NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2010 Week 16

Final Word: AFC East

December, 24, 2010
12/24/10
4:05
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Notable Miami Dolphins could experience their final games at Sun Life Stadium. Teams never remain exactly the same from year to year, but the Dolphins might experience more turnover than most organizations before next season. Thanks to a 1-6 home record entering Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, head coach Tony Sparano's job carries no guarantees. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning likely will be gone. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan should be considered for head coaching vacancies. Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams also will leave the field not knowing if they'll be back.

[+] EnlargeRicky William and Ronnie Brown
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeSunday could be the final Dolphins home game for Ricky Williams, 34, and Ronnie Brown.
Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury is disconcerting. Reports out of New York indicate Sanchez will play Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, but the mere idea his status is in question reminds us who the Jets' backup quarterback is. Mark Brunell is 40 years old. Since 2006, he has started one game and attempted 31 passes. The Jets are on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth. Although Sanchez is rated 28th among all NFL passers, he makes improvisational plays with his legs a rusty quadragenarian cannot. The Jets' chances would diminish substantially if Brunell were forced to take over.

The New England Patriots are in a "hat and T-shirt game." ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi emphasized the importance of donning division championship regalia, which the Patriots can do with a victory or tie against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium (or if the Jets don't win in Chicago).

"Those hats and T-shirts mean something. It means you've accomplished something," he said in the latest "Bruschi's Breakdown" at ESPNBoston.com. "There have been plenty of teams that have been wild-card teams and gone to the AFC or NFC Championships and have nothing to show for it -- no division title or anything. When you win your division, it says something, right there on the hat and T-shirt: 'Division Champs.' I was always proud to put those T-shirts on, and you want a set of three -- division, conference and you all know what the last one is. It starts with that first one, though."

Buffalo's defense deserves some credit. The Bills' defense has been ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season. But it has quietly put together some impressive performances. The Bills have allowed more than 16 points in regulation time just once since Thanksgiving and have given up only 20 points over their past two games. Encompassing the entire season, Buffalo still has the NFL's worst run defense. But take away Cleveland Browns bulldozer Peyton Hillis' first five carries on the opening drive in Week 14, and the Bills have held Hillis, Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown to 118 yards on 31 carries.

AFC East players are approaching some milestones. With two games left, it's appropriate to take a look at some season stats. Bills receiver Steve Johnson needs two touchdown receptions to set the team record. Bills running back Fred Jackson needs 189 yards to hit 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick is seven touchdown passes away from 30, which would trigger a promise from Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan to run down Hertel Avenue in his underwear. Dolphins receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess need three catches to break the team record for two receivers set by Mark Duper and Mark Clayton in 1984. Cameron Wake needs 4.5 sacks to tie the Dolphins record of 18.5 held by Bill Stanfill and Jason Taylor. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must average 219.5 passing yards to hit 4,000 for the fourth time. Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is 176 yards from hitting quadruple digits. Wes Welker needs 17 receptions to get 100 a fourth straight season. Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is 114 yards from reaching 1,000 for the first time in three seasons.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 24, 2010
12/24/10
4:05
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

No 2008 AFC West repeat: Heading into Week 15, many fans wondered if the Kansas City Chiefs would duplicate the Denver Broncos' disaster of 2008. Who could forget that Denver went from 8-5 to 8-8 and fell out of the playoffs -- ending the 14-year Mike Shanahan era? All the Broncos had to do was win one game. The Chiefs entered the week 8-5 and although Kansas City could not clinch the division in Week 15, many AFC West fans saw similarities. The Chiefs showed they were not going to collapse as they won in St. Louis by 14 points. Kansas City can now take the division with home wins against the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders -- among other scenarios. While they can still lose the division title, the Chiefs pull a 2008 Broncos with three straight losses to end the season.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego defense
Robert Benson/US PresswireSan Diego sacked Alex Smith six times and limited San Francisco to only 192 yards of total offense.
San Diego Chargers’ defense is on a roll: San Diego’s defense is heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati playing well. San Diego has allowed just seven points in the past two games, against Kansas City and San Francisco. The Chargers nearly pulled off two straight shutouts, but the 49ers scored a touchdown late in the game in Week 15. San Diego has allowed a total of 259 yards in the past two games. The Chargers also lead the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of just 259.8 yards per game. Another big defensive performance could be on the horizon as they face the Bengals and their 21st-ranked offense in the NFL.

Raiders have to snap streak: If Oakland wants to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture, the Raiders have to show they are capable of beating a playoff-caliber team. They get their chance when Indianapolis visits Sunday. They could even be knocked out of playoff contention by the time they kick off, if the Chiefs beat the Titans at home. The Raiders are 5-0 against AFC West competition, but 0-5 against the rest of the AFC. The closest Oakland has come in any of those games has been two seven-point losses. A win over the Colts would give Oakland much-needed confidence if it advances to the playoffs.

Homecoming rehearsal for Kubiak? There has been speculation that Texans coach Gary Kubiak could be a candidate for the Denver head-coaching job if Houston fires him. If the Broncos really want Kubiak, they should beat the visiting Texans on Sunday. A loss to the Broncos could be the nail in the coffin for Kubiak. In five seasons in Houston, Kubiak has not led the Texans to the playoffs. Still, there’s reason why Denver could be interested in its former backup quarterback and offensive coordinator. He knows how to be successful in Denver and may have the support of his former teammate, John Elway, who is expected to join the front office. I wouldn’t say Kubiak is a front-runner in Denver, but if he becomes available, I could see the Broncos being interested.

Sharing the load in San Diego: Chargers running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are splitting carries even closer these days. In Week 14 against Kansas City, Mathews and Tolbert each had 16 carries. In Week 15 against San Francisco, both players had 17 carries. Mathews has a total of 121 yards while Tolbert has a total of 112 yards in the two games. The rookie Mathews, has been hampered by several injuries, is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 120 attempts this season. Tolbert is averaging 4.1 yards on 178 carries this season. Because both players have been effective and both players give the offense a different dimension, I’d expect the even split to continue for the rest of the season.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 24, 2010
12/24/10
4:04
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Can Maurice Jones-Drew play through it? He didn’t practice all week with a knee injury and he’s listed as doubtful for the game Sunday against the Washington Redskins. If he doesn’t play, it might not be the death blow many imagine, however. Rashad Jennings has shown he’s got some excellent run skills. I’ll bet the Jaguars are quite confident in Jennings as a lead back. This game is crucial to keeping Jacksonville’s playoff chances alive.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Indianapolis defense bottled up Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Will the Colts stack the box? In Week 15, the Colts limited Jones-Drew to 46 rushing yards and beat Jacksonville. The success came largely out of Indianapolis’ willingness to bring extra defenders to the line of scrimmage. ESPN Stats & Info says the Colts stacked the box more frequently than usual. Will they do the same to stop Oakland's Darren McFadden? I’d think they’d be less wary of Jason Campbell than they were of David Garrard. But the Raiders saw what the Colts did a week ago and should have some countermoves ready if they see it themselves.

Will Kerry Collins have to throw on the move? He’s significantly better when he has time to set and step into his throws, but Kansas City's Tamba Hali and Wallace Gilberry have been quite effective as pass-rushers. If they can force Collins to shift, look for plays from Kansas City’s secondary. How much time will Collins even get on the field? The Titans have had defensive issues on third down and in time of possession, and the Chiefs’ top-ranked run game is equipped to take advantage.

Is there still life in the Texans? It didn’t look like it last week in Nashville, but division games can be different. They are more talented than the Broncos. So in many ways their game in Denver could boil down to desire. Are they fired up for another shot at a rookie quarterback (Tim Tebow)? Is their pulse barely detectable with the playoff dream dead and a game on the road in the cold a day after Christmas? It’s the first time Gary Kubiak works the sidelines as a head coach in Denver. He was a Broncos quarterback from 1983 to 1991 and was their offensive coordinator for 11 seasons.

Will the Titans spread out for Chris Johnson? They should. ESPN Stats & Information says over the past two seasons, Johnson averages 7.6 yards when three or more receivers are on the field, versus 4.0 yards with two or more tight ends and 4.5 out of two-back formations. Kansas City counterpart Jamaal Charles actually has better production balance rushing the ball -- he averages 5.8 yards in three wide, 7.0 in two tight and 5.9 in two-back.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 24, 2010
12/24/10
4:04
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Bob Donnan/US PresswireRavens quarterback Joe Flacco is growing into a leadership role in his third season.
Fiery Joe: What's gotten into Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lately? Flacco, who earned the nickname "Joe Cool" to describe his temperament, has been very fiery. In the past few weeks, Flacco has argued with officials and gotten into a heated exchange with veteran receiver Derrick Mason on the sidelines. In his third season, Flacco is playing well and showing more emotion than ever, and it's part of his evolution as an offensive leader in Baltimore. Is this a good thing? "I think so," Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs said in a conference call this week. "We have a very loose locker room, and it's good to see Joe have a little bit of fire to him."

Stopping the run: Ravens running back Ray Rice is coming off his most complete game of the season with 233 total yards and two touchdowns. He will present a stiff challenge for the Cleveland Browns' run defense, which has struggled. The Browns have been pushed around at the line of scrimmage the past two weeks, allowing 380 rushing yards in losses to the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Cleveland has been a tough team all season, but you have to wonder if that toughness is starting to fade down the stretch.

Third-down woes: Another reason Cleveland's defense is wearing down: The offense can't move the chains. In the past three games, the Browns are an abysmal 6-for-32 (18.7 percent) on third-down conversions. Cleveland cannot sustain long drives and, even after getting turnovers, usually settles for a field goal or quickly gives the ball back to the other team. Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is on the hot seat after not being able to get his group going all year.

Young receivers: With Terrell Owens (knee) on injured reserve and Chad Ochocinco (ankle) ailing, expect to see a lot more from third-year Bengals receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell. They were taken in the second and third rounds, respectively, in 2008 and projected to be major contributors by now. But opportunities and production have been sparse. Simpson and Caldwell got extended playing time last week against the Browns, combining for six receptions for 129 yards. Both are auditioning for bigger roles in 2011.

Extended rest: After picking up a 27-3 victory against the Carolina Panthers, the Steelers get 10 days to rest for their regular-season finale against Cleveland on Jan. 2. Pittsburgh will look to avenge last year's 13-6 loss in Cleveland, which helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. The game will be meaningful for Pittsburgh in the standings if Baltimore beats the Browns on Sunday.

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