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The Pittsburgh Steelers Are The Most Dangerous Team In The NFL Playoffs

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were going home early after last week’s game versus the Baltimore Ravens. The team looked lifeless, the passing game looked off and the defense was getting burnt by a bunch of backups that the Ravens had on the field. The Jets, meanwhile, were looking good. They beat the New England Patriots at home and only had to beat the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Steelers have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL and were thought to be out of the playoffs. But in one week, the situation for the playoffs changed in the Steelers’ favor. The Jets went to Buffalo to face their old coach, Rex Ryan. And in their effort to play spoiler, the Bills knocked off the Jets 22-17. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Steelers handled business and knocked off the Browns 28-12 to go into the playoffs. And now a team that many thought were done is back in the playoffs. And just like that, some trepidation just came from teams in the AFC.

The Steelers have not played consistently all season. The perfect example is their last two games of the season. They showed up against the Browns today but mailed it in against the Ravens the week before. But what scares many is the weapons that they have. Through good drafting, they have created the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. Their best receiver (and arguably the best receiver in the NFL), Antonio Brown, does a little bit of everything. He may not be the tallest of guys, but he uses his quickness, route-running and smarts to make things happen each and every game. You would think that most teams would put more coverage towards him, but the Steelers have another weapon on the opposite side that craves attention from defenses as well. Second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant has been getting it done ever since he returned from his four-game suspension to start the season. He has over 700 yards receiving in the ten games he played and he also accounted for six touchdowns. He scored his touchdowns in a myriad of different ways just like his counterpart, Antonio Brown. For a guy his size (6’4”) he is very fast and is a homerun threat from any point on the field he catches it. And as we all saw, he took some short passes the distance and he also burned defensive backs on deep patterns. These two are dangerous, but what takes this wide receiver corps to the next level is the development of wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The third-year wide receiver from Oregon State is enjoying his best season as a pro. Wheaton has accumulated almost 700 yards receiving despite having twelve less receptions from last season and he also has doubled his touchdown production (up to four from two touchdowns last season). And like Bryant and Brown, he can take it to the house from any point on the field. Guarding these three can make any defender sweat a little more. And with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger extending plays a lot, their opponents are often at their mercy.

The wide receiving group has been downright scary all year long. But there is one other guy that helps make this team as dangerous as they are. In the offseason, running back DeAngelo Williams was deciding where he wanted to play. He was no longer with the Carolina Panthers and wanted to go somewhere that he had a chance of winning. The place he chose was Pittsburgh, as he agreed to a two-year deal worth $4 million. It was thought that he would get some playing time in his first two games due to Le’Veon Bell being suspended for the first two games. Williams performed well in those first two games, averaging over 100 yards rushing in those two performances while scoring a total of three touchdowns. But when Bell was back, it was expected that he would go back to his backup role. But when Bell went down for the season on November 1st against the Bengals, Williams resumed the role as the starter. And it seems the Steelers have not even missed a beat. Williams has been the biggest bargain in football this season, giving the Steelers 899 yards rushing and scoring 11 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy that was not expected to have this much of the workload this season. He was injured against the Browns in the season finale, but it is expected that he will play in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. His running gives the Steelers offensive balance and makes defenses have to play the Steelers honest. And just like Le’Veon Bell, he can also be effective in the passing game, where he averaged 9.3 yards per reception and totaled 354 yards.

The Steelers’ offense is one of the most explosive in the league. And they will have to be on top of their game to make up for their defense, which has not been as tough as they usually are (ranked 22nd overall and 30th against the pass). If the Steelers’ defense is able to get at least three or four stops a game in the playoffs, then they will be in the driver’s seat and the pressure will shift to the opponent’s offense. And in the playoffs with the pressure picked up, the battle-tested Steelers have some players that have been to there before. The team no one wanted to see in the playoffs has made it. And with that, the Steelers are the most dangerous team in the playoffs.

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After Signing A New Megadeal With The Carolina Panthers, The Pressure Is On Cam Newton

Cam Newton is all smiles after striking a huge deal with the Carolina Panthers (Photo Credit: www.sportsmasher.com)

Cam Newton is all smiles after striking a huge deal with the Carolina Panthers (Photo Credit: http://www.sportsmasher.com)

The Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton had been quiet on the contract front for a while now. Everyone knew he was getting dangerously close to free agency and a potential franchise tag from the team. But no one knew what the Panthers had planned for Newton until now. There were some that thought a new deal was a formality, but there were no facts to go behind it. Well, the Panthers had apparently been working quietly with Newton on getting a new contract that would pay him like he was one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. And on Tuesday, the Panthers and Newton agreed to a deal that paid him like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The deal is for five years and $103.8 million with $60 million in guaranteed money. Now the drama and suspense can be taken out of who will be under center for the Panthers and now cements Newton as their long-term cornerstone at the quarterback position. With the team coming off two straight playoff appearances, the momentum of the team is still at a good level and this keeps the excitement around them. But there have to be some concerns in regards to this signing.

Cam Newton has been a much scrutinized player through his career. The biggest thing that many detest about him is his body language. When things aren’t going good with the team or he is not playing well, Cam can be seen on the sidelines with a somber or disappointed look on his face. From some observers’ perspective, they see Cam as someone that cannot dig through the tough things when they happen. For a team that is seeing him as a leader, they have to be able to count on him to lead them when the times get tough. If they cannot depend on him to lead him through those times, then they are signing up the wrong guy to lead them where they want to go. Of course we all don’t know what is going through his head in these instances. After all, he may be just frustrated at that moment in time and the camera just could have caught him at that particular moment. Whether he was upset or not, the fact remains that sometimes he does not realize that his leadership is not only what he says and does, but how he reacts to adversity and literally his face in that time. Being the face of the franchise and handsomely-paid as well, the attention will be even more on him as the Panthers surge forward with him at the helm.

Another thing to think about when it comes to Newton is his progression as a quarterback. Newton is a great athlete and with his size and speed, he is a real threat when he runs the football. But to take it to another level, he has to be able to make it happen in the passing game more. A big part of that issue is the weapons he has had over his career. For example, he has had two overpaid and underproductive running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for most of his career and if you look at the wide receivers he has had over his time as a Panther, he has never had two good receivers along with a good tight end all at one time. And what hurts this team even more is the team seems to not want to surround Newton with offensive linemen that can protect him at all times. If the team could get these issues resolved, then maybe they would be more dangerous offensively. But until then, they have paid Newton to work like makeup does for women and cover their offensive blemishes. In order for Newton to cover up those blotches on their offense, Newton has to get his completion percentage over 60%. That task will be tough with limited weapons offensively, but the Panthers are paying Newton to be that difference-maker offensively and take the team on his back. And along with the accuracy, Newton has to have a better touchdown-to-interception ratio. His had 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season. That is not the stats of a star quarterback that is supposed to lead a team to a new level. In order for them to go to the next level, he at least has to have two times as many touchdowns as he does interceptions.

The signing of the Newton was something that the Panthers had to do. They could not lose him and start over at the quarterback position again. The last steady quarterback they had for a while before Newton was Jake Delhomme and his last good season in Carolina was in 2005. Now what the Panthers do around Newton is the next thing to see. As the team stands, they do not have enough to make it to the ultimate goal: a Super Bowl title. But the good thing is the cap is expected to rise to $160 million and that will give the Panthers room to add more players and keep their good players intact. The Panthers need to use the draft and free agency next to build around Newton and enhance the offense as well. If they Panthers are able to do that within the next few years and keep their defense playing at the level they are, this signing could be the beginning of some big things. There is some pressure on the team to make some moves, but ultimately the success of the team begins and ends with Cam Newton. It should be interesting to see how he does moving forward.

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