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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

NFL

Baltimore Ravens Sign WR Deon Cain to Reserve/Future Contract

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The Baltimore Ravens have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract, the club announced Friday.

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.

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NFL

Washington’s Alex Smith Beats Ben Roethlisberger for PFWA Comeback Player of the Year

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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.

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NFL

Browns’ Kevin Stefanski Named PFWA Coach of the Year

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Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been named 2020 NFL Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, the organization announced Thursday.

Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record and their first playoff win since 1994 in his first season as a head coach. He is just the second Browns head coach to win the award in franchise history, joining Marty Schottenheimer in 1986.

A loaded Browns offensive reached its full potential under the play calling and tutelage of Stefanski, finishing as the league’s third-best rushing team and committing the fourth-fewest turnovers.

Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield also took a leap forward in 2020 under Stefanski, passing for 26 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions. Mayfield’s 95.9 passer rating was also the best of his young career.

The Buffalo Bills also earned a pair of honors for their outstanding 2020 performance. General manager Brandon Beane was named PFWA NFL Executive of the Year, while offensive coordinator was awarded Assistant Coach of the Year.

The Bills owned the NFL’s second-ranked offense, as quarterback Josh Allen became a bonafide MVP candidate under Daboll. Allen completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, while also tossing 37 touchdowns, seven more than through his first two seasons combined.

Beane was the mastermind behind Buffalo’s addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs form the Minnesota Vikings, who proved one of the most successful trade acquisitions in recent memory. Diggs was named a First-Team All-Pro after leading the league with 127 receptions and 1,535 yards. He also caught eight touchdowns.

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