NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 12

Final Word: AFC South

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Stacked box: The Texans will welcome the Jaguars’ defense to load up the box in an effort to slow the run game and put more on Matt Leinart's shoulders. Running back Arian Foster is excellent against fronts with an extra defender. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foster has the fourth-most rushes (125) against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box pre-snap over the last two seasons. Foster has done well in these situations, averaging 3.9 yards per rush, which is half a yard per rush better than the NFL average. He’s also second in first downs over that time period with 39. The Jaguars will be without starting cornerback Rashean Mathis and the other starting corner, Derek Cox, is also expected to miss the game. Leinart should have some favorable matchups with Andre Johnson back.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Brian BlancoBucs quarterback Josh Freeman, whom the Titans face Sunday, has 15 interceptions this season.
A struggling opponent: Like the Titans, the Buccaneers have not played very well since a 3-1 start. Tampa Bay’s actually had worse results. Per ESPN Stats & Information, only the Colts (32.0) have allowed more points per game since Week 5 than the Buccaneers (31.8). On offense, Josh Freeman has thrown 15 interceptions, second in the league to San Diego’s Philip Rivers (17). Freeman has thrown at least two picks in his last two games and in five games overall this season. The Buccaneers are 1-4 in games where he throws at least two picks.

Potential third-down bonanza: The Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts are two of the three worst teams in the NFL in yards-per-play allowed on third down this season. The Panthers give up an average of 7.4 while the Colts allow 7.0. The big difference in what the offenses can do. Indianapolis ranks 24th in third-down offense while Carolina ranks 13th. It’s a pretty easy answer if you’re choosing between Cam Newton or Curtis Painter when you’re in need of a first down (or anything, really).

Capable of an upset: The Jaguars have won four straight home games against the Texans, are 2-2 at home this season and are 2-1 against the AFC South. All that provides some reason for confidence Sunday at EverBank Field. But, they face the league’s top defense while ranking 31st in the NFL in scoring at 12.5 points per game. The Jaguars have yet to score more than 20 points in a game this season, making them just the second team to fail to score more than 20 points in their first 10 games in the last four seasons (2009 Raiders). Blaine Gabbert continues to show he’s not ready to be playing -- Jacksonville’s offense is producing an NFL-worst 249.5 yards per game. No team has averaged fewer than 250 yards per game in a season since 2008, when the Browns and Bengals did it.

Gut feelings: In their last eight games, the Titans have beaten bad teams and lost to good ones. The Buccaneers are not a good team right now. But the Titans shouldn’t expect Chris Johnson to contribute. They should go into the game intending to throw a lot. ... The Colts should have tried Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. Why are they afraid of change? Are things going to get worse?... The Jaguars’ defense has been quite good, but I don’t think they have the depth at cornerback to survive without both their starters. The way to handle it is to pass rush very well, but they don’t have the people for that either and Houston can protect Leinart well. … Johnson will look like he was never out for the Texans.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Are Jackson and Rivers on the same page when it counts? San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson is coming off a strong game in which he caught seven passes for 165 yards. For the season, Jackson has 42 catches for 800 yards (for a whopping 19.0 yards per catch average) and seven touchdowns. However, there are some things to worry about. Jackson and San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had a difficult time connecting on critical fourth-quarter plays in the end zone in the past two games. Both plays ended up in interceptions. Against Oakland in Week 10, Jackson couldn’t locate a pass. In Week 11, Rivers’ body language indicated that Jackson didn’t run the correct route. These are two special players who often have good chemistry. But they must connect when it counts Sunday against Denver.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Vincent Jackson
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PRESSWIREVincent Jackson caught seven passes for 165 yards against the Bears last week.
Chargers to face Tebow again: Tim Tebow-mania in 2011 began against the Chargers in Denver. Tebow relieved former starter Kyle Orton and nearly got a comeback victory, but San Diego won 29-24. Tebow completed 4 of 10 passes for 79 yards and had six carries for 38 yards. It was enough for Tebow to be inserted in the starting lineup the next game. Denver is 4-1 since the change and San Diego is 0-5.

The Raiders must bring the heat: The Raiders have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Oakland has 11 sacks in the past two games. Caleb Hanie probably is starting for Chicago with Jay Cutler out with a broken thumb, and Oakland has a chance to control this game with a strong pass rush. If the Raiders can make Hanie uncomfortable, the Bears will have a difficult time winning.

Chiefs must do the same: If the Chiefs are to have a chance to knock off the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, they will have to pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And it’s possible. Roethlisberger -- who is dealing with a thumb injury -- has been sacked 31 times in 10 games. He is tied with St. Louis’ Sam Bradford for being sacked the most this season. Kansas City pressured New England’s Tom Brady in the first half with three sacks Monday night, but couldn’t get to Brady in the second half. It must bring consistent pressure Sunday night.

Tebow, Rivers go different ways in the fourth quarter: The story of Tebow and Rivers this year has been completely different. Tebow has stalled for much of the first three quarters of games, then come alive in the fourth quarter. Tebow always seems to make the right play during crunch time. Rivers has made critical mistakes in the fourth quarter during all six of the of the Chargers’ losses. It will be interesting to see if both trends continue Sunday.

Final Word: AFC East

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Win or go home: If you're looking for a game with a playoff-type feel, look no further than Sunday's AFC East showdown between the Buffalo Bills (5-5) and New York Jets (5-5). If the season ended today, neither team would be in the playoffs. That means neither club can afford to lose. New York won the first meeting 27-11 in Week 9 and is trying to sweep Buffalo for the third time in four seasons.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireThe Jets need Mark Sanchez to step up his game as they make a run for the postseason.
Sanchez can't be a liability: The time to step up is now for Jets third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. New York is in must-win mode, and he no longer can be a liability as the team's franchise quarterback. Sanchez isn't all to blame for the Jets' inconsistencies, but he is an important piece of the puzzle. In New York's five wins, Sanchez has an 89.6 passer rating. But in New York's five losses, he has just a 71.6 passer rating. Sanchez has proved to be clutch late in the season and in the playoffs before. He needs to do so again if the Jets hope to make the postseason.

Spiller draws tough assignment: C.J. Spiller will make his first start of the season at running back against New York's physical defense. Starting tailback Fred Jackson (leg) is out for the year, so the Bills will rely on their 2010 first-round draft pick for the remainder of the season. This will be a good showcase for Spiller. Some Bills fans have labeled him a bust, but Spiller hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do. New York's run defense hasn't been as good as in previous years, but the Jets still have a lot of talented players in their front seven.

Patriots' defense vs. Eagles' offense: Have the New England Patriots finally turned the corner on defense? We will find out this weekend when New England travels to play the Philadelphia Eagles. New England has been ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in total defense all season. Yet, the Patriots put together their best two-game stretch of the year defensively against the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams have struggled on offense. Philadelphia has not. The Eagles are ranked third in total offense. They have a dynamic group of skill players that could give New England's defense issues, regardless of whether the injured Michael Vick (ribs) or Vince Young starts at quarterback.

Spoiler role continues: The Miami Dolphins lost to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but they still have an opportunity to spoil the seasons of a lot of other teams down the stretch. Miami’s remaining schedule is against five teams currently in the playoff hunt. It starts next week against the AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders (6-4). Miami will have 10 days to prepare for that home game at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins also play the Eagles (4-6), Bills (5-5), Patriots (7-3) and Jets (5-5).

Final Word: AFC North

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Struggling with scoring: The Browns' offense has showed signs of life recently. Colt McCoy completed more than 70 percent of his passes the past two weeks and Cleveland gained more than 100 yards rushing last Sunday. Now, it needs to show up on the scoreboard against Cincinnati in Sunday's Battle of Ohio. The Browns have been held to 17 points or fewer in eight straight games and nine of 10 games this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's tied with the Jaguars and Rams for the most such games. The Bengals have allowed the eighth-fewest points this season (19.5 per game) and have held half of their opponents to 17 points or fewer this season.

Ben Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireBen Roethlisberger is the best in the NFL when it comes to completing passes under durress, connecting on 60 percent of such passes.
Best under duress: It seems like Ben Roethlisberger, who has a fractured right thumb, thrives when playing in pain. But there's no question that he is the best when it comes to handling pressure this season. Roethlisberger is completing 60 percent of his passes this season when under duress, the best rate among qualified quarterbacks. According to ESPN Stats & Information, "under duress" is defined as situations when defensive pressure forced players to throw early, off-balance or when they were getting hit. The league average for completion percentage while under duress is 38.5 percent.

Ending AFC North skid: The Bengals have lost AFC North games the past two weeks, but that doesn't compare with the Browns' streak in the division. Cleveland has lost seven straight AFC North road games since beating the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 4 of 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's not like the Browns have been dominated away from home. The last three AFC North road losses have been by an average margin of nine points.

New favorite target: Mike Wallace remains the Steelers' most dangerous downfield receiver, but Antonio Brown is developing a strong chemistry with Roethlisberger. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brown has been targeted 39 times since Week 7, which is 10 more than any other Steelers player. During that time, Brown has averaged 6.5 receptions (second-most in the NFL) and 91 yards receiving (fourth-most in the league). He's also produced seven catches of over 20 yards. The Chiefs have given up 42 passes of more than 20 yards, which is tied for third-most in the NFL.

Benson likes the Browns: Running back Cedric Benson usually wins his matchup with the Browns. In six meetings, he has averaged 97 yards rushing and has scored two touchdowns. Benson gained 121 yards at Cleveland in the season opener, which started a bad trend for the Browns defense. Cleveland has allowed an NFL-worst six running backs to crack 100 yards this season.

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