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LeSean McCoy will test Steelers’ improved run defense

Is anyone else nervous about the Steelers’ game Sunday at Buffalo?

The Steelers (7-5) have won three straight and they’re 12-2 in December (counting regular-season games in January) since 2013. Steelers wins have become almost as much a part of December as candy canes and carolers.

Throw in the fact that the Steelers are 5-0 against the Bills in this century, including three wins at Buffalo, and it’s easy to relax on this game.

Don’t do it.

It’s not that this is a trap game. The Bills (6-6) aren’t the kind of cupcake opponent the Steelers have had trouble with in recent years. Even if they were, the Steelers have been working hard to kick their habit of losing to bad teams, winning at Cleveland in Week 11 and at Indianapolis in Week 12.

Those victories over the winless Browns and the Scott Tolzien-led Colts weren’t enough to convince most people that the Steelers had fully recovered from their four-game losing streak. The Steelers might have sold a few more people with last Sunday’s win over the Giants at Heinz Field, but for us to really believe in the Steelers they need to beat a team on the road that’s fighting for its playoff life. A win over the Bills would restore that Week 1 swagger they had at Washington.

But it won’t be easy, because while the Steelers’ run defense has improved vastly since Ezekiel Elliott broke Pittsburgh’s heart in Week 10, none of the running backs they’ve faced over the last three weeks come close to LeSean McCoy.

The four-time Pro Bowler is sixth in the NFL with 949 rushing yards. He leads all players with 74 or more carries with 5.5 yards per carry. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor is averaging 6.4 yards on 73 carries. McCoy and Taylor combine for 73 percent of the Bills’ league-leading 1,943 rushing yards.

There’s a chance that Cam Heyward’s absence is noticed for the first time since his season ended, and the Steelers’ run defense could be without another key piece. Rookie Javon Hargrave, who has eight of his 14 tackles over the last four games, is in the concussion protocol and doubtful for Sunday’s game according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Another challenge facing the Steelers is McCoy‘s ability to catch passes. He doesn’t do it as much as he did in Philadelphia, but he has 35 receptions this season and the Eagles connection brings to mind Darren Sproles‘ field day against the Steelers in Week 3 at Philadelphia. Sproles caught six passes for 128 yards and a 73-yard touchdown.

And that Eagles team that ripped the Steelers 34-3 in Week 3 is 5-7 now. Going by their records, the Bills have turned out to be a better team than the Eagles. So the Steelers need to remember what happened in Philadelphia and not let it happen again Sunday. If it does, the Steelers would need help to get into the playoffs.

The Bills gave the Steelers the help they needed to get into the playoffs last season, beating the Jets 22-17 in Week 17. Now the Bills need to win and get some help to make the playoffs, but this is no time for the Steelers to complete any gift exchange. They can’t afford to show the Bills their appreciation for beating the Jets last year. They’re just going to have to be Scrooge and beat the Bills to keep themselves in a position where they can win the AFC North and get the No. 3 seed in the playoffs if they win out.

The Ravens (7-5) have a tall task Monday night at New England, but if the Steelers lose at Buffalo and the Ravens pull off the upset at Gillette Stadium, the Steelers will once again find themselves sitting on Santa Claus’ lap asking for help to make the playoffs.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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