NFL Nation: AFC Stock Watch 2011 Week 6

AFC South Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Jacob Lacey, Indianapolis Colts cornerback: Lacey is ideally a dime guy, maybe a nickel. But the Colts married themselves to him as their No. 2 starter right after the lockout in a move many of us still struggle to understand. Lately they’ve been using Terrence Johnson some. Sunday in Cincinnati it sure seemed like they went with Lacey early and then pulled him for Johnson. If there was anyone on the roster who was capable of putting real pressure on Lacey, he’d have to get some time on the bench to get his game together. Drew Brees will look his way and see red meat.

2. Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback: In a poor first half for the Jaguars in Pittsburgh, Mathis was exceptionally noticeable. He had a crack at a hit that would have prevented a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run, got stiff-armed out of another run play, he dropped a ball I thought he could have picked and was in defense on a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace (yes he’s tough to defend, but still). Mathis is a quality leader and a quality guy. He told the team after the game that it’s on the cusp of winning a game. They may be, but he’s one of the guys who’s got to do better to make it happen.

3. Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano, Tennessee Titans interior offensive linemen: Mike Munchak’s team has been very good in pass protection, which is why Matt Hasselbeck’s been able to be such a significant story. But run blocking is an issue, and these two guys are the root of it. Munchak is steadfastly loyal to the group that started for him last season when he was offensive line coach, but asked recently if he was considering any line changes, his answer wasn’t “no,” it was “not yet.” That’s as close as this pair may come to getting put on notice. Fernando Velasco is the one legitimate alternative on the bench.

[+] EnlargeTim Jamison
Zuma Press/Icon SMITim Jamison has stepped up admirably in Mario Williams' absence.
RISING

1. Tim Jamison, Houston Texans defensive end: As the Texans started life without injured outside linebacker Mario Williams, Jamison exploded with a big first-half performance: two sacks, including one that forced a fumble he recovered that set up a touchdown. It was an impressive showing, and it’s the sort of effort from a member of the supporting cast that the Texans can really use. Gary Kubiak said he sees Jamison as a young Antonio Smith. That’s high praise considering what a player Smith is.

2. The Tennessee Titans’ health: Coming off a bye, the Titans appear pretty healthy. Safety Chris Hope (arm) is out for a long stretch. Backup linebacker and special-teamer Colin McCarthy (hamstring) may be the only other issue. If tight end Craig Stevens (ribs) is feeling better, things will be looking up for the Titans. And considering the Texans just played the very physical Ravens and have a banged-up quarterback in Matt Schaub, it’s a nice advantage to have.

3. Indianapolis’ pass protection: The Colts have scrambled to patch things together with a bunch of injured guys, but quarterback Curtis Painter has gone over 100 pass attempts without an interception and he’s had time the past few games to make his reads and make his throws. Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne have been beneficiaries. This line’s taken a beating when things have been bad, and run blocking is no strength. But the group is stepping up to give the young quarterback a chance.

AFC North Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Browns' special teams: The unsoundness of these units is concerning. Cleveland's kickoff coverage team was the best in the NFL last season, but it didn't look that way when the Raiders Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. The bigger embarrassment was when the Browns allowed a 35-yard touchdown pass from punter Shane Lechler to Kevin Boss on a fake field goal. Two Browns players ran past Boss in an attempt to block the kick but allowed the tight end to run wide open in the process.

2. Bengals running back Cedric Benson: The good news is it might take two to three more weeks before a ruling is made on his suspension appeal. The bad news is Benson hasn't been a factor much lately anyway. Over the past two weeks, Benson has averaged 2.7 yards per carry and has failed to break a run longer than nine yards. Backup Bernard Scott is now replacing Benson for full series during games.

3. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: The problem is either McCoy isn't ready to be an NFL starter yet or the Browns aren't calling plays tailored for his strengths. In his first full season as a starting quarterback, McCoy has completed less than half of his passes in three of five games this season. Even though he threw for two touchdowns at Oakland, he failed to come through when it mattered the most. Needing a touchdown to tie the game, he threw three incompletions in the final minute to end the Browns' comeback chances.

RISING

[+] EnlargeBaltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice
AP Photo/Nick WassBaltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice accounted for 161 yards against the Texans last Sunday.
1. Ravens running back Ray Rice: He continues to show that he is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL and proved it on the same field with the reigning NFL rushing champion Arian Foster. Against Houston, Rice produced 101 yards rushing and 60 yards receiving. In the Ravens' four wins, he is averaging 151 total yards from scrimmage.

2. Steelers pass rush: Pittsburgh was expected to struggle to get to the quarterback after James Harrison went down with an eye injury. But the Steelers have actually increased their pressure in his absence. Pittsburgh has recorded eight sacks over the past two weeks after having seven in its first four games. The Steelers recorded a total of 13 quarterback hits on the Titans' Matt Hasselbeck and the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert.

3. Bengals thievery: Cincinnati might not be racking up the interceptions, but the Bengals can still take the ball away from you. Against Indianapolis, the Bengals set up their first score when Nate Clements stripped the ball away from Colts tight end Dallas Clark and clinched the victory when defensive end Carlos Dunlap returned a fumble for a touchdown. Cincinnati has caused nine fumbles, which is tied for third in the NFL, recovering seven of them.

AFC East Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins head coach: A national audience witnessed the end of an era in Miami. Even with two weeks of preparation, Sparano failed to accomplish anything against a division rival -- the New York Jets -- and fell to 0-5 on the season. Sparano entered the year on the hot seat and suffered his eighth consecutive loss. Miami owner Stephen Ross has publicly backed Sparano, but Sparano is heading toward his third consecutive losing season. Now the owner is expected to cut bait barring a sudden and unexpected turnaround.

2. Buffalo Bills' defense: It's been a season-long issue, but the Bills' defense is only recently getting bad press after the team lost two of the last three. Buffalo allowed 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game in a 27-24 loss to the New York Giants. The Bills also failed to force a turnover for the first time this season. Buffalo's defensive issues are plentiful. The Bills struggle stopping the run, allow too many big passing plays and can't generate a pass-rush. Buffalo has two weeks to work on these issues during the bye week.

3. Matt Moore, Dolphins quarterback: The Matt Moore era in Miami didn't get off to a good start. He threw for 204 yards and two interceptions in a 24-6 loss to the New York Jets. Moore, like former starter Chad Henne, struggled most in clutch situations. Miami was 2-for-12 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. Moore also was sacked four times. The Dolphins can't win many games with this kind of performance from their starting quarterback.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireJets cornerback Darrelle Revis had two picks in a primetime win against the Dolphins.
1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets cornerback: Revis showed on "Monday Night Football" why he is, in my opinion, the best cornerback in the NFL. Revis had a high-profile matchup with Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall and recorded a pair of interceptions. One was returned for a 100-yard touchdown and changed the momentum in New York's favor. Revis also recorded three tackles and had four passes defensed. Most teams avoid throwing at Revis. The Dolphins were one of the few to test the Pro Bowl corner and paid for it.

2. New England Patriots' defense: The Patriots are quietly fixing their much-maligned defense. New England has allowed just 37 points in two games. The defense kept the Patriots in the game this past weekend when the offense struggled for three quarters against the Dallas Cowboys. Stopping the run has been key. New England is allowing an average of 87 rushing yards per game the past two weeks. Patriots coach Bill Belichick now has a bye to make further improvements.

3. Calvin Pace, Jets linebacker: Revis wasn't the only Jets defender who had a big game. New York linebacker Calvin Pace was all over the field. He recorded seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. The Jets' defense finally looked like the top unit it was the past two years under head coach Rex Ryan. Miami was an easy opponent. The Jets' defense must continue this improvement with a tough upcoming schedule.

AFC West Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Raiders' draft future: The Raiders are set to give up a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2013 to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer. The Raiders' highest draft pick in 2012 will be a fifth-round pick. They have a sixth-round pick, but not a seventh-round pick. The Raiders are likely set to get a couple of compensatory picks (it starts at the end of the third round) for lost free agents. Still, the Raiders are clearly set up to win now.

2. Jason Campbell’s job security: Campbell's broken collarbone Sunday prompted the Palmer deal. The injury was a major blow to Campbell, who was finding success in his second season in Oakland. He is a free agent after the season. I could have seen the Raiders extending his contract at some point. Now, the 29-year-old’s future is very likely over in Oakland with the Raiders set to trade for Palmer. Campbell is going from the Raiders' sure starter to career limbo.

3. Kyle Orton’s future: Now that he has been replaced by Tim Tebow as Denver’s starting quarterback, it may be difficult for Orton to get another starting gig. He is a free agent at the end of the year, but will he be sought after as a starter?

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyTim Tebow is going to get his chance to prove himself as the Broncos' starting quarterback.
RISING

1. The Raiders’ discipline: The Raiders were penalized just five times for 35 yards in their 24-17 win over Cleveland in Week 6. The Raiders have long been the most penalized team in the NFL. Oakland coach Hue Jackson has worked diligently on the issues. It may finally be paying off.

2. Oakland’s defense: Oakland’s defense has made strides in the past two weeks. It was effective against the Browns. If the Raiders can continue to limit the big play, the defense should help the team win games.

3. TebowMania: It’s just starting. Now that Tebow is going to be given the chance to prove he can be the Broncos’ starting quarterback of the future, we’ll be hearing even more about the kid who has been known as the most popular backup in sports.

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