Final Word: AFC North

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Ray Rice
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIRERay Rice has been the NFL's top rusher the past three games and has been especially effective in between the tackles.
Tale of two superstars: The Ravens-Colts game on Sunday won't have the same feel with linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Peyton Manning both out with injuries. It was one of the best chess matches in football, as Manning would make his animated calls at the line and Lewis would counter by yelling out instructions to his teammates. While the loss of Manning has devastated the Colts (who are 0-12), the Ravens haven't had a drop-off without their leader. In three games without Lewis, the Ravens have allowed 13.3 points (fourth-best in the NFL over that span) and 295.3 yards (ninth) while recording 14 sacks (first), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bengals getting run down: Nine weeks into this season, the Bengals had one of the NFL's best run defenses, allowing 84.5 yards rushing per game and a league-best 3.3 yards per carry. In four games since, teams are averaging 120 yards on the ground against Cincinnati. The Bengals had given up 100 yards rushing once in their first eight games and now have allowed four teams to gain more than 100 in their past four games. Cincinnati will have trouble ending that streak against Houston, which owns the NFL's third-ranked running attack. Arian Foster is averaging 91.6 yards rushing, which is fourth-best in the NFL.

King of the jungle: The Bengals-Texans game could be a preview of a first-round playoff game, although you won't be able to tell by the empty seats. This marks the fifth game (out of six home games) that Cincinnati has failed to sell out. The numbers that the Bengals would prefer to focus on are their dominance at home in December. Cincinnati is 8-1 at Paul Brown Stadium in this month since 2007. The only loss came last year against the New Orleans Saints. This will be an important month for the Bengals, who currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.

Cooking with Rice: It's not a coincidence that the Ravens' three-game winning streak has come at at time when Baltimore has focused the offense back on its top playmaker. Over that span, Rice has rushed for a NFL-best 367 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No player has rushed for more yards between the tackles (159 yards) over the past three games and only Carolina's Cam Newton has scored as many touchdowns (three) as Rice on those carries up the middle. Rice figures to continue this hot streak against the Colts, who have traditionally struggled in stopping the run. Indianapolis has the NFL's third-worst run defense.

Rookies on record pace: The Bengals' Andy Dalton and A.J. Green haven't just been the best rookie quarterback-wide receiver combination this year. They likely go down as the best first-year duo over the past two decades. Dalton and Green are 11 catches and 83 yards passing from being the most prolific rookie quarterback-wide receiver tandem since 1991. Both of those marks are currently being held by the Browns' Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson (1999).

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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