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.
Monday Night Preview
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.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Miami Dolphins 26 Las Vegas Raiders 25
FitzMagic struck again Saturday night, as the journeyman quarterback came off the bench to lead Miami to a come from behind win in Las Vegas.
Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game in the fourth quarter with Miami in desperate need of a spark, and immediately found running back Myles Gaskin for a 59-yard touchdown to take a 23-22 lead. The Raiders were not to be counted out just yet and retook a slight lead with a field, but left far to much time remaining for Fitzpatrick and company to work with.
With :19 seconds remaining and the ball on his own 25-yard line, Fitzpatrick did the unthinkable and completed one of the most incredible passes of the season that couples with a brutal facemask penalty, set the Dolphins up for a game-winning field goal.
— NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2020
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr demonstrated his toughness Saturday with the season on the line, playing through what was believed to be a significant groin injury to pass for 336 yards and a touchdown. Wideout Nelson Agholor was the primary target with five receptions for 155 and a score, while tight end Darren Waller caught five of his own for 112, setting a pair of franchise records in the process. Waller set the single-season record for a Raiders tight end with 96 receptions, and became just the second tight end in team history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Currently in the playoff picture, Miami will look to cement their postseason candidacy on the road at Buffalo. Officially eliminated from playoff contention with the loss, Las Vegas closes out their season at Denver.
New York Jets 23 Cleveland Browns 16
The Jets earned their first win of the season a week ago and clearly liked the feeling, as they pulled off their second-straight upset, this time over the Browns.
Shorthanded with four wide receivers, including Jarvis Landry, placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list late Saturday night, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield inexplicably threw the ball 53 times for 285 yards, while workhorse running back Nick Chubb had just eleven attempts for 28 yards and a score on the ground. His partner Kareem Hunt only carried the rock four times for eleven yards, but also got a score of his own. For an offensive mind at the forefront of the Coach of the Year conversation in Kevin Stefanski, the Browns put forth a head-scratching game plan to say the least, placing their 2020 playoff hopes in a state of limbo.
New York’s offense pulled out all the stops in securing their second win of the season and got a strong showing out of quarterback Sam Darnold, who passed for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder had a big day as well through the air. Not only did he catch seven passes for 92 yards and a score, but he also threw a touchdown, a 43-yard, trick play strike to Braxton Berrios.
JAMISON CROWDER 43-YARD TD PASS 😱
Jets breaking out the trick plays 🔥
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 27, 2020
Cleveland hosts Pittsburgh in the regular season finale next weekend, as they look to secure their first playoff appearance since 2002. New York travels to New England.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
The Seahawks clinched their first NFC West title since 2016 with their thumping of the Rams on Sunday.
After dreadful start to the season, Seattle’s defense has improved week-by-week, culminating in a suffocating performance against Los Angeles. Rams quarterback Jared Goff was under constant duress and only completed 24 of 43 passes for 234 yards and interception, courtesy of stellar safety Quandre Diggs. Defensive tackle had a big day upfront for Seattle, recording two sacks and two tackles-for-loss. The Rams’ nine points were their lowest total scored since Week 12 of last season.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 27, 2020
Offensively, quarterback Russell Wilson was effective opposing the Rams’ top-ranked pass defense, throwing for 225 yards and a touchdown. Wilson also rushed for a score, but he was sacked five times on the afternoon, twice by Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd. The veteran passer went to young phenom D.K. Metcalf early and often, as the second-year wideout led the Seahawks with six receptions for 59 yards. Metcalf is closing in on one of the most prolific seasons in franchise history, needing just six receiving yards to pass Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Largent for the most by a Seahawk in a single year.
Seattle will head south to face San Francisco in Week 17, while Los Angeles will fight for their playoff lives against Arizona.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- New Orleans Saints 52 – Minnesota Vikings 33
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 47 – Detroit Lions 7
- San Francisco 49ers 20 Arizona Cardinals 12
- Kansas City Chiefs 17 Atlanta Falcons 14
- Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Indianapolis Colts 24
- Chicago Bears 41 Jacksonville Jaguars 17
- Baltimore Ravens 27 New York Giants 13
- Cincinnati Bengals 37 Houston Texans 31
- Las Angeles Chargers 19 Denver Broncos 16
- Carolina Panthers 20 Washington 13
- Dallas Cowboys 37 Philadelphia Eagles 17
- Green Bay Packers 40 Tennessee Titans 14
Mic Drop: Rooting for Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell Is Easy Choice
The idea that either Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell will become a Super Bowl champion after Super Bowl LV isn’t exactly something that makes Steelers fans excited for the big game. With that said, Mike Asti feels deciding who to root for should be an easy choice for Steelers fans. He wants to set the record straight once and for all of why Pittsburgh fans need to stop grouping the two former Steelers together.
While they both left the franchise in a cloud of drama, Le’Veon Bell doesn’t deserve to be treated as if he committed the same kind of sins against the Steelers that Antonio Brown did.
Former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant Signs with CFL’s Toronto Argonauts
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant is heading north for his next opportunity and signing with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the team announced Monday.
While Bryant is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL, he has nothing preventing him from continuing his career in Canada. He has not played since 2018 following multiple violations of the league’s drug policy.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bryant spent the first three seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Steelers traded Bryant to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2018 season, but played in just eight games before the suspension.
Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl
While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.
Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.
Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.
In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.
Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.
Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.
But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.
Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.
Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.