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
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Coming off last weekend’s shellacking at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns will look to right the ship in their second-straight matchup against a AFC North rival in the Bengals.
Cleveland still owns the league’s top rushing attack at 169.5 yards per game, even after their disastrous ground performance at Heinz Field last week where they mustered just 75. The Browns run game will have a great opportunity to get back on track in the Bengal’s defense, which is fifth-worst in the league against the run. Cleveland ran for 215 yards and three touchdowns on Cincinnati in Week Three.
They will also need to see a bounce back showing from quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has reverted back to his cavalier attitude with the football that plagued the Browns in 2019, throwing four interceptions over the last two games. He had just two over the first four games of the season.
As for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, he performed well in the first meeting between these two clubs on Sept. 17 in what was just his second start. Burrow passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns, but had 61 total attempts. Cincinnati will have to establish the run game early and force mistakes of Mayfield to support Burrow and earn their second win of the season.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Ravaged by injuries and coming off a beatdown at the hands of Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, the reeling Cowboys will hit the road for the first time in three weeks at Washington.
Without their leader Dak Prescott for the foreseeable future, the Dallas offense will have to rely on their run game to support backup quarterback Andy Dalton, which they were unable to do against Arizona. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot rushed for just 49 yards and coughed up the football twice. As for Dalton himself, he will need to be more accurate and protective of the football. The former Bengal went 34 of 54 for 266 and a touchdown with two costly interceptions.
While Titans-Steelers will be a battle of strengths executing and defending in the run game, Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Washington can be described as a battle of weaknesses. Between Dallas’ horrendous, last-ranked defense and Washington’s 30th-ranked offense, somethings got to give. Dallas is allowing a league-high 36.3 points per game, while Washington has scored just 108 points all season.
If the Dallas wants to salvage their season and remain competitive in the NFC East race, their defense must improve and they need to lean on their handsomely paid offensive weapons. They can take the first step towards improvement and stability against the lowly Football Team this weekend.
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m., KDKA-TV
Following Pittsburgh and Tennessee’s slugfest, fans in the Pittsburgh area will be treated to Jimmy Garoppolo’s homecoming game when the 49ers travel cross country to face the Patriots.
Approaching the three-year anniversary of the trade that landed him in San Francisco for a second-round pick, Garoppolo’s 49ers tenure has been a roller coaster ride, and this season is no exception. A year after leading his team to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV, the quarterback has been fairly average to start 2020. Garoppolo is completing 63.6% of his passes and has tossed seven touchdowns, but he is only throwing for 183.8 yards per game. He has also been hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss two games.
Garoppolo is not the only quarterback with something to prove in Sunday’s contest, as Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is also looking to get back on track after a bout with COVID-19. Newton only missed one game with the virus, but looked shaky in his return to action versus Denver last week. The former Panther looked great through his first three games in a Patriot uniform with six total touchdowns and just two interceptions, but he threw two picks, fumbled twice and was sacked four times against the Broncos.
Newton should have a good opportunity to reestablish himself against a 49ers defense that has been decimated by injuries, while Garoppolo will attempt to navigate a Bill Belichick-led defense for the first time in his career as an opponent.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
Just when it seemed like the Kansas City offense couldn’t get anymore explosive, they go out and sign former Jets and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The two-time All-Pro is expected to make his Chiefs debut in Denver on Sunday.
Now Bell will be utilized by the offensive genius Andy Reid, as opposed to the consistently outwitted Adam Gase, who amazingly got no 100-yard rushing performances or runs over 19 yards out of him. Still, Bell will not be the feature back in Kansas City, understandably splitting touches with rookie phenom Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who leads the league with 682 yards from scrimmage. Both will face their toughest of the season to date in the Broncos defense, which is fifth-best in the NFL.
Even without starting quarterback Drew Lock, the Broncos are looking to win their third-straight behind their revitalized rushing attack. Coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances by running backs Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay, respectively, Denver will need to rely on their ground game again facing the league’s 29th-ranked rush defense in Kansas City. Not only will a strong run scheme give the Broncos a much needed boost offensively, but it will more importantly keep the ball away from Mahomes.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
NFL, NFLPA Announce Alarming Rise in Cases from Last Testing Period
The NFL and NFLPA have announced alarming results from their latest round of COVID-19 testing, demonstrating a significant rise in cases league-wide.
The league had 156 new confirmed positive tests during the testing period spanning from Nov. 15-28. Of those positive results, 61 were from players and 95 of staff members
These new confirmed positives over the last two weeks make up more than a third of the league’s total cases dating back to Aug. 1, which is extremely concerning to say the least.
In total, 85,073 tests were administered to 15,705 players and team personnel over a two-week span. Approximately 715,400 total tests have been administered dating back to Aug. 1.
After showing very low case number to start the year, the league has seen a steady increase as the season has progressed, culminating in the recent outbreak among the Baltimore Ravens.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently dealing with some virus-related issues and absences of their own, as running back James Conner, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, center Maurkice Pouncey and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins all missed Wednesday’s game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Roger Goodell, Dr. Allen Sills Discuss Steelers-Ravens, Postseason Bubble
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills discussed a number of topics on a conference call with the media Wednesday, including Steelers-Ravens and the possibility of postseason bubbles for the NFL Playoffs.
With regards to the Ravens outbreak that caused their game with the Steelers to be rescheduled three times, Goodell told reporters that the league intended to postpone the game until the outbreak was deemed contained, which they believe took until Wednesday to be the case.
Roger Goodell says on conference call Ravens game was postponed until the NFL believed the spread of the virus was contained. Reiterates that they will play even if multiple position groups are compromised if they believe spread has been contained (like in Denver)— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) December 2, 2020
Supporting the league’s claim that the spread is under control, Dr. Sills added that they are confident there is “no active infection” amongst Ravens players and staff at Heinz Field today.
Dr. Allen Sills confirms all of the Ravens' point-of-care tests came back negative today. "Can say with confidence no active infection on Ravens sideline today," Sills said.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) December 2, 2020
As for the NFL Playoffs, Goodell said that the league is “considering a number of alternatives” to their traditional postseason format, including a variety of potential bubble formats.
When asked specifically about those bubbles, Goodell assured that league feels their protocols are working successfully, and apparently dismissed the idea of an NBA-style bubble in a single location.
Now Goodell throwing some cold water on the bubble idea, at least not in the sense that most people think of it, he says. Possible limit to the number of people who come into contact with players but no NBA-style lockdown: "We feel strongly that our protocols are working."— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 2, 2020
Instead each team would likely have their own individual bubbles in hotels, significantly further limiting outside contacts with players and staff.
Lastly, Dr. Sills affirmed that the league will not “cut the line” for a future COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. The first available vaccines will likely be designated strictly for front line workers and high-risk groups.
Dr. Allen Sills makes clear the NFL won’t “cut the line” on the looming COVID-19 vaccine. For those wondering.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 2, 2020
NFL Still Considering Bubble for Playoffs
The situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens nearly reached comical proportions on Monday, with the game being rescheduled for a third time, to be played as the NFL’s first mid-season Wednesday game in modern history, with an obscure 3:40 p.m. kickoff time.
While it appears that the Steelers and Ravens will be able get their game in, either on Wednesday, or at the worst, during an added week at the end of the season.
But what if a team were to suffer a Ravens-like outbreak during the NFL postseason, when even pushing back one game would mess with the entire schedule and create competitive imbalances for teams coming off short weeks, during a time period when that is frowned upon?
That’s led many to suggest that the NFL needs a bubble for the postseason, and the league’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills acknowledged that it’s under consideration.
“We’ve said throughout that all options remain on the table,” Sills said in an interview on Today last week. “We’re going to look at whatever the most appropriate decision is, based on the data and the science. We’ve been in regular communication with those other pro sports leagues.
“I’ll just say there are some pros and there are some cons. There is some risk and benefits to each model. And right now, we’re doubling down on our intensive protocols for each team. We made some additional protocol changes this week. We have a lot of confidence in those steps, and we’ll be monitoring the data very carefully over the next few weeks to see what makes the most sense come January.”
The NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB all utilized bubbles for at least a portion of their 2020 seasons, with the NBA, WNBA and NHL putting all competitions in bubbles and MLB moving to a bubble concept for the postseason after playing its regular season in home stadiums.
As one of the top seeds in the AFC, moving to a bubble would mean the Steelers would lose their home-field advantage for the postseason, but with no fans expected at Heinz Field for the remainder of the 2020 season, that might not make much of a difference.