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Around the NFL: AFC Divisional Round Preview

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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.

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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

 

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