Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch

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Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- Emotions are sure to run high for the Raiders against Cleveland in their first home game since the passing of owner Al Davis on Saturday.So Oakland will have more than the Browns to worry about at the O.co Coliseum. The Raiders will have to guard against an emotional letdown, of sorts. But to a man, the Raiders insist that won't be the case, not when they are already aware of such danger."That's what most people are expecting us to do -- come out here against the Browns...flat and lay an egg," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. "I don't expect us to do that. We looked good in practice. We're just trying to build."It's going to be emotional because they're going to do the tribute for the old man. I already know what he wants out of this team. He wants championships and we can't be talking about trying to go win our division and slip up against Cleveland at home. You have to win your home games, break even on the road. This is a big game because we lost our last home game."A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:Raiders outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (96) vs. Browns running back Peyton Hillis (40)
TALE OF THE TAPEWimbley: 6-4, 255, Florida State, sixth seasonHillis: 6-2, 250, Arkansas, fourth seasonWimbley was a revelation in his first season with the Raiders, leading the team with nine sacks last year. This season, he has only one sack in five games.Concerned? Not Wimbley. Neither are the Raiders. Not when he's still getting pressures. And not when he's sure to be amped up playing against his former team, an organization that traded him to the Raiders on March 14, 2010 for a third-round draft pick. That pick turned out to be quarterback Colt McCoy."Oh, yeah, I've been watching him," Wimbley said. "He's doing pretty good. But it's no different than any other quarterback that I'm going after. The main goal is to affect him, get him on the ground and get sacks."This will be a fun game. I know a lot of the players over there. Im looking forward to going out, playing as hard as I can and winning the game."Wimbley, the No. 13 overall pick of the 2006 draft, had 11 sacks as a rookie outside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme but after four seasons with the Browns, a voicemail from the Raiders, and not his initial NFL team, while he was on a long driving trip from Florida to Ohio let him know he had been traded."I practiced and competed with a lot of those guys for years, so I know a little bit about them," Wimbley said. "They know about me, as well. So, it will be fun to go out there and see them again, play against them and play them here in Oakland."Wimbley's salaries have skyrocketed in Oakland. He was initially supposed to make 685,000 in the final year of his initial contract and the Raiders tried to utilize the "buyback" option to keep him in the fold. But the bump to 3.5 million was in violation of the NFL's "30 percent rule." So the Raiders used the franchise tag on him, worth 11.3 million. But when Oakland needed salary cap relief, he restructured his deal and is now guaranteed a reported 29 million.He is, no doubt, a much more financially secure player than he was the last time his old Browns teammates saw him."There are a lot of new faces over there but there's still a whole bunch of familiar faces," Wimbley said. "So, I'm sure guys will be chatting it up a little bit when we get out there on the field Sunday."But the pleasantries will stop with the opening kickoff. Playing on the strong side, Wimbley will be sure to get a healthy dose of Hillis running behind the tight end. Wimbley, who also plays end in the Raiders nickel defense, could see significant time there if Matt Shaughnessy's shoulder keeps him out a third straight game and the newly-acquired Aaron Curry finds time at strong-side linebacker in run situations.Enter Hillis.Interestingly enough, Hillis was Oakland tailback Darren McFadden's blocking back at Arkansas, but has carved out his own identify in Cleveland after rushing for 1,177 yards last season and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He's averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry thus far."Peyton Hillis is as good as there is in the league," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "The guy, he's a beast. He'll run you over, there's no question about that."If you get in his way you better get ready to get bruised up. Everybody needs to go get their massages and all the other foo-foo stuff we need to do before we play this guy because you're going to have to bring your 'A' game to get this guy down, I promise you that."Plus a more effective and highly-motivated Wimbley against the run.Other matchups worth watching: Raiders tight end Kevin Boss (87) vs. Browns outside linebacker Scott Fujita (99) -- After catching a combined six passes in his first two games as a member of the Raiders, Boss was shut out and was not even targeted once against Houston. Turns out his blocking skills were more needed against the Texans' fearsome pass rush.The Browns offer no such rush, though it's under-rated."It will be different," assured Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, "and he will be more involved in other games."So that should free up Boss to release and find seams down the middle of the field."They give you a lot to prepare for, no doubt about it," Fujita said. "Even today's practice, it was kind of mentally exhausting, working through the gymnastics of everything, play in, play out, personnel changes, big shifts, bringing in a big offensive lineman in a tight end position, doing some unbalanced (things)really stretching the perimeters with these running backs. So you have your work cut out for you."Especially if the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Boss gets going and Fujita, who is 6-5, 250 pounds, is charged with covering him.Raiders special teams coach John Fassel vs. Browns returner Josh Cribbs (16) -- With eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns and two punt returns for scores, Cribbs has long been one of the most dangerous return men in the game.So how does "Bones" Fassel gameplan for a guy averaging 28.4 yards on kick returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns this season? Does he simply have Sebastian Janikowski kick the ball out of the end zone?"That's what he's known for," said Cribbs, who has two returns of at least 40 yards this season. "So to combat that we will take deeper drops.I'm going to be standing back there like I was the first game against Cincinnati. I will have my foot on the edge of the end zone ready to bring them out.We're going to make it happen when they give us an opportunity."And on punts, should Shane Lechler out-kick the coverage with a 6-1, 215-pound burner sitting in wait?"Oh I love it, we love that," said Cribbs, who has three punt returns of at least 20 yards this season. "We love for them to out-kick their coverage because that gives them the disadvantage. He might think that it's a good thing for them to give them the opportunity to pin us back, but I believe we have a great return unit and the guys really get after it."The special teams ball, so to speak, is in Fassel's court.

Boswell boots Steelers to AFC championship with six field goals

Boswell boots Steelers to AFC championship with six field goals

BOX SCORE

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

"I think it's going to be a showdown," Bell said. "Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It's time to settle it next week."

Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher - the first overall selection in the 2013 draft - was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

"The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done," Bell said of his 30 carries. "Just run hard. Just picked my spots where I could and run hard."

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry - burned for 26 yards on the previously play - picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

"It's just about doing my job," Boswell said. "Coming out here, put it through the yellow pipes. Don't really think too much. Don't think like I'm the guy or anything. I'm just doing my job and doing my one-eleventh for the team."

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150.

WEATHERMAN

Switching the game from noon local time to an evening kickoff to avert an ice storm had no effect on the crowd. Fans arrived early, tailgated in the rain as the worst of the storm never hit the area. But fog rolled into Arrowhead Stadium in the second quarter, obscuring some views from on high. Not that what was going on was worth watching for Chiefs fans.

NOTES

Bell rushed for almost as many yards (101) in the first half as the Chiefs gained (106). ... Boswell's four first-half field goals tied the team record for an entire playoff game. ... Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce had a rough game, including a big drop and a 15-yard roughing penalty in the third period.

UP NEXT

Steelers: Head to New England for a shot at making the Super Bowl.

Lewis' historic performance leads Patriots past Texans, into AFC title game

Lewis' historic performance leads Patriots past Texans, into AFC title game

BOX SCORE

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are headed back to a familiar spot: the AFC championship game.

Dion Lewis had a 13-yard touchdown reception , a 98-yard kickoff return for a score, and a late 1-yard touchdown to help the Patriots hold off the Houston Texans 34-16 on Saturday night and advance to an NFL-record sixth straight conference title game.

Lewis became the fifth Patriots player to score three touchdowns in a playoff game. He's also the first player in the Super Bowl era to score on a rush, a catch and a kick return in a postseason game.

The Patriots (15-2) survived a gritty effort by the Texans' top-ranked defense, which intercepted Brady twice. Houston's special teams also forced a third turnover.

But the Texans (10-8) couldn't find enough traction on offense to take full advantage of the Patriots' mistakes, settling for field goals on both of Brady's picks.

New England led just 17-13 at the half, but pushed its lead to 24-13 early in the third quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to James White.

Houston's Brock Osweiler was intercepted three times after that, and the Texans managed only a field goal the rest of game.

It was the first breakout game of the season for Lewis, who spent the first eight games of the season on injured reserve recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee.

Brady finished 18 of 38 for 287 yards and two touchdowns and was showered with chants of "MVP! MVP!" and "Brady! Brady!" late in the game. Julian Edelman was Brady's most dependable target, catching eight passes for 137 yards.

Osweiler was just 23 of 40 for 198 yards with the two turnovers.

When New England did have the ball in the first half, it gave Houston a steady diet of Lewis early with LeGarrette Blount coming off an illness that limited him during practice this week.

Without Blount to contend with, the Texans applied pressure to Brady.

A.J. Bouye intercepted a slightly overthrown ball by Brady late in the first quarter on a pass that bounced out of the hands of receiver Michael Floyd. That led to a 27-yard field goal that cut New England's lead to 14-6.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lewis coughed up the ball on a hit from Akeem DentEddie Pleasant fell on it at the Patriots 12, and two plays later, Brock Osweiler hit C.J. Fiedorowicz from 8 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-13.

Brady only threw two interceptions during the regular season. With his 28 touchdown passes, that was the lowest touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history.

CLOWN TIME IS OVER:
Jadeveon Clowney was in Brady's face all game, flattening him in the first half with a legal hit and bringing him down a couple of times in the second on plays that were a little more questionable.

In the third quarter, Brady was chased out of the pocket before heaving the ball downfield. Clowney dragged him to the turf, and Brady came up kicking. The Patriots quarterback made his case to the referee, but no penalty was called.

Early in the fourth, though Clowney was called for roughing the passer for Brady after he got rid of the ball and while he was in the clutches of defensive end Christian Covington.

PILING UP POINTS:
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski continues to climb the NFL's career postseason scoring list.

He made an extra point in the first quarter to pass Rice and move into third place on the league's career list. It was Gostkowski's 133rd postseason point, breaking a tie with the San Francisco 49ers receiver.

Next up are kickers Gary Anderson, David Akers and all-time leader Adam Vinatieri, who had half of his 234 career postseason points with New England before moving on to the Indianapolis Colts.

INJURIES:
Texans: RB Tyler Ervin left in the second quarter with a concussion. Defensive end Joel Heath exited in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and did not return.

Patriots: WR Chris Hogan left in the third quarter with a thigh injury.

UP NEXT:
Texans: End of season.

Patriots: Will host either Pittsburgh or Kansas City in next week's AFC title game.