NFL Nation: AFC Stock Watch 2011 Week 10

AFC West Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:06
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Harry How/Getty ImagesNorv Turner's Chargers have now dropped four games in a row after a hot start.
1. The future in San Diego: The Chargers have lost four straight games and are now 4-5. This team looks incapable of doing what it takes to win right now. If the Chargers continue to flounder and don’t make the playoffs for the second straight year, there will be calls for general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner to be fired. The Chargers have long been a sexy Super Bowl pick. But they look far from a Super Bowl team right now.

2. The Chiefs’ playoff chances: The Chiefs’ chances of winning the AFC West took a hit the past two weeks when they lost back-to-back games at home to Miami and Denver to fall to 4-5. Now, the Chiefs enter a tough five-game stretch in which they play five games against 2010 playoff teams. It starts at New England next Monday.

3. Denver’s need to throw: Denver quarterback Tim Tebow threw just eight times in 17-10 win at Kansas City. Denver won for the first time with two or fewer completions. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only other team in the past 25 years to win a game with two or fewer pass completions and have only one quarterback attempt a pass was the Browns in Week 5 2009 at the Bills.

RISING

1. Kamerion Wimbley, linebacker, Raiders: Wimbley can get sacks in bunches and he had a bunch Thursday night at San Diego. Wimbley had four of the Raiders' six sacks. He set the tone for a ferocious defensive effort. Wimbley can be streaky, but when he is on, he can be unblockable.

2. Denver’s running game: Denver had 244 rushing yards at Kansas City. They have led the NFL in rushing in the past five weeks. Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno are injured, but Lance Ball took the lead with 96 yards against the Chiefs. Tebow’s presence had clearly helped the run game as the Broncos have dominated on the ground by using the option.

3. Carson Palmer's arm strength: There are no worries, folks. Palmer may not be the 2006 version of himself, but he can still fling the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he was 4-for-4 for 146 yards on passes of 21-plus yards in the Raiders’ win at San Diego. He threw the ball long at ease. Expect him to continue to shine in that area as the season progresses.

AFC North Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:06
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Ray Rice's impact. The Ravens running back has been averaging 12.3 carries the past four games, including a season-low five on Sunday. Rice's decrease in carries came right after he ran 25 times in a win over the Jets and 23 times in a victory over the Texans. Rice is a threat to break any run for a touchdown, which everyone saw on his first carry against Pittsburgh two weeks ago (a 76-yard run was called back for holding). Baltimore showed a commitment to the running back when it made Vonta Leach the league's highest-paid fullback. Not using Rice is mind-boggling.

2. Browns' scoring at home. Remember Ben Watson's 10-yard touchdown catch against the Titans? Well, you should. That was the last time the Browns scored at home. It happened in the fourth quarter on Oct. 2. Cleveland has gone the past two home games without reaching the end zone. That's eight straight quarters. The touchdown drought at Cleveland Browns Stadium has reached 131 minutes, 36 seconds. The Browns play at home against Jacksonville on Sunday.

3. Special teams for Browns and Ravens. In two losses by a combined six points, these two AFC North teams combined for three missed field goals and three fumbles on return teams. The Ravens watched kickoff returner David Reed fumble twice in the first half (a total of three times in two weeks) and kicker Billy Cundiff miss from 50 and 52 yards. The Browns lost their game against Seattle when they botched the snap on a 22-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, Josh Cribbs fumbled a punt return that led to the Rams' go-ahead field goal.

RISING

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
Jason Bridge/US PresswireOpposing defenses are honing in on Pittsburgh's newest go-to receiver this season, Antonio Brown.
1. Steelers' fourth-quarter turnovers. Taking the ball away from teams has been one of the biggest disappointments with the Pittsburgh defense. But there are signs that the Steelers are getting back on track as far as turnovers. In its past two games, Pittsburgh has forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter. Against Baltimore, James Harrison's forced fumble set up the go-ahead touchdown. Against Cincinnati, William Gay deflected one pass (which led to an interception) and picked off another throw to seal the win. All three of those turnovers came in Pittsburgh territory.

2. Bengals pass rush. Cincinnati isn't a heavy blitzing team, but the defense -- especially the front four -- keeps getting to quarterbacks. The Bengals have recorded 11 sacks the past two weeks. It was impressive that Cincinnati sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, which matched his season-worst, because the Bengals were without their best pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals have 25 sacks this season, which is eighth-best in the NFL.

3. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Defenses have more to worry about than just covering Mike Wallace these days. Brown is establishing himself as a go-to receiver downfield for Pittsburgh. He's emerged at a time when Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders have been banged up. Over the past four games, Brown is averaging 6.5 catches and 91 yards receiving. His receptions on Sunday converted two third downs and went for 12, 15, 17, 21 and 21 yards.

AFC East Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe Bills need quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to help pull them out of their recent slump.
1. Buffalo Bills: The Bills are now 2-4 in their past six games. Mathematically, Buffalo is still in the thick of the AFC East and postseason race. But nothing about the Bills' performance the past few weeks suggest this young team is ready to take the next step. The good news is Buffalo (5-4) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the first-place New England Patriots (6-3). That could make things interesting if the Bills win enough games to make their Week 17 rematch meaningful. But there is plenty of football left and the Bills have to turn their season around quickly to have a chance. The Bills play their next two games on the road against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, games that will define their season.

2. Jets' offense: It's hard to pinpoint one area. New York's offense as a whole failed to produce against the NFL's worst-rated defense in a 37-16 loss to New England. The Jets went away from the running game, which averaged 4.4 yards per carry. That's on the coaches. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked five times. That's on the offensive line. And Sanchez made a pair of costly interceptions, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter. That's on the quarterback. But New York doesn't have time to wallow. The Jets have their next game Thursday night against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: Fitzpatrick is having a career year. But he has a reputation of being very streaky and is playing his worst football of the season. The Bills are trying to make a playoff push and Fitzpatrick has thrown for just 337 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past two games. Yes, Buffalo has other issues. But Fitzpatrick now is the face of the franchise and can expect to get a majority of the blame. It comes with the territory. It's up to the Fitzpatrick to lead the Bills out of this funk with his play. Buffalo has what I think is a must-win game next week against the Miami Dolphins.

RISING

1. New England Patriots: I was shocked to see so many in our community last week claim the Patriots were done. I thought most AFC East fans knew better after watching New England dominate the division the past 10 years. It led me to write this column, which wasn't very popular but was the truth. New England continued its trend of dominating the AFC East by sweeping the Jets in convincing fashion. The Patriots have an easy schedule and look poised to cruise the rest of the season.

2. Andre Carter, Patriots defensive end: New England's defense needed a jolt and got it from Carter. The veteran registered a career-high 4.5 sacks against the Jets and stayed in the face of Sanchez the entire night. Carter’s sacks have come in bunches. He already has three multi-sack games for New England this season. Carter is fourth in the NFL with nine sacks. He needs just two more sacks to match his career high of 11.

3. Miami Dolphins: Miami won two in a row for the first time this season. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team motivated during a tough time when his job status is up in the air. I’ve been saying all season that Miami has talent. The Dolphins are finally starting to show it, and can be a dangerous spoiler to watch in the second half of the season. They get a chance to put a huge dent in the Bills' playoff hopes this week at Sun Life Stadium.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars tight end: This offseason MMA training was supposed to transform him and take his game to another level. That’s great if his hips are opening up better, but does it matter if he’s not catching the ball and if he hasn’t earned the confidence of the team’s rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert? If Tennessee’s Chris Johnson wasn’t getting all the attention, there would have been far more attention on Lewis’ poor production and we’d be asking the same question: Did he get happy and relax after landing a big contract at the start of training camp? Blocking well is not enough. This team expected and deserves more.

2. The Colts' decision to IR Kerry Collins: Look, the veteran quarterback wouldn’t automatically be fixing all that’s wrong with the Colts. But if his concussion has cleared up he’d sure provide a better alternative right now to Curtis Painter than Dan Orlovsky does. And if Collins were available and could put together one steady game with some big pass plays mixed in, the Colts would have their chance to win a game. Instead, they’re choosing between two bad options and are going to be hard-pressed to find a victory.

3. The Texans’ confidence, potentially: They’re coming off a fourth straight win and feeling great and, bam, bad news about their quarterback. Matt Schaub’s done with a foot injury. The Texans are saying all the right things and I believe they do believe in Matt Leinart. But take a team heading for the playoffs and maybe even a first-round bye and tell it the quarterback who got it there is out, and it’s got to have a psychological effect. We’ve questioned the mental makeup of this team in this space before. The Texans seem to be making big strides in that department, and they’ve overcome the loss of significant guys in Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and Danieal Manning. But Schaub is a different deal. The quarterback is the centerpiece and he’s been steering things very well. Doubt can creep in.

RISING

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
AP Photo/Gail BurtonMatt Leinart won't be the only one under pressure when he starts Nov. 27; his offensive line will face a big adjustment as well.
1. The importance of everyone surrounding the quarterback for Houston: Leinart could do just fine as he steps in for the injured Schaub the rest of the way. But when the Texans start out with him in the huddle on Nov. 27 in Jacksonville, everyone else needs to make him as comfortable as possible. That means a continued excellent run game, behind continued great blocking from a line that also needs to protect well. It means reliable routes and catches from everyone in the Texans’ big stable of pass targets. The more they can do to ease him in, the better.

2. Tennessee Titans linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Will Witherspoon and rookie fill-in Colin McCarthy were active and effective for the Titans in Carolina in a very good collective effort. There was better work going on in front of them as the pass rush had its best day of the season. The Titans dragged Cam Newton down five times. McCarthy was solid in the middle playing for the injured veteran Barrett Ruud. Mike Munchak said Ruud (groin) will be back in when he’s ready, but McCarthy could get additional work in some packages.

3. Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end: He continues to get better, and on a defense with some veterans who were brought in with big contracts, he’s providing valuable energy as an edge rusher. In Indianapolis, he made a great spin move to get inside on Anthony Castonzo for the first sack, he helped Daryl Smith put Painter down to share a sack and got around the corner and swiped a fumble free from Orlovsky in the fourth quarter.

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