Pittsburgh Steelers: With Big Changes Imminent, Steelers Extend Big Ben's Last Ride Into Playoffs
The Steelers are living in the moment, relishing their emotional ride into the playoffs while knowing that huge changes are coming in the offseason.
The most-discussed change is Ben Roethlisberger's expected retirement, and he delivered a dagger to the Ravens on Sunday with a victory that helped the Steelers advance to the playoffs, where they will face the Kansas City Chiefs.
Not only is Roethlisberger's 18-year career coming to an end, but General Manager Kevin Colbert will reportedly leave after the draft according Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Colbert has been Pittsburgh's general manager since 2000.
That means Pittsburgh is likely to head into 2022 with a new quarterback and new general manager, major changes for a franchise that has long been known for its stability. Whoever becomes the new general manager will join Head Coach Mike Tomlin making a major decision at quarterback as the Steelers begin life without Roethlisberger.
It has been rumored that Pittsburgh might pursue an established veteran quarterback rather than turn to Roethlisberger's backup, Mason Rudolph. However, veteran NFL reporter Chris Mortensen shot down speculation that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan might be headed to Pittsburgh. Mortensen reported that Ryan won't be going anywhere and will return next season as Atlanta's starter.
Whoever Pittsburgh's next starting quarterback is, there's no doubt Roethlisberger's era and aura are special. The Steelers were dominated by the Chiefs on Dec. 26, 36-10, but Pittsburgh looks like a different team less than a month later and Roethlisberger will get a rematch against the Chiefs that many people never expected.
This offseason will be interesting in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers are delighted they'll play at least one more game before Tomlin begins preparing for his first season without Roethlisberger.
"Obviously, I'm appreciative of our quarterback," Tomlin said. "He's been smiling in the face of adversity for 18 years. So, even though it's not surprising, it's still appreciated."
Cincinnati Bengals: A Playoff Win Would End 31-Year Drought
Winning the AFC North ended one drought for the Bengals, who had not captured the division since 2015.
They can accomplish another significant milestone by defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in Saturday's opening game of the playoffs in Cincinnati. The Bengals' last playoff victory was in 1990 when they beat the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round before losing to the Oakland Raiders in the divisional playoffs. They've suffered eight straight playoff defeats, some of them in excruciating fashion.
The Bengals rested Joe Burrow and many starters during Sunday's 21-16 loss to the Browns, with the division already clinched. Now as the fourth-seeded team in the AFC, the Bengals are a young team that is rolling into the playoffs with confidence. They swept the season series against the Steelers and Ravens and cliched the division in Week 17 with a come-from-behind victory over the Chiefs.
Cincinnati believes it belongs with the best and sounds eager to prove it.
"We finished the season on a really good note and with a lot of confidence," Head Coach Zac Taylor said following Sunday's game via The Associated Press. "Our guys are going to be ready for it."
In November, the Bengals rolled to 32-13 victory over the Raiders in Las Vegas. Joe Mixon rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, while Joe Burrow added a touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase during a 19-point fourth quarter for the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns: Report Says Baker Mayfield Will Remain Starter Next Year
Baker Mayfield had a difficult season plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. But the Browns begin the offseason still committed to him as their starting quarterback in 2022, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Peliserro of NFL Network.
The Browns shut down Mayfield in Week 18 and he will have surgery on his non-throwing shoulder that was injured early in the season. Mayfield played through the injury but was obviously hampered and finished with career lows in touchdown passes (17) and passing yards (3,010). Seven of his 13 interceptions came during his last three starts, and the Browns (8-9) missed the postseason after making the playoffs in 2020 for the first time since 2002.
Mayfield is entering the final year of his rookie deal and speculation continues on his long-term future. He was the first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, selected before two quarterbacks who have enjoyed more NFL success. Josh Allen, taken No. 7 by the Buffalo Bills, has led them into the playoffs for the second straight year. Lamar Jackson was taken 32nd overall and has been the NFL's Most Valuable Player while leading the Ravens to the playoffs three times in four seasons.
Before the Browns decide on Mayfield's long-term future, the first priority is for him to get healthy. He remains on the same page with Head Coach Kevin Stefanski heading into the offseason, according to Pelisserro and Rapoport, and Mayfield will focus on his health unconcerned about his immediate future with the Browns.