NFL Nation: Final Word 2012 Week 2

Final Word: NFC North

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about (what's left of) Week 2:

It's been a while: The Detroit Lions haven't won at the San Francisco 49ers since 1975, having lost 10 consecutive games at Candlestick Park. Overall, the 49ers have won 13 of the teams' past 14 meetings. The Lions have made a habit out of crushing longstanding milestones over the past year, and it will be fun to see how they do in a strength-on-strength matchup between their passing offense and the 49ers' pass defense. In the end, though, they face a difficult task against one of the best teams in football. The 49ers are seven-point favorites and all 14 ESPN analysts are picking them to win.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastLions QB Matthew Stafford shouldn't expect to see a lot of blitzes from the 49ers on Sunday.
Traditional defense: If form holds, you'll see a rare combination of defensive approaches in Sunday night's game. In an era of blitz-mad schemes, the Lions and 49ers send standard four-man rushes as often as any team in the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers blitzed the Lions only once in 56 snaps in the teams' 2011 meeting at Ford Field. And over the past two seasons, the 49ers have blitzed 19.4 percent of snaps and the Lions 21 percent. Those figures are the lowest and fourth-lowest in the league, respectively, over that span. Both teams trust their defensive lines, for good reason, and it means quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith will face maximum coverage more often than normal.

History making? Stafford could set an NFL record if he throws for at least 350 yards, which would be his fifth consecutive regular-season game matching that total. (At the moment, he's tied with Drew Bledsoe at four.) In his past five starts, including a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, Stafford has grossed 2,019 passing yards. It would seem a tough task against the 49ers' defense, which has been hit for 350-plus yards only twice over the past four seasons. But both instances came last year. The Dallas Cowboys netted 427 yards in an overtime Week 2 game last season, while the Philadelphia Eagles netted 405 yards against them.

Optimism abounds: The Minnesota Vikings' matchup at the Indianapolis Colts is the kind of early-season game that makes the NFL interesting every week. For the Vikings, the rebuilding Colts represent a highly beatable opponent, one that could allow them to end their streak of five consecutive losses at AFC opponents and also give them a 2-0 start to the 2012 campaign. The Colts, meanwhile, know the Vikings needed overtime to dispatch the similarly rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars at home last week. The Colts would be justified in considering the Vikings ripe for their first 2012 victory. In fact, eight of ESPN's 14 analysts picked the Colts to win.

Peterson Power: Tailback Adrian Peterson was a full participant in practice this week after getting 17 carries (on 31 snaps) against the Jaguars. There is every reason to think the Vikings will increase his workload against the Colts. But I'm more intrigued to watch the continued development of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who completed 85 percent of his first- and second-down passes against the Jaguars. Ponder should look at this game as one in which he can establish an early rhythm. The Colts won't have pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (ankle) available, leaving the Vikings to account for one threat: linebacker Robert Mathis.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Containing A.J. Green: The Bengals' wide receiver didn't take over games against the Browns statistically last season. In two meetings, Green had four receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown. It was the timeliness of his catches that hurt Cleveland. Green's 41-yard touchdown off a quick snap in last season's opener put the Bengals ahead for good in the fourth quarter, and his leaping 51-yard catch in the final minute led to the game-winning field goal in the second meeting. On Sunday, the Browns have to stop Green without cornerback Joe Haden, who is beginning his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. It's a significant loss, because Haden has intercepted or defended 24 passes since the start of 2011, four more than the next highest defender, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireBaltimore should look to get Ray Rice more involved this week against the Eagles.
Increasing touches for Ray Rice: The Ravens' first-regular season game with the new no-huddle offense resulted in fewer opportunities for the star running back. Rice made the most of his chances, totaling 93 yards on 13 touches (10 carries and three receptions). Look for Baltimore to feature Rice on Sunday in what should be a more competitive game against the Eagles. Rice has been an accurate barometer of success for the Ravens. Last season, Baltimore was 11-0 when Rice had at least 18 touches and 1-4 when he had fewer than 18. Despite the limited carries, Rice managed to run the ball into the end zone twice to extend his hot scoring stretch. Since Week 8 of last season, Rice leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Trent Richardson needs help: The Browns' rookie running back has been having a one-on-one verbal battle with Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga this week. But Richardson won't be able to beat Cincinnati's run defense alone. In his NFL debut, Richardson rushed for 39 yards, which led to Maualuga describing Richardson's game as "nothing spectacular." Richardson's ineffectiveness was the result of getting hit in the backfield on seven of his 19 carries, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was tied for most in the NFL for Week 1. Richardson lost 4 yards on those rushes but gained 43 yards on the 12 carries (3.6-yard average) when he wasn't hit behind the line.

Protecting Ben Roethlisberger: Whether the Steelers avoid their first 0-2 start since 2002 depends on their ability to block for their quarterback. In his last four starts since injuring his ankle against the Browns in Week 14 last season, Roethlisberger hasn't completed more than half of his passes when defenses send at least five pass-rushers. In the season opener at Denver, he was 6 of 14 for 60 yards and an interception against blitzes. This could be a problem against Rex Ryan's aggressive defense. The Jets have the second-highest rate of sending five or more pass-rushers (43.4 percent) since the start of the 2009 season.

Dominating Battle of Ohio: The Bengals have won the past three meetings with Browns, including six of the last seven. A major reason why has been Cincinnati's play in the second half. The Browns had the lead at halftime in both meetings last season only to lose each time. Cincinnati outscored Cleveland 30-6 in the second half in 2011. The last second-half touchdown scored by the Browns against the Bengals was a 46-yard pass from Colt McCoy to Brian Robiskie on Dec. 19, 2010.

Final Word: AFC East

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Fight for legitimacy: The New York Jets silenced some -- but not all -- of their critics with a convincing 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. But the Bills are a team the Jets have owned the past several years. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a much stiffer test for New York in Week 2. The Jets have a chance to show they are for real if they can go into Pittsburgh and get a win at Heinz Field. A 2-0 start with wins over Buffalo and Pittsburgh would make the Jets legitimate contenders for a wild-card spot in the AFC.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Kellen Micah/Icon SMI Mario Williams had a very quiet Bills debut, recording just one tackle.
Super Mario must produce: Bills defensive end Mario Williams was correct in his assertion that unknown Jets tackle Austin Howard illegally used hands to the face in Week 1. However, there is no more time for excuses. This is a big-game opportunity for Williams to bounce back at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills signed Williams to a franchise-record $100 million contract this offseason. With that comes the pressure to produce on a weekly basis. He registered just one tackle against the Jets, and the Bills certainly need more from him.

Impact of Wildcat: The much-anticipated debut of the Jets' Wildcat package with Tim Tebow was a dud in Week 1. Tebow rushed for just 11 yards on five carries in the win over Buffalo. However, Tebow had much more success using a similar read-option offense last year in a playoff win over the Steelers, who host the Jets on Sunday. Tebow rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in the Denver Broncos’ 29-23 playoff win over the Steelers. Tebow also threw for 316 yards in that game, against last year’s No. 1 defense. Pittsburgh clearly had issues defending Tebow. So the Jets must find the right balance to get Tebow on the field while not hurting starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Dangers of falling to 0-2: If the Bills and Miami Dolphins aim to make the playoffs, it would be in their best interest not to lose Sunday. Since 1990, teams that start 0-2 have made the postseason only 12 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A win and 1-1 record would increase their chances to 41 percent. Buffalo entered the year with playoff aspirations and an improved roster. Miami is rebuilding this season and will host the Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium.

Brady Bunch: Do the Arizona Cardinals have a chance at pulling off an upset over the New England Patriots? Based on the numbers, it doesn’t look good. New England quarterback Tom Brady is an amazing 35-1 in his previous 36 home starts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Brady also is 10-0 in home openers. The Patriots, with Brady, know how to get off to fast starts at home and will be heavy favorites against the Cardinals, who will start Kevin Kolb at quarterback.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireThe Panthers are trying to limit hits like this one by limiting Cam Newton's time out of the pocket.
The feud: I think the bad blood between the Panthers and Saints is much worse than people realize. And it’s flowing mostly from the Panthers. There has been some reflection on how the Panthers felt the Saints were running up the score unnecessarily in Week 17 last season. But that’s only a small part of what’s simmering between these teams. When the NFL made its announcement about the Saints’ bounty program in March, it named Panthers quarterback Cam Newton as one of the players who was targeted for injury. That revelation did not sit well in any corner of the Panthers' organization. I’m sure coach Ron Rivera will order his players not to attempt any sort of retaliation that could result in penalties. But I think this is going to be an extremely physical game.

The target: With Brent Grimes lost for the season to injury, the Falcons are turning to Chris Owens as their nickel back. Owens is fast and athletic, but he has struggled in coverage in the past. I think it’s safe to assume Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will try to target Owens as often as possible.

Staying above water: It’s too early to say any contest is a must-win game. But the meeting between the Panthers and Saints comes pretty close to that. Only 12 percent of the teams to start 0-2 have made the postseason since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams that have started 1-1 have made the playoffs 41 percent of the time.

Staying grounded: The Bucs backed up coach Greg Schiano’s claim that they’re going to run the ball a lot. In the opener, Josh Freeman attempted only 24 passes. I would expect more of the same against the Giants. In Freeman’s 41 career starts, the Bucs are 4-1 when he throws fewer than 25 passes, and 14-22 when he throws 25 or more.

Legend or myth? There is a perception out there that Carolina’s Newton is a great downfield passer. But that might be a myth. Newton hasn’t completed more than two passes on throws of more than 20 yards downfield in his past nine games. He did start off quickly in that department last season, accomplishing the feat in five of his first eight games, but he has been quiet since.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Castonzo
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe Colts' Anthony Castonzo has a rather tough assignment on Sunday -- contain the Vikings' Jared Allen.
Line makeup: We came into the week thinking Colts newcomer Trai Essex could take over for Winston Justice at right tackle, but Justice seems to have bounced back from the concussion he suffered Sunday in Chicago. He’s practicing and it’s left guard Joe Reitz who remains a question. Seth Olsen is not a quality replacement, and Essex is versatile enough to play either guard or tackle spot. Perhaps he replaces Olsen rather than Justice? The No. 1 question on the offensive line will be how left tackle Anthony Castonzo can do against end Jared Allen, who was largely held in check last week by Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe.

Line makeup, II: The Jaguars are banged up in a big way on the offensive line. Starting right tackle Cameron Bradfield and starting left guard Eben Britton could both miss the game with ankle injuries, which would mean Guy Whimper or waiver claim Troy Kropog at right tackle and undrafted rookie Mike Brewster at left guard. That’s hardly an ideal scenario against the Texans’ swarming front. It looks like a big mismatch. But often what looks like a big mismatch in a divisional game during the preparation week doesn’t turn out to be the major issue.

Struggling in Cali: The Titans have lost eight in a row against the Chargers, dating all the way to 1993. San Diego’s 3-4 front has given Tennessee problems in recent years, and first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram, an outside linebacker, is a part of packages that will be another complicated thing for Jake Locker to sort through. The quarterback will be playing with a banged-up left (non-throwing) shoulder. But he will be throwing against a banged-up secondary too, so if he can get protection he may be able to find plays downfield with Kenny Britt back in the lineup.

Playing stout: The Colts allowed 3.5 yards a carry in their season-opening loss to the Bears. That wasn’t as bad as some of us anticipated it could be. But Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson will be a different level of challenge. He found the end zone twice in his first game back with a reconstructed knee in the Vikings' win over Jacksonville. The Colts remains susceptible to the run and are going to get tested. If and when they can get the Vikings into tough passing downs, will Dwight Freeney be available to chase Christian Ponder? If his ankle injury holds him out, the Colts are then deficient in that area as well, which would be bad news.

Improvement: Good teams respond to week-to-week problems. Texans coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t pleased with the way his team ran the ball and the way it performed on special teams, even though it posted a 20-point win over Miami in the opener. His players should respond to points of emphasis and show improvement in those areas. Jacksonville’s big point of emphasis has been better tackling, and it will need to wrap up the likes of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson to have a chance in this game. Outside linebacker Daryl Smith would be a boon, but he looks unlikely to make it back from a groin/abdomen injury. If corner Derek Cox is back from his hamstring problem, coverage should be a strong suit.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Pivotal odds week. Three of the NFC East's four teams won in Week 1, which means the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles each have a chance to start the season 2-0. Teams that have started the season 2-0 since 1990 have reached the postseason 63.7 percent of the time. Teams that have started the season 1-1 over that time have reached the postseason only 41 percent of the time. A 1-1 record is the best for which the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants can hope, and they certainly don't want to start 0-2. Since 1990, teams starting the season 0-2 have reached the playoffs only 12 percent of the time. And of the 46 Super Bowl champions, only three have started their seasons 0-2. Of course, the last Super Bowl champ to do so was the 2007-08 Giants, several of whom remain on the current team. So it's not as though you could count them out.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
David Dermer/Diamond Images/ Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy gained 76 rush yards before first contact last Sunday but faces a stiff test against the Ravens.
Two different backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" stats, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy are ranked second and third in rushing yardage in the NFL since the start of the 2011 season. However, Rice has collected 80 percent of his yards and all of his touchdowns in formations that include a fullback, while McCoy has picked up 88 percent of his yards and 10 of his 17 touchdowns out of single-back sets. The Eagles rely on aggressive blocking by their offensive line to clear room for McCoy. His 76 rushing yards before first contact were the most of any running back in the NFL in Week 1.

Giants must wrap up. Sticking with that theme (and those Next Level numbers), the Giants allowed 66 rushing yards after contact to the Cowboys in Week 1, the fourth-highest total in the league, though 49 of the 66 came on one DeMarco Murray run. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin, whom the Buccaneers traded up to select one pick before the Giants took David Wilson at the end of the first round, was fourth in the league in Week 1 with 55 rushing yards after contact.

The new Redskins' offense. Mike Shanahan said he would change his offensive scheme to fit rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and in Week 1 he was true to his word. Griffin used play-action on 16 drop-backs last Sunday in New Orleans, which is the second-highest total of play-action pass plays since Shanahan became the Redskins' coach. Griffin was 11-of-14 for 237 of his 320 yards on play-action passes. Washington also operated out of a shotgun or "pistol" formation on 54.9 percent of their offensive plays Sunday, which is the second-highest such percentage during Shanahan's time as their coach and just the second time they've been over 50 percent under Shanahan. In his first two years in Washington, the Redskins operated out of shotgun or shotgun-variation sets just 28.2 percent of the time.

Keep up the blitz. The Cowboys had a lot of success when they sent five or more pass-rushers at Eli Manning in Week 1. The Giants' quarterback was only 3-of-7 in those situations, a far cry from the way he abused the Cowboys when they blitzed him last year. As they continue to rely on the improved coverage by their defensive backs, the Cowboys could blitz more going forward, and Sunday's game in Seattle might be a good time to try it. Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was 6-of-18 and took three sacks last week when the Cardinals sent five or more pass-rushers at him.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Manning brings no-huddle show to Denver: It didn’t take new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning long to enjoy success with his no-huddle magic. After a 19-month break, Manning still has the ability to shred a defense without huddling up his troops. The Broncos scored all 25 of their offensive points in a 31-19 victory over Pittsburgh when going without a huddle, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the three drives during which they huddled yielded no points. Yes, expect more no-huddle from Manning on Monday night at Atlanta.

Will Seau’s memory charge San Diego’s defense? It will be an emotional day at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. The Chargers will honor legendary former linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide at age 43 in May. The Chargers’ defense was outstanding at Oakland in Week 1. The unit could honor Seau with a swarming, relentless performance against visiting Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeShaun Phillips
AP Photo/Ben MargotShaun Phillips (95) and the Chargers defense kept Oakland out of the end zone until the final minute of their season-opening 22-14 victory.
Can the Chiefs start quickly? Nothing sets the tone for a successful game like an early touchdown drive ... or so the Chiefs have heard. Kansas City was unable to score a touchdown on its first drive of every game last season -- and the trend continued into the opener against Atlanta. A first-series touchdown Sunday would certainly boost the Chiefs' chances to win in Buffalo.

Wake up fast, Raiders: Excuse the Raiders if they are a little foggy Sunday morning. It's a challenging week: After ending their Week 1 home loss to San Diego late Monday night, the Raiders fly to Miami on Friday ahead of Sunday's game, scheduled for 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). It is the first of five games Oakland will play this season that start at 10 a.m. PT -- the first time in Raiders history that the team will visit the Eastern time zone that many times. For years, West Coast teams have said that playing at 10 a.m. PT is challenging because of the time adjustment. The Raiders better adjust quickly if they don’t want to adjust to being 0-2.

Broncos likely to see a lot of flying Falcons: The Broncos’ secondary looked improved last week, and it will get a stiff test Monday night in Atlanta. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was 18-of-22 for 208 yards and three touchdowns when throwing out of three-receiver sets against Kansas City, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There is no way Atlanta is going to go away from that strategy after enjoying so much success.

Final Word: NFC West

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Cards' defense to the test: Arizona's defense is coming off a dominant performance against Seattle. The Patriots present a different challenge at quarterback and with their personnel packages featuring two tight ends. New England used at least two tight ends on every offensive play last week, becoming the second NFL team since 2008 to do so (New England also did it in Week 14 last season).

Defenses shift from base personnel into sub packages about 90 percent of the time when defending the Patriots' double-tight end offense. The Cardinals will presumably do the same, but that will mark a shift for them.

[+] EnlargeDarnell Dockett
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsArizona's defense, led by Darnell Dockett, right, and Adrian Wilson, 24, will have its hands full Sunday in New England.
Since Week 9 last season, when Arizona's defense came to life, the Cardinals have stayed in a base 3-4 defense 86 percent of the time when defending double-tight groupings. They have allowed two touchdown passes on 103 attempts on these plays. New England has 19 touchdown passes on 311 attempts from its double-tight offense over the same span. One difference this year: Against Tennessee last week, the Patriots ran the ball more from their double-tight package, striking a 27-27 balance in run-pass ratio. Twenty-four of those rushes gained 135 yards against Tennessee's sub packages.

Rough road: The Cardinals head to Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have a 67-13 (.838) record. That's best home winning percentage at any stadium since 1970 (minimum 25 games), according to the NFL. New England is 10-0 in home openers at Gillette.

Streaking Stafford: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford heads to San Francisco riding a streak of four consecutive games with at least 350 yards passing. He joins Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with a 350-yard streak that long. Brees set the record last season. The 49ers shouldn't be all that concerned about passing yards allowed (Alex Smith could tell us that). Four quarterbacks topped 300 yards against the 49ers last season. Tony Romo was the only one to emerge a winner, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to lead Dallas' overtime victory in Week 2. Philadelphia's Michael Vick was the most recent quarterback to top 350 yards against the 49ers. He passed for 416 last season, but the 49ers prevailed, 24-23.

Seahawks' pass rush: The Seahawks expect new pass-rushers Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones to help contain opposing quarterbacks. Results were generally positive in Week 1, but Seattle managed only one sack against a Cardinals offensive line featuring two unproven tackles. Against Dallas in Week 2, Seattle needs its rush to combine with home crowd noise to prevent Romo from extending his streak of strong performances on the road. Romo has completed 71.4 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 3-2 record in his past five road games. Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Smith and even Rex Grossman made big plays at times during road victories against the Seahawks last season. Has anything changed?

Containing RG3: The St. Louis Rams need to beware the play-action fake when trying to contain Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin used play-action 16 times during a victory against New Orleans, tied for the Redskins' second-highest total since Mike Shanahan became head coach. Griffin completed 11 of 14 passes for 237 yards on these plays, averaging 16.9 yards per attempt (up from 6.9 on his remaining 12 attempts). The Rams didn't have to worry about the play-action game at Detroit last week. Stafford completed one of his four attempts, gaining eight yards, while using the tactic.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

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