Bills bounce Ravens, reach first AFC title game in 27 seasons

Originally posted on Sportsnaut | By Matt Fitzgerald | Last updated 1/16/21

The first leg of the 2021 AFC divisional round was a gritty, throwback game determined largely by the mettle of defenses, as the Buffalo Bills emerged with a 17-3 home victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday evening in Western New York.

Usually, in a high-scoring affair, winners and losers can be determined rather easily. However, In increasingly rare cases such as these when there were so few splash plays made in any of the three phases of the game, it’s more difficult to find the positives.

In any event, we’ll give you the winners and losers from this Bills-Ravens slugfest.

Winner: Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo Bills

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The winning signal-caller lands here almost by default, and Bills wideout Stefon Diggs deserves an honorable mention thanks to his knack for getting open.

It’s an unavoidable narrative, however: Allen was the third QB selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, going seventh overall to Buffalo, while Jackson had to wait until the final pick of the first round (No. 32) to hear his name called after Baltimore traded up to get him. Talk about a sick walk-off move for Ozzie Newsome, netting an eventual second-year league MVP with his final first-round selection.

Anyway, Allen and Jackson have emerged as the most promising field generals from that class, along with top pick Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns. All of them were alive entering the AFC divisional round — how exciting!

But only one man could win Saturday in Buffalo, and it was Allen. There was clearly more trust in the Bills’ rising superstar, who isn’t quite the dual threat as a runner that Jackson is — who is? — but is the superior passer.

For better or worse, the Bills put the ball in Allen’s hands and told him to will them to the AFC Championship Game against a defense that boasts a pressure-heavy front and excellent back end headlined by cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Allen came through, finding Diggs for eight catches, 106 yards and a score. Allen ultimately delivered, finishing with 23 completions on 37 attempts for 206 yards and the touchdown to Diggs amid blustery conditions.

Loser: Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore Ravens

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Two bricked field goals off the uprights. It was truly shocking to see Tucker do such a thing, considering he’s quite literally the most accurate kicker in league history at better than 90%.

NFL divisional round: Picks and preview

By Chris Mueller | Last updated 1/14/21

Four out of six favorites won on wild card weekend, but the two upsets were seismic; the Rams humiliated the Seahawks for the majority of their matchup, stifling Russell Wilson so badly that Seattle fired Brian Schottenheimer, and will now have to find a new offensive coordinator to try and fix an offense that was progressively more broken as the season went on. That upset paled in comparison to Cleveland’s demolition of the Steelers, however. The Browns, barely able to practice, and down five coaches and six players, demolished Pittsburgh, and in the process, may have kick-started an offseason of changes for the Steelers. The Rams’ reward for their win? A date with Green Bay, possibly in the snow, at Lambeau Field. And the Browns? They get a crack at the defending champs at Arrowhead Stadium, this time with a much healthier team; Kevin Stefanski will be back on the sideline; Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson will all be back in the lineup, and Bill Callahan will be in his normal post as offensive line coordinator. Only Joel Bitonio, as of this writing, is still in limbo. The other two games? They aren’t shabby, either. The Ravens and Bills meet in what might be snowy conditions in Buffalo, and the Saints try to beat the Buccaneers for the third time this season. The divisional round, as it almost always does, features compelling, interesting matchups, so let’s get to the games.

Point spreads are from BetOnline.ag and are current as of 1 p.m. ET Thursday.

Pick with spread is in bold.

Last week: 3-3

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LA RAMS (11-6) AT GREEN BAY (13-3) (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET)

TV: FOX        LINE: Green Bay -6.5

What you need to know: Aaron Donald looks like he’s going to go for the Rams despite a rib injury, and if he’s able to play anything like he normally does, that’s trouble for the Packers. Donald and Los Angeles’ defensive front completely disrupted everything Seattle wanted to do offensively, and their greatness, coupled with Jalen Ramsey’s shut-down abilities in the secondary, frustrated the Seahawks and left them mostly out of answers. The Rams will go with Jared Goff at quarterback in this one, as John Wolford is out. That hurts Los Angeles, as Wolford’s mobility gives defenses more to think about, and Goff was underwhelming, to put it mildly, against Seattle. We know that Aaron Rodgers can play in the snow, and we know that he’s been great this year – great enough that he’s a likely bet to win his third MVP award – but he hasn’t seen a defense like Los Angeles’ this season. The closest thing was New Orleans in Week 3, and Rodgers did strafe them for three touchdowns in a 37-30 road win. Green Bay’s offense runs through Rodgers and Adams; will they be able to operate well if Ramsey is able to win his individual matchup with Adams? Green Bay’s ability to implement a “plan B” might determine the outcome of this game.

On the spot: Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey might be the best in the business, but Rodgers and Adams are as close to unstoppable as any duo in the league. If Los Angeles wins, it will be because of defense, but they can only thrive if Ramsey plays one of his greatest games.

Packers TE Robert Tonyan: If there is anything resembling a weak group on Los Angeles’ defense, it is their linebackers, but even they have been very good. That said, Tonyan, second on the Packers with 11 touchdown catches, needs to take full advantage of all the attention Adams will command.

The Pick: Packers 24 Rams 23

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BALTIMORE (12-5) AT BUFFALO (14-3) (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

TV: NBC        LINE: Buffalo -2.5

What you need to know: Lamar Jackson has no experience playing in the snow, which is not altogether surprising for a guy who went to high school in Florida and played his college ball in the ACC. He might have to figure things out on the fly because forecasted conditions suggest that fresh powder could be a distinct possibility. If the conditions aren’t great, however, it might work to Baltimore’s advantage; the Ravens’ running game got going against the Titans, and while Jackson is at his most lethal when he’s able to hit shots downfield to complement his running, he’s still plenty dangerous when utilizing the short passing game and running the ball. Playing at Wyoming, Josh Allen absolutely has more experience with inclement weather than Jackson, and his raw arm strength could be a major factor if conditions include swirling winds. Buffalo won’t have Zack Moss for the rest of the playoffs, robbing them of their most straight-ahead running back, which is going to make Cole Beasley, who himself isn’t close to 100 percent, that much more important on possession downs. The Bills’ defense hasn’t been great this season, and couldn’t get regular stops on Philip Rivers in the wild card round, but they’ll have to be disciplined and tackle better against Jackson and the Ravens.

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2021 first-round NFL mock draft: Four QBs go in Round 1

Posted 1 minute ago | By Seth Trachtman

The NFL regular season is finished, so most of the 2021 draft order is set. Here’s a look at our 2021 NFL mock draft, as of January 11, 2021.1 of 32

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Bob Donnan / USA Today Sports Images

Lawrence might already be getting fitted for his new uniform by the Jaguars. The Clemson star could be the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, with every physical quality scouts like and the track record to back up the pure talent. He finished 2020 completing more than 69% of his passes for 3,153 yards and 24 touchdowns in 10 games, and he also contributed eight rushing scores.

2 of 32

2. New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Derick E. Hingle / USA Today Sports Images

Fields helped himself vs. Clemson in the CFP Semifinal, rebounding from a mediocre game. He’s not quite the pure passer that Trevor Lawerence is, but Fields is a well-rounded, proven winner with huge upside. The Jets’ decision whether to move on from Sam Darnold could be determined by their head coaching hire.

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3. Miami Dolphins (via Texans): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Miami Dolphins (via Texans): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Troy Wayrynen / USA Today Sports Images

Sewell is a generational tackle prospect who should be plug-and-play at left tackle. While the Dolphins revamped their offensive line in 2020 and spent a first-round pick on Austin Jackson, the opportunity to add Sewell could be too good to pass up.

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Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey emotional after Steelers loss

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | By Larry Brown | Last updated 1/11/21

Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey were emotional after their Pittsburgh Steelers lost 48-37 to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night.

The Steelers fell behind 28-0 due to a series of errors early in the game and were unable to come back. Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns, but was intercepted four times.

After the game, he and Pouncey were emotional on the team’s bench.

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NFL world reacts to Bills’ win over Colts in 2021 Super Wild Card Weekend opener

Originally posted on Sportsnaut | By Matt Fitzgerald | Last updated 1/9/21

The Bills defeated the Indianapolis Colts 27-24 to kick off the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend on Saturday, marking Buffalo’s first postseason victory since the 1995 season.

Think about it: Three years after that, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning No. 1 overall and came to expect Super Bowl contention every year. Now, the Bills have a legitimate superstar at quarterback in Josh Allen, who outdueled gusty veteran Philip Rivers to push Buffalo to the AFC divisional round.

Much of the pressure was on Buffalo to get the job done, given its lengthy playoff drought and status as a heavy favorite against the Colts, who were the seventh and final playoff seed in the conference.

The Colts could’ve taken a field goal late in the first half, but opted to go for it on a key fourth down deep in Buffalo territory, only to come up short.

Allen went 26-of-35 passing for 325 yards and two touchdowns, including a beauty in the fourth quarter to Stefon Diggs that put the Bills up 24-10:

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Browns facility closed Friday morning as team awaits COVID-19 test results

By Erin Walsh | Last updated 1/8/21

The Cleveland Browns have not practiced this week leading up to the team’s wild-card round showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, their AFC North rival. It’s unclear if they’ll be able to do so on Friday.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns facility is closed on Friday morning as the team waits for results from its latest round of COVID-19 testing. 

To continue reading the full article, click HERE.

NFL Wild Card Weekend: Picks and preview

By Chris Mueller | Last updated 1/7/21

The NFL made it through their 256-game regular season without any cancellations – just ask them – but not without plenty of COVID-related headaches, and games that were closer to farce than football as a result of the virus. Nevertheless, the playoffs are here, and for the first time in league history, the Wild Card round will feature three games from each conference, and not two. The Chiefs look like the obvious favorites, and Vegas agrees, but they and the Packers get to cool their heels for a week. Cleveland is back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season, but they’ll be without their head coach, Pro Bowl left guard and a handful of other coaches and players. The Rams might not have Jared Goff, while the Ravens and Buccaneers both look dangerous. Buffalo and Baltimore come in on torrid streaks, while the Seahawks and Colts, respectively, have been laying in the weeds, not receiving much attention. Oh, and the Bears are in the playoffs, too. Let’s take a look at this weekend’s games.

Point spreads are from BetOnline.ag and are current as of 4 p.m. ET Thursday.

Pick with spread is in bold.

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INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) AT BUFFALO (13-3) (Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET)

TV: CBS        LINE: Buffalo -6

What you need to know: The Colts are an interesting bunch, possessing both a solid offense and defense, but no distinctive calling card. That may have changed over the final quarter of the season, one that saw the team go 3-1, with a second-half collapse against Pittsburgh standing between them and 4-0. The Colts started to run the ball with aplomb, topping 125 yards in all four games and going for 212 and 273 against the Raiders and Jaguars, respectively. When Indianapolis can achieve balance like that, they become very difficult to beat. The Bills look like the best team in the AFC at the moment. The Bills have won six games in a row, all of them by at least 10 points, and have beaten their last three opponents by 29, 29, and 30 points. Since the calendar turned to December, Josh Allen has completed 70 percent of his passes, tossed 15 touchdowns, run for two more, thrown just two interceptions, and posted a passer rating of 117.5. One point of concern for the Bills is the injury status of Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley; the team’s top two receivers didn’t practice Wednesday, which might cause some issues. That said, while the Colts should provide a test if Buffalo plays the way they have been, it shouldn’t matter.

On the spot: Colts LB Darius Leonard. The Bills are tough enough to beat even when most everything goes right for their opponents; they’re nearly impossible to stop if defenses miss tackles. Leonard has to try to contain Allen when things go off-script, and can’t allow the Bills’ receivers to roam free across the middle.

Bills WR Gabriel Davis: With several of Buffalo’s receivers banged up in one form or fashion, Davis could take on a significantly expanded role in this game; that wouldn’t be a bad thing, necessarily – his seven touchdowns are second on the team, trailing only Diggs.

The pick: Bills 31 Colts 23

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LA RAMS (10-6) AT SEATTLE (12-4) (Saturday, 4:40 p.m. ET)

TV: FOX        LINE: Seattle -3.5

What you need to know: No one has any idea whether or not Jared Goff is going to start for the Rams in this game. Sean McVay is keeping that information close to the vest, though John Wolford played with aggressive abandon in his first-ever NFL game. Wolford’s legs were an issue for Arizona; he ran for 56 yards and kept the Cardinals off-balance. No matter which quarterback starts, the real story for the Rams’ offense, as it always is, is McVay. If he can dial up some mismatches, he should be able to create a handful of big-play opportunities against a much-improved but still suspect Seahawks defense. Los Angeles’ best play is to try to turn the game into a defensive battle and run the ball effectively to keep the ball away from Russell Wilson. For their part, the Seahawks will luck out again if Goff doesn’t play, because their defensive resurgence has been built largely against bad teams and bad quarterbacks. Since stifling Kyler Murray, they’ve faced Colt McCoy (who beat them), Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, Goff, and C.J. Beathard. Are their vastly improved numbers really a byproduct of better play, or worse competition?

On the spot: Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. If Los Angeles is going to win, it is going to be with defense, and Ramsey’s ability to shut down whoever lines up across from him is integral to that effort. Aaron Donald should be able to take care of the pressure, but Ramsey must ensure that Wilson can’t hit any plays over the top.

Seahawks S Jamal Adams: The Rams want to run, and even if Goff plays, they likely won’t try to throw the ball all over the yard, particularly since his thumb isn’t likely 100 percent. That means that Adams’ physicality and blitzing prowess will be even more important. If he wins his battle with Los Angeles’ offense, the Seahawks should win the game.

The pick: Rams 23 Seahawks 21

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TAMPA BAY (11-5) AT WASHINGTON (7-9) (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

TV: NBC        LINE: Tampa Bay -8.5

What you need to know: The Buccaneers look like the team many thought they would be; it just took them over half a season to get there. The Bucs ended the season on a four-game winning streak and averaged 37 points per game in the process. The competition was admittedly weak, but points are points, and moreover, Tom Brady looked razor-sharp. Mike Evans’ status is still up in the air for this game, but considering what it looked like when he got hurt, that he might play at all has to be seen as a win for Tampa. Even if he doesn’t, Brady won’t lack for targets. Antonio Brown has four touchdowns in his last three games and is coming off his first 100-yard game in the season finale against Atlanta. Tampa should also have little trouble stopping Washington on the ground and forcing Alex Smith to try and beat them with a steady short passing game. Washington’s pass rush and secondary are their only chance in this game. They won’t win a shootout with the Bucs – few teams would – but they should be able to get to Brady better than just about any team Tampa has seen all year. Jalen Hurts’ running ability gave Washington problems, but Brady will be stationary by comparison, so that won’t be an issue. The question for the Football Team is simple: Can the secondary hold up long enough for the pass rush to get home?

On the spot: Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs started every game as a rookie, and if he holds up in pass protection, particularly whenever fellow Big Ten alumnus and first-round draft pick Chase Young is opposite him, Tampa Bay will have a very good chance to win, and win comfortably.

Football Team DE Chase Young: Young said this after Washington clinched the NFC East: “Tom Brady, Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom.” Young is great, a superstar in the making, and he made no apologies for what he said. If he backs up his words, Washington has a chance to pull a stunner. If not? It could get ugly.

The pick: Buccaneers 27 Washington Football Team 10

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Josh Allen sets Bills franchise record for most passing yards in a season

By Erin Walsh | Last updated 1/3/21

Josh Allen is in the midst of his best season in a Buffalo Bills uniform, and he set another record on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. 

The 24-year-old set a Bills franchise record with a six-yard pass to Devin Singletary, surpassing Drew Bledsoe for most passing yards in a single season.

To continue reading the full article, click HERE.

NFL world reacts to the Browns clinching first playoff berth since 2002

Originally posted on Sportsnaut | By Vincent Frank | Last updated 1/3/21

The last time the long-downtrodden Cleveland Browns earned a trip to the NFL playoffs was all the way back in 2002. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was a mere seven years old. Head coach Kevin Stefanski was not even old enough to consume adult beverages legally in the United States. Let that sink in for a second.

It didn’t come without COVID-related issues threatening to derail one of the most impressive Cleveland Browns seasons in 35 years. However, the Browns were able to take out a Ben Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers team by the score of 24-22 on Sunday. This clinched a playoff spot for an organization that’s just three years removed from going 0-16.

It really has been something to behold. General manager Andrew Berry has helped build one of the most talented young teams in the NFL. After some major struggles as a sophomore last season, Cleveland Browns quarterback Mayfield has turned it around big-time.

The end result was an 11-5 regular-season record, which is the Browns’ best record since Bill Belichick was their head coach back in 1994. Naturally, the NFL world had much to say.

To continue reading the full article, click HERE.

NFL Week 17: Picks and preview

Posted 18 hours ago | By Chris Mueller

Week 16 was a wild one in the NFL. The Steelers, specifically Ben Roethlisberger, rediscovered their ability to move the ball and score points just in the nick of time, rallying past the Colts and winning the AFC North as a result. The Browns shot themselves in the foot again, losing to the Jets, but Pittsburgh’s win unexpectedly helped Cleveland; they now need only beat the Steelers, who will sit Roethlisberger, and likely several others, to get into the playoffs. The Dolphins looked dead in the water against the Raiders, until some hideous penalties by Las Vegas, and perhaps the latest, greatest Fitz-magic of all time saved them. Brian Flores is standing by Tua Tagovailoa, but if that choice blows up in his face, there will be plenty of time for second-guessing. The Chiefs barely scraped by a game Falcons team and locked up the AFC’s sole bye in the process. The Rams lost a game and Jared Goff, and now must battle the Cardinals in a crucial finale, while the Packers demolished Tennessee. Oh, and the Ravens won their fourth in a row, in dominant fashion, while the NFC East remains a complete mess, with – appropriately – only the Eagles having been eliminated from contention. Multiple playoff spots are up for grabs in Week 17, and there is a very good chance that, for just the second time in league history, an 11-5 team will not qualify. On the flip side, there’s a very real chance that a 6-10 team wins the NFC East. Life isn’t fair, is it?

Point spreads are from BetOnline.ag and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Friday.

NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.

Last Week: 6-10    Season: 118-117-51 of 16

MIAMI (10-5) AT BUFFALO (11-3) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

MIAMI (10-5) AT BUFFALO (11-3) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: NO LINE

What you need to know:  Brian Flores is playing a dangerous game by publicly declaring Tua Tagovailoa as his starter. Ryan Fitzpatrick saved the Dolphins against the Raiders and possibly saved their season. If Tagovailoa starts slowly against a Bills team that may have nothing of any significance to play for in this game, how quick will Flores be with the hook? Will he give him one at all? Everyone put a happy face on things at the moment, but beyond the Fitzpatrick-Tagovailoa interpersonal dynamic, what does the rest of the locker room think? Buffalo made a statement – and likely delighted the rest of the NFL – with their pummeling of the Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Bills had Bill Belichick throwing phones on the sideline and looking helpless against Josh Allen. Buffalo looks like the principal challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC and might be their best foil in the entire league. There isn’t much to play for in this game, save this: If the Bills win, they have a very good chance of avoiding the Ravens, who look like a buzz-saw at this point. Is that reason enough to play the starters? That’s for Sean McDermott to decide. 

On the spot: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa . A positive COVID test for Ryan Fitzpatrick means that Miami doesn’t have its “closer,” and Tagovailoa doesn’t have any safety net if he struggles. The fifth overall pick in this year’s draft needs to play like it. 

Bills HC Sean McDermott: The decision for McDermott is simple, but also not. How long should he play Allen? Should he play him at all? Is there any worth in potentially knocking a division rival out of the playoffs?

The pick: Bills 23 Dolphins 16

BALTIMORE (10-5) AT CINCINNATI (4-10-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

BALTIMORE (10-5) AT CINCINNATI (4-10-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: Baltimore -13

What you need to know:  The Ravens just keep pummeling opponents into dust, and no AFC team is playing better football at the moment. Baltimore has won by an average of 16.2 points during its four-game winning streak, and most heartening for the Ravens is the fact that Lamar Jackson and the passing game appear to be working in crisp, efficient fashion. Though the Bengals have won two in a row, the Ravens look like a juggernaut, and at least at the moment, just maybe the best team in the AFC. As things stand now, the Bengals look like they’ll end up with between the fifth and seventh pick in the 2021 draft, and their modest two-game winning streak may hurt them in the long run, as it meant nothing for this season, and might impact their ability to draft a stud tackle with their top selection. Everything Cincinnati does needs to be geared towards helping Joe Burrow, and elite pass protection is right now at the top of the list for a line that has allowed 48 sacks so far this season. 

On the spot: Ravens HC John Harbaugh The Ravens can’t afford to take this game lightly, but with the way they’ve been rolling, the result should be academic, and pretty early. If that is the case, when does Harbaugh pull his starters?

Bengals WR Tee Higgins:  Higgins has been a bright spot so far for Cincy, and he should end his season by breaking Cris Collinsworth‘s team rookie record for catches – he only needs two. Now he just needs to find his way to the field to play.

The pick: Ravens 30 Bengals 20

PITTSBURGH (12-3) AT CLEVELAND (10-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

PITTSBURGH (12-3) AT CLEVELAND (10-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: NO LINE

What you need to know:  For 30 minutes against Indianapolis, the Steelers looked approximately as offensively inept as they did against the Bengals, with their only touchdown coming courtesy of a turnover that set them up inside the Colts’ 10-yard line. Then, almost miraculously, Ben Roethlisberger came alive, attempting and connecting on a few deep shots, and resuscitating Pittsburgh’s lifeless passing game. The Colts had no answers, and Pittsburgh won a game when trailing by at least 17 in the second half for the first time in Mike Tomlin‘s tenure, securing the AFC North in the process. Oddly enough, Pittsburgh’s rally may have saved Cleveland. The Browns, down their three best receivers and beset by other injuries and absences, laid an egg against the Jets; Baker Mayfield in particular was awful, committing multiple turnovers and missing open receivers, and said as much afterward. That said, the Steelers will start Mason Rudolph, and likely bench other starters, while the Browns should get healthy. Put it all together, and Cleveland has no excuse not to end the league’s longest postseason drought.

On the spot: Steelers QB Mason Rudolph. Rudolph revisits the site of the worst moment of his professional career, and if he can beat the Browns, he’ll knock them out of the playoffs, and perhaps show the Steelers something more positive than what he put on tape last year. 

Browns QB Baker Mayfield:  The Browns are having COVID issues, but they should still beat the Steelers’ jayvee team comfortably. Cleveland drafted Mayfield to come through in situations like this. Will he?

The pick: Browns 31 Steelers 14

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