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 33, Miami Dolphins 27
Miami’s tremendous defense finally made Patrick Mahomes look human Sunday, but the Chiefs still flexed their muscles against the upstart Dolphins all the same.
Mahomes ended the day with 393 yards and two touchdowns, but tossed three interceptions for the first time in his career. Of the four turnovers forced by Miami on the day, this pick by cornerback Xavien Howard could go down as one of the plays of the season.
Might put that in a museum 😍
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 13, 2020
Fins linebacker Jerome Baker was a thorn in the side of the Chiefs all day with a monster performance of his own, as the Ohio State product recorded eight total tackles, 2,5 sacks and two tackles-for-loss.
Still, the one-time MVP took his errors in stride, and led the Chiefs to their eight-straight win by turning to the ole’ reliables of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Hill accounted for 111 total yards and two scores, while Kelce led the team with eight receptions for 136 receiving yards and a touchdown. Kelce became the first tight end with at least 1,200 receiving yards in three seasons in NFL history. Hill now has 16 touchdowns on the year, already the most in a single season by a Chiefs receiver in franchise history.
Hill is unlikely to even come close to former Kansas City running back Priest Holmes’ team record, who had an astounding 27 touchdowns in 2003. Insane.
As for Miami, rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was put up a strong performance as well on his biggest NFL stage yet. The fifth pick passed for his first career 300-yard game and accounted for three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), but took his lumps as well. Tagovailoa was sacked four times and threw his first career interception, a juggling grab on a deflected deep ball by safety Tyrann Mathieu. It was the veteran safety’s third-straight game with a pick.
The Chiefs will hit the road again in Week 15 to take on the Saints, while the Dolphins look to build on their commendable performance when they host the Patriots next Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys 30, Cincinnati Bengals, 7
Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton spearheaded a drubbing in his return to Cincinnati, as the Cowboys handed the Bengals their fifth-straight loss.
Dalton completed 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, good enough for a passer rating of 122.6. It was Dalton’s highest passer rating since Oct. 1, 2017, when he threw four touchdowns on the Browns.
.@andydalton14's first TD back in Cincinnati goes to COOOOP!!
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 13, 2020
The Cowboys offense still struggled to get the rushing attack going, but they did play a clean game, which is an anomaly for them in 2020 to say the least. Sunday was the first time Dallas committed no turnovers in a game since their season opener against the Rams. Over the eleven games in between, they turned it over 24 times.
Cincinnati’s offense, on the other hand, consistently failed to hold onto the football. The Bengals lost three fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith. Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen was actually pretty good under center, completing 27 of 36 passes for 217 yards and a score.
Dallas looks to keep things rolling when they welcome the 49ers to AT&T Stadium next Sunday. Cincinnati looks to pull off an upset with Pittsburgh coming to town, potentially securing a split of the season series.
Indianapolis Colts 44, Las Vegas Raiders 27
Indianapolis has won four of their last five and remains at large in the AFC South following a dominate rushing performance in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor had a career day on the ground for Indy, rushing for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The former Wisconsin Badger has been hitting his stride as of late, posting three consecutive games with at least 90 yards rushing.
Quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton continue to build their rapport, as the duo was once again in rhythm on Sunday. Rivers passed for 244 yards and two scores, both of which went to Hilton. After going 14-straight games with out a touchdown reception, Hilton has caught four over the last three.
The Colts defense was outstanding as well, holding Raiders running back Josh Jacobs to just 49 rushing yards and forcing three turnovers. Two of the takeaways were generated by cornerback Kenny Moore II, including this dazzling interception that rivals Xavien Howard’s from earlier in the day.
.@KennyKennyMoe3 is good at football.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 13, 2020
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr finished with 316 yards passing, two touchdowns and the two picks. Wideout Nelson Agholor caught five passes for 100 yards and a score, while tight end Darren Waller had seven for 75.
Las Vegas will now have to deal with a short turnaround, as they host the Chargers this coming Thursday. Indianapolis takes on Houston at home, looking for their second win over the Texans in a three week span.
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
Report: NFL Salary Cap Expected around $180 Million; Would Put Steelers $35 Million in Red
The 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to be around $180 million, according to a report by Mike Florio of NBC Sports.
The salary cap is supposed to be fixed at 48% of the league’s revenue, according to the CBA signed between the league and the NFLPA that went into effect in March, with a possible increase if the NFL makes the expected decision to go to a 17-game schedule this fall.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic cost teams the vast majority of ticket sales in 2020, the league’s revenue has cratered heading into this offseason. The NFL and NFLPA agreed in their return-to-play negotiations that the 2021 salary cap will not fall below $175 million.
But that figure would represent a $23.2 million salary cap decrease instead of the typically expected $10 million or so increase, putting many teams, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular, in a salary cap crunch.
Florio said that some owners would like to see the impacts of the pandemic spread out over several years of cap impacts to reduce the immediate decrease, but that other owners see that as an interest-free loan to the players and balked.
While the most desirable of free agents will likely not be impacted, the number of teams in a cap crunch would likely cause middle-tier free agents to be unable to cash in on their expected paydays and low-tier free agents could be forced to re-sign for minimal, if any, raises.
The Steelers would need to trim approximately $35 million from their current salary obligations to be compliant with a $180 million cap, according to salary cap analysis from F.S. Fisher of Steelers Now.
While the $5 million in extra room would be helpful, it would not change the fundamental approach the Steelers will have to take this offseason of restructuring, negotiating pay cuts or releasing players already under contract for 2021.
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.