NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 14

Final Word: AFC East

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Feeding frenzy: No team has been dominated by the AFC East this season more than the Kansas City Chiefs. They are 0-3 against the division and have been outscored an astounding 106-13. The Patriots (34-3), Buffalo Bills (41-7) and Miami Dolphins (31-3) all crushed Kansas City this year. The New York Jets get Kansas City on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Jets are 7-5, fighting for their playoff lives, and could do themselves a favor by completing the AFC East sweep.

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
AP Photo/Julio CortezRunning back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has just 208 rushing yards in the Patriots' past six games.
Disappearing running game: One of the things lost in the New England Patriots' four-game winning streak is the sudden disappearance of their running game. New England has dropped to 21st in the league in rushing and hasn't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 5. The Patriots were successful running the football in the first half of the season. Naturally, they rely a lot on quarterback Tom Brady's arm. But it would help if the Patriots found some balance again before the playoffs.

Brady, others chasing Marino: Speaking of Brady, he has 3,916 yards passing and remains on pace to surpass Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084 yards. But Brady is not alone. Both New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (4,031 yards) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (3,844 yards) are on pace to pass Marino. Whoever throws for the most yards this year will own the NFL record by season's end. But the next two quarterbacks could be second and third all-time.

Moore's winning formula: Want to know the biggest ingredient for Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore's success? It's avoiding turnovers. In Moore's four wins as a starter, he's thrown seven touchdowns, one interception and has a 110.1 passer rating. This week the Dolphins play a Philadelphia Eagles team that has plenty of talent but struggles on defense. Philadelphia will have trouble beating Miami if Moore continues to take care of the football.

More Spiller: Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller continues his late-season audition against the San Diego Chargers. The season-ending leg injury to Fred Jackson has given Spiller, a former first-round pick, his first chance to be a full-time starter. Spiller is coming off the best game of his career last week against the Tennessee Titans, when he rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. He could have had more, but the Bills went away from the running game too early. The Titans led throughout but were never too far ahead. Buffalo needs to run well to have a chance for the upset in San Diego. The Chargers have the NFL's 26th-ranked run defense. Spiller has a chance at his first 100-yard game if Buffalo sticks with the run.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14, with large thanks to ESPN Stats and Info:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jim Brown/US PresswireArian Foster has been the catalyst for Houston's recent win streak.
Workhorse: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has taken on a huge load during their six-game win streak. He has scored seven touchdowns since Week 7, as many as anyone in the NFL. He’s got 147 rush attempts, most in the league, in that time period while averaging 101.8 rushing yards. He’s also been the team's primary pass target when they’ve been without Andre Johnson, who has a new hamstring issue. When Johnson was out, Foster was the team’s leading receiver with 32 targets, 26 receptions and 427 yards.

Scoring issues: The Jacksonville Jaguars have not scored more than 20 points in a game this season. That streak extends to 14 games dating to the 2010 season. If they don’t get to 21 or more on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field, they will tie the Cleveland Browns of 2008-09 for the longest such streak since 2001. Only the St. Louis Rams have fewer points per game (11.7) than the Jaguars (12.7) this season. But the Bucs have given up 350 yards or more in nine consecutive games. Can the Jaguars find a way to get a lead? No team has spent more time trailing this season than the Buccaneers, who have been behind for 475 minutes and 22 seconds. The Bucs have trailed for 43 more minutes than the Colts, the next worst team.

Elements and points: Sunday in Nashville is the final game of the regular season in which the New Orleans Saints will play outdoors. New Orleans is 2-2 in games played outside this season. The forecast for Sunday: Sunny with a high in the 40s. I’m not seeing playing outdoors as major issue in this game. The temperature may not be the only thing in the 40s if Drew Brees is working against minimal pass rush and if cornerback Jason McCourty is out after a head injury. The Tennessee Titans know they’re going to have to score to stay in this one.

Serving up Rice: The Indianapolis Colts are 30th against the run. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is second in the NFL with 1,474 scrimmage yards this season. Rice ranks third in the NFL in rush yards and his fullback, Vonta Leach, deserves some credit. ESPN Stats and Info says Leach has been a lead blocker on 173 of Rice’s 208 rushes, including all of his NFL-high nine rushing touchdowns. No other running back-fullback combo has been together for as many rushes. The Colts are newly depleted at cornerback. Second-level run-stopping help from the secondary will probably be undependable.

And also: The Saints have scored on 49.6 percent of their offensive possessions this season. Since the start of 2007, only the 2007 New England Patriots finished with a higher scoring percentage. … Matt Hasselbeck has averaged 5.0 yards per attempt in his last three games, the lowest number among quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. … This season, the Cincinnati Bengals are 1-5 against teams that currently have a winning record. They are 6-0 against teams currently with a losing record. … The Jaguars have lost their last two games against NFC South opponents, scoring 10 points in each game.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Ray Rice
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIRERay Rice has been the NFL's top rusher the past three games and has been especially effective in between the tackles.
Tale of two superstars: The Ravens-Colts game on Sunday won't have the same feel with linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Peyton Manning both out with injuries. It was one of the best chess matches in football, as Manning would make his animated calls at the line and Lewis would counter by yelling out instructions to his teammates. While the loss of Manning has devastated the Colts (who are 0-12), the Ravens haven't had a drop-off without their leader. In three games without Lewis, the Ravens have allowed 13.3 points (fourth-best in the NFL over that span) and 295.3 yards (ninth) while recording 14 sacks (first), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bengals getting run down: Nine weeks into this season, the Bengals had one of the NFL's best run defenses, allowing 84.5 yards rushing per game and a league-best 3.3 yards per carry. In four games since, teams are averaging 120 yards on the ground against Cincinnati. The Bengals had given up 100 yards rushing once in their first eight games and now have allowed four teams to gain more than 100 in their past four games. Cincinnati will have trouble ending that streak against Houston, which owns the NFL's third-ranked running attack. Arian Foster is averaging 91.6 yards rushing, which is fourth-best in the NFL.

King of the jungle: The Bengals-Texans game could be a preview of a first-round playoff game, although you won't be able to tell by the empty seats. This marks the fifth game (out of six home games) that Cincinnati has failed to sell out. The numbers that the Bengals would prefer to focus on are their dominance at home in December. Cincinnati is 8-1 at Paul Brown Stadium in this month since 2007. The only loss came last year against the New Orleans Saints. This will be an important month for the Bengals, who currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.

Cooking with Rice: It's not a coincidence that the Ravens' three-game winning streak has come at at time when Baltimore has focused the offense back on its top playmaker. Over that span, Rice has rushed for a NFL-best 367 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No player has rushed for more yards between the tackles (159 yards) over the past three games and only Carolina's Cam Newton has scored as many touchdowns (three) as Rice on those carries up the middle. Rice figures to continue this hot streak against the Colts, who have traditionally struggled in stopping the run. Indianapolis has the NFL's third-worst run defense.

Rookies on record pace: The Bengals' Andy Dalton and A.J. Green haven't just been the best rookie quarterback-wide receiver combination this year. They likely go down as the best first-year duo over the past two decades. Dalton and Green are 11 catches and 83 yards passing from being the most prolific rookie quarterback-wide receiver tandem since 1991. Both of those marks are currently being held by the Browns' Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson (1999).

Final Word: AFC West

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziTim Tebow keeps on finding ways for the Denver Broncos to win.
Can the Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers at their own game? The 12-0 Packers are winning because they have perhaps one of the most dangerous passing games in the history of the NFL. If the Raiders are going to be the team that knocks Green Bay off its historic pace, they may have to beat the Packers with their passing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is leading the NFL with an average pass of 10.9 air yards. Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell was among the league leaders in the category before he was injured. The Packers have allowed 21 pass plays of 30 yards or more this season -- the most in the NFL. Raiders coach Hue Jackson likes to air it out, so don’t expect him to get shy in Green Bay as the Raiders try to pull off the upset.

Will Tebow’s epic fourth-quarter heroics continue? The allure of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is how he has become such a clutch performer. Denver has won five games in a row. Of the past seven matches, five were decided late in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tebow has a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or in overtime in five of his 10 career starts. He is tied with Scott Brunner and Marc Wilson for the most by any player in his first 10 career starts since the 1970 merger.

Could the San Diego Chargers try to beat the Buffalo Bills with the shotgun? Chief among Philip Rivers' struggles this season was passing from the shotgun. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was not an issue in a 38-14 win at Jacksonville on Monday night. Rivers completed 14 of 15 passes, averaged 13.6 yards per attempt and threw touchdowns from the formation. In the first 11 games of the season, Rivers completed just 60.3 percent of his passes and averaged just 7.6 yards per attempt in the shotgun. He has also thrown 14 of his 17 interceptions in the formation.

Coaching class of 2009 battle: When the Kansas City Chiefs visit the New York Jets on Sunday, it will pit two of the more successful coaches of the 2009 class. Nine coaches were hired after the 2008 season, including Todd Haley in Kansas City and Rex Ryan with the Jets. Many of the nine coaches have struggled, including Denver’s Josh McDaniels and the Raiders' Tom Cable (who was hired as the full-time coach after ending 2008 as the interim coach). McDaniels and Cable have already been discarded. Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell are the only coaches in the class to have a winning percentage above .500. Ryan’s winning percentage is .613. Caldwell, of course, is in danger of being fired with his team 0-12 without star quarterback Peyton Manning. Haley joins Ryan and Caldwell as the only coaches in the 2009 class to take their teams to the playoffs. Haley is 19-25 as the Chiefs’ coach. A win over Ryan in New York could keep at bay the speculation that Haley could be fired at the end of the season.

Raiders need to get Bush going: In addition to hitting big plays in the passing game, Oakland will need to run the ball well to control the clock. The Raiders have one of the best running attacks in the NFL, but it was kept in check at Miami. Oakland had just 46 rushing yards and Michael Bush had just 18 yards on 10 carries. Bush has to have a big day in Green Bay. He has been mostly good as Darren McFadden's injury replacement. Bush has two games this season with 30 carries. The only player in Raiders history with more is Marcus Allen, who had three in a season. If Bush ties Allen’s mark Sunday, it would go a long way in keeping the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands.

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