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Mic Drop: The NFL Doesn’t Want Forfeits, and Neither Should You

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Around the NFL: Bills Top Ravens 17-3, Reach First AFC Championship Game in 26 Years

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The Buffalo Bills are heading to their first AFC Championship game since 1994 following their 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.

Quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills offense overcame swirling winds and the vaunted Ravens defense, winning with grit as opposed to flare.

Allen missed a number of deep shots early due to the conditions, but made plays in critical moments as he has all season. He passed for 206 yards and a score on the night.

Buffalo wideout Stefon Diggs once again showed why he was the acquisition of the season, catching everything thrown his way and consistently moving the chains Saturday. The former Viking finished with six receptions for 106 yards and the lone touchdown.

While not initially running the ball with much success, the Bill found some early in the second half behind running back Devin Singletary. The FAU product demonstrated a rare mix of power and elusiveness, needling the Ravens for a modest, but meaningful 25 yards on seven carries.

Not to be outdone, the Buffalo defense smothered Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, holding the former MVP to just 34 rushing yards on nine carriers. Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 162 yards before exiting the game with an injury.

Buffalo capped off their outstanding defensive performance with a 101-yard pick six by cornerback Taron Johnson, tied for the longest in postseason history and the first red zone interception of Jackson’s career. Bills Mafia erupted as expected.

The Bills now await the winner of Sunday’s weekend finale between the Chiefs and Browns, wondering if they will be heading to Kansas City or hosting their first conference championship game since the mid-1990’s.

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Report: NFL to Make Significant Changes to Combine Due to COVID-19

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Major changes to the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine are expected amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, plans of hosting the combine as traditionally constructed are “dead” following a conference call between league officials Friday. It is becoming increasingly likely that the medical and performance-based portions of the event will be held separately.

A number of alternatives are being considered, including regionalized medical checks, standardized pro days and interviews conducting via Zoom.

With regards to the regional medicals, the NFL could set up shop and administer the examinations at hospital in states where a large number of players are conducting their workouts and preparation, such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

The intent would be to limit travel for players, where as the team physicians conducting the examinations would likely have already received their vaccinations.

Other aspects of the medical process can be accomplished virtually, such as reviewing injury histories.

As for the pro days, NFL or individual team personnel would put players through drills at their respective schools, but standardize each workout to ensure prospects are going through the same exercises as they would in Indianapolis. Measurements and result would then be distributed league-wide as they normally would be.

League officials will continue to meet over the coming days, according to Breer, but a finalized plan is expected later this coming week.

The NFL has also weighed the option of postponing the combine until April, but still holding it in Indianapolis. While it is on the table, the move would likely requirement the 2021 NFL Draft to be postponed as well.

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Around the NFL: AFC Divisional Round Preview

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Steelers Now’s Cale Berger previews this weekend’s Divisional Round playoff action in the AFC.

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, Saturday, 8:15 p.m., WPXI-TV

Both believed to be projects upon entering the league in 2018, the Bills’ Josh Allen and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson have each surpassed expectations and are ready to face off in the Divisional round Saturday night.

The two young passers have gone head-to-head twice previously, with Jackson taking both meetings and outplaying Allen in the process. Baltimore took last year’s Week 14 meeting 24-17, while Jackson tossed three touchdown passes. Allen was lackluster in the loss, throwing for 146 yards and a touchdown, completing less than half of his passes.

But that was last season’s Josh Allen. The new-and-improved version dominated the Indianapolis Colts a week ago to the tune of 324 passing yards and three total touchdowns, demonstrating once again why he was an MVP candidate this season.

Allen passed for over 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2020, seven more than he had in his first two seasons combined. Indianapolis’ defense was strong this season, but the Ravens’ was tremendous as the second-best scoring defense in football. Baltimore also forced 12 fumbles this season, so ball security from Allen and his supporting cast will be at a premium.

Expect Jackson to keep up his hot streak, both through the air and on the ground, as he will face a Buffalo defense that was shredded for 472 yards of total offense by Indianapolis in the Wildcard round. Jackson became the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era to eclipse 100 yards and score a rushing touchdown in a playoff game versus the Titans, joining only former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 3:05 p.m., KDKA-TV

Fresh off their drubbing of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, the Cleveland Browns will look to slay another giant Sunday when the visit the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland was ruthless in the trenches on both sides of the ball in Pittsburgh, presenting the Browns with the perfect recipe to upset the Chiefs and their high-powered offense.

Offensively, the Browns have the ability to dominate every possession, churning clock and keeping the football out of the dangerous hands of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cleveland owned the league’s third-best rushing attack in 2020, converting for 133 first downs. They also burn clock when they score, averaging three minutes per scoring drive, which was also the third-best in the NFL.

On the defensive side, edge rusher Myles Garrett has the ability to corral Mahomes in the pocket, preventing him from extending plays and victimizing Cleveland’s porous pass defense from a week ago. Garrett had 12 sacks this season, and will have even more pressure placed on his broad shoulders with fellow pass rusher Olivier Vernon done for the year. He also forced four fumbles in 2020, which is one of the other few methods for keeping Mahomes off the field, by generating takeaways.

Cleveland will return starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson, who missed the Steeler game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but they will still be hard pressed attempting to stop wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce through the air. Kelce’s 1,416 receiving yards are the most in a single season by a tight end in league history, while Hill has scored 17 total touchdowns in 2020.

The Browns can knock off the defending champs by controlling possession and forcing turnovers. If they are unsuccessful, expect the Chiefs to roll towards their third-straight AFC Championship game.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers, Saturday, 4:35 p.m., WPGH-TV

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 6:40 p.m., WPGH-TV

 

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