NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 09/18/09

AFC North: Final Word

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
4:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:

 
 Jason Bridge/US Presswire
 Willie Parker, who gained a paltry 1.5 yards per rush against the Titans, looks to rebound against the Bears.
Grounded attack: The rushing attack of the Pittsburgh Steelers was unable to get off the ground in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers averaged an abysmal 1.6 yards per rush, and leading rusher Willie Parker had 19 yards on 13 carries. Perhaps in an effort to take pressure off his teammates, Parker said this week that he takes the blame for Pittsburgh’s inability to run. But no tailback that carried the football last week was able to do much, showing the problems are bigger than one player. Pittsburgh will have had 10 days to clean up those mistakes.

Not the men of Troy: The Steelers will be playing without Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (knee), and backup Tyrone Carter has some big shoes to fill. Against the Chicago Bears, look for other players such as James Harrison, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley to step up their games on the front seven by bringing a pass rush to try to rattle Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. With young receivers and a new quarterback, Chicago’s offense still looks out of sync with Cutler at the helm and Pittsburgh may be playing this unit at the right time.

Air Flacco: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw the football 43 times and helped score 38 points in last week’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Sunday’s opponent, the San Diego Chargers, have had a surprisingly suspect pass defense in the past year despite a lot of athletic talent in the secondary. Although this should be more of a grind-it-out game between the Chargers and Ravens, throwing the football well at key moments could be the key for Baltimore on the road. Flacco has proved that he can shoulder that responsibility.

Hard Knocks in Cincy: The Cincinnati Bengals were kicking themselves this week for their surprising 12-7 loss to the Denver Broncos last week. The loss came at the hands of a fluke play that resulted in an 87-yard touchdown reception by Denver receiver Brandon Stokley to end the game. So where are the Bengals emotionally? Can Cincinnati recover and win a tough road game at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers or will the Bengals have a hangover? There has been heightening expectations surrounding the Bengals and this is a huge game. The Bengals do not want to fall to 0-2 with a Week 3 matchup upcoming against Pittsburgh.

Testing Kyle: Speaking of the Broncos, look for the Browns to challenge Denver quarterback Kyle Orton and see if he can beat them. Cleveland’s defense has increased its aggressiveness under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and registered four sacks of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre last week. Orton is no Favre, and he only led one aforementioned touchdown drive against the Bengals. Don’t expect Cleveland’s defense to be convinced Orton has already turned the corner with his new team.

AFC South: Final Word

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend’s games:

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
David Garrard was 14-for-28 for just 122 yards against the Colts.
The Titans and Texans will be more comfortable on offense: Yes, the 3-4 is becoming more popular. Both these teams has 3-4s on their mind through much off the offseason and preseason because they opened against Pittsburgh and the Jets, respectively. But now in their head-to-head matchup, they get to go back to the more familiar 4-3 base defenses of a familiar division opponent. That doesn’t mean things will be simpler, but they will probably be more familiar and straightforward.

Charlie Johnson is going to tell us a lot: The Jaguars are not an especially good pass-rushing team. The Dolphins are a different story. The Colts’ left tackle, Johnson, will be tested on virtually every snap by outside linebacker Joey Porter and end Randy Starks. The Colts will be prepared to help Johnson if they have to and the game plan will certain feature quick throws. But on big snaps, can Johnson keep Manning clean and create room for Joseph Addai and Donald Brown?

The Jaguars have to rough up Kurt Warner: The veteran quarterback’s offensive line doesn’t qualify as a team strength, but neither does the Jaguars' defensive line. They’ve lost Reggie Hayward and are playing a lot of 3-4. No matter how many guys are at the line of scrimmage, can the Jaguars break through and put Warner on the ground with any regularity? Derrick Harvey shouldn’t feel good about the team downplaying its expectations of him. This would be a good game for him to make some noise, but the Jaguars need consistent push from everybody.

If Chris Brown gets over 10 carries, that means good things for Houston: The Texans would like to have a dual-threat backfield with Steve Slaton and Brown. But for Brown to get 10 or more carries, it has to mean the team is running the ball over 30 times because Slaton will be the primary guy. If the Texans run enough for Brown to get that work, it means bad things for Tennessee. Still, maybe the Titans would prefer Brown to get touches over Andre Johnson.

David Garrard has to do more in the pass game: That means Torry Holt and Troy Williamson have to play better, too. I expect the Jaguars will be able to run it and should do well in managing the clock. But the fact is, grinding it out and wearing a team down is great, but big plays are a different sort of demoralizing. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter needs to find and exploit something in the Cardinals' pass defense and help put his guys in position for a couple of field-flipping plays that can make things so much easier for everyone. Odds are the Cardinals will find a couple and the Jaguars have to offset them somehow.

AFC East: Final Word

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:

Rich Kane/Icon SMI
Rex Ryan has helped add a little extra spice to the Patriots-Jets rivalry.
Sunday's showdown between the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be more electric than some playoff games. Thank you, Rex Ryan. Let's waive the waiting period and put the Jets head coach in the Sports Talk Hall of Fame right now. It's not only the stream of sound coming from Ryan, but also the trickle down that has turned his players into trash-talking demons. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes wants "to embarrass" the Patriots on Sunday at the Meadowlands. Eric Mangini never would have stood for this. And that's why the media and the Jets players love Ryan all the more.

Tom Brady versus the Jets defense will be entertaining and educational. The Jets gave a fine demonstration of what they want to be on a weekly basis by dictating pretty much every snap in Sunday's season-opening victory over the Houston Texans. The Jets' defense didn't give up a point and throttled a respectable offense without two of their top players: defensive end Shaun Ellis and outside linebacker Calvin Pace. Ellis returns Sunday, giving the Patriots that much more to consider. Brady overcame a shaky start Monday night and looked every bit the quarterback who won two Super Bowl MVPs in a stunning comeback over the Bills, who were without top tackler Paul Posluszny. Can Brady decipher a significantly more dynamic defense on Sunday?

The Miami Dolphins likely will start the season 0-2, but they did the same thing last year. The reigning AFC East champs have another difficult assignment on both sides of the ball Monday night, when the Indianapolis Colts visit Land Shark Stadium. It's early in the season, so maybe we'll look back on the Dolphins' flat-line, opening-day performance against the Atlanta Falcons as an aberration. Maybe Chad Pennington will unlock the Dolphins offense, which looked dull in the preseason, too. Even so, Peyton Manning Inc. isn't the best outfit to have an emphatic bounce-back game against.

Sunday should look like Home Run Derby for the Buffalo Bills' offense. The Patriots stymied Terrell Owens and Lee Evans on Monday night, holding them to five catches for 71 yards. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demonstrated ineptness in controlling the Dallas Cowboys' passing game in Week 1. The Cowboys averaged 8.9 yards per play -- not just passing plays, but every snap. Tony Romo threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns, feeding big-play targets Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten all afternoon.

Mark Sanchez isn't going to face a prototypical Bill Belichick defense. One of the story lines not dealing with pregame smack involves how the rookie quarterback will fare against defensive mastermind Belichick. But let's face it: whatever defenders the Patriots field on Sunday will barely be indicative of what they will be two months from now. Even before stud linebacker Jerod Mayo went down with a knee injury, the defense was a work in progress. The Patriots are developing their own identity without veterans Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. Then Mayo, the new centerpiece, gets hurt. Sanchez will be facing a patchwork crew. Belichick certainly will have them coached up, but the talent level and depth has dissipated considerably in the past few weeks.

AFC West: Final Word

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez
Despite joining the Raiders just a few days before the game, Richard Seymour collected two sacks against San Diego.
Will former New England teammates get up close and personal? Matt Cassel had to deal with Richard Seymour in practice while the two were New England teammates. At least, back then Seymour wasn’t allowed to hit Cassel. Those days are over. If Cassel, who has been recovering from a knee injury, plays Sunday at home against the Raiders, Seymour will not be looking for a joyful reunion of former Patriots. Seymour will be coming after Cassel. Seymour had two sacks in his Oakland debut and will be looking to add to his total against a familiar face.

Somebody cover that guy: Notice to the league: Darren Sproles is really dangerous. You might want to account for him. The 5-foot-6 running back looms large for the Chargers. Baltimore will have to try to find a way to stop Sproles, who scored on a five-yard touchdown run to beat Oakland on Monday in the final seconds. He is also a major threat on returns. With LaDainian Tomlinson out because of an ankle injury, Sproles will be on the field often. The Ravens need to find a way to stop him.

Can the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense learn something from the Chargers? In their second game using the 3-4 defense, the Chiefs need to study what the Chargers did against Oakland in Week 1. San Diego has a 3-4 defense, so Kansas City will have something to work off of. San Diego played pretty well against the Raiders. But the Raiders had success passing to tight end Zach Miller in the middle of the field and running the ball up the gut. Perhaps the Chiefs can find something from the San Diego game film and learn from it.

McDaniels goes for home state sweep: Josh McDaniels is a proud native of Ohio. He has often credited his Canton, Ohio, roots for his football passion. McDaniels’ father was a wildly successful high school coach there and McDaniels said Ohio’s passion for football is part of his DNA. So, it would be a huge honor for McDaniels to register victories in his first two games as an NFL coach against the NFL’s two teams from the Buckeye State. The Broncos won at Cincinnati last week and they host Cleveland this week.

McFadden goes back to the scene of his best NFL moment: Oakland running back Darren McFadden has fond memories of Arrowhead Stadium. The No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft had his best NFL game last year (also in Week 2) in Kansas City. He had 164 yards rushing on 21 carries. McFadden then began dealing with a turf toe injurt. McFadden had a decent start to the season Monday with 68 yards on 17 carries. He is healthy and looking for a repeat performance in Kansas City.

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