NFL Nation: AFC Stock Watch 2011 Week 8

AFC East Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter: The Dolphins continued their disturbing trend of not being able to finish games. They blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week, this time against the New York Giants in a 20-17 defeat. Miami has been outscored 28-9 in the fourth quarterback and overtime the past two weeks by the Giants and Denver Broncos.

2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots head coach: This is a first for Belichick this season. Overall, he's done another good job leading the Patriots to a 5-2 start. But Belichick's defensive schemes and personnel decisions have not been up to par this year. It's starting to catch up to him as teams like Pittsburgh and Buffalo are taking advantage of New England's defense. Quarterback Tom Brady cannot throw for 400 yards every week. Belichick, who has a reputation as a defensive guru, has to find solutions on that side of the football before it's too late.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Marcel Dareus
Luc Leclerc/US PRESSWIRERookie Marcell Dareus moved to nose tackle and had 2.5 sacks on Sunday.
3. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback: You can't put everything on Belichick. The players on the field have to produce as well. After a great rookie year, McCourty is having a major sophomore slump as New England's top cornerback. Against Pittsburgh, McCourty recorded seven solo tackles and zero pass defenses. He's struggling to get in position to make plays on the ball. McCourty has zero interceptions and only three pass defenses in seven games.

RISING

1. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle: Buffalo's first-round pick had his best game as a pro. Dareus was a handful for the Washington Redskins' offensive line and recorded four tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks. Dareus moved to nose tackle from defensive end this week because of a foot injury to Kyle Williams. The rookie looked right at home fighting off numerous double teams while still getting to the quarterback.

2. Fred Jackson, Bills tailback: Jackson continued his monster season with another great game, this time against the Redskins. Jackson rushed for 120 yards and added 74 yards receiving. Jackson runs through a lot of tackles and is on pace to rush for more than 1,600 yards this season. I think he's earned a new contract. Jackson deserves some mention in the Most Valuable Player race, as well.

3. Reggie Bush, Dolphins tailback: Bush had his second career 100-yard rushing performance and his first with the Dolphins. Bush's quickness gave the Giants fits for three quarters. He rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries. Bush’s longest run was for 35 yards, and he averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Miami needs more games like this from Bush to get more victories.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback: It’s baby steps for the rookie quarterback, who isn’t the root cause of the team's losing but isn’t doing nearly enough for the team to win with any regularity. I don’t like to read too much into body language, but it’s hard for a guy who’s not productive to give a team much moxie. And more than moxie, the team needs a couple touchdown passes from its quarterback. In the same game. No, he doesn’t have great weapons or protection, but we need to see him elevate his game, at least at times. It may not be fair to measure him against Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Christian Ponder, but he's not off to the same caliber of start to his career.

2. Confidence in the Titans’ ability to solve problems: Never mind a debate about Chris Johnson versus Javon Ringer. Johnson’s going to start, but Ringer will continue to get work if he’s the hotter hand when he gets his chances. We’re seven games into the season, and two Hall of Fame offensive linemen -- Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews -- clearly don’t have the horses to get effective run-blocking consistently. That’s a big problem for a team that’s supposed to have a run-based offense. The head coach and his offensive line coach wanted these guys, now they are on the hook for fixing things with what they have.

3. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts coach: A second consecutive appearance! Congrats. Bill Polian keeps talking about the great job Caldwell’s doing, and he has done well to keep things from fracturing. But there is only so much value in that when there are no wins. Caldwell and his staff don’t have enough talent to work with, but they also haven't adjusted their plan and approach enough to reflect what they are working with. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they can’t block up a great return. Points are tough to get so they have to be more aggressive at chances to get them. Caldwell looks like things are wearing on him.

[+] EnlargeJoel Dreessen
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesHouston's Joel Dreessen has had a nose for the end zone recently.
RISING

1. Joel Dreessen, Houston Texans tight end: He’s got a touchdown catch in two consecutive games and three in the last four. Even without Andre Johnson playing, defenses don’t put a priority on covering the Texans’ second tight end. Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter and even a healthy James Casey all probably qualify as more threatening. But Dreessen’s got the confidence of Matt Schaub and has a knack for taking advantage of what a defense allows him to do. Gary Kubiak said Monday you can be sure Dreessen’s not undervalued in Texans headquarters.

2. Karl Klug, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle: The high-motor rookie’s been an impact guy for the Titans so far and put together a very nice game against the Colts. He had a sack of Curtis Painter, a tackle for a loss and a deflected pass. He’s a key guy in Tennessee’s defensive line rotation and looks to be a real find as a fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa. The team made a push to get bigger on the defensive front. Klug is the tallest tackle at 6-foot-3, but the lightest at 275 pounds. Light is just fine if he produces like this.

3. Optimism in Houston: It’s always a bit dangerous to get excited about the Texans because they’ve been so consistent at suffering letdowns right when it appears they are ready to make a big step. But they’ve found their balance in a lot of ways over the past two weeks. The division is bad. The schedule is favorable. It’s there for the taking and it’s understandable if, no matter how careful history suggests we need to be, big expectations are building.

AFC North Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Browns' offense: Cleveland has produced one touchdown and three 50-plus-yard field goals over the past two games. That's 13 points scored despite possessing the ball for 70 minutes. Injuries have hit every position on offense this season and knocked out the Browns' top two running backs the past couple of weeks. It's been equally painful to watch the Browns' offense getting held to 17 points or fewer in six of seven games this season.

2. Ravens' penalties: The Ravens not only have a way about playing down to the competition but they have kept one-win teams in games with penalties. Baltimore has been flagged 21 times for 184 yards in less-than-focused efforts against the Jaguars and Cardinals. Officials seem to be keeping a close eye on the Ravens, penalizing them twice for taunting against Arizona. Right tackle Michael Oher has accounted for 10 percent of the penalties this season (two for false starts and three f0r holding).

3. Injuries to Steelers linebackers: James Harrison has missed the past three games with an eye injury, James Farrior missed last Sunday's game with a calf injury and LaMarr Woodley missed a good portion of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. The only starting linebacker who is healthy is Lawrence Timmons and he's playing out of position because of the injuries. There's a chance that the NFL's second-ranked defense could be missing three starting linebackers against Baltimore on Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireAnquan Boldin came up big on Sunday against Arizona.
RISING

1. Bengals' fourth-quarter defense: The Cincinnati defense has become the Mariano Rivera of the NFL. The Bengals have closed out the past three wins by scoring touchdowns in the final 2 1/2 minutes of games. The latest came Sunday when Reggie Nelson returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown with 36 seconds remaining. It's the first time the Bengals' defense has reached the end zone in three straight games since October 1983.

2. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: He's shrugged off a slow start to the season like it was another pass-rusher to become one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. During the Steelers' four-game winning streak, Roethlisberger leads the NFL with 11 touchdown passes (while throwing just two interceptions) and ranks among the league leaders in passing yards (third with 1,154) and completion rate (sixth at 67.1), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Now, he gets ready to go against the Ravens and the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

3. Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin: It's taken longer than expected for Boldin to develop a rapport with Joe Flacco. Maybe it took removing Derrick Mason from the team for Flacco to start leaning on Boldin. Whatever the reason, Boldin has carried the Ravens at times, catching 19 passes and averaging 105.6 yards over the past three weeks. In the Ravens' comeback against Arizona, he delivered the big play in each of Baltimore's four scoring drives that led to 24 unanswered points.

AFC West Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Philip Rivers, San Diego, quarterback: No player will be more closely watched in Week 9 than Rivers. It has been a rough season for Rivers. He looked to snap out of his funk with brilliant play Monday night. However, all that will be remembered is Rivers dropping the snap from center Nick Hardwick in the final minute at the Chiefs’ 15-yard line with the Chargers ready to kick a game-winning field goal. The Chiefs ended up winning in overtime.

2. Tebowmania: Even the most ardent Tim Tebow supporters are going to have a hard time putting a shine on this one. Tebow was terrible in a 35-point home loss to the Lions on Sunday. Tebow showed no improvement and he continued to have the same delivery, accuracy and pocket issues. This is Tebow’s chance to prove he belongs in the NFL as a starting quarterback. So far, it hasn’t been impressive.

3. Carson Palmer’s preparation time: It’s almost go time for the new Oakland starting quarterback. Palmer vowed to be ready for Sunday’s home game against the Broncos after he was rusty and shaky in a second-half performance against Kansas City in Week 7, five days after he became a member of the Raiders. Palmer worked diligently with his new receivers during the bye week, and he will have this week to get ready. The Raiders are counting on Palmer. He must be ready.

[+] EnlargeTamba Hali
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTamba Hali was in celebration mode after a pair of sacks in Monday night's win.
RISING

1. Tamba Hali, linebacker, Kansas City: The Chiefs’ pass-rusher is one of the better defensive players in the NFL. He may not be known by the casual fan, but he is a nightmare to deal with. He took over against the Chargers at times with two sacks Monday night.

2. Raiders in the standings: It has to feel good any time you gain ground while on your bye week. Thanks to the Kansas City’s win over San Diego, the idle Raiders moved into a three-way tie for first place with the Chiefs and Chargers at 4-3. It is the first time three teams have been tied for first place at 4-3 since 1989 in the old AFC Central.

3. Jon Baldwin, Kansas City, receiver: The Chiefs’ first-round draft pick looked great in his second NFL game. He had a team-high five catches for 82 yards and he had a 39-yard touchdown catch. Baldwin missed two months after suffering a thumb injury after a reported fight with teammate Thomas Jones. However, Baldwin is showing why the Chiefs drafted him, and the big target is giving the offense another dimension.

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