Steelers Now’s Cale Berger previews this weekend’s Divisional Round playoff action in the AFC.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, Saturday, 8:15 p.m., WPXI-TV
Both believed to be projects upon entering the league in 2018, the Bills’ Josh Allen and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson have each surpassed expectations and are ready to face off in the Divisional round Saturday night.
The two young passers have gone head-to-head twice previously, with Jackson taking both meetings and outplaying Allen in the process. Baltimore took last year’s Week 14 meeting 24-17, while Jackson tossed three touchdown passes. Allen was lackluster in the loss, throwing for 146 yards and a touchdown, completing less than half of his passes.
But that was last season’s Josh Allen. The new-and-improved version dominated the Indianapolis Colts a week ago to the tune of 324 passing yards and three total touchdowns, demonstrating once again why he was an MVP candidate this season.
Allen passed for over 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2020, seven more than he had in his first two seasons combined. Indianapolis’ defense was strong this season, but the Ravens’ was tremendous as the second-best scoring defense in football. Baltimore also forced 12 fumbles this season, so ball security from Allen and his supporting cast will be at a premium.
Expect Jackson to keep up his hot streak, both through the air and on the ground, as he will face a Buffalo defense that was shredded for 472 yards of total offense by Indianapolis in the Wildcard round. Jackson became the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era to eclipse 100 yards and score a rushing touchdown in a playoff game versus the Titans, joining only former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 3:05 p.m., KDKA-TV
Fresh off their drubbing of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, the Cleveland Browns will look to slay another giant Sunday when the visit the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland was ruthless in the trenches on both sides of the ball in Pittsburgh, presenting the Browns with the perfect recipe to upset the Chiefs and their high-powered offense.
Offensively, the Browns have the ability to dominate every possession, churning clock and keeping the football out of the dangerous hands of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cleveland owned the league’s third-best rushing attack in 2020, converting for 133 first downs. They also burn clock when they score, averaging three minutes per scoring drive, which was also the third-best in the NFL.
On the defensive side, edge rusher Myles Garrett has the ability to corral Mahomes in the pocket, preventing him from extending plays and victimizing Cleveland’s porous pass defense from a week ago. Garrett had 12 sacks this season, and will have even more pressure placed on his broad shoulders with fellow pass rusher Olivier Vernon done for the year. He also forced four fumbles in 2020, which is one of the other few methods for keeping Mahomes off the field, by generating takeaways.
Cleveland will return starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson, who missed the Steeler game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but they will still be hard pressed attempting to stop wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce through the air. Kelce’s 1,416 receiving yards are the most in a single season by a tight end in league history, while Hill has scored 17 total touchdowns in 2020.
The Browns can knock off the defending champs by controlling possession and forcing turnovers. If they are unsuccessful, expect the Chiefs to roll towards their third-straight AFC Championship game.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers, Saturday, 4:35 p.m., WPGH-TV
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 6:40 p.m., WPGH-TV
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.
Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.
For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.
NFL Hosting Women’s Careers in Football Forum
The NFL is hosting its fifth annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum from Feb. 24-25, the league announced in a press release Tuesday.
The event will be held virtually and “connect 40 women, 75% of whom are women of color, with leaders in professional football to help those women network and build relationships in the areas of coaching, scouting and football operations.”
Those participating in the event will join panel discussions, breakout sessions and have networking opportunities with industry leaders, such as head coaches and team executives. All portions of the event are aimed at building connections that will result in hirings and subsequent representation.
Since its inception in 2017, the two-day event has assisted in developing “a more diverse talent pipeline by connecting high-potential women to career opportunities in football.” According to the league, 118 opportunities for women in football have been created as a result.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and wife Jane Skinner Goodell will speak, as well as NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte. In addition, three owners, seven head coaches and six general managers will also join the conversation.
Sarah Thomas made history earlier this month becoming the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. The champion Tamp Bay Buccaneers also had a record number of women on their coaching staff this past season.
Report: 2021 NFL Salary Cap Expected at $182-183 Million
The 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to be around $182 or $183 million, according to a report by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
That is just slightly above the bare-minimum figure of $180 million agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA last week, and aligns with Steelers Now sources that predict the cap will fall between $180 and $185 million.
The Steelers are one of several teams that will be significantly over the salary cap, regardless of what figure is.
According to Pro Football Talk, those teams have been lobbying to increase the 2021 salary cap at the expense of future years to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on NFL operations.
Doing so would essentially amount to an interest-free loan given by the owners to the players, something that some owners have balked at.
That final figure could still be impacted by the league signing new television contracts for the 2022 season before the salary cap is finalized, which is expected some time in March.
The new league year starts on March 17, which is the day that all teams must be under the new salary cap.