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Around the NFL: Playoff Berths Up For Grabs League-Wide in Week17

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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

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
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SN’s Mike Asti on Sports Central: Changes Happening for Steelers, Future in Doubt

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When your seasons ends the way the Pittsburgh Steelers season ended, there are going to be changes, in fact some may even argue it be would be insane to not make changes.

Steelers Now’s Mike Asti appeared on the Sports Central Show with Cory Giger to discuss recent news concerning the coaching staff and how different the Steelers will look during the 2021 season.

Cory even responds to Mike’s latest show of his own about the Mike Tomlin-Ben Roethlisberger era and what the not too distant future may be like for one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.

“Sports Central” airs daily on WRTA 98.5 and 1240 AM.

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Report: Lions Expected to Hire Rams Exec Brad Holmes, Ending Kevin Colbert Speculation

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he Detroit Lions are expected to hire Los Angeles Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes as their next general manager, according to a report by Adam Schefter of ESPN, effectively ending speculation that the organization was pursuing Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert for the role.

Colbert had been linked to the Lions for weeks, with multiple reports claiming the organization was infatuated with the Steelers general manager and actively courting him for their vacancy.

Those rumblings culminated Wednesday when Mike Stone of 97.1-FM The Ticket in Detroit reported Colbert and the Lions were close to a deal.

Ensuing reporting by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac contradicted Stone’s claim, saying the Lions had never reached out to the Steelers with an official interview request.

Just a day later, it appears Detroit has found their man in Holmes, and Colbert will remain in Pittsburgh. His current one-year contract runs through April’s draft.

According to ESPN, the Lions and Holmes, 41, have agreed to a five-year deal to make him the franchise’s new general manager.

Holmes’ hiring also means the Rams will be the first organization to be beneficiaries of the NFL’s new hiring initiatives for developing minority general manager and coaching candidates.

Los Angeles will receive a pair of compensatory third-round draft picks for developing Holmes, who began with the Rams as a public relations intern in 2003 and spent his entire career with the franchise.

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Panthers Narrow GM Search, Steelers’ Omar Khan Left Out

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The Carolina Panthers have narrowed their general manager search down to four candidates, and Pittsburgh Steelers vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan was not one of them.

Khan had been one of 15 individuals interviewed virtually for the position, but was not one of the final four the Panthers announced Wednesday as having been selected for a second round of in-person interviews.

Khan was considered a favorite for the vacancy given his familiarity with Panthers owner David Tepper, who was previously a Steelers minority owner.

Carolina was Khan’s second interview this hiring cycle, having also spoken with the Houston Texans for their opening last week. They ultimately hired former New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio as their new general manager.

Khan has been a coveted candidate of late, also interviewing with the Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks in recent years.

Khan has been with the Steelers organization since 2001, and has served in his current role as vice president of football and business administration since 2016.

Known for his salary cap wizardry, Khan also previously served as the organization’s director of football administration (2011-16) and football administration coordinator (2001-2011).

Carolina’s search has now been narrowed down to Tennessee Titans director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort, San Francisco 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters, Kansas City Chiefs assistant director of player personnel Ryan Poles and Seattle Seahawks vice president of football operations Scott Fitterer. All conducted in-person interviews Tuesday or Wednesday.

A hiring decision from Carolina is expected later this week.

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