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Around the NFL: Chubb Can Boost Browns, Ravens Face Patriots in Primetime Game

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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

Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Before they battle Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Jacksonville on Nov. 22, the Jaguars will have to get through another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this Sunday.

Rodgers is having a tremendous season, and looks comfortable in his second year in head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. The two-time MVP has thrown 24 touchdown passes with just two interceptions, while competing 67.5% of his passes for 281.6 yards per game. He has also only been sacked nine times all year, which is bad news for a Jacksonville pass rush that has gotten to the quarterback only eight times.

The main beneficiary of Rodgers’ dominance has been wide receiver Davante Adams, who is on a tear as of late. Adams has caught 30 passes for 422 yards and six scores over the last three games. He is the first player in NFL history with three games of ten or more catches, over 150 yards and a receiving touchdown in a single season.

The unproven commodity in this game’s quarterback matchup, Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton was a pleasant surprise in first career start a week ago, throwing for over 300 yards, passing for a touchdown and rushing for another in replacement of Gardner Minshew.

Luton will be flanked by another rookie gem in running back James Robinson, who’s seven total touchdowns are tied for the lead among rookies. He ranks second among first-year players with 805 scrimmage yards as well.

Both will have to excel again to overcome a struggling Jaguars defense and keep pace with Green Bay’s high-flying offense.

Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV

Fresh off their bye week and a loss to the Raiders 14 days ago, the Browns will look to get back on track when they host the struggling, two-win Texans this Sunday.

After dominating on the ground through the first five weeks of the season, Cleveland’s once dominant rushing attack has sputtered over the last three games. The Browns began the year averaging 188.4 rushing yards per game, but have averaged just 86 the last three contests. Their stumbling ground game will get a much needed boost this Sunday with the anticipated return of running back Nick Chubb, who has missed the last four games with a knee injury. He was off to strong start to 2020, rushing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Once again pairing Chubb with the ever-consistent Kareem Hunt should get Cleveland’s offense back to their bread and butter.

Kickstarting the ground game should not be difficult either, with Cleveland opposing a Houston rush defense that is ranked 31st against the run surrendering 159.5 yards per game.

As they have for much of his career, the Texans will once again rely on the playmaking ability of quarterback Deshaun Watson. No. 4 has been excellent this season and one of the lone bright spots in what has been a dreadful year for Houston. In their win over Jacksonville last weekend, became fifth quarterback in NFL history with at least 275 passing yards and over a 105 passer rating in five-straight games. He could very likely continue that streak Sunday against a Browns pass defense that is ranked 22nd and has allowed 17 passing touchdowns, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

All the while Watson will be evading Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who is tied for the league-lead with nine sacks and has at least one in six of his last seven games.

Washington at Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Defying the odds and completing one of the best comeback stories in recent memory, quarterback Alex Smith is set to make his first start in nearly two years when Washington visits Detroit.

Stepping in for the injured Kyle Allen last week versus the Giants, the former No. 1-overall pick passed for 325 yards and a touchdown. While it was his first 300-yard performance since Week 9 of 2018, he did toss three costly interceptions. Sunday will prove if Smith is still the road warrior he was prior to the injury. Over his past eleven road starts, he has 22 touchdown passes and just four interceptions for a 108.9 rating.

To ensure success, Smith will have to find his young star wideout Terry McLaurin early and often. Selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the former Buckeye already has 108 receptions, 1,611 yards and ten touchdowns through 22 career games. Along with Dallas’ Amari Cooper and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, McLaurin is one of three NFC wide receivers with five games of seven or more receptions this season. He is also aiming for his third-straight with over 90 receiving yards and a score.

As for Detroit, quarterback Matthew Stafford is quietly having a solid 2020 campaign, as he continues to be one of the more underrated played in the league. Stafford has thrown for 2,127 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. He has three or more touchdown
passes and a 90+ passer rating in five of his past six at home, and his aiming for his third-straight at home with with at least three passing scores.

He will surely be tested Sunday by Washington’s top-ranked pass defense that has allowed just 185.6 yards per game, eleven passing scores and picked off eight passes. They also have 27 sacks on the year, which are the fourth-most in football. Stafford has been sacked 21 times.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV

As Baltimore looks to keep pace with Pittsburgh at the top of the AFC, they will travel to New England for their third road contest over the last four weeks.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has only faced the Patriots once previously in his young career, but his tremendous performance against Belichick and co. last November helped cement his MVP candidacy a year ago. Jackson carved up New England, completing 17 of 23 passes for 163 yards and a score, while also bludgeoning them for 61 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Adding to his big day, Jackson did so against a Patriots defense that was first points and yards allowed in 2019.

He will face significantly weaker unit this time around that has been hampered the by COVID-19 opt-outs of linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung. The Patriots are still strong against the pass and ranked fifth in the league, but their run defense has taken a nose dive. After own the league’s sixth-best run defense a year ago, New England is now 21st in 2020.

Unless Belichick can scheme up a way to shut him down, Jackson should be expected to have another strong performance. He is no stranger to excelling in primetime either, accounting for 15 total touchdowns and no interceptions in five career game under the bright lights.

The key for the Patriot offense will be their ability to protect the football, with takeaways being the calling card of Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens have forced a league-leading ten fumbles and have picked off four passes, including one of each in their win over the Colts a week ago. New England, on the other hand, has dealt with the turnover bug all season, including 12 the last four games.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

  • Indianapolis Colts 34 Tennessee Titans 17
  • Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders, 1:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Los Angeles Chargers at Miami Dolphins, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
  • Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
  • San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
  • Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

NFL

NFL Still Considering Bubble for Playoffs

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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.

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NFL

Around the NFL: Mahomes, Chiefs Make Statement at Tampa Bay, Keep Pace with Steelers

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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 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

In a duel of past and present faces of the NFL, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes outclassed the Bucs’ Tom Brady through the air, leading Kansas City to their sixth-straight win and keeping pace with the unbeaten Steelers.

Mahomes was exceptional Sunday, as he continues to make the incredible look ordinary. The one-time MVP connected on 37 of 49 attempts for 462 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first player with at least 30 completions and over 300 yards in four-straight games in league history. Still, Mahomes was not satified with just one record, also joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only other quarterback with five career games with over 400 passing yards and three scores.

As he has been all season, speedy wideout Tyreek Hill could not be guarded and was the chief beneficiary against the subpar Buccaneers defense with 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns, all career-highs. “Cheetah” has now scored 14 touchdowns this season, and scored in every game except one. 

While Kansas City may have only won by a field goal in the end, Brady and the Bucs were thoroughly outmatched for most of the afternoon. Brady tossed for 345 yards and three scores, but also threw a pair of costly interceptions. Still, the six-time champ did record his 18th career season with at least 3,000 passing yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre for the most in NFL history. Running back Ronald Jones was another bright spot for Tampa Bay, rushing for 66 yards on nine carries and catching a 37-yard touchdown.

Kansas City looks to keep their six-game unbeaten run alive next week against the Broncos on Sunday Night Football. Tampa Bay enters the bye week licking their wounds, and will attempt to avoid a three-game skid when they host Minnesota on Dec. 13.

Buffalo Bills 27 Los Angeles Chargers 17

Bills quarterback Josh Allen added to his dual-threat résumé Sunday, recording his 15th career game with both a passing and rushing scores in their victory over the Chargers. Allen joins Patriots quarterback Cam Newton as the only other player with at least 15 such games in league history, completing 18 of 24 passes with 189 total yards and the two scores. 

Still, Allen was not the only Bill with a touchdown pass on the ledger, as wide receiver Cole Beasley joined the fun on a trick play in the second quarter, finding fellow wideout Gabriel Davis from 20 yards out.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert added to his Rookie of the Year candidacy Sunday, albeit in a losing effort. The No. 6 pick completed 31 of 52 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Herbert now has six 300-yard passing performances this season, which tied former Colt Andrew Luck for the most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. 

Defensive end Joey Bosa was dominant in the loss, recording a career-high three sacks and six tackles-for-loss. He is just the sixth player over the last 20 years to post six TFLs in a single contest.

Looking ahead to Week 13, Buffalo makes the cross country trek to battle San Francisco on Monday Night Football, while the Chargers face another long flight to New England. 

New York Giants 19 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Even though New York lost quarterback Daniel Jones to a what appears to be a significant hamstring injury, the Giants defense and ground game stepped up in a big way to lead them to their third-consecutive win.

The Giants tormented Cincinnati sans Joe Burrow on Sunday, holding them to just 155 total yards and recording three turnovers (two fumbles, an interception) and a pair of sacks on the afternoon. Offensively, running back Wayne Gallman gave the Giants a spark on the ground, rushing for 94 yards and a score. New York tight end Evan Engram also paced the G-Men through the air with six receptions for 129 yards.

Sunday’s loss to the Giants is likely a harbinger of life without Burrow for the foreseeable future in Cincinnati. The Bengals posted their lowest yardage total in four years with quarterback Brandon Allen making his fourth career start. The former Razorback passed for 115 yards and a touchdown with a pick and a fumble. Also without running back Joe Mixon, his counterpart Giovanni Bernard mustered just 32 rushing yards. Safety Brandon Williams was able to return a kickoff for a touchdown.

After starting the season 0-5, the Giants have quietly won four of their last six. They will look to keep the train rolling at Seattle next weekend. Cincinnati visits Miami, as they try to snap their three-game losing streak.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

  • Houston Texans 41 Detroit Lions 25
  • Atlanta Falcons 43 Las Vegas Raiders 6
  • Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
  • Miami Dolphins at New York Jets, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
  • New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
  • San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
  • Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:00 p.m., WPXI-TV
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NFL

Around the NFL: Mahomes Battles Brady, Washington on a Roll Coming to Pittsburgh

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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. 

THANKSGIVING FEAST

Washington 41 Dallas Cowboys 16

Winners of three of their last five, Washington took hold of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving night with their trouncing of the Cowboys in Dallas.

Rookie running back Antonio Gibson was the star for Washington, rushing for 115 yards and three touchdowns. Gibson joined elite company in the process, becoming the first rookie with three scores on Turkey Day since Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss in 1998. Gibson now has 402 yards and eight touchdowns the last five weeks.

Continuing to add to his already impressive Comeback Player of the Year candidacy, quarterback Alex Smith passed for 149 yards and a touchdown with a single interception. Adding to the tremendous story, the victory comes nearly two years to the date of the infection that almost took his life.

Not to be out done, the Washington defense feasted as well Thursday, sacking Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton three times and intercepting him once, a pick-six by defensive end Montez Sweat. Rookie defensive end Chase Young had himself a day, sacking Dalton once and posting a pair of tackles-for-loss. He leads all first-year players with 4.5 sacks this season. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen also recovered a fumble off running back Ezekiel Elliot, capping off a monster day for the Football Team’s defensive line.

Washington visits Pittsburgh next week seeking their third-straight win, while Dallas is still set to travel to Baltimore on Thursday night, but the game is likely to be postponed due to the on-going COVID-19 outbreak among the Ravens.

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional

Two of the NFL’s brightest young passer will go head-to-head Sunday when the Chargers visit the Bills.

The front runner for Rookie of the Year, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has been exceptional in his first season out of Oregon. The No. 6 pick has already passed for 2,699 yards and 22 touchdowns, and became the first rookie in NFL history to post five games with three touchdowns passes last week against the Jets.

Facing a Bills defense that has allowed just 15 touchdowns passes and recorded 27 sacks, the pressure will be on Herbert to preform through the air with running back Kalen Ballage likely with an ankle injury.

Across the field, Buffalo’s Josh Allen has also excelled in 2020 with 2,871 yards and 22 scores, while rushing for another five. Allen has been especially strong at home, where he has score 15 touchdowns and only tossed three picks.

No. 17 should keep rolling Sunday, opposing a Charger defense that has produced the second-fewest takeaways in football, and surrendered 20 passing scores.

With all the makings of a potential shootout, this game could be decided by the offense that scores last, and the defense that musters a single stop.

New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional

Entering their first full game without sidelined rookie phenom Joe Burrow, the Bengals host the Giants in a “Battle of the Basement” that could have major NFL Draft implications come April.

With Burrow done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, Cincinnati now turns to backup passer Ryan Finley, who has thrown two touchdowns and two picks in three-career starts, but only completed 47.1% of his passes in those contests. As running back Joe Mixon remains on injured reserve, Finley will have to return to another reliable weapon in wideout Tyler Boyd. The former Pitt standout is on pace for his third-straight 1,000-yard season, while having already caught 69 passes and three scores. He should find separation easily in a Giants secondary that is 21st in the league.

As for New York, they are seeking their first three-game win streak since 2016, and will require another commendable showing from quarterback Daniel Jones to do so. Though he has been plagued by turnovers his entire career, even committing at least one in nine-consecutive games, he has none the last two weeks.

Opposing a Bengals defense with only ten takeaways and 13 sacks all year, Jones should be able to keep clean and put up another winning performance.

Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., KDKA-TV

As undefeated Pittsburgh continues to chase the No. 1 seed, Steeler fans will be keeping a constant eye on 9-1 Kansas City over the coming weeks, who have star-studded matchup with Tampa Bay.

It will be old school versus new school Sunday, as the 43-year-old Tom Brady opposes the 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes. While they have split their two previous meetings, the youngster has had the statistical edge, passing for 635 yards and five touchdowns. The one-time MVP has been dominant in 2020, pacing the NFL with 3,035 yards and tossing 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions, which is good enough for the best ratio in the league.

Brady has been good since heading south, but has hit a wall over the last few weeks. Losing two of his last three, the six-time Super Bowl winner has five touchdowns and five interceptions. He had only tossed four picks through the first eight games. Brady faces another stiff test in a Chiefs defense that ranks eighth against the pass.

If you prefer pass catchers to the passers themselves, four of the most productive receivers over the last decade will all be on the Raymond-James Stadium turf Sunday. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Antonio Brown and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have combined for 2,275 receptions, 31,471 yards and 218 touchdowns over their careers. At least one is guaranteed to dominate Sunday.

Even with Tampa Bay’s recent struggles, this cross-conference clash pits two of the NFL’s most explosive offenses against each other, providing all the ingredients for an all-timer.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

  • Houston Texans 41 Detroit Lions 25
  • Las Vegas Raiders at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
  • Miami Dolphins at New York Jets, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
  • Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
  • New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
  • San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
  • Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
  • Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:00 p.m., WPXI-TV
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