NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 16

Final Word: AFC North

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
1:31
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Running wild with Rice: It was 19 days ago in Cleveland where Rice continued his great success against the Browns with a career-best 204 yards rushing. It was the fourth-highest rushing performance in the NFL this season. Rice averages 98.3 rushing yards per game against the Browns, and his 688 yards rushing is his most against any team. The NFL's leader in total yards from scrimmage, Rice needs 52 receiving yards to join Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving in multiple seasons. The Browns have allowed running backs to crack 100 yards rushing nine times this season but none since Rice.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
Scott Rovak/US PresswireA.J. Green has been the Bengals' top deep threat this season.
Going deep: The health of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (shoulder) will play a big factor in Cincinnati's push for a playoff berth. Green is fifth in the NFL with 19 catches of 20 yards or more. Only Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson have more. Andy Dalton continues to show a great amount of trust in Green, throwing into coverage because he knows the 6-foot-4 receiver can outleap defenders for the ball. Green has a catch of at least 35 yards in five straight games. The Arizona Cardinals have been susceptible against deep passes this season. Arizona has given up 54 completions over 20 yards, which is the fifth most in the league.

Bad streaks for Browns: One more defeat will give the Browns four straight 11-loss seasons for the first time in team history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Browns are already the only team in the NFL to lose at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons (2008-10), a skid that has included seven starting quarterbacks: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. To end this streak, Cleveland would have to end other ones Saturday. The Browns have lost eight straight AFC North games and seven in a row to Baltimore. Cleveland's last win against the Ravens was Week 11 in 2007.

Relying on the run: The Steelers are reportedly starting QB Charlie Batch in place of Ben Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain), but they won't be relying on the backup. Pittsburgh will turn into a run-first team, just like it did when Roethlisberger was suspended at the start of the 2010 season. In those four games, running back Rashard Mendenhall ran the ball 89 times while the Steelers threw 81 passes. Mendehall averaged 102.7 yards rushing during that time and could have similar numbers against the Rams, the NFL's worst run defense. St. Louis allows an average of 153.4 yards on the ground -- which is 56.2 yards per game more than what the Steelers run defense gives up.

Perfect at home: The Ravens are looking to finish undefeated at home for an entire regular season for the first time in franchise history. Baltimore is one of three teams that are perfect at home so far this season. (The others are Green Bay and New Orleans.) The Ravens' average margin of victory at M&T Bank Stadium this season is 13.4 points. The Ravens have won a franchise-best nine straight games at home and are 26-5 under coach John Harbaugh in Baltimore (that's second only to the New England Patriots since 2008). This is why a home playoff game is so important to the Ravens.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Will the Denver Broncos' playoff hopes get buffaloed again? Good thing there aren’t many players from the 2008 Broncos team still in a Denver uniform. The situation is eerily similar. The Broncos are playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 16, just as they did three years ago. Like that game, Denver can clinch a playoff berth this week against a Buffalo team that has lost seven of eight. In '08, the Bills entered the Denver game having lost seven in a row. What happened in that Week 16 meeting in 2008? The Bills came back and won a close game, preventing the Broncos from being able to clinch a playoff berth. The Broncos couldn’t get the job done and the 14-season run of former head coach Mike Shanahan era was suddenly over. Will the Bills’ mess with another Denver playoff push this year?

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswirePhilip Rivers will try to keep the Chargers' playoff hopes alive when they take on the Lions Saturday.
Last AFC West-NFC North game is meaningful: The AFC West’s matchup against the NFC North ends Saturday when the San Diego Chargers play at the Detroit Lions. Both teams are trying to keep playoff hopes alive with a victory. That may be a bad sign for San Diego. It is 1-3 against the NFC North this season, while Detroit is 3-0 against the AFC West. Overall, the AFC West is 8-7 against the NFC North this season. Last-place Kansas City has the best record against the division at 3-1, while Denver and the Oakland Raiders both went 2-2. The AFC West plays the NFC South next season.

Hue can’t get his Haley revenge: We are missing a fun Christmas Eve storyline because the Kansas City Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley last week. Oakland coach Hue Jackson had some words for Haley after a 28-0 Kansas City win in Oakland in October. After the game, Jackson wouldn’t say what his problem with Haley was, but he did say the Raiders would get their second chance against the Chiefs. It was a chippy game the first time, with several players being fined for their actions. Expect tensions to be even higher this time around with both teams trying to keep playoff hopes alive.

WiIl Dareus get back at the Broncos? Prior to the season, Buffalo rookie defensive lineman Marcell Dareus said he had the Bills’ Christmas Eve game against Denver circled. Dareus was offended the Broncos didn’t draft him with the No. 2 pick and said he wanted to show the Broncos what they missed. Dareus was one of a handful of defensive players the Broncos considered, but they ultimately opted for Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. Dareus was scooped up by the Bills with the next pick and has been solid. The Alabama product has 38 tackles and 5.5 sacks so far. The Broncos, however, are not second-guessing their choice. Miller has 11.5 sacks and is a major building block for the franchise going forward. He is the favorite to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Chargers' bosses working for jobs: The Chargers have won three straight games to improve to 7-7. Their playoff hopes are still alive, but their odds are not great. Still, because the Chargers have made some noise, people are wondering if San Diego general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner will be retained even if the team’s playoff push comes up short. While a second straight season missing the playoffs would be disappointing, both Smith and Turner have done good things during their stay in San Diego and this late surge is a reminder of it. Smith has led the Chargers to division titles in five of his eight years with San Diego, and he is five wins from becoming the most successful general manager in team history. Turner has the best regular-season winning percentage (48-30, .615) in team history, ahead of the likes of Sid Gillman, Don Coryell and Marty Schottenheimer.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Sanchez missing the mark: The New York Jets haven't made many big plays this season. A major reason is that Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez is missing the mark on deep passes. Sanchez is completing just 25.6 percent of his passes of more than 20 yards. He also has four interceptions and an abysmal Total Quarterback Rating of 14.4 when throwing deep. The Jets' offensive line hasn't protected well, and that's affecting their deep passing game. The New York Giants have a solid pass rush and will try to pressure Sanchez. But if the Jets' pass protection holds up, big plays can be had against the Giants, who rank No. 29 in pass defense.

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJets RB Shonn Greene needs 59 rushing yards on Saturday to reach 1,000 for the season.
Greene for 1,000: Another key in the "Battle for New York" will be Jets running back Shonn Greene. He's come on strong in the second half of the season and is just 59 yards shy of 1,000. The Jets are at their best offensively when Greene has it going and Sanchez can throw it successfully off play-action. The Giants' defense also allows 127.6 yards per game on the ground, which is 22nd in the league.

Taking care of business: The New England Patriots (11-3) have to win their final two games at Gillette Stadium to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It starts Saturday against the Miami Dolphins (5-9). Miami hasn't quit this season. The Dolphins are 5-2 in their past seven games but are just 2-5 on the road. Chances look pretty good for the Patriots, who are 22-1 in their past 23 regular-season games at home.

Big game for Moore: It's a critical time for Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore. He is 5-5 as a starter this year, but this is by far his biggest game of the season. Moore, liked other quarterbacks in the AFC East, ultimately will be judged on whether he can compete with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. If not, the Dolphins need to find someone else who can. Moore's performance Saturday in Gillette Stadium will go a long way toward making that determination.

Bills face TebowMania: The disappointing Buffalo Bills (5-9) have lost seven straight games. But Buffalo has a good opportunity to play spoiler to one of the biggest stories in the NFL. The Bills (5-9) host quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos (8-6), who are trying to hold onto a one-game lead in the AFC West over the Oakland Raiders (7-7) and San Diego Chargers (7-7). Most expect Tebow to lead Denver to the playoffs. But a Buffalo upset would put Denver at risk in the final week.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

On pace to be rushing king: No Jaguar has ever led the NFL in rushing, but Maurice Jones-Drew is atop the leader board now with 1,334 yards. He needs 239 rush yards in his final two games to top Fred Taylor’s franchise single-season record set in 2003 — and is just 57 yards off his career best of 1,391 from 2009. He carried 24 times for 97 yards in the Jaguars’ 16-14 Week 1 victory Tennessee at EverBank Field. Jacksonville came into the season talking about monitoring Jones-Drew so he’d still be close to full strength at the end. He’s taken a very heavy load and is still going strong.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Kim Klement/US PresswireMaurice Jones-Drew is closing in on some milestones -- and maybe an NFL rushing title.
Four times 1,000: Titans running back Chris Johnson needs 70 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. He topped 1,000 yards each of his first three NFL seasons. In careers that began since 2000, only four players have had four 1,000-yard seasons in their first four NFL years: Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Lewis. Johnson’s been very inconsistent this year, with more bad than good. He averaged 3.0 yards per rush in his past two games and 7.5 yards per rush in the two games before that.

Trouble to mull: The Texans come out of their second consecutive loss with a couple big issues, but none that outranks their dwindling scoring production. Since Matt Schaub went down, Houston is averaging 17.2 points in five games. With Schaub, that number was 27.3. Although the defense can handle some dropoff, 10 fewer points per game dramatically slices the margin for error. If the Texans have a bad defensive drive like they did at the end in Indianapolis, they might not survive it -- in the finale against the Titans or in their first playoff game a week or two later.

Riding a wave: The Colts are peaking late with two victories in a row. Even if they win Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, the late surge won’t mean that a healthy Peyton Manning will fix everything. A big finish shouldn’t wash away all the concerns that became obvious during the 0-13 start, but it might make a case for the survival of the defensive system and perhaps for Mike Murphy to remain in place as the coordinator.

Also: The Jaguars need to win one of their final two games to avoid matching the worst record in franchise history. They were 4-12 in 1995, their first season in NFL. … Blaine Gabbert’s Total QBR of 20.4 is the league’s lowest. … The Titans can be eliminated from playoff contention this week -- most simply with a loss and either a Bengals or Jets win or tie. … The Jags have six sacks in their last five games, which is one more than the Titans have had in the same span. Veteran Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck handles pressure better than rookie Gabbert will.

SPONSORED HEADLINES