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
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs, Postponed
The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs won’t play on Sunday after Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. Newton did not get the news until Saturday morning, which threw a wrench into the Patriots plan heading into the game in Kansas City.
Newton has the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history with 62, and the Patriots coaching staff is clearly aware. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has done an excellent job maximizing the former Panther’s unique skillset, as he is tied for the league lead with four rushing scores. Newton has also put questions regarding his shoulder health to bed early on, consistently pushing the ball downfield and completing 68% of his passes.
Chiefs starter Patrick Mahomes is coming off a dominant performance against the Ravens that saw him throw for 385 yards and four scores. The reigning Super Bowl MVP has been near perfect to start the year, tossing for nine touchdowns and 898 yards with no interceptions.
Mahomes is also one of the few players Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has yet to figure out. In three career games against New England, Mahomes has thrown for eight touchdowns and an average of 310 yards per game.
Owning the league’s best rushing offense, the Patriots must control the ball and keep it away from Mahomes and a Chiefs offense that has scored points on an astonishing 55.2% of their offensive drives this season.
Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
With this week’s Steelers-Titans matchup postponed until Week 7, fans will be freed up to watch a battle between two of Pittsburgh’s historic rivals in the Cowboys and Browns.
Off to a great start with their first winning record since 2014, the Browns enter AT&T Stadium with one of the most potent rushing attacks in football. With 511 rushing yards through through three games, Cleveland is tied with the Rams for the third-most in football. The one-two punch of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has worked wonderfully, and the added balance has had a noticeable impact on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has tossed five touchdowns and just two picks thus far. Mayfield had five interceptions through Week 3 in 2019.
Cleveland should have no difficulty running the ball on an injury-plagued Dallas defense, but the Browns’ defense will have a significant challenge of their own facing quarterback Dak Prescott and his retooled receiving core.
Prescott leads the league in pass attempts (143), completions (96) and yards (1,188). He has also combined for eight touchdowns, with five through the air and three on the ground. While he has no scored yet, star wideout Amari Cooper has already caught 25 passes for 267 yards. Rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has been no slouch either, with 16 receptions for 230 yards.
Defensive end Myles Garrett will have to get to Prescott early and often Sunday, providing support upfront for Denzel Ward and the Browns’ secondary.
Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
When Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert makes his third-career start Sunday in pursuit of his first win, the 22-year-old will be facing off against one his likely childhood idols in Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Herbert has looked good since being thrust into the starting lineup Week 2, completing 69.5% of his passes and tossing for over 300 yards in consecutive games. He will be tested again this week, facing a Tampa Bay defensive unit that has intercepted four passes, tied for the second-most in the league. It will be paramount for Herbert to value the football if he is to secure his first victory as a starter.
On the defensive side, Los Angeles’ formidable secondary will have their hands full attempting to slow an explosive Tampa receiving core. Even without star safety Derwin James, the Chargers have allowed just three passing touchdowns this season. Conversely, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans is tied for the league-lead with four touchdown receptions.
If Chargers cornerbacks Desmond King II and Casey Heyward Jr. can slow down Evans and company, they will have a great opportunity to get back to .500.
Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen looks to continue his impressive start to the 2020 season, as the undefeated Bills look to continue their winning ways against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
Allen has been phenomenal through three games, completing 71.1% of his passes for 1,038 yards and ten touchdowns with just one interception. He is second in the league in both passing yards and touchdowns, trailing just Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson, respectively. Allen has eclipsed the 300-yard mark each game this season, and tossed for 415 yards against Miami on Sept. 20.
The former Wyoming Cowboy has been deadly on the ground as well, having also rushed for two scores this season. Allen’s 19 career rushing touchdowns are the second-most by a quarterback through his first three seasons in NFL history.
He will face his stiffed test yet in the Raiders’ pass defense, who have allowed just three scores through the air this season, the second-fewest in the league. John Gruden’s club has not faired as well defending the run, as they have already surrendered the six rushing touchdowns, the second-most. If the Raiders make life difficult for Allen through the air, he should still find success with his legs.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Denver Broncos 37 New York Jets 28
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals. 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Baltimore Ravens at Washington, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Around the NFL: Championship Game Sunday Features four Star QBs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
It will be a Battle of the Bays in the early slot Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Tampa and their athletic defense got the better of Green Bay back in Week 6, winning handedly 38-10 and holding Rodgers to his worst performance of the season.
The Bucs’ relentless pass rush had Rodgers under constant duress, sacking to probable MVP four times and picking him off twice. Rodgers was also held without a touchdown pass for the only time in 2020.
As for Brady and the Bucs, he tossed for 166 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II had 113 yards and two scores on the ground.
Playing the best football of his career since that loss to Tampa Bay, Rodgers will assuredly be looking to avenge his poor performance back in October to reach his second Super Bowl. He carved up a stout Los Angeles Rams defense for 296 yards and three total touchdowns a week ago, and has tossed one interception over his last 210 pass attempts.
He will try to keep that unblemished streak alive against a Buccaneers defense that picked off New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times a week ago.
Tampa’s Tom Brady can reach his tenth Super Bowl with a win over the Packers. No stranger to performing in the elements, Brady will look to carve up the improving Green Bay defense with his patented surgical precision.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m., KDKA-TV
While two legends are squaring off in the NFC, a pair of rising stars will go toe-to-toe in the AFC Championship game, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome Josh Allen and the Bills.
Cleared from concussion protocol after leaving last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Mahomes is still battling a toe injury that could hamper his signature mobility. Luckily for Kansas City, Buffalo is 22nd in the league in pressure rate.
Even without his scrambling, Mahomes is still a threat from the pocket, coming off a season where he threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
The Chiefs offense will get a boost to take the heat off Mahomes on Sunday night as well, with rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire set to make his return from injury.
Turning to the Bills, they are here behind an MVP-caliber season from Allen, who has made tremendous strides in his third season. His 45 total touchdowns this year are the most ever by a Buffalo quarterback, while he improved his completion percentage by 10.4 percentage points, now at 69.2%.
Allen has protected the football well this season with just ten interceptions, but he will have to be extra cautious opposing the safety Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs defense. The “Honey Badger” has five interceptions in his last six games.
Kansas City is looking reach their second-straight Super Bowl, while Buffalo is pursuing their first appearance since 1993.
Baltimore Ravens Sign WR Deon Cain to Reserve/Future Contract
The Baltimore Ravens have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract, the club announced Friday.
We have signed WR Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 22, 2021
Cain spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, spending the majority of the 2020 season on the practice squad. He appeared into two games this past season, including the season finale loss to the Cleveland Browns, but recorded no stats.
Cain saw more extended action in 2019, where he appeared in six games and made three starts. He tallied five receptions for 72 yards a season ago.
A star for the Clemson Tigers, Cain was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 130 passes for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns during his Clemson career.
Washington’s Alex Smith Beats Ben Roethlisberger for PFWA Comeback Player of the Year
Washington quarterback Alex Smith has been named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, edging out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After suffering a significant leg injury in 2018 and subsequent infection that nearly took his limb, Smith made his unlikely return to the field in 2020, leading Washington to a division title and playoff appearance.
Smith passed for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions, but led Washington to a 5-1 record in his six starts. He is the first Washington player to win the award since its inception in 1992.
Roethlisberger was also believed to be a worthy candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, leading the Steelers to a 12-4 campaign and AFC North title after missing the majority of 2019 with a season-ending elbow injury. The 38-year-old threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions.
Running back Jerome Bettis (1997) and quarterback Tommy Maddox (2003) are the only two Steelers to have previously been awarded Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith was not the only quarterback recognized by the PFWA on Friday, as Buffalo’s Josh Allen was awarded Most Improved Player of the Year.
Allen made a remarkable jump in 2020, passing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He also accounted for eight scores on the ground.
Not only were his 37 touchdowns seven more than in his first two seasons combined, but Allen also completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, a ten percentage-point increase from a season ago.
Allen will have another opportunity to demonstrate his jump in play Sunday when the Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship game.
Two Steelers have previously been named the league’s Most Improved Player, quarterback Kordell Stewart in 2002 and running back Le’Veon Bell in2015.