Fri Dec 4 5:59pm ET
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Columnist
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24) runs away from Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) pressures him during the second half of an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, right, greets Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) after an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 19-14. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) greets Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (24) after an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 19-14. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates after a touchdown catch next to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tramon Williams during the second half of an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
It's comforting to see the Pittsburgh Steelers back atop the NFL.
In a topsy-turvy world that's gone completely off the rails in 2020, the franchise that hardly ever changes coaches - the great Mike Tomlin is their third in 52 seasons - and clings to the ''Steeler Way'' no matter the era is just what we needed.
Pittsburgh has become only the 12th team in the Super Bowl age to start a season 11-0, providing a welcome dose of stability amid the chaos of positive tests and rescheduled games and eerily quiet stadiums.
Frankly, the Steelers haven't been all that impressive in building their perfect record, but that's OK.
Those familiar black-and-gold uniforms, with the iconic logo on just one side of the helmet, are like a warm, reassuring blanket, helping us cope with the grimmest of winters.
If there's one thing we've always been able to count on, it's the Steelers.
A single family, the Rooneys, has owned the franchise since its founding in 1933. With the hiring of Chuck Noll in 1969, the Steelers embarked on an era of unprecedented equilibrium even as the league - and the world - changed greatly all around them.
Noll coached the Steelers for 23 years, winning four Super Bowl titles before his retirement. Bill Cowher took over in 1992 and added another championship to the ledger during his 15-year reign. Then the torch was passed to Tomlin, who was just 34 years old with a single season as a coordinator on his resume when he landed the job. He's been to a pair of Super Bowls, becoming the youngest coach and second Black coach to win the title during the 2008 season.
Compare that with any other franchise in the NFL - or any other major league sport, for that matter.
The rival Cleveland Browns have employed more head coaches in the past three seasons than the Steelers have had in the last 52. In all, the Browns have gone through 21 coaches since 1969 (and they were dormant for three seasons after the original team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens).
For those NFL teams that were around at the end of the `60s, the Dallas Cowboys have employed the next-fewest number of coaches since then with nine - largely because of Tom Landry's reign.
As with his two predecessors, Tomlin's hiring was an inspired one. While he is often overlooked when the league's top coaches are ranked, there is little doubt that he's as good as anyone not named Belichick. Any discussion of the Steelers' sustained success must begin with Tomlin - a gritty, no-nonsense leader who is perfect for this team and its blue-collar city.
''He's one of the greatest coaches I ever worked for,'' said Raheem Morris, interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who spent a couple of seasons with Tomlin when both were assistants at Tampa Bay many years ago. ''If you don't see the benefits of him being the coach of that football team, shame on you. He comes every day with the same mentality, the same approach, which is greatness.''
Tomlin is the epitome of the ''Steeler Way,'' which essentially comes down to sticking with those you hire for the long haul, drafting wisely, developing your picks, and rarely splurging in free agency. If you're stirring up trouble in the locker room, you won't be around for long - no matter how talented you might be. Antonio Brown learned that lesson the hard way.
In general, there's not a lot of turnover from year to year, which was especially useful during this most unusual of seasons. With offseason workouts scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Steelers were able to cope better than most teams. They weren't breaking in a bunch of new players. They didn't have to adjust to a new coach or widespread changes to the staff.
Even now, when the Steelers are in the midst of playing three games in 12 days because of schedule changes forced by COVID-19, they don't seem flustered.
''I turned from being upset, because you're so dialed in, to it just being funny, like `OK, whatever now,''' quarterback and MVP candidate Ben Roethlisberger said Friday. ''Whatever they tell us to do, just go play.''
Noll's first three seasons ended with losing records as he built up what had been a woebegone franchise into one of the league's greatest dynasties, winning four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period.
Longer-lasting was the framework he established that seemed to ensure the Steelers would never go through an extended period of losing. Pittsburgh has finished .500 or better in 42 of the past 49 seasons. Only twice over that timeframe have the Steelers endured as many as two straight losing campaigns (1985-86 under Noll, 1998-99 under Cowher).
The Steelers missed the playoffs the last two seasons, which put Tomlin on a bit of a hot seat to avoid their first three-year drought since 1998-2000. Naturally, his team responded with the greatest start in franchise history.
Which is not to say they've been overpowering. The Steelers went down to the last play against the Cowboys and fill-in quarterback Garrett Gilbert. They went down to the last possession against the underwhelming Denver Broncos. They struggled Wednesday to hold off a Baltimore team missing its MVP quarterback and ravaged by COVID-19.
In the end, this season will be remembered for the final game. Even if the Steelers become only the second team go unbeaten in a 16-game regular season, they won't be judged a success unless they're holding up the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in a dozen seasons.
That's the Steeler Way.
If their Super Bowl aspirations don't pan out, Pittsburgh will surely be right back in the thick of the things next season.
That's the Steeler Way, too.
In a wacky world, there's something comforting in that.
Free-agent WR Martavis Bryant (Raiders) signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League Monday, Jan. 25.
Chicago Bears impending free-agent RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson is likely a player the Bears will look to re-sign this offseason.
Detroit Lions impending free-agent WR Marvin Jones could be an option for the Tennessee Titans if the Titans decide not to re-sign impending free-agent WR Corey Davis this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Turron Davenport.
Fantasy Spin: Jones is coming off a terrific season and should receive interest from multiple teams in free agency. He would be a starter if he signed with the Titans and can be at least a No. 3 fantasy receiver no matter where he signs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Jordan Whitehead's (shoulder) availability for Super Bowl LV is uncertain at this point because of the shoulder injury he suffered during the NFC Championship game, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews is one of the players the team will try to sign to a contract extension, according to general manager Eric DeCosta.
Fantasy Spin: Andrews is a big part of the passing game for the Ravens and probably will receive a new deal at some point this offseason. He should be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues in 2021.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense was shredded by Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the first quarter of their Week 12 matchup, as Hill went off for 203 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns. Cornerback Carlton Davis was left on an island with Hill, and it didn't yield pretty results. "We'll help a little bit more than we did in that ballgame," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. Tampa's D allowed 462 yards passing to quarterback Patrick Mahomes and three touchdowns. Hill finished with 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches (only 59 yards in the second half). Tight end Travis Kelce had eight catches for 82 yards. With offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz out, Bucs pass-rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul must get pressure on Mahomes to have a chance at getting last year's Super Bowl MVP out of his rhythm.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (leg) suffered a broken fibula in the Week 16 game against the New England Patriots. Beasley sat out the regular season finale in Week 17 before catching 14 passes for 145 yards in three postseason games against the Colts, Ravens and Chiefs. "It was bad the first game I played but after that, you take a few meds and suck it up," Beasley said with a chuckle. The injury wasn't a full break, but Beasley said it was painful in the wild-card win over the Colts. The 31-year-old veteran hauled in seven of his nine targets for 88 yards in the AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. Beasley set career-highs in catches (82), targets (107), receiving yards (967) and yards per catch (11.8) while visiting the end zone four times in 15 regular season games in 2020. He'll be back as Josh Allen's most trusted third-down weapon in 2021 and will be more expensive in PPR leagues as a result of his career-best season.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said that the team could reach a long-term contract extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson this offseason, and the GM plans to speak to the reigning NFL MVP in the next 10 days. Jackson just finished his third season and will command at least $40 million per season on an extension. He's scheduled to make $1.77 million in 2021 on the final year of his rookie deal, which currently ranks 25th among QBs in base salary. "[He] certainly deserves a contract," DeCosta said. Jackson has won more games (30) than any other QB since he took over as the team's starter in 2018 and became the fastest QB in history to reach 30 regular season wins (37 games). Jackson is also the first in NFL history to produce 5,000 yards passing and 2,500 yards rushing in his first three seasons. The young signal-caller has been more effective with his legs than his arm and has won just one playoff game, but Jackson should be locked up long term in Baltimore and will be a top-five fantasy QB yet again in 2021.
Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley are expected to interview for a second time for the Houston Texans head coaching vacancy, according to multiple sources. Frazier is expected to interview Tuesday, Jan. 26, while Culley's interview date has yet to be disclosed.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (leg) told reporters Monday, Jan. 25, that he broke his fibula in Week 16 but that it wasn't a full break. He also added that he won't need surgery.
Fantasy Spin: Considering he was able to play with the injury throughout the postseason, Beasley should be ready for offseason work if the league allows teams to hold OTAs and minicamps. Otherwise, he should be fine well in advance of training camp. Beasley just finished the season in which he set career highs with 82 catches and 967 yards. He should be viewed as a low-end WR3/high-end WR4 in fantasy drafts this spring and summer.
The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to terms with former Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen on Monday as their new offensive coordinator, according to a source. Steichen was key in the development of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in 2020. New head coach Nick Sirianni and Steichen worked together with the Chargers for four years until Sirianni left for the Colts in 2018. Steichen started coaching in the NFL in Cleveland in 2013 as a quality control coach. He left for San Diego the following season and was their quality control coach for 2014-15. The 35-year-old took over the Chargers offense last season and helped nurture Herbert to a record-setting rookie season. Steichen will try and help Carson Wentz rebuild after the worst season of his career.
New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is expected to become the new offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, according to sources. New head coach Brandon Staley played under Lombardi for one year at Mercyhurst University in 2005 when Lombardi was the offensive coordinator. Lombardi is the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi and was the offensive coordinator for the Lions in 2014-15, but he was fired after a 1-6 start in his second year. He started his NFL career as a defensive assistant with the Falcons in 2006 before being hired by the Saints as an offensive assistant in 2007. Lombardi spent 12 seasons working with head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans and has also tutored QBs Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston in recent seasons. He'll be tasked with working with Justin Herbert, who became the youngest QB in history to throw 30 touchdowns in his rookie season.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was uncertain about his future after the team's 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship on Sunday. The 37-year-old is expected to win the MVP this year and is under contract through the 2023 season via the $134 million extension he signed in 2018. But the Packers also drafted Jordan Love, Rodgers' possible replacement, in the first round last year. Rodgers threw 48 touchdowns and only five interceptions in the regular season in 2020, but he also became the first QB in NFL history to lose four straight appearances in a conference championship. If Green Bay were to move on from Rodgers this offseason, they'd save just $4.76 million on the salary cap and would have $31.556 million in dead money. Rodgers may be contemplating retirement, but the Packers want him back and he'd be a high-end QB1 if he does return after going 33-for-48 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the loss to Tampa to end the season.
The Los Angeles Chargers are hiring Denver Broncos defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill as their new defensive coordinator on Monday, according to sources. Hill worked with head coach Brandon Staley in Denver in 2019 and played in the league for a decade. Staley said last week that he will be making the defensive play calls in his first season as head coach in LA. Hill will be replacing Gus Bradley, who left to become the defensive coordinator for the Las Vegas Raiders. Hill will help oversee a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL last year and features three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa, rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and standout safety Derwin James, who missed all of 2020 with a knee injury.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson could sign an extension this offseason, according to general manager Eric DeCosta, who will begin talks with Jackson in 10 days.
Fantasy Spin: Jackson ended up the QB10 in traditional leagues as he missed a game due to COVID-19. With the emergence of Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and others, the position has become pretty loaded. Dak Prescott (leg) is expected back to join the flux of QB1s. A midrange QB1 is probably where Jackson is supposed to be considering the plights he faces through the air. Don't overdraft him for the rushing numbers next season because the gap has narrowed.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen completed 28 of his 48 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and rushed seven times for 88 yards in a 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24. RB Devin Singletary was bottled up, rushing for 17 yards and six carries and gaining nine yards on two catches. WR Cole Beasley had seven grabs for 88 yards, WR Stefon Diggs had six receptions on 11 targets for 77 yards, and TE Dawson Knox caught six balls for 42 yards and a touchdown. WR Isaiah McKenzie caught a six-yard touchdown pass on his only reception, and RB T.J. Yeldon had seven touches for 56 total yards. S Jordan Poyer led the defense with eight tackles, including six solo stops.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill put together another strong performance on Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Hill caught nine of his 11 targets for a team high 172 yards against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Hill wasn't able to get a touchdown in this contest, but he was dominant nonetheless. Hill has had a phenomenal season and he will look to keep that going versus a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense in Super Bowl 55. He remains one of the best at his position and will be a top option for those participating in DFS.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes completed 29 of his 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24. WR Tyreek Hill had nine catches for 172 yards, and TE Travis Kelce had 13 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. WR Mecole Hardman had two catches for four yards and a score to go along with a 50-yard run and a lost fumble on special teams. RB Darrel Williams rushed 13 times for 52 yards and a touchdown and added one catch for nine yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had six carries for seven yards and a score. LB Frank Clark recorded a pair of sacks, and S Juan Thornhill broke up four passes.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored a touchdown in his return to action versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. The rookie player a minor role on Sunday with Darrel Williams being the featured back and Le'Veon Bell (knee) inactive. CEH picked up just seven yards on six carries and caught one of his two targets for zero yards, but it was good to see him return to action for the first time since injuring his ankle and hip in Week 15. Edwards-Helaire will now have two weeks to rest up before facing a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense in the Super Bowl and he should be avoided in DFS for that contest.
Kansas City Chiefs running Darrel Williams rushed the ball 13 times for 52 yards and a touchdown versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Williams has performed well with Clyde Edwards-Helaire sidelined, but the rookie returned on Sunday and figures to play a bigger role in the future. Williams will also have to compete with Le'Veon Bell (knee) who was inactive on Sunday and could return for the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are a pass heavy team and will face a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense Super Bowl 55. That will make Williams a risky option in DFS.