NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Divisional

Final Word: Texans at Ravens

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:37
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Houston Texans-Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireArian Foster will need to get outside the tackles if the Texans are going to have an effective running game.
Defending the middle of the field: Will Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco be able to throw to his favorite area of the field? Accoring to ESPN stats and Info, Flacco has completed 64.3 percent of his throws inside the numbers this season compared with 51.3 percent outside. The Texans allowed the fewest touchdown passes (three) and lowest completion percentage (56.8) inside the numbers this season. They also grabbed 11 of their 17 interceptions in that territory. Safety play has a huge bearing on these numbers, vast improvements over what the 2010 Texans did. Watch Glover Quin and Danieal Manning patrolling the middle of the field.

Between the tackles: I’m not sure the Texans should spend much time trying to run up the middle. The Ravens prevented the Texans from grinding it out between the tackles in Week 6 when Baltimore won 29-14. The Texans averaged 6.5 yards per rush outside the tackles in the game, but only 2.8 between the tackles. (That number is 4.8 in the rest of their games.) This season, the Ravens have allowed the fewest yards per rush (3.51) between the tackles. The Texans are great at moving laterally, stretching a front out and allowing Arian Foster or Ben Tate to judge where the crease is and go. They’ll need to do that effectively to have a chance in this game.

Breaking down T.J. Yates: Yates joined Flacco and Mark Sanchez as the only rookie quarterbacks since 1966 to not throw an interception in their first playoff games. Yates has benefitted greatly from play-action, with 2.7 more yards per attempt and a QBR of 57.2, 13.9 points higher than when the Texans don’t run play-action. On throws that have travelled 15 yards or more in the air, Yates has unsurprisingly fared far better with Andre Johnson as the target. The quarterback is averaging 14.1 yard per such attempt when Johnson is the target, and 9 yards when it’s anyone else.

Final Word: Broncos at Patriots

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:33
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about the Denver Broncos-New England Patriots AFC Divisional playoff game:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireWill Tim Tebow play like he did against Pittsburgh or revert back to the last time he played New England?
Broncos have had success against Patriots: Yes, the Patriots beat the Broncos 26 days ago in Denver 41-23. However, the Broncos have had a lot of success against the Patriots in the recent past. New England is 4-6 (including the playoffs) against Denver in the Bill Belichick era. It’s New England’s worst record against any team in the NFL. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was six years ago to the day of Saturday’s meeting in the divisional round. Denver (in its last playoff win before the stunner over the Steelers) beat the Patriots, 27-13. It was Belichick’s and New England quarterback Tom Brady's first postseason loss. Brady is 2-6 lifetime against Denver.

Playoff streaking the wrong way: The Patriots have lost two straight home playoff games. Before the road bump, which began in 2009, New England won 11 straight home playoff games. Something will give Saturday because Denver has lost three straight road playoff games. Denver is looking for its first road playoff win since the 1997 AFC championship game in Pittsburgh. Denver went on to win its first Super Bowl title that year. The Broncos, who are big underdogs for the second straight week, are facing some big odds. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that had to play on a Saturday after playing the previous Sunday are 4-14 since 1990.

Broncos need to be more consistent this time: The Broncos' offense started strong against New England in Week 15. It had a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter before the Broncos fumbled three times in their own territory in the quarter. New England turned the miscues in 13 direct points. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver averaged 10.9 yards per play against New England and it averaged just 4.6 yards per play in the final three quarters. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow was sacked four times in the final three quarters. Denver had 218 yards in the first quarter but managed just 175 yards for the rest of the game. The Broncos obviously need a more sustained effort Saturday.

Final Word: Texans at Ravens

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:32
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Texans-Ravens divisional playoff game:

[+] EnlargeVonta Leach
AP Photo/Nick WassThe Ravens' run game thrives behind fullback Vonta Leach, left, while playing at home suits Joe Flacco.
Flacco enjoys home cooking: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has taken some heat for his postseason numbers (four touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 61.6 passer rating). But every one of his playoff starts has come on the road, a challenging streak that ends Sunday when the Ravens host the Texans. Flacco has been nearly unstoppable --as well as almost unbeatable -- at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. He has won 18 of his last 19 home starts, throwing 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. When he faced the Texans in Baltimore three months ago, Flacco threw for 305 yards, which was his third-highest total of the season. He also scored his only rushing touchdown of the season against Houston.

No playoff runs against Baltimore: There's no mystery surrounding the Texans' game plan on offense, especially with rookie third-string quarterback T.J. Yates starting his seventh career NFL game. Houston leads the NFL in rushing attempts (34.1 per game) and in time of possession (32:41). But there's no team better at shutting down the run in the playoffs than the Ravens. Baltimore limits teams to 81.9 yards rushing per game and 3.1 yards per carry -- both of which are the best in NFL postseason history. Texans running back Arian Foster is looking for his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game against a Ravens defense that hasn't allowed a running back to go over 100 yards in 15 consecutive games (third-best current streak).

From friend to foe: The Ravens are at their best running the ball behind All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, who is quite familiar with the Houston defense. Leach played 75 games for the Texans from 2006 to 2010 and paved the way for Foster to win the NFL rushing title last season. His impact on the Ravens' ground game has been just as significant. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens average 91.4 yards rushing and 4.5 yards per carry on runs when Leach is the lead blocker. Baltimore has also scored 14 touchdowns running behind Leach. Establishing the run has been crucial for the Ravens, who are 12-0 this season when running the ball at least 20 times.

Final Word: Broncos at Patriots

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:30
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Broncos-Patriots divisional-round game:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesNew England QB Tom Brady is seeking his first playoff victory in four years.
Brady's playoff pressure: Perhaps no player has more pressure to win Saturday's game than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer hasn't won a playoff game in four years and his window for another championship is closing. Brady was 14-2 in his first 16 career playoff games. That run led to three Super Bowls early in his career. But lately Brady is 0-3 in the playoffs, including two one-and-done years in 2009 and 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady is trying to avoid becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to lose four consecutive playoff games. If Brady beats Denver, his 15 playoff victories would be No. 2 all time behind Joe Montana (16).

Gronk or Hernandez? New England tight end Aaron Hernandez had it right. This week he told reporters that the Broncos have to "pick your poison" on which tight end to defend. In Week 15, the Broncos chose to pay a lot of attention to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Hernandez had a big game. Hernandez torched Denver for nine catches, 129 yards and a touchdown in a 41-23 victory. Gronkowski saw a lot of double coverage and caught just four passes for 53 yards, one of his lowest outputs of the season. The question is, will Denver adjust or keep the same strategy? Hernandez and Gronkowski are both capable of big games, and the pair needs to stay ready.

O-line at full strength: The Patriots are coming off a bye week and are as healthy as they've been in months. Two key offensive linemen are expected to return for the playoffs. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) and starting offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) both practiced this week. Protecting Brady will be key. New England throws the ball a lot, and the line has to protect him from Denver pass-rushing specialists Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

SPONSORED HEADLINES