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
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Miami can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Sunday, while Buffalo can lock in the No. 2-seed by winning their sixth-straight.
Currently the No. 5-seed entering Week 17, the Dolphins are ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process and well-positioned to make their first playoff appearance since 2016. While their defense has been exceptional, Miami owes much of their success to their young offensive duo of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Myles Gaskin, who have both blossomed down the stretch.
Tagovailoa has orchestrated the offense and protected the football well since taking over as the starter in Week 8, passing for ten touchdowns and just two interceptions. He owns the league’s best interception percentage, edging out MVP favorites Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Still, Tagovailoa’s risk aversion has hurt the Dolphins at times as well, as he has been reluctant to take necessary chances at times. With the fearless Ryan Fitzpatrick currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Tagovailoa will need to up the aggression against the eighth-ranked Bills pass defense.
In his second season out of Washington, Gaskin has exploded on to the scene after seeing limited action in 2020. The former Huskie has managed to account for 895 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in a season that has been interrupted by both an injury and a spell of his own on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Gaskin is also coming off a career day in Las Vegas, as he racked up a personal-best 169 total yards and two receiving touchdowns. He should keep rolling on a Buffalo defense that has surrendered 19 rushing scores.
Turning to the AFC East Champion Bills, quarterback Josh Allen will have a great opportunity to make a statement in the MVP conversation, as he has dominated the Fins in his short career. Allen has thrown 14 touchdowns in five games against Miami, his most against any team, with just three interceptions, and holds a 4-1 record. Back in Week 2, Allen likely had the best game of his career in a win at Miami, throwing for 415 yards and four touchdowns. Look for Allen to feast again back in Buffalo.
The Dolphins can also reach the playoffs with a Browns, Ravens or Colts defeat on Sunday. If the Bills fall to the Dolphins, they leave the door open for the Steelers to retake the No. 2-seed in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
One of the hottest team in the league right now, the Ravens can punch their playoff ticket with a win in Cincinnati.
Baltimore’s offense has been cruising over the last month, allowing them to follow up a three-game skid with four-straight wins. They are averaging 37 points and 404 yards per game, and quarterback Lamar Jackson has returned to his outstanding form from 2019. As a passer, Jackson has completed 69.5% of his passes and tossed eight touchdowns over the streak. He has been just a good with his legs, rushing for four scores and averaging 83 yards a game. Jackson is not expected to slow down in Cincinnati, opposing a defense that has been bludgeoned all season.
After getting torched by Cleveland in Week 14, the Ravens defense has locked in over their last two. Baltimore had allowed just 116 rushing yards and recorded eleven sacks in the wins. Linebacker Matthew Judon has been especially good of late, recording a sack in four of the Raven’s last five contests. They have also forced 22 fumbles on the year, recovering 12, which is tied for the second-most in the league. The Ravens should be able to flex their muscles once again, and stifle a Bengals offense that is 27th in scoring and 28th in total offense.
If the Bengals are able to pull off the upset and snap Baltimore’s win streak, the Ravens can still reach the postseason through multiple scenarios, most easily with a Browns or Colts defeat.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
The Cardinals and Rams face a “win and you’re in” situation Sunday, as each team can reach the NFL playoffs with a victory at SoFi Stadium.
Arizona got off to a tremendous start to begin 2020, but have lost four of their last six. Quarterback Kyler Murray has also been inconsistent of late, failing to find the end zone in the Cardinals’ loss to the Niners last week. He had scored four times and passed for 406 yards in a win the week prior. While Murray is struggling to steady his game at the moment, he has add a phenomenal sophomore campaign, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 800 yards and ten touchdowns in a single season.
In the process of turning things around Sunday, Murray will have to evade the fiercest man in the NFL, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Not only is Donald fighting for a playoff spot, but he also has a free week to close the gap on the Steelers’ T.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year, as he will sit against the Browns. Donald has had another dominant season posting 13.5 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss, 26 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. He has been outstanding over his career against Arizona too, recording 12 sacks and 16 tackles-for-loss.
The wildcard for Los Angeles will be under center, as quarterback John Wolford is expected to take the first snap of his NFL career. While he has never played in a game, Wolford passed for 3,192 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior at Wake Forest in 2017. It remains to be seen if he can replicate that play with the fearsome edge rusher Haason Reddick bearing down on him, who has 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles this season.
Both teams will also have their eyes on the Green Bay-Chicago scores, as Arizona can still get in with a tie and a Chicago loss. The Rams would make the postseason with a Bears loss or tie as well.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m., KDKA-TV
The Titans can clinch their first division title since 2008 with a win over the Texans on Sunday.
Tennessee’s offense had been cruising all season, but they had an uncharacteristically poor outing in last week’s blizzard at Lambeau Field. They mustered just 14 points on the Packers defense, snapping a streak of scoring at least 30 points in five-straight games.
With the division and their season on the line, Tennessee must rely on star running back Derrick Henry, who crushed the Texans with a career-high 264 scrimmage yards and a pair of scores back in Week 6. Henry has also set a new career-best with 1,777 rushing yards, which leads the league, and need two rushing touchdowns to break another personal record of 15 set in 2020. Count on the workhorse balling again, besting a Houston defense that his putrid against the run, allowing 152 yards per contest.
The Titans also need quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get back on track following a poor performance in Green Bay. The former Aggie has thrown a career-high 32 touchdown passes in 2020, but was picked off twice and held to just 121 yards through the air. Although he did throw and run for a score, Tannehill tossed multiple interceptions for the first time since Week 9 of last season. Expect Tannehill to return to form and avoid turnovers against a Texans defense that has forced only eight turnovers all season, by far the fewest in football.
Tennessee does not necessarily need to win to clinch a playoff berth, as they can still have multiple other scenarios to do so, including with a Baltimore or Miami loss.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
- Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- New York Jets at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
- Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
- Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
- Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Washington at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV