buffalo Bills had a chance to move into a virtual tie for the top seed in the AFC playoff hunt with a home win over the Baltimore Ravens coupled with a loss by the New England Patriots. The Patriots opened that door with a second straight defeat, this one at home against the Chiefs, but the Bills fell a touchdown short in their contest against the Ravens, 24-17.
So close, yet so far away.
Once the Raiders got to the doorstep of moving up with the elite teams, they crumbled like cake left over from a birthday party two weeks ago. Once the Bills got to the doorstep but failed to step through, they … well we are going to find out tonight.
The public thinks the Bills are going to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth, expecting them to continue to contend while winning like good teams do, with solid defensive play and a mistake free offense.
Problem is, tonight they are meeting another AFC team that is lurking on the doorstep of a postseason berth and one that has a lot more experience in recent years of cracking the playoff field, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are a bit of a mystery. They seemed to have had their season done before it ever got started when in the first three weeks they didn’t earn a victory and lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the year with an elbow injury that required surgery.
Even the man who replaced him, quarterback Mason Rudolph, was inconsistent and eventually lost his starting role to undrafted rookie Delvin Hodges, who played his college ball at Samford. That is Samford, not Stanford. He came into the league with as much fanfare as the laundry being delivered to the practice facility. But, he has led the Steelers to three straight wins to move Pittsburgh into a prime spot for a playoff berth.
The Steelers are looking to become only the sixth team in National Football League history to earn a postseason berth after opening their season with three straight losses. And the Steelers are trying to do it when they also lost their future Hall of Fame quarterback in the middle of that three game losing streak.
But Hodges is spinning magic while getting the most out of his skills while passing a total of 51 times in his three wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals.
The Steelers are doing it with a team effort that has their defense leading the league in takeaways, that is interceptions and fumble recoveries, with 33. Pittsburgh also has the second best turnover ratio in the NFL with plus 12. New England has the best turnover ratio at plus 19.
Tonight, the Steelers will take their undrafted rookie quarterback and stout defense into battle against the more talented Bills, who have first round draft choice, seventh pick overall, Josh Allen leading their offense.
On paper, the Bills should win this game. But, on paper, the Steelers shouldn’t even be in the playoff hunt after losing their starting quarterback and a trio of games to open 2019.
While I respect what the Bills have got done this year, they are looking to break with recent history with a victory in Pittsburgh against a Steelers squad that knows how to win. The Bills were so close just a week ago, but, like the Raiders before them, it may be time for their upstart year to fall flat down the stretch.
This morning, while the bettors were taking the more talented Bills in this game with 64% of the individual wagers backing the visitors, the books moved the line from a pick ‘em to the Steelers favored. This is a clear indicator that the books were fishing for more Buffalo money even while the public was already backing them in significant numbers.
This is the criteria we look for at Qoxhi Picks to declare a Bullet Play … and so it is.
Qoxhi Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers (-1) over Buffalo Bills