Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network
The Dolphins visit the Raiders on Saturday looking to crush Las Vegas’ playoff chances and bolster their own.
Miami eliminated New England from the playoffs last week and they did so on the ground. Miami rushed for a season-high 250 yards, their most since 2016. Running back Salvon Ahmed rushed for a career-high 122 yards with a score, while his partner Matt Breida added 86. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in his young career, but rushed for a pair of scores to join in on the fun. The Dolphins should be able to find success with their ground game again Saturday night, opposing a Raiders defense that is allowing 4,6 yards per carry and has given up 23 rushing scores, the second most in the NFL.
The Miami run game may have been a surprise a week ago, but their defense has been strong and steady all season. The Fins lead the league in scoring defense at 18.4 points a game and pace the NFL with 26 takeaways. The majority of those turnovers have been forced by Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, who leads the league with nine interceptions. He needs one more to tie Dick Westmoreland for the most in a single season in team history. Westmoreland had 10 in 1967.
The Raiders are struggling to keep their own playoff hopes alive and will enter tonight’s battle with an injured Derek Carr under center. Carr was expected to be done for the remainder of the regular season with a groin injury, but the veteran is instead opting to push through the pain with the Raiders’ season riding on a win over the Dolphins. The key for Carr will be limiting turnovers, an area where he has struggled the last few weeks. He had just two interceptions through the first nine games, but has tossed eight over the last five. Carr can no do that versus Miami if Vegas wants to stay in the mix.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets, 1 p.m. Sunday , CBS Regional
Winners of five of their last six, the Browns will play their second-straight game at MetLife Stadium when they face the abysmal Jets.
Cleveland’s offense has been clicking of late, and that trend shows no signs of stopping against New York’s dreadful defense. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown ten touchdowns and just a single pick over the last four games. He will face a Jets pass defense that is ranked 30th in the league, allowing 30 touchdowns and a 70.6% completion percentage, the highest in the league. Wideout Jarvis Landry should also continue rolling through the air Sunday. The former Bayou Bengal has 29 catches and three touchdowns the last four weeks.
Defensively, the Browns showed significant improve against the Giants, a week after being torched by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. They held the Giants without a touchdown, the first time Cleveland had done so since Week 2 of 2019. They will another anemic offense this week in the Jets, who are last in the league in points per game (14.7), total yards (3,796) and yards per play (4.6). Browns defensive end Myles Garrett should have a field day, as the Jets have allowed 38 sacks on the year. Garrett has eleven sacks and four forced fumbles, a career-high.
As for the Jets, fans were already ordering custom made Trevor Lawrence jerseys just in time for Christmas when their team forgot how to tank in Los Angeles last week, defeating the Rams and losing the inside track to the No. 1 pick to the Jaguars. If there is anything to root for in East Rutherford it’s second-year defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who has blossomed in his second season. He leads the team with seven sacks as an interior defensive lineman, and also has ten tackles-for-loss and a pair of forced fumbles. The Jets will assuredly go offense in April, as they have already found a young star on defense.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
The Seahawks and star quarterback Russell Wilson can clinch the NFC West this Sunday, but they will have to get through the Rams and their top-ranked pass defense first.
Wilson’s explosive start to the 2020 season is well documented and made him the early MVP favorite, but the turnover bug has bitten him bad over recent weeks. Over the last seven games, Wilson has eleven turnovers. He had seven total through the first seven. Still, the touchdowns have never waivered, as he has nine scores through the air the last five contests.
The Rams tormented Wilson back in Week 10, forcing three turnovers, sacking him on six occasions and holding him without a touchdown pass for the first time since they did Week 13 of last year. Luckily for Seattle they get the Rams at home, where Wilson has 16 total touchdowns in eight career starts against their division rivals. He will just need to protect the football evade defensive phenom Aaron Donald, who has eleven tackles-for-loss and 12.5 sacks on the year, the second-most in the league. Easier said than done.
While Los Angeles’ pass defense has been stout all season, Seattle’s has left much to be desired as the league’s worst. The Seahawks have been shredded all year, having allowed the most completions in football and the highest yards per game average through the air at 293. They have allowed two 400-yard passing performances this season.
Expect Rams head coach Sean McVay to take advantage, placing his quarterback in positions to succeed all afternoon. Although he is playing nowhere near as well as he did in 2018, Jared Goff has been solid for Los Angeles. He has thrown for 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions and is completing 68% of his passes, the highest mark of his career. Goff should have a strong showing in a game that has all the making of a shootout.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Having clinched their first division title in 25 years a week ago, Buffalo will look to jostle for playoff position and fine tune Sunday when they take on the already eliminated Patriots.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has had an MVP-caliber season, but his poorest performance of the year came Week 8 versus New England. Head coach Bill Belichick may have a history of torturing young quarterbacks, and Allen is no exception, as he has struggled his entire career against the Pats. In four career games, Allen has completed just 50% of his passes for three touchdowns and six interceptions, his most against any team. With his club playoff bound, Allen needs to exercise his Foxborough demons and keep up his recent strong play with the games growing more important by the week.
Barred from the postseason for the first time since 2008, the Patriots have little to play for heading into Week 16. The Cam Newton experiment has been unsuccessful, with the former MVP unlikely to return in 2021. After an encouraging start to the season, Newton has struggled down the stretch, throwing just five touchdowns with ten interceptions. He has not been much of a threat with his legs either, rushing for just two scores over the last five games after nine in his first eight. The Bills knocked off the Pats in Week 8 after forcing Newton to fumble late. They should not find it difficult to force turnovers again, given they have 22 takeaways this season.
Even with a playoff berth locked up, the Bills will have added motivation Sunday, as they can secure their first season sweep of the Patriots since 1999.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- New Orleans Saints 52 – Minnesota Vikings 33
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 47 – Detroit Lions 7
- San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Amazon Prime
- Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders, Saturday, 8:15 p.m., NFL Network
- Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m., WPGH-TV
- Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., KDKA-TV
- Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS Regional
- New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., FOX Regional
- Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., FOX Regional
- Denver Broncos at Las Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- Carolina Panthers at Washington, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
NFL Cancels In-Person 2021 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis; Pro Days On
After weeks of rumors and speculation, the NFL has made it official, announcing in a memo to clubs Monday they are significant alterations to the 2021 Scouting Combine.
Annually held in Indianapolis, the league is scrapping in-person workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, instead opting for pro days on college campuses. The NFL will coordinate with schools to ensure “consistency in testing and drills,” providing video of said workouts to all clubs.
Interviews and psychological testing of prospects normally executed at the physical combine will instead be conducted in an entirely virtual format.
As for medical evaluations, limited in-person exams will most likely be conducted over a three-day span in early April. While some evaluations will also be held virtually, an undetermined number of prospects will be invited to designated satellite locations for in-person exams. Each franchise will be permitted to dispatch a physician and athletic trainer to conduct the in-person portion.
Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft in April, the league will work directly with clubs, schools and affiliated broadcast partners to ensure media availability with Combine invitees. The NFL intends to keep with tradition and make head coaches and general managers available to the media as well.
The altered Combine format was devised and overseen by a special committee of league and club officials, including NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
Further details regarding protocols and finalized dates will be released as the committee continues to meet and plan over the coming weeks.
Here’s the full memo on changes to the 2021 scouting combine: pic.twitter.com/e1KNcuaUTn
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 18, 2021
Around the NFL: Chiefs Reach Third-Straight AFC Championship, Lose Patrick Mahomes to Concussion
The Kansas City Chiefs will host their third-straight AFC Championship game next week, defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Kansas City’s victory did not come without sacrifice, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.
Still, backup Chad Henne stepped in beautifully, and made a pair of crucial plays in the final moments to ice the win. After nearly scrambling for a game-sealing first down, Henne found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on fourth and inches.
Mahomes was his usual self prior to the injury, carving the Browns defense up for 255 passing yards and touchdown each on through the air and on the ground.
Cleveland was impressive in defeat, but an ill-advised challenge and decision to punt late by head coach Kevin Stefanski thwarted their upset chances.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and a touchdowns, but was baited by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu and picked off early in the third quarter.
Cleveland also deviated from the run early, a ground game that had made their offense so potent and dangerous all season.
When they did run, the Browns found success. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 101 yards and a score, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
The Chiefs now turn their attention to the red hot Buffalo Bills, who they defeated back in Week 6. The Bills are 11-1 since that loss, led by an excellent defense and MVP candidate at quarterback in Josh Allen.
Around the NFL: Bills Top Ravens 17-3, Reach First AFC Championship Game in 26 Years
The Buffalo Bills are heading to their first AFC Championship game since 1994 following their 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.
Quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills offense overcame swirling winds and the vaunted Ravens defense, winning with grit as opposed to flare.
Allen missed a number of deep shots early due to the conditions, but made plays in critical moments as he has all season. He passed for 206 yards and a score on the night.
Buffalo wideout Stefon Diggs once again showed why he was the acquisition of the season, catching everything thrown his way and consistently moving the chains Saturday. The former Viking finished with six receptions for 106 yards and the lone touchdown.
While not initially running the ball with much success, the Bill found some early in the second half behind running back Devin Singletary. The FAU product demonstrated a rare mix of power and elusiveness, needling the Ravens for a modest, but meaningful 25 yards on seven carries.
Not to be outdone, the Buffalo defense smothered Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, holding the former MVP to just 34 rushing yards on nine carriers. Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 162 yards before exiting the game with an injury.
Buffalo capped off their outstanding defensive performance with a 101-yard pick six by cornerback Taron Johnson, tied for the longest in postseason history and the first red zone interception of Jackson’s career. Bills Mafia erupted as expected.
The Bills now await the winner of Sunday’s weekend finale between the Chiefs and Browns, wondering if they will be heading to Kansas City or hosting their first conference championship game since the mid-1990’s.
For the first time since 1994, we’re… pic.twitter.com/9QmONpoT4g— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 17, 2021