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NFL Still Considering Bubble for Playoffs

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The situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens nearly reached comical proportions on Monday, with the game being rescheduled for a third time, to be played as the NFL’s first mid-season Wednesday game in modern history, with an obscure 3:40 p.m. kickoff time.

While it appears that the Steelers and Ravens will be able get their game in, either on Wednesday, or at the worst, during an added week at the end of the season.

But what if a team were to suffer a Ravens-like outbreak during the NFL postseason, when even pushing back one game would mess with the entire schedule and create competitive imbalances for teams coming off short weeks, during a time period when that is frowned upon?

That’s led many to suggest that the NFL needs a bubble for the postseason, and the league’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills acknowledged that it’s under consideration.

“We’ve said throughout that all options remain on the table,” Sills said in an interview on Today last week. “We’re going to look at whatever the most appropriate decision is, based on the data and the science. We’ve been in regular communication with those other pro sports leagues.

“I’ll just say there are some pros and there are some cons. There is some risk and benefits to each model. And right now, we’re doubling down on our intensive protocols for each team. We made some additional protocol changes this week. We have a lot of confidence in those steps, and we’ll be monitoring the data very carefully over the next few weeks to see what makes the most sense come January.”

The NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB all utilized bubbles for at least a portion of their 2020 seasons, with the NBA, WNBA and NHL putting all competitions in bubbles and MLB moving to a bubble concept for the postseason after playing its regular season in home stadiums.

As one of the top seeds in the AFC, moving to a bubble would mean the Steelers would lose their home-field advantage for the postseason, but with no fans expected at Heinz Field for the remainder of the 2020 season, that might not make much of a difference.

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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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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