BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A potentially dangerous snowstorm that hit the Buffalo region on Saturday led the NFL to push back the Bills’ wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers from Sunday to Monday.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the NFL cited public safety concerns for the postponement, with up to 2 feet of snow projected to fall on the region over a 24-plus-hour period. Heavy snow began falling by midafternoon Saturday, accompanied by strong wind, and the Bills posted a video on social media of whiteout conditions at Highmark Stadium.
“The decision to move the game to Monday was made in consultation with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the best interest of public safety, and with the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the region prepares for the storm,” the NFL and Bills said in a joint statement.
Hochul said she started talking with the NFL on Thursday about the possibility of rescheduling the game because of what she called a “dangerous storm.” Hochul, who is from just outside of Buffalo, closed her news conference by saying, “Go Bills.”
“We want our Bills to win, but we don’t want 60,000 to 70,000 people traveling to the football game in what’s going to be horrible conditions,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference in the Buffalo suburbs.
Officials advised residents to stay off the roads starting at nightfall, with a driving ban taking effect at 9 p.m. The game will now be played at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
The forecast for the Buffalo area called for heavy snow and wind gusting as high as 65 mph (105 kph) Saturday, with 1 to 2 feet (.03 to 0.6 meters) or more of snow eventually piling up. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning lasting through 7 a.m. Monday.
Much of the storm was expected to be concentrated in a narrow band of lake-effect snow hovering over Buffalo’s southern suburbs, which includes the Bills’ home in Orchard Park.
The brunt of the storm was expected to wane through Sunday night. The forecast for Monday called for a chance of snow showers throughout the day and building in the evening, with a high of 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-7 Celsius) and wind gusts of up to 29 mph (47 kph).
Postponing the game freed up sheriff’s deputies, who are usually assigned to Bills game-related duties, to deal with storm-related emergencies, Poloncarz said. Officials were concerned about Steelers fans making the trip to Buffalo through treacherous conditions.
The Steelers pushed back their travel plans and will now head to Buffalo on Sunday.
A person briefed on discussions between the NFL and state officials told The Associated Press that the league raised the possibility of moving the game to Atlanta before pushing it back one day. The person spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to be kept private.
Without confirming Atlanta, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said it’s standard procedure for the league to have contingency sites in place for all games in the event one has to be moved.
“The NFL’s priority is always to ensure public safety and avoid diverting resources from authorities that could negatively impact local efforts in the affected areas,” he said.
After the NFL’s announcement, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins shifted the start time of their home game Monday against the Seattle Kraken from 6 p.m. to 1 p.m. EST to avoid a conflict with the Bills-Steelers game. In Buffalo, faceoff for the Sabres’ home game Monday against the San Jose Sharks was switched from 1 p.m. to noon.
The Bills are familiar with weather-related schedule changes. In 2022, a lake effect storm led to Buffalo’s home game against Cleveland being moved to Detroit in November. A month later, a blizzard caused the Bills to delay their trip home, forcing them to stay overnight in Chicago on Christmas Eve.
Though NFL playoff games have been shifted in the past for various scheduling reasons or to add games to determine tiebreakers, this marks just the third time weather has played a direct factor.
In January 2017, wintry weather in Kansas City led to the NFL pushing back the start of an AFC divisional playoff game between Pittsburgh and the Chiefs from 1 p.m. to 8:20 p.m.
In 1932, the league added a “playoff” game to break a tie in the standings between the Portsmouth Spartans and Chicago Bears. Extreme cold temperatures and heavy snowfall led to the game being played inside Chicago Stadium, with the Bears winning 9-0 on an 80-yard field.
Peltz reported from New York City. AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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