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
Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins. 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
With the Steelers set for primetime, Pittsburgh will get a good look at their stiff competition atop the AFC when the Chiefs visit the Dolphins early Sunday.
The first in the conference to clinch a playoff berth, Kansas City will be playing postseason football for the sixth-straight season, the most in franchise history. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes continues dominate on a weekly basis and appears well positioned to potentially win his second MVP award in his first four seasons. He has tossed 31 touchdowns and two interceptions, while passing for at least 315 yards in five consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NFL history. Dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill has been the primary beneficiary of Mahomes’ supremacy, catching 74 passes for 1,079 yards and 14 total scores, already the most of his career.
The Chiefs’ terrific twosome will face their toughest test to date in a Dolphin defense that is second in the league in points allowed and takeaways, trailing only the Steelers in both categories. Miami cornerback Xavien Howard continues validate his hefty contract, as he leads the league with a career-high eight interceptions. After winning a Super Bowl with Kansas City a year ago, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has proved a tremendous addition for Miami. The former second round pick is having a career year of his own with eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 19 quarterback hits.
As for Miami’s offense, their rookie duo of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Myles Gaskin were welcomed additions in the Fins’ win Cincinnati last week. Tagovailoa has tossed seven touchdowns and no interceptions over his last five games, while Gaskin posted a career-high 141 scrimmage yards on the Bengals. The first-year passer will look to remain unblemished through the air opposing Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has three picks the last two weeks. Tagovailoa will be on his own Sunday, after the Dolphins placed Gaskin on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday afternoon. The rookie back will not get the chance to face Kansas City’s 26th-ranked pass defense.
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
Before they host the Steelers in Week 15, the Bengals will first have to get past the Dallas Cowboys.
If the Bengals are to snap their four-game losing streak, they need to figure out their offensive struggles. Cincinnati has scored a total of 43 points over their recent skid, good enough for just over ten a game. The turnaround must begin with quarterback Brandon Allen, who has been lackluster since taking over as the starter, amid an offense devoid of weapons. Owning a 1-4 record over his career as a starter, Allen has as many touchdowns (two) as interceptions (two) this season, and was sacked five times by the Dolphins last week. After leaving the game in Miami with an undisclosed ailment, it is unclear if Allen will be back under center Sunday with an opportunity to turn thigns around.
Dallas is playing their second AFC North opponent in as many weeks, and would be best served turning to their highly-compensated, star running back to give their offense a lift of its own. Ezekiel Elliot has struggled to say the least in 2020, rushing for only 784 yards and five touchdowns after 1,357 and 12 in 2019. He has also had difficulty holding onto the football, with five fumbles lost. Elliot has too much talent for the Cowboys to own the NFL’s 17th-ranked run game.
It would behoove the Cowboys to lean on the three-time Pro Bowler this weekend, facing a horrendous Bengals run defense that is surrendering 134.3 yards per game.
Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
Neck and neck in the AFC playoff race, the Colts will battle the Raiders in their first ever trip to Las Vegas on Sunday.
Indianapolis was able to retake the division lead with their win over Houston, in large part to another flawless performance by quarterback Philip Rivers. While both are now in new cities, Rivers has relished facing the Raiders over his career, throwing 47 touchdowns in 28 career games, his most versus any opponent. Rivers 3,263 passing yards on the year, becoming the fifth player in NFL history with over 3,000 yards in 15 or more seasons.
Rivers has also finally been able to get on the same page with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton over the last few games. Hilton had a season-high eight catches for 110 yards with a touchdown against Houston. After not having caught a score since Week 7 of last year, Hilton has receiving touchdowns in back-to-back outings.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, Derek Carr is seeing a career renaissance of his forth the Silver & Black, coming off 381-yard, three touchdown performance a week ago. Carr has been stellar all season, tossing 22 touchdowns compared to just five picks, and posting the highest passer rating of his career at 104.1.
Of course, success through the air comes just a tad easier when you have a weapon like tight end Darren Waller. The emerging star had 13 receptions for 200 yards and two scores at New York, becoming the fourth tight end in NFL history with over 200 yards and two touchdowns in a single game. Waller has been tremendous, but he will oppose a restrictive Colts defense Sunday that is the second-best in the league at defending tight ends.
MONDAY NIGHT PREVIEW
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Monday night’s matchup very well could be the biggest of the season in the AFC North, as the 9-3 Browns host the playoff-hungry Ravens.
Having secured their first winning season in 13 years a week ago, Cleveland has been rolling behind the arm of quarterback Baker Mayfield. The former No. 1-overall pick diced the Titans to the tune of 334 yards and four touchdowns, and has not thrown an interception since Oct. 25. Still, Mayfield might find difficulty in keeping his impressive streak alive against a Ravens defense that has forced 18 turnovers this season with eleven fumbles.
As the passing attack has improved of late, the Cleveland ground game has kept rolling without reprieve. Running back Nick Chubb is averaging 116 yards a game since returning from a knee injury in Week 10. He also has three scores the last four outings. Chubb’s backfield mate has been no slouch either, as Kareem Hunt rushed for 72 yards in the season opener at Baltimore. Chubb (799) and Hunt (739) are the only pair of teammates each with at least 700 rushing yards this season. Baltimore has allowed only eight rushing scores all season, tied for the third-fewest in football.
Inching back to full strength following their recent COVID-19 outbreak, the Ravens returned quarterback Lamar Jackson in their thrashing of the Cowboys last Tuesday. The reigning MVP passed for a modest 107 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, but did the bulk of his damage on the ground on 84 rushing yards and a score. It was the largest rushing total for Jackson since Week 6 at Philadelphia, when he torched the Birds for 108 and a touchdown.
Jackson will be happy to get his stud tight end Mark Andrews back in the fold, who was activated of the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday. Andrews caught a pair of touchdowns in the season openers, and is seeking his fourth-straight game against Cleveland with a touchdown catch.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- Los Angeles Rams 24 New England Patriots 3
- Houston Texans at Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Minnesota Vikings at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
- Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Washington at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV