Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WESA Talking Steelers: Weather is the wild card in the Wild Card Round; careers on the line?

Stadium seats covered in snow.
Joshua Besse
Stadium eats are dusted with snow.

Despite being 7-7 just one month ago after losing three straight games, including two home games back-to-back against teams that only had two wins, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in the playoffs. They travel to what's sure to be a bitterly cold and likely snowed-in Buffalo to face the Bills on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Jim Wexell writes for and has been a Steelers beat writer since 1995.

Jeremy Scott: Jim, this time last month, it felt like we were more likely to get struck by lightning than it was the Steelers would make the postseason dance, and I looked this up. At their lowest, they only had a 7% chance of getting into the playoffs. But here they are. And I don't know about you, but this makes me want to, I don't know, take more chances at the poker table or something.
Jim Wexell: I like the plot twist, too. With using the number three unforgotten, buried quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Scott: Well, the biggest storyline of the game doesn't seem to be the fact that it's third string quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has led the team to this point, or the fact that TJ Watt won't play because of injury. It's the weather. At last check, the National Weather Service was predicting up to six inches to a foot of snow by game time, with the possibility of 65 mile per hour wind gusts on top of highs only in the mid 20s. But as we sit here and talk right now, the National Football League says the game is still on as planned. When the forecast is like this, Jim, take us inside of the Rooney Sports Complex. What does the team do to simulate that kind of climate during the practice the week leading up to game time?

Wexell: Well, what they did, they went down to Acrisure Stadium twice this week, and the first day was so cold that I didn't go. We had we were required to stand on the sideline the entire time. They were to bus us down. So we like to go out after about an hour of practice and then watch. Therefore, you miss the stretch and the individual drills and the calisthenics. You just see the plays. So, we would have had to have watched the entire two-hour practice on the sideline in the cold. And I tell you, down there on the river, it was cold. That wind was biting. And so, that's what they did. And the next day I went because, what they did, they realized all the reporters were hanging back in the cafeteria instead of going to practice, and they moved lunch to Acrisure Stadium for the media. We all had to go. We followed the food.

Scott: It's like they know us or something. They know us media types. If there's food to be had, that's where we're going.

Wexell: That was their plan to get us to come to practice.

Scott: And it worked!

Wexell: So that was a better day. But it was still windy. While the Bills were working indoors, the Steelers were working outdoors, down by the river in the wind. And if you remember Wednesday was very cold and they got a workout in.

Scott: Well we try not to give much credence to flat out rumors, but when reputed, national reporters circulate said rumors, it feels like there might be just a little bit of meat on the bone. Both ESPN's Adam Schefter and Fox's Jay Glazer have intimated head coach Mike Tomlin may be interested in taking some time off after the season comes to an end. Jim, are you buying or selling?

Wexell: I'm selling, if that's the right answer for no, I don't think it's going to happen. This guy's just way too enthusiastic and energetic. I was out at practice. I was actually the only one at practice the other day, at the time I was there, and he walked rapidly down just to say hey. And I said, 'Hey, Mike.' And, he's just so energetic. I don't see a dip in his enthusiasm at all. We all saw it with Bill Cowher in his last year. Chuck Noll even admitted to his wife, in his last year that he's too old to coach his team anymore. I don't see that with Mike Tomlin at all. I'd be shocked.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Scott: All right. Cameron Heyward, who's in his 13th year in the league, is playing his final professional football game this Sunday, if the Steelers lose. Are you buying or selling that?

Wexell: I'm more apt to buy that, even though I don't want to believe that. I like Cam. Cam's a go-to guy for us in the locker room. Very insightful leader. You like those types. And he's a very good player. His body has gone through a lot this year. He's not the man he was. But I would think after an offseason that he could get it back and go out with a bang. I don't know if this is the year he wants to retire, because it seems like the team is back on track to being a contender. So, I would be a little surprised, but not totally.

Scott: Should the Steelers beat the Bills, T.J. Watt, out this Sunday with a grade two MCL sprain, will be good to go for the Divisional Round, which would be against the Baltimore Ravens. Buying or selling that?

Wexell: Wow. I'm going to buy that he would. I'm going to sell his effectiveness. They say in two weeks, the best he could hope for is to play with a brace. And man, he needs his body so much for all the chipping and all the double teams that he sees, and all the holding that they promulgate on him. So, I wonder how effective he would be, but I could see him suiting up. He probably thinks he could do it. But man, that's asking a lot.

Scott: Should the Steelers beat the Bills, Mason Rudolph will not only get another contract from the Steelers but will be given an earnest shot to compete with Kenny Pickett next year for the starting quarterback position. Buying or selling?

Wexell: If he wins, I don't think they're going to resign him. If he wins, he's going to cost too much money. And if he costs too much money and they bring him back, then negotiate it in, will have to be that he's number one if he's making enough money. If it's $15 to $20 million a year, it's double what [Mitch] Trubisky makes. He would have to be the number one. I don't know that this franchise is ready to do that. I'm not sure they want to compete. If he wins, he's going to be a much more valuable commodity. So, he would cost enough to be the number one. And yeah, if he does come back, there would be a legitimate open competition. I think it would be less than legitimate for Kenny. I think it would be all Mason's, just based on his contract he would have to sign.

 Scott: All right, Jim, you've had a lot of time to digest everything leading up to this game. What are you seeing happening Sunday in Buffalo?

Wexell: Well, I am not impressed with the Bills' handicapping. I break down the numbers. There are three fundamental statistics I look at, and I expected the Bills, with a five-game winning streak, including wins against Dallas, Kansas City and Miami, at KC and at Miami. Their numbers are just not that good. I was surprised at how well the Steelers stack up with them.

I think it's going to be a lot closer game than 10-point spread. And I'm going to have to say that since the Steelers can hang, I believe the Steelers will hang. Put more pressure on the Bills and their fans, that stadium could fall into the same kind of hush that Three Rivers Stadium did in '94, '95, when San Diego Chargers beat them in the AFC Championship game about 11-point underdogs. So, you know, things can get nervous, for the Bills, a heavy favorite. And the Steelers have nothing to lose. They can just play loose and they can run the ball and Mason can throw the ball, and the weather will keep everything, down. The Steelers are getting their secondary back. The Bills' secondary's beat up. I like the Steelers this week.

Jeremy comes to Pittsburgh with a bevy of both commercial and public media experience, and many address changes along the way, including Parkersburg and Martinsburg, WV; Galena, AK; Cambridge and Coshocton, OH; and Peoria, IL. A native of Youngstown, OH, Jeremy is a proud alumnus of Ohio University, which is also where he got his first public radio experience (WOUB in Athens, OH).