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Friday, November 2, 2012
Final Word: AFC North

By Jamison Hensley

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

'Giant' challenge for Steelers: The Steelers have made a major improvement in pass protection. After getting sacked repeatedly -- Ben Roethlisberger ranked in the top five in four of his past five seasons -- he's only been sacked 13 times this season, which is tied for 32nd in the league. A big reason why has been the switch to a short passing game under first-year coordinator Todd Haley. The Giants, though, have produced 13 sacks in their past three games. The impressive part is that New York doesn't need to blitz to get to the quarterback. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants have recorded a sack once every 12.2 dropbacks when sending four or fewer pass-rushers in their last three games.

Best after byes: Baltimore is 11-5 all-time coming off its bye week, including a perfect 4-0 under coach John Harbaugh. Since 2002, the Ravens are 9-1 after byes, the best mark in the AFC. The only team better after having a week off during this span is the Eagles, who are 10-1. But few teams have been as dominant as the Ravens after byes. Under Harbaugh, the average margin of victory is 18 points in games following the week-long break. Last season, Baltimore beat Houston by 15 points after the bye. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, which is also coming off a bye, is 6-16-1 in games following the break, the second-worst record of any team after a bye.

Brandon Weeden
Brandon Weeden has cut down on the interceptions lately, with only one in his past three games.
Turning it around: The Ravens might not recognize Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the first-round pick went 7-of-20 on throws more than 10 yards downfield at Baltimore in Week 4, but he's completed over 54 percent of such throws since. Weeden is 7-of-15 to Josh Gordon over the past four games with four touchdowns after going 2-of-6 to Gordon in the first four. Another change with Weeden has been his decision-making. He threw nine interceptions in his first five games, including one that was returned by the Ravens' Cary Williams for a touchdown. In his past three games, Weeden has been picked off just once.

Streaking Bengals: Quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown an interception in seven consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind Arizona's John Skelton (11 straight), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Dalton is the first quarterback to get picked off in his first seven games of a season since Eli Manning in 2007. No Bengals quarterback has ever been intercepted in his first eight games to start a season. While Dalton has struggled, wide receiver A.J. Green continues to reach the end zone. Green has caught a touchdown pass in six straight games. Only one receiver has caught one in seven straight over the past five seasons (Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe).

Road worriers: The Ravens are 1-2 on the road, averaging 15 points per game. In its past 10 quarters on the road (at Philadelphia, Kansas City and Houston), Baltimore has produced one touchdown, one safety, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six field goals and 13 punts. Much of the struggle on offense can be traced back to quarterback Joe Flacco's troubles on the road, where he is connecting on 50 percent of his passes and is averaging 188.7 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco is posting a 14.3 QBR on the road, the second-worst  in the NFL this season. Flacco, though, is 4-0 at Cleveland for his career, throwing four touchdowns and one interception.