Friday, December 31, 2010
Final Word: AFC North
By James Walker
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
Carson Palmer will try to improve his career record against the Ravens to 10-3.
Can the Ravens beat Palmer? Few quarterbacks have had as much success against the Baltimore Ravens' vaunted defense as Carson Palmer. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback is 9-3 in his career as a starter against Baltimore, including three in a row dating to last season. After beating Baltimore in Week 2, Cincinnati will be going for its second straight season sweep of the Ravens.
What about Flacco? On the flip side, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has a return meeting against the team he struggled with most this season. Flacco threw a career-high four interceptions in Baltimore's 15-10 loss to the Bengals in Week 2. The bad performance was a turning point for Flacco, who has only four picks in his past 13 games. The Bengals will try to confuse Flacco again, but the third-year quarterback has shown no signs of struggling in recent weeks. Flacco has led the Ravens to a 5-1 record in the past six games.
Will McCoy bounce back? Continuing our theme of starting quarterbacks, if there is one word to describe Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns during his football career, it would be "successful." So how will McCoy respond to his first awful game at the pro level? The Browns are about to find out as their rookie quarterback prepares for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. McCoy left the University of Texas as college football's all-time winningest quarterback. The 2010 third-round pick played solid football until he ran into Baltimore's defense and threw three interceptions. McCoy doesn't have an easy task against Pittsburgh's No. 2-ranked defense.
Cleaning up special teams: Pittsburgh had a nice bounce-back game on special teams in last week's 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. Pittsburgh's kick coverage was shredded by the New York Jets in Week 15, but the Steelers didn’t allow any big returns and forced two fumbles (recovering one) against the Panthers. Covering kicks has been an issue for Pittsburgh the past couple of seasons, yet the team has cleaned up a lot of those mistakes this season under first-year special-teams coach Al Everest. It was a good sign for the playoff-bound Steelers to keep those struggles at just one game.
Easy playoff scenarios: The Week 17 playoff scenarios are simple for the Ravens (11-4) and Steelers (11-4). Both teams are already in the playoffs, but a Pittsburgh win would clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye. For Baltimore, it can win the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win and a Pittsburgh loss. Both games are at 1 p.m. ET.