NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 13

Final Word: AFC West

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

How Orton can help the Chiefs: New Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton may begin his Kansas City era Sunday at Chicago. He was claimed by the Chiefs (and the Bears and Cowboys too) last week after he was cut by Denver. He didn’t play in Week 12. While the Chiefs are hoping to get production quickly from Orton, who played in five games with Denver this season, one area in which he might see quick success is on play-action plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Orton has completed 70.3 percent of passes thrown during play-action plays, seventh in the NFL. The Chiefs also have been good in this area -- the injured Matt Cassel was 10th. Orton will need some help from an often-unreliable Kansas City receiving crew, however. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs lead the AFC West with 18 drops. Five receivers are tied for the AFC West lead with four drops each. Three play for Kansas City: Dexter McCluster, Jon Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe. The Chargers’ Mike Tolbert and Denver’s Eddie Royal are the other two players in the division with four drops.

Why Denver is winning: The Broncos, who play at Minnesota on Sunday, are winning the way first-year coach John Fox won in Carolina – with a strong ground game and a strong defense. In the past four games, all victories, Denver joined the 1971 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in NFL history to have one or fewer turnovers, 60 or fewer points allowed and 876 yards or more yards rushing over such a span. That’s a sign of a team playing complete football. Hat tip to the Broncos’ PR department for providing that stat.

Lechler’s impact: Can Oakland punter Shane Lechler dominate at Miami on Sunday as he did last week against Chicago? He averaged 54.6 gross yards on five punts, including an unforgettable 80-yard punt that neutralized Chicago star return man Devin Hester — an Raiders team record. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lechler’s big game against the Bears raised his season gross punting average to 51.47 yards per punt. If he can keep his average at that level for the rest of the season, he'd break Sammy Baugh's record of 51.4 yards per punt, set in 1940.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesWith his job in jeopardy, Norv Turner can't afford to lose to Jacksonville, led by interim coach Mel Tucker.
Turner can’t be outcoached: San Diego coach Norv Turner has virtually has no chance of remaining the team’s coach after this season. The Chargers are 4-7 and have lost six in a row. They are three games behind in the AFC West and the AFC wild-card race. If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs for the second consecutive season, Turner will very likely be fired -- which makes Monday night's game at Jacksonville a must-win. The Jaguars just fired coach Jack Del Rio; defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take over as interim coach. If Tucker outshines Turner and the Jaguars beat the Chargers, Turner will be completely sunk. Turner has made several decisions in recent games that have been scrutinized. He needs to be on his game Monday if he has any hope of sticking around in San Diego.

Decker goes home: Receiver Eric Decker is going back to his old collegiate field on a hot streak. Decker and the white-hot Denver Broncos -- who have won five of their past six games -- visit the Minnesota Vikings in a game played at the Metrodome. It used to be the home for both the Vikings and the Minnesota Golden Gophers before the latter opened their on-campus stadium. Decker started his college career playing in the dome for the University of Minnesota. He became one of the nation’s best college players on that field, so the 2010 third-round pick and Minnesota native will be completely comfortable playing in front of many friends and family members.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Rattling rookie quarterbacks: No defense has a better record against rookie quarterbacks the past eight years than the Steelers. Under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh is 13-1 against starting first-year quarterbacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That record includes a 24-17 victory against Bengals rookie Andy Dalton three weeks ago when Pittsburgh intercepted him twice in the fourth quarter. Since 2003, the Steelers have limited starting rookie quarterbacks to 167.9 yards passing, allowing 10 touchdowns while notching 15 interceptions. The only rookie to beat Pittsburgh during this stretch was the Ravens' Troy Smith in the 2007 regular-season finale, when the Steelers rested many of their starters.

Running game heats up: During the John Harbaugh era (since 2008), Baltimore has rushed for 152.6 yards per game in December and January, third-best in the NFL. Only the Panthers and Jets have averaged more in that time. Run defense has been a major weakness for the Browns, who have allowed a league-worst seven running backs to gain more than 100 yards against them. Cleveland ranks 29th in the NFL in run defense and has given up 11 runs of 20 yards or more, which is tied for sixth-most in the league. This could be a game where Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combine for more than 30 carries.

Colt McCoy
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesNo NFL quarterback has thrown a higher percentage of his passes 10 yards downfield or less than Cleveland's Colt McCoy, at 76.1.
Fourth-quarter finishes: Cincinnati has recorded five fourth-quarter comebacks this season, which has been uncharacteristic for this franchise. Before this season, in their first 130 games under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals rallied back in the fourth quarter only 14 times. The Bengals, though, can't wait until the fourth quarter against the Steelers. While Pittsburgh has struggled in the past to close out games defensively, the Steelers have been shutting down teams in the end since allowing that 92-yard winning drive to the Ravens. Pittsburgh has won its past two games by making three interceptions in the fourth quarter.

Stopping short passes: Whether this is an indication of Colt McCoy's arm strength or the lack of deep threats on the Browns, McCoy has thrown a league-high 76.1 percent of his passes 10 yards or fewer downfield this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He averaged a career-low 4.4 yards gained on his 34 pass attempts at the Bengals last Sunday. McCoy’s average yards per attempt is 5.9, the lowest of any qualifying quarterback. The Browns' short passing attack plays right into the strength of the Ravens. Only the Texans have allowed a lower percentage of those short passes to be completed in 2011 and no team has allowed fewer touchdown passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Needing to win more than respect: The Bengals proved they could compete against the AFC North first-place teams, but they need more than moral victories against teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the final five weeks of the season. Cincinnati is 6-0 against teams that currently have losing records and is 1-4 against those with winning records, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only team the Bengals have beaten that has an above-.500 record now is the Titans (6-5). One reason why Cincinnati has failed to defeat the better teams is its ability to take care of the ball. The Bengals' turnover ratio against losing teams is plus-6 but it's minus-2 against winning teams.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Keep away: The Bills are an excellent turnover team -- they’ve gotten 16 picks and recovered six fumbles this season. And they make a habit out of turning turnovers into points. Matt Hasselbeck has had a lot of balls tipped at the line this season, and those are the kinds of passes that can turn into big plays. Although the Titans won’t want Hasselbeck to be overly cautious a week after surviving four giveaways in a win over Tampa Bay, they won’t get away with a similar performance.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Brett Davis/US PresswireDespite Atlanta's stout run defense, the Texans will likely lean heavily on Arian Foster and the ground game Sunday.
Run-stoppers: Although the Texans will ask T.J. Yates to make some throws to keep the Falcons honest, they will want to base their offense on handoffs to Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Falcons' rush defense, however, ranks second in rushing yards allowed per game at 83.5. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Jonathan Stewart had 133 for the Panthers in Week 14 of last season. That’s 14 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Outscored: The Colts are the eighth team to start the season 0-11 since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Should the Colts lose in New England, they would become the sixth team to start 0-12. The 1986 Colts lost their first 12 and still wound up with three wins. These Colts have been outscored by 177 points. The only team to get outscored by more points in its first 11 games over the last 30 years was the 2008 Rams. Will Mike Murphy make much of a difference as the new coordinator of Indianapolis’ besieged defense? How will Indy look to defend the very dangerous tight end Rob Gronkowski? To have any chance of staying close, they'll need to find a way to slow him.

Tough sell: The combined win percentage of the Chargers and Jaguars entering this game is .318 (7-15). According to Elias, it’s the worst combined win percentage for two teams entering a "Monday Night Football" game this late in a season since the Ravens (4-9) and Packers (3-10) met in Week 15 of 2005. So it’s not a game with playoff implications. But two bad teams could be evenly matched and provide a close game. Jacksonville’s got some new life with a coaching change, and San Diego is still dealing with the pressure on Norv Turner, who appears destined to be fired. After a week of huge change, the Jaguars really need to come out riled up and start big.

Bonus nuggets: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown 10 interceptions this season as a result of an over- or underthrown pass, the most off-target interceptions in the NFL. Jacksonville’s inexperienced corners, Will Middleton and Ashton Youboty could benefit from that … Yates is the fifth quarterback in the last 25 years to take over a team on a winning streak of five games or more. Caleb Hanie lost for the Bears last year, Bill Musgrave lost for the Broncos in 1996, Jason Garrett won for Dallas in 1993 and Doug Flutie won for Chicago in 1986 … With a win Sunday against the Colts, Tom Brady would break a tie with Johnny Unitas and move into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time regular season wins list by a starting quarterback with 120.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

"Gronk" on historic pace: New England Patriots second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a force with 11 touchdowns in 11 games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gronkowski needs just three touchdowns to set a single-season scoring record for tight ends. San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers both share the NFL record with 13 touchdowns in a season.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesRob Gronkowski is three touchdowns away from setting a single-season scoring record for tight ends.
Not road warriors: One of the biggest reasons the New York Jets are fighting for their playoff lives is their sudden struggles on the road. New York coach Rex Ryan was 11-5 on the road his first two seasons. But this year the Jets are 1-4 away from MetLife Stadium entering their must-win road game against the Washington Redskins. New York's only road win came in Week 9 against the Buffalo Bills.

WildcardWatch: Not only do the Jets (6-5) have to handle their business against Washington, New York could use help from several teams this weekend. Perhaps the biggest game is the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) against the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4). Cincinnati currently holds the final wild-card spot in the AFC. Other games of interest are the Denver Broncos (6-5) against the Minnesota Vikings (2-9) and Buffalo (5-6) against the Tennessee Titans (6-5).

Chris Johnson vs. Bills: Titians tailback Chris Johnson has struggled all season. But, unfortunately for Buffalo, Johnson may be hitting his stride. Johnson is coming off an impressive 190-yard rushing performance in Tennessee's victory last week over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnson averaged 8.3 yards per carry. It's not a good matchup for Buffalo, which is 21st against the run.

Marshall chasing 1,000: Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall is quietly chasing his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Marshall has 59 receptions for 850 yards. Don't expect Marshall to get 150 yards this week against the Oakland Raiders. But he's a virtual lock for another 1,000-yard season with five games remaining. What's even more impressive about Marshall's season is that he's had to produce this year with two different quarterbacks: Matt Moore and Chad Henne.

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