NFL Nation: AFC Stock Watch 2010 Week 16

How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns quarterback: It was just a matter of time before McCoy had a "rookie" game, and it came in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens. This was the first time this season that McCoy, Cleveland's 2010 third-round pick, looked confused in seven starts. McCoy threw for just 149 yards and three interceptions. There are a lot of questions about whether McCoy can play in bad weather in Cleveland, and he will get another opportunity to do it Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2. Peyton Hillis, Browns running back: It appears the heavy workload has finally caught up to Hillis, who is averaging just 47 yards rushing in the past two games. The Ravens stuffed Hillis by holding him to 35 rushing yards and hurt his ribs in the process. Hillis, Cleveland's leading rusher and second-leading receiver, sat out of practice Wednesday for the second straight week. Cleveland's offense has struggled in recent weeks, and Hillis' injuries and declining production are a major reason.

3. Sergio Kindle, Ravens linebacker: Kindle's focus should be on rehabbing after fracturing his skull in July and missing the 2010 season. But Kindle took another step backward by getting arrested this week on drunken-driving charges. Ravens coach John Harbaugh admits Kindle has a history of making bad choices, and that's the quickest way into the doghouse in Baltimore. The rookie has a lot to prove in order to earn his way on the team once he's healthy.

RISING

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer has arguably his best game of the season against the Chargers, throwing for four TDs.
1. Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals receiver: Where was Simpson all these years? After being inactive or sitting on the bench for nearly three seasons, Simpson exploded last week with six catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the San Diego Chargers. Injuries to Chad Ochocinco (ankle) and Terrell Owens (knee) have allowed Simpson to get extensive playing time. Simpson has to prove that last week wasn't a fluke and play well again in Cincinnati's final game against Baltimore.

2. Carson Palmer, Bengals quarterback: Although it was just one game, it is ironic that Palmer had his best performance of the season without Owens and Ochocinco on the field. Palmer was nearly flawless, throwing for 269 yards and four touchdowns against San Diego's No. 1-rated defense. Young receivers Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham were in the right spots, and Palmer had no trouble getting the ball there. Is this a preview of the Bengals' offense in 2011?

3. Ed Reed, Ravens safety: Reed easily won the mental chess game against McCoy in Baltimore's 20-10 win over the Browns. Reed picked off two passes and read McCoy's eyes successfully the entire game. At some point you would think quarterbacks would stop throwing in Reed's direction. This was the future Hall of Famer's 10th multi-interception game of his career, which makes him the NFL's active leader in that category.

How I See It: AFC West Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Norv Turner’s popularity: The Chargers have already said Turner will return as head coach despite the fact that the Chargers are 8-7 and they will not make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. But that doesn’t mean San Diego fans will be happy about it. Turner’s popularity was already wavering simply because he replaced the ever-popular Marty Schottenheimer. Now that Turner has given San Diego fans reason to doubt him, they will. This all means Turner will be on the hot seat in 2011. If he doesn’t lead the Chargers back to the playoffs, fans will completely turn on the franchise and essentially force the hand of San Diego ownership. The pressure is officially on.

2. Oakland’s defense: In six of Oakland’s eight losses it has allowed at least 31 points. Oakland is 2-4 in its past six games and it has allowed 137 points in the four losses. Oakland has made some strides this season, but Oakland’s inability to stop teams on defense is a reason why this season is not ending in the playoffs.

3. San Diego’s pass defense: San Diego’s pass defense was stout all season and the Chargers allowed a total of 259 yards of offense in the two games leading up to Sunday. But at Cincinnati, the Chargers saw their playoff hopes end at the hands of Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. He shredded San Diego’s secondary for 269 yards and four touchdowns. In a year in which this unit was very good, the season ended when a mediocre passing attack tore it up.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Matt Cassel
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel and the playoff-bound Chiefs are heading in the right direction.
RISING

1. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are going to the playoffs. They are the feel-good story of the NFL season. Kansas City won a total of 10 games in the past three seasons. The Chiefs are 10-5 in 2010. Who would have thought that the original Dallas Texans had a better chance of playing in the Super Bowl at Jerry World than Jerry Jones’ Cowboys?

2. Tim Tebow’s chances of starting in 2011: Unless Tebow totally implodes Sunday against San Diego; he has to be considered a near slam-dunk selection to be Denver’s starting quarterback in 2011. The original thinking was that the new coach in Denver would have to approve the idea of moving forward with Tebow. Now, the new coach may be the one who has to get on board with the idea or don’t come on board. Ownership knows how much excitement Tebow has created in Denver and it would be a tough sell to see Tebow’s development go on hiatus with him on the bench after an intriguing start to his career, which was highlighted by a furious second-half comeback against Houston on Sunday. There’s no doubt the subject of Tebow will be paramount in every interview with prospective coaches. Tebow hasn’t been flawless, but what young quarterback is? The key is Tebow has shown the game is not too big for him and that will likely earn him a starting job going into next season.

3. Jacoby Ford’s popularity: A lot of NFL teams should be kicking themselves for letting Ford slip to Oakland in the fourth round. How many teams? I’d say 31 teams. This kid is amazing. He is a big-league weapon. Ford has returned three touchdowns for scores since Week 9. He is also a playmaker on offense. This is highly-skilled, super-fast player who could have a DeSean Jackson, Devin Hester-like presence in a year or so. He was a serious draft gem.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
11:29
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

The division’s status: Early in the season the AFC South was regarded as one of the NFL’s toughest divisions. But a “down” year for the Colts and poor, poor play by the Titans and Texans have made it less than mediocre. The division has 28 wins, ahead of only the much maligned NFC West.

Coaching stock: Gary Kubiak, Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio are all likely to have heart-to-hearts with their owners early next week and while I don’t expect three changes, we’re likely to have one or two. The three owners have been patient, but each will be considering whether it’s time for a change.

Tennessee’s play in the AFC: Only the Carolina Panthers, who’ve clinched the No. 1 pick in the draft, have a worse conference record than Tennessee’s 3-8. No one is worse in the AFC and the other teams with just three AFC wins aren’t teams you want to be grouped with -- Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Denver.

RISING

[+] EnlargeMike Thomas
Matt Stamey/US PresswireMike Thomas had another solid game for the Jaguars, snagging six passes for 96 yards.
The Colts’ run defense: Defensive tackle Daniel Muir was out with an injury, but the Colts rallied to the ball and really limited Oakland’s run threat with Antonio Johnson playing a bigger role on the interior line. We saw the defensive speed at work in chasing people down and bottling them up.

Mike Thomas, Jaguars receiver: He had six catches for 96 yards in the overtime loss to Washington and continues to establish himself as a consistent and reliable weapon. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter knows how to deploy him and David Garrard's got a comfort level throwing to him. Thomas should be a key piece of the Jaguars’ offense for some time.

Jared Cook, Titans tight end: The wait has been a long one. But in a terrible game for the Titans in Kansas City, Cook was the bright spot with five catches for 96 yards. It would be a great thing for the team if he could have a second productive game in a row heading into the offseason.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
9:16
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: Bills fans have been debating the merits of sticking with Fitzpatrick as their franchise quarterback or drafting a prospect. Sunday's meltdown against the Patriots would favor new blood. Fitzpatrick committed five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumbles. The Patriots turned his first three giveaways into 21 points and romped.

2. Jets' run defense: It took a statistical review a few days after the fact to drop Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall below 100 yards rushing against the Jets two weeks ago. He would have been the first to hit the century mark against the Jets since Nov. 15, 2009. Their streak remained intact for that week only because Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards (5.9 average) and one touchdown Sunday.

3. Davone Bess, Dolphins receiver: He's still one of the Dolphins' top players, but his second-half production hasn't measured up to his hot start or the lucrative contract extension he signed in October. That's the definition of a slumping stock. Bess caught his first touchdown pass since Week 7 on a tipped ball that should have been intercepted. He also fumbled a punt return the Lions converted into a field goal and fell down to allow Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to intercept and score the winning touchdown in a late fourth-quarter collapse that might cost people their jobs.

RISING

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireShonn Greene helped get the Jets' running game back on track Sunday.
1. Chances for another AFC East coaching change: We could be following an AFC East head coaching search for the eighth straight year. The Dolphins would appear primed for change after a dull and disappointing season that can be described as mediocre at best. The Dolphins began the year with Super Bowl aspirations and went 1-7 at Sun Life Stadium. They lost to the Browns, Bills and Lions in their final three home games. It's pretty easy to see Tony Sparano joining Dick Jauron, Eric Mangini, Cam Cameron, Nick Saban, Mike Mularkey, Herm Edwards, Dave Wannstedt and Gregg Williams as AFC East head coaches who either were fired or stepped down since the 2003 season.

2. Shonn Greene, Jets running back: The Jets couldn't find a better time to get their torpid rushing attack in gear. Greene ran 12 times for 70 yards and his first touchdown in 10 games Sunday against the Bears. Greene's 5.8-yard average was his highest of the season.

3. Gary Guyton, Patriots linebacker: He continues to shine while Brandon Spikes is suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Guyton had a strip-sack and two passes defensed in Sunday's victory over the Bills. Over the past seven weeks he has three sacks, an interception, five passes defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown.

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