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Steelers vs. Bills: Which team is better built to challenge Chiefs in the AFC playoffs?

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Steelers vs. Bills: Which team is better built to challenge Chiefs in the AFC playoffs?

The Steelers and Bills are playing each other in a big Week 14 game on Sunday night. In reality, at the end of the 2020 NFL season on the road to Super Bowl 55, the only thing that matters is what either can do against the Chiefs.

Pittsburgh (11-1) would be the No. 1 seed if the AFC playoffs started now. Buffalo (9-3) is trying to rise from the No. 3 seed. But in between at the No .2, reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City (12-1) is the team still looming large as a strong favorite to repeat as conference champions.

The Chiefs, early in the season, took care of the Texans, Ravens and Patriots — the three teams that used to be their toughest competition. At the same time, the Chiefs have seen a new wave of challengers pop up, led by the Steelers, whom they don’t play and the Bills, whom they beat in Week 6.

While the AFC runner-up Titans, Browns and Colts also are in the playoff picture, by record and by reputation, the Steelers and Bills stand out. But which of those two teams is better equipped to bring down the Chiefs head-to-head, in either the divisional round or AFC title game?

MORE: How Steelers, Bills can clinch NFL playoff spots on in Week 14

Steelers vs. Chiefs

1. Pass defense vs. Patrick Mahomes

This is the first thing you need to stop the Chiefs. They trust Mahomes with a high volume in the most prolific passing offense in the league. Incredibly, in averaging nearly 40 attempts per game as the only team that averages 300 passing yards plus per game, they have allowed only 16 sacks and Mahomes has throw only two interceptions.

The Steelers are the best pass-rushing team in the NFL and second-best overall pass defense after he Rams. But they took a hit in losing Bud Dupree from the edge for the season and their older cornerbacks, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, are battling some attrition late. The Steelers can also have major lapses in allowing big plays downfield, which spells disaster against Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and the rest of the Chiefs’ speedsters.

The Steelers’ stout run defense is irrelevant in this equation because the Chiefs have proved they are fine abandoning it when needed with Andy Reid. The Steelers also can be vulnerable in tight end coverage against the most athletic receivers at that position, which isn’t great for stopping Travis Kelce.

2. Rushing offense vs. Chiefs’ defense

The Chiefs went into Week 14 with the No. 27-ranked run defense, their carryover weakness from their Super Bowl run. They have been allowing a healthy 4.8 yards per carry and a heavy 132.4 rushing yards per game.

The Steelers have struggled to run the ball all season as their offensive line hasn’t been the same in pushing opponents around and James Conner, with his durability issues, has had limited effectiveness as the featured power back. Going into Week 14, only the sub-.500 Bengals, Bears and Texans average fewer rushing yards than the Steelers (92.6). Their 3.7 yards per carry is tied for worst in the league.

The key to beating the Chiefs is balancing ball control to keep Mahomes off the field and also making sure to get enough explosive pass plays to match him. The Raiders did just that to upset the Chiefs in their only loss, and failed to do all of that right twice.

There have been concerns about the Steelers’ lack of a reliable rushing attack all season, and whether that will hurt them in January when their quarterback, relying on mostly short-to-intermediate passing to move the ball, isn’t as well positioned to win shootouts.

3. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Patrick Mahomes

That quarterback is Roethlisberger. He’s been smart in adjusting his game after a season lost to a right elbow injury. He’s getting the ball out quickly knowing his arm limitations at age 38. He’s been sacked only 10 times. 

But Roethlsiberger also is ranked No. 24 in intended air yards per attempt (average depth of target) going into Week 14 at 6.9. Mahomes in contrast has been one of the league’s best at 8.2 such yards per attempt.

The Steelers can still burn teams with calculated deep shots to wide receivers, namely Chase Claypool and James Washington. But with their rushing limitations, much of their offense is short-to-intermediate passes to Claypool, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Eric Ebron. 

Pittsburgh’s dinking and dunking is its form of ball control. Only the Packers and Saints have had a greater time of possession this season, improving on the Raiders’ style of moving and maintaining the ball.

But the Steelers have had only 18 pass plays go for more than 25 yards, which puts them down near the bottom of the league, near some anemic all-around offenses. The Chiefs’ zone defense is sharp inside-out because of fine safety play, led by Tyrann Mathieu. Not running the ball and getting compressed in the passing game isn’t the most inspiring formula for success against that group.

Bills vs. Chiefs

1. Pass defense vs. Patrick Mahomes

The Bills went into Week 14 with the No. 20 pass defense, allowing on average a shade under 250 yards per game. But they crack the top dozen with their 30 sacks and are No. 13 with their 10 interceptions. Unlike the Steelers, however, they are a shaky run defense, ranked No. 24 in allowing on average 126 rushing yards per game at 4.7 yards per carry.

The Chiefs may be fine with Mahomes throwing, but with rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and veteran Le’Veon Bell, they haven’t minded running when the situation and matchup calls for it. Edwards-Helaire ripped through the Bills with 26 carries for 161 yards in Week 6, a 26-17 Chiefs win. Mahomes didn’t go nuts throwing, but he was hyper-efficient, needing only 26 attempts to throw for 225 yards and 2 TDs.

The Bills did well to take away the deep shots to Hill, which kept them in the game. But Mahomes simply shredded them underneath playing off the run to Kelce, who scored two TDs, and Demarcus Robinson. For the rematch, the Chiefs will have one more tricky receiver to cover in former Bill Sammy Watkins.

The risk of stopping the quick strikes from Mahomes is letting him be methodical and keep the ball away from one’s own offense. That happened to the Bills, as the Chiefs’ offense was on the field for nearly 38 minutes.

2. Rushing offense vs. Chiefs’ defense

The Bills haven’t been consistent running the ball and go into Week 14 at No. 23, averaging 102.4 rushing yards per game. Part of it has been offensive line injuries and limitations. Another part is Allen not scrambling as much. The third is the fact that young backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss haven’t always found the right holes.

Regardless, the Bills can be considered fully a “passing team” now. Their strength is the depth of dynamic playmakers, from Stefon Diggs to Isaiah McKenzie and Gabriel Davis. When Allen gets in a comfortable groove throwing downfield, the offense tends to get into a zone. The Bills still average 25 rushes per game, so they can stick with the run if they need to, beyond keeping defenses honest.

3. Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes

Allen is high on the list for intended air yards per attempt/average depth of target. He’s wedged right there right behind Mahomes, matching Carr this season so far at 8.0.

Allen profiles much better than Roethlisberger to win a pure passing shootout with Mahomes when it comes down to it. The Bills have also showed the greater upside in running to create more balance for Allen, and his own capacity to run for chunks and close drives in the red zone are a big asset over Roethlisberger.

The Bills’ defense isn’t as formidable as the Steelers’, but it will take a team that can go up and down the field with Mahomes and outscore the Chiefs, instead of trying to limit their scoring and turn the matchup into a defensive slugfest. The Steelers might match the Chiefs in the standings in 2020, but the Bills have emerged as the bigger offensive-minded obstacle in front of repeating.

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NFL odds, lines, point spreads: Updated betting information for picking NFC, AFC championship games

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NFL odds, lines, point spreads: Updated betting information for picking NFC, AFC championship games

There are only two 2021 playoff games left before the big on Feb. 7, Super Bowl 55. Both the NFC and AFC championship games will be decided on Sunday.

Tom Brady’s No. 5 seed Buccaneers travel to take on Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 seed Packers in Lambeau Field in the first contest (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox). Then it’s Josh Allen’s No. 2 seed Bills playing at Patrick Mahomes’ No. 1 seed Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

Based on tight game spreads, these penultimate matchups were meant to be. Based on recent play and some current injuries, the on-paper pregame advantages are pretty much down to the natural edges that come with home fields. Both Green Bay and Kansas City will have limited attendance of fans to try to help the teams advance against much tougher opponents from the divisional round.

Here’s the betting information you need to know for the two games plus a selection of best bets for the weekend. For more expert NFL predictions, check out Sporting News’ picks straight up and against the spread for Buccaneers vs. Packers and Bills vs. Chiefs:

MORE NFL PLAYOFFS:
AFC & NFC bracket | TV schedule | Super Bowl picks

NFL odds for conference championship games games

Below are the latest NFC and AFC championship game odds, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to the DraftKings sportsbook:

Last updated: Sunday, Jan. 24

NFL conference championship game point spreads

Game Spread
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers GB -3.5
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs KC -3.5

NFL conference championship game money lines

Game Moneyline
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers TB +155, GB -180
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs BUF +145 KC -167

NFL conference championship game over/unders

Game Over/Under
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers 51.5
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs 54.5

NFL best bets for conference championship games

1. Buccaneers +3.5

The Buccaneers are a good bet to win straight up in another road upset but that extra half-point makes them really attractive even as potential losers. The game figures to be very close and come down to the final possession for either team.

2. Buccaneers at Packers OVER 52

There’s just too much offensively available for both teams and there should be strong belief that both Brady and Rodgers perform at a high level to facilitate frequent scoring. Notably, the number went up from 51.5 later in the week.

3. Chiefs -3.5

This consistent number was clearly based on the iffy injury status of Mahomes, but he has been cleared to play. The Chiefs are simply better than the Bills in many areas with him and deserve more respect than the natural home-field advantage. Jump on a line that suggests the Chiefs and Bills are even on a neutral field.

4. Bills at Chiefs UNDER 54

The Chiefs will be playing another grinding game with rushing and defensive success regardless of Mahomes playing. Allen really had trouble with the Chiefs’ pressure and coverage the first time and the Bills don’t run well.

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Coach K belittles Duke student reporter instead of examining own flailing team

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Coach K belittles Duke student reporter instead of examining own flailing team

Maybe what Mike Krzyzewski didn’t like was the challenge to his authority by a journalist.

Because he shouldn’t have been upset about the question, which was absolutely fair under the circumstances. And he shouldn’t have cared about the age of Duke Chronicle reporter Jake Piazza, who as an independent scribe had every right to be there. So perhaps when he unleashed his snark-filled response to the student reporter Saturday night after Duke lost 70-65 to Louisville and fell to 5-5 this season, he was just upset someone would confront his failure so directly.

It’s a mindset found consistently in the college ranks, where the heads of basketball and football programs double as university deities in many parts of the country.

“I’m just curious as to what the next step forward is for the team as you guys move into another week of basketball,” the reporter asked Coach K on a virtual news conference not long after Duke had turned the ball over 15 times while dishing just seven assists.

Not the most incisive query, to be sure, but one worth putting forward as Duke continues its worst start to a season in decades.

It was enough for Krzyzewski to dig in.

“Why don’t we just evaluate this game?” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not into what our next step forward is right now. We just finished a hard-fought game. What’s your major? What’s your major at Duke? What’s your hardest class?”

When the reporter answered that he was an economics major, Krzyzewski continued, “OK, say you just had the toughest econ test in the world, and when you walked out, somebody asked you, ‘What’s your next step?’ You see what I mean? Do you have some empathy? Just give us time to evaluate this game and we’ll figure it out, just like we always try to do.”

MORE: Auburn’s Sharife Cooper on an outrageous five-game streak

Coaches say far worse things to young interviewers — hazing rituals often target the most anxious and inexperienced questioners. It doubles as a sort of “test” from coach to reporter.

But what’s the point of the intimidation tactic? Why do the very people tasked with guiding the lives of teenage athletes — and who work those players as if they were paid pros — think it’s reasonable to belittle journalists of any stripe?

In the end, the exchange between Coach K and the Duke Chronicle reporter probably served as a different type of learning experience than intended. Rather than discourage tough questions, Krzyzewski shattered the illusion of his own infallibility. Now the writer knows the people he covers are not worth the pedestal many place them on, and that when he touches a nerve with a probe, it’s a sign he might be on the right track.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know how Duke plans to avoid its first NCAA Tournament miss since 1995.

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Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2 live fight updates, results, highlights from UFC 257

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Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2 live fight updates, results, highlights from UFC 257

The highly anticipated return of Conor McGregor is set to take place Saturday night (Sunday morning local time) when the former two-division champion meets old rival Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

A lot has changed since McGregor stopped Poirier in the first round more than six years ago at UFC 178. McGregor became the biggest star in the UFC while also becoming the first fighter to hold world titles in two divisions simultaneously. Poirier, meanwhile, built himself back up with marquee wins over Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway, Dan Hooker and Justin Gaethje while also claiming the interim UFC lightweight title.

MORE: McGregor poised to become the best version of himself after finding calm amid chaos

Aside from their accomplishments, both McGregor and Poirier have seen their lives change outside the Octagon. Both have become fathers and are now fighting for more than just themselves. 

Unlike their first meeting, there has been no bad blood; McGregor appears to have put his controversial past behind him and will enter the Octagon as a competitor who has seemingly found a new reason for fighting. Poirier made the mistake of allowing McGregor to get into his head before their first fight; this time, a seasoned and mature fighter will stand across the cage from the sport’s biggest star as he attempts to stake his claim as the best lightweight in the world 

There is a lot at stake in this fight as Khabib Nurmagomedov remains retired. The winner will certainly be near the front of the line for a title opportunity while the loser will fall to the back of the pack.

The co-main event features another pair of lightweights who are jockeying for position in the title picture. Michael Chandler will make his UFC debut against the battle-tested Dan Hooker. Chandler arrives after a stint in Bellator, where he is widely recognized as one of the greatest fighters ever in that organization. Can he prove that he’s worthy of having his name among the best in the UFC, too, or will Hooker turn back the challenge?  

Sporting News is tracking live fight updates and highlights from Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2. Follow below for complete results from UFC 257’s main event and undercard.

MORE: Save over 30% when you buy UFC 257 and an ESPN+ Annual Plan for only $89.98

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier live updates, highlights from UFC 257

9:41 p.m.: The final fight on the televised prelims is up next and takes place under curious circumstances. Matt Frevola takes on Arman Tsarukyan in a catchweight bout. Frevola was originally set to take on Ottman Azaitar until Azaitar was removed from the card, and the UFC, for violating COVID-19 safety protocols after attempting to sneak a teammate into his hotel room in Abu Dhabi. It was absurd and cost Azaitar his UFC career. Fortunately for Frevola, Tsarukyan needed an opponent after Nasrat Haqparast was removed due to illness. And here we are. 

9:37 p.m.: Brad Tavares earned a decision over Antonio Carlos Junior in middleweight action. The takedown defense from Tavares was impressive as he prevented “Shoeface” from bringing the fight to the canvas. He also showcased some solid counterstriking. That performance is a start for Tavares as he attempts to work his way up the middleweight ladder.  

9:01 p.m.: Just when you thought we were heading to another decision, Pena managed to get McMann’s back in the final round and cinch in a rear-naked choke to earn the submission victory. It’s a win that Pena needed to end a skid as she tries to work her way back into title contention. The best part was that Pena called out Amanda Nunes and accused the champion of “ducking” her. Interesting. 

 

 

8:45 p.m.: Welcome to Sporting News’ coverage of UFC 257: McGregor vs. Poirier 2. As we continue through the prelims, we have had a stretch of three consecutive decisions. Sara McMann and Julianna Pena are up now. Will this fight also be decided by the judges or will Pena or McMann take it out of their hands. 

McGregor vs. Poirier 2 start time

  • Early prelims: 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Prelims: 8 p.m. ET
  • Main card: 10 p.m. ET
  • Live stream: ESPN+

The main card of UFC 257 is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. ET, following the early prelims (6:30 p.m. ET) and preliminaries (8 p.m. ET).

How to watch McGregor vs. Poirier 2 on PPV

  • UFC 257 early prelims TV channel: ESPN+, UFC FIght Pass
  • UFC 257 prelims TV channel: ESPN+, ESPN 2
  • UFC 257 main card channel: ESPN+ (pay-per-view)

The early prelims and preliminaries at UFC 257 are free to watch on ESPN+ for those who are already subscribed to the streaming service. The pay-per-view portion (i.e., the main card) can be purchased for $69.99. New subscribers can pay a bundle price of $89.99, which includes the fight and an annual subscription to ESPN+.

Click here to learn about the different pricing and bundling options with the ESPN+ platform.

UFC 257 fight card

Main card

  • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier; lightweights
  • Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler; lightweights 
  • Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood; women’s flyweights 
  • Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas; women’s strawweights 
  • Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov; middleweights 

Prelims

  • Matt Frevola vs. Arman Tsarukyan; catchweight (157 pounds)
  • Brad Tavares def. Antonio Carlos Junior via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27 & 29-28) 
  • Julianna Pena def. Sara McMann via 3rd round submission (3:39)
  • Marcin Prachnio def. Khalil Rountree Jr. via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28 & 29-28)

Early prelims

  • Movsar Evloev def. Nik Lentz via split decision (29-28, 29-28 & 28-29)
  • Amir Albazi def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28 & 29-28)

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