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Three Steelers Among the 25 NFL Hall of Fame Semifinalists

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The Pittsburgh Steelers wing in the NFL Hall of Fame has a chance of adding a name or two (or three) this year.

Tuesday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the list of 25 semifinalists, which included three former Steelers.

The new name this year joining two holdovers is former All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, which is the first year on the ballot for him. Two other first timers that made the list of semifinalists are wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis.

Two other Steelers that made the semifinalist list are wide receiver Hines Ward and guard Alan Faneca, who made it to the final 10 last year.

The other 20 semifinalists are linebacker Carl Banks, running back Fred Taylor, running back Ricky Watters, defensive tackle Bryant Young, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, wide receiver Torry Holt, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, offensive tackle Steve Hutchinson, defensive end Simeon Rice, defensive end Richard Seymour, linebacker Clay Matthews, linebacker Sam Mills, linebacker Zach Thomas, defensive back Steve Atwater, defensive back Ronde Barber, defensive back LeRoy Butler, defensive back John Lynch, defensive back Darren Woodson and special teamer Steve Tasker.

In January, this group of 25 players will be narrowed down to 15 finalists. The actual Hall of Fame Class will be voted on the day before the Super Bowl. The five players that made the list of finalists last year but came up short in voting were Faneca, Hutchinson, Atwater, Boselli and James.

NFL

Around the NFL: Chiefs Reach Third-Straight AFC Championship, Lose Patrick Mahomes to Concussion

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The Kansas City Chiefs will host their third-straight AFC Championship game next week, defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Kansas City’s victory did not come without sacrifice, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

Still, backup Chad Henne stepped in beautifully, and made a pair of crucial plays in the final moments to ice the win. After nearly scrambling for a game-sealing first down, Henne found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on fourth and inches.

Mahomes was his usual self prior to the injury, carving the Browns defense up for 255 passing yards and touchdown each on through the air and on the ground.

Cleveland was impressive in defeat, but an ill-advised challenge and decision to punt late by head coach Kevin Stefanski thwarted their upset chances.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and a touchdowns, but was baited by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu and picked off early in the third quarter.

Cleveland also deviated from the run early, a ground game that had made their offense so potent and dangerous all season.

When they did run, the Browns found success. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 101 yards and a score, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

The Chiefs now turn their attention to the red hot Buffalo Bills, who they defeated back in Week 6. The Bills are 11-1 since that loss, led by an excellent defense and MVP candidate at quarterback in Josh Allen.

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NFL

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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