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
Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
Once the dust settles on Steelers-Browns, Pittsburgh football fans can flip over to FOX and catch a duel between two of the best passers in NFL history when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Brady has the second-most touchdown passes in league history at 553. Rodgers is seventh with 377 scores. Brady is also second in career passing yards, while Rodgers owns the highest passer rating ever.
Rodgers has been exceptional to start the season, and he appears to be clicking with head coach Matt LaFleur in their second year together. After tossing 26 touchdowns all of 2019, Rodgers has already thrown 13 through just four games. The Packers averaged 23.5 points per game last season, but they are averaging an astonishing 38 points per game in 2020. Green Bay is also averaging 1.4 more yards per play, and they are the only team in the league without a turnover.
After a slow start to his Buccaneers, Brady has begun to hit his stride over the last three games, passing for eight touchdowns and just one interception. The six-time Super Bowl champ has had success in five career games against Green Bay, throwing for ten scores and just three picks. Brady has also build a rapport with wideout Mike Evans, who has found the endzone in every game this season.
Packers-Buccaneers is shaping up to be a shootout for the ages, in what could be our last chance to see Brady and Rodgers faceoff before they both inevitably end up in Canton.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
After a disastrous showing against the Ravens last week, it will not get any easier for Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow as he faces a stingy Colts defense as Lucas Oil Stadium.
Burrow had a rough day at the office last week in Baltimore, completing 19 of 30 passes for 183 yards and an interception. He was also sacked seven times and lost a fumble. Burrow’s performance snapped a streak of three-straight 300 yards games, which was an NFL record for a rookie.
The Indianapolis defense has been stellar to start the year. The Colts are the best pass defense in the league, and have picked off a league-high nine passes. Their are no slouches against the run either, ranked fourth in yards allowed and giving just a single score on the ground, tied with New England for the best in the league. They are also allowing just 4.7 yards per play, which is also the best in the NFL.
Sunday’s matchup is the second game of a five-week gauntlet for Cincinnati that ends on Nov. 15 at Pittsburgh. If Burrow and the Bengals want to prevent their season from spiraling further down the drain, their rookie quarterback will have to carry them to an upset victory over one of the AFC’s juggernauts.
Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
In a season of uncertainty, two of the biggest surprises through five weeks have been the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. The Bears are off to their first 4-1 start since 2010, while the Panthers are riding a three-game win streak.
After a career renaissance in relief with the Saints last season, Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has picked right where he left off, passing for six touchdowns and 1,460 yards, the sixth-most in the league through five weeks. Bridgewater has a 4-1 record against the Bears over his career, his most against any team. He has tossed nine touchdowns and just three interceptions over those five career games.
Across the line, the Bears’ defense is one of the NFL’s stingiest, allowing just four touchdown passes, the fewest in the league. They are led by star defensive end Khalil Mack, who’s 14 games with 2+ sacks are the fourth-most in the league since 2014. In his only career game against Carolina back in 2016, Mack recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pick-six.
Not only is the Panthers offense sixth in the league in yardage, but they are also one of the league’s best teams at limiting turnovers with just five on the year. To extend their winning streak, Carolina will have to continue protecting the football and find a way to smother Mack’s game-breaking ability.
Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
Before it became the first half of a tantalizing Monday night double header, Week Six’s monster matchup between the Chiefs and Bills was supposed to be played on Thursday night. The game had to be moved to Monday after last week’s Buffalo-Tennessee was played as one of the few Tuesday games in NFL history.
Monday’s early evening face off will pit two of the NFL brightest, young star quarterbacks against each other in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen. Both signal callers are off to tremendous starts this season with remarkably similar stats. Allen is second in the league with 14 touchdown passes, while Mahomes is third with 13. Allen is also second in the league in passing yards, Mahomes is fourth. Mahomes has thrown only a single interception. Allen has tossed only three.
With both quarterbacks performing at such high levels, Monday’s matchup could be decided by the defenses, and Kansas City has the edge against the pass. The Chiefs have allowed just seven passing scores this year, and intercepted six passes, which is tied for the third-most in the league.
Buffalo’s best option could be to turn to the run game with Allen and running back Devin Singletary. Allen has 20 rushing touchdowns over the last three season, while Singletary is averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards over his last five home games. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in rush defense and have allowed five yards-per-carry.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Washington at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Federal Judge Orders NFL, Class Counsel to Address Racial Concerns Brought by former Steelers in Concussion Settlement
The federal judge who overseas the NFL’s concussion settlement program is sending class counsel Seeger Weiss and the league back to negotiations resolve to the racial concerns in the raised by former players.
Judge Anita Brody of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, telling the two sides to “address the concerns relating to the race-norming issue.”
Henry and Davenport have accused the league of discriminating against Black players who have filed dementia-related claims. The lawsuit alleged that the NFL used separate criteria for judging mental degradation in black and white athletes, making it more likely for white players to receive benefits.
Brody dismissed their lawsuit as “an improper attack on the Settlement Agreement,” but added that “the Court, however, remains concerned” about the reservations they raised. The NFL and Weiss will now appear before Magistrate Judge David Strawbridge to reach a new agreement on the concerns.
Davenport, played with the Steelers from 2006-08 and also spent time with the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts in a seven-year NFL career. Henry spent eight seasons in Pittsburgh from 1993-2000 after being drafted in the fourth round out of Mississippi State and played in Super Bowl XXX with the team.
The NFL originally settled with its former players in 2013 and agreed to pay out over $750 million to players that suffer neurological conditions from playing professional football. The settlement has been regarded as controversial overall, and there have been several attempts from players to re-litigate portions of it.
Maia Chaka Becomes First Black Female Official in NFL History
Maia Chaka has been added as an NFL’s game official for the 2021 season, making her the first Black female referee in league history.
Chaka previously served as an official at the college level in both the Pac-12 and Confederate USA.
Chaka was also selected to the NFL’s Officiating Development Program in 2014, which “identifies top collegiate officiating talent to expose them to some of the same experiences as NFL officials, working to determine if they have the ability to succeed as an NFL official.”
“I am honored to be selected as an NFL official,” Chaka said in a league statement. “But this moment is bigger than a personal accomplishment. It is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”
When not officiating, Chaka is a health and physical education teacher from Virginia Beach. She graduated from Norfolk State University with a bachelor’s in education in 2006.
“Maia’s years of hard work, dedication and perseverance – including as part of the NFL Officiating Development Program – have earned her a position as an NFL official,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent Sr. said. “As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Maia is a trailblazer as the first Black female official and inspires us toward normalizing women on the football field.”
Ryan Switzer Asks for Prayers for COVID-19 Positive Son
Former Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer asked for prayers for his 9-month-old son Christian Saturday morning. Switzer’s son has been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.
I’m asking everyone that this tweet comes across to please just take a second and say a prayer for our son Christian. He’s 9 months and currently in the hospital after he woke up in his blood. He’s Covid positive.
— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) March 6, 2021
In Switzer’s tweet, he asked everyone to say a prayer for the little guy. Thousands of fans have interacted with the tweet, with many voicing their prayers and well wishes.
The 26-year-old receiver signed a 1-year deal with the Cleveland Browns in January after spending time on their practice squad last season. Switzer was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He then spent both 2018 and 2019 in Pittsburgh before being released by the Steelers before the 2020 season.