Tuesday, November 29, 2011
AFC North Stock Watch
By Jamison Hensley
1. Success in red zone for division teams: The AFC North teams scored a combined four touchdowns in 11 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line in Week 12. For some reason, the Ravens called a quarterback draw on third-and-goal with Joe Flacco, who isn't exactly Michael Vick. The Steelers surprisingly handed the ball off to Mewelde Moore in the red zone, and the third-down back fumbled at the 2-yard line. And the Bengals got stopped on four runs inside the Browns' 10-yard line on their opening drive, including a goal-line stand on fourth down.
Cleveland's Greg Little had four drops Sunday against Cincinnati.
2. Faith in Browns wide receivers:Greg Little nearly had as many drops (four) as catches (five) against Cincinnati. Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi were targeted seven times and managed one catch for 8 yards. Colt McCoy is running out of options in the passing game. What are the chances the Browns take a wide receiver with their top first-round pick this year?
3. Mike Wallace's production: Pittsburgh's speedy wide receiver has watched his receiving yards drop the past four games: 70, 68, 54 and 17. His longest catch at Kansas City was 9 yards. He also dropped a pass in the end zone in the first quarter. Wallace is drawing double coverage every week, which has opened up things for Antonio Brown while limiting Wallace's opportunities. Wallace has one 100-yard game in his past eight contests and hasn't scored a touchdown in three games.
1. Confidence that three teams make the playoffs from the division: If the season ended today, the AFC North would be the only division in the NFL to send three teams to the postseason. The Ravens and Steelers are both 8-3, and it would take a December meltdown for both teams to miss out on the playoffs. At 7-4, the Bengals are one game ahead of the Broncos, Jets and Titans. Cincinnati can still get to 10 wins even if it loses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Bengals' other three remaining games are winnable ones against Houston (and its third-string quarterback), St. Louis and Arizona. This would mark the first time in the AFC North's existence that three of its teams made the playoffs in the same season.
2. Ravens' sacks numbers: Baltimore leads the NFL in sacks after tying a franchise record with nine against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night. This is a reflection of Chuck Pagano's impact in his first season as the Ravens' defensive coordinator. He vowed to be aggressive when he was named to the position, and he has followed through on those words. The Ravens have recorded 38 sacks in 11 games this season, which is already 11 more than the team's entire total from last season (which set a franchise record for futility).
3. Bengals' stinginess in the fourth quarter: In its past four games, Cincinnati has given up seven points in the fourth quarter. This is a major reason why the Bengals have been able to come back from double-digit halftime deficits during that stretch against the Titans and Browns. For the season, the Bengals are on pace to surrender 73 points in the fourth quarter. That would mark the fewest of the Marvin Lewis era and the fewest since the 2000 season. These Bengals are making plays in the clutch instead of giving them up.