Tuesday, December 20, 2011
AFC North Stock Watch
By Jamison Hensley
1. Odds of an AFC North team capturing the AFC's top seed: The Ravens would've clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning out, but they got routed on Sunday night. The Steelers were then in control of the No. 1 seed until they got hammered on Monday night. The Ravens and Steelers showed no urgency when the most coveted postseason spot was within their grasps. The failures of these AFC North rivals likely means the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through New England.
2. Steelers' record against the Harbaugh brothers: The Steelers' mark against John and Jim Harbaugh dropped to 0-3 after they lost at San Francisco. Pittsburgh's record against the rest of the league is 10-1. What the teams under the Harbaugh brothers have done better than most is force the Steelers into committing costly mistakes. In the three combined losses to the Ravens and 49ers, Pittsburgh has turned the ball over 13 times and has taken it away once.
3. AFC North teams on the West Coast: A theme for the AFC North teams this year is "How the West was lost." This division has struggled mightily when traveling across the country, going 2-6 on West Coast trips this season. It really bottomed out in Week 15, when the AFC North's top two teams (the Ravens and Steelers) lost by a combined score of 54-17 in prime-time games in California. The only two West Coast trip wins by the AFC North were the Bengals at Seattle and the Steelers at Arizona.
Jabaal Sheard has recorded 7.5 sacks for the Browns this season.
1. Rookie wide receivers: The Bengals' A.J. Green, the Ravens' Torrey Smith and the Browns' Greg Little have all flashed potential throughout the season. This rookie trio really stood out in an otherwise forgettable week for the division's offenses. Green, Smith and Little totaled 17 receptions for 323 yards and two touchdowns. This came at a time when these receivers are supposed to be hitting the rookie wall.
2. Bengals on the road: Young teams like Cincinnati are expected to struggle on the road. But the Bengals have been one of the most successful NFL teams away from home. Cincinnati improved to 5-3 after surviving a scare at St. Louis. The only teams that have more road wins than the Bengals are the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. This is quite a turnaround for the Bengals, who came into the season having lost 11 of their past 12 road games.
3. Jabaal Sheard, Browns defensive end: Cleveland's second-round draft pick has actually outplayed first-round pick Phil Taylor this season. Sheard is finishing his rookie season strong, recording five sacks in his past five games (including two at Arizona Sunday). He now has 7.5 sacks, which is the most for a Browns rookie since linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006.