Friday, December 23, 2011
Final Word: AFC North
By Jamison Hensley
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:
Running wild with Rice: It was 19 days ago in Cleveland that Ravens RB Ray Rice continued his great success against the Browns with a career-best 204 yards rushing. It was the fourth-highest rushing performance in the NFL this season. Rice averages 98.3 rushing yards per game against the Browns, and his 688 yards rushing against them is his most against any team. The NFL's leader in total yards from scrimmage, Rice needs 52 receiving yards to join Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving in multiple seasons. The Browns have allowed running backs to crack 100 yards rushing nine times this season, but none since Rice.
A.J. Green has been the Bengals' top deep threat this season.
Going deep: The health of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (shoulder) will play a big factor in Cincinnati's push for a playoff berth. Green is fifth in the NFL with 19 catches of 20 yards or more. Only Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson have more. QB Andy Dalton continues to show a great amount of trust in Green, throwing into coverage because he knows the 6-foot-4 receiver can outleap defenders for the ball. Green has a catch of at least 35 yards in five straight games. The Arizona Cardinals have been susceptible against deep passes this season. Arizona has given up 54 completions of 20-plus yards, which is the fifth-most in the league.
Bad streaks for Browns: One more defeat will give the Browns four straight 11-loss seasons for the first time in team history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Browns are already the only team in the NFL to lose at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons (2008-10), a skid that has included seven starting quarterbacks: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. To end this streak, Cleveland would have to end other streaks on Saturday. The Browns have lost eight straight AFC North games and seven in a row to Baltimore. Cleveland's last win against the Ravens was Week 11 in 2007.
Relying on the run: The Steelers are reportedly starting QB Charlie Batch in place of Ben Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain), but they won't be relying on the backup. Pittsburgh will turn into a run-first team, just like it did when Roethlisberger was suspended at the start of the 2010 season. In those four games, running back Rashard Mendenhall ran the ball 89 times while the Steelers threw 81 passes. Mendenhall averaged 102.7 yards rushing during that time and could have similar numbers against the Rams, the NFL's worst run defense. St. Louis allows an average of 153.4 yards on the ground -- which is 56.2 yards per game more than the Steelers' run defense gives up.
Perfect at home: The Ravens are looking to finish undefeated at home for an entire regular season for the first time in franchise history. Baltimore is one of three teams that are perfect at home so far this season. (The others are Green Bay and New Orleans.) The Ravens' average margin of victory at M&T Bank Stadium this season is 13.4 points. The Ravens have won a franchise-best nine straight home games and are 26-5 under coach John Harbaugh in Baltimore (that's second only to the New England Patriots since 2008). This is why a home playoff game is so important to the Ravens.