NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 3

Final Word: AFC East

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Rex on the road: The New York Jets have been very comfortable on the road under head coach Rex Ryan. According to ESPN's Stats & Info, Ryan is 6-0 on the road against non-divisional opponents. On Sunday the Jets will travel across the country to face the Oakland Raiders. New York to Oakland is one of the longest road trips in the NFL. It spans approximately 2,900 miles.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesJets coach Rex Ryan is 6-0 on the road against non-divisional opponents.
Looking ahead: Despite a 2-0 start, the Jets' game against Oakland is bigger than you think. New York follows this week with brutal back-to-back road games against the Baltimore Ravens (Oct. 2) and New England Patriots (Oct. 9). Both will be tough to win away from home. If New York beats Oakland and gets off to a 3-0 start, that takes some pressure off the next two weeks. But a loss to the Raiders on Sunday could put New York in a tough spot.

Safety a concern: New England's safety position continues to be a concern. The combination of injuries, defections and lack of performance has made it one of New England's few areas of weakness. The latest is the recent thumb surgery for Patrick Chung, who hasn't practice this week. He is out for Sunday's big game against the Buffalo Bills (2-0). The Patriots are ranked No. 31 against the pass after two games. New England is lacking depth at the position with Chung's injury and the recent release former Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather.

Jackson factor: The Bills player with the best chance of slowing down Patriots quarterback and MVP candidate Tom Brady doesn't play defense. Buffalo running back Fred Jackson, the NFL's leading rusher, could be a headache for New England's defense. Jackson is running with a purpose. He's averaging 114.5 rushing yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. The more first downs Jackson gains on the ground, the more Brady stays off the field. Both teams are expected to score a lot of points.

Must-win for Miami: The Dolphins' road game against the Cleveland Browns is pivotal. Not only would an 0-3 start put the Dolphins in a huge hole, but a lot of people in Miami's organization would be on the hot seat. It starts with head coach Tony Sparano. He's been a lightning rod in Miami this past week. Dolphins fans and sports talk shows in South Florida already are starting to discuss potential replacements. Quarterback Chad Henne, who has improved this year, has been a hot topic the past couple of years. The Dolphins can quiet the talk for at least a week with a road win against Cleveland. Miami was one of the NFL's top road teams last season, posting a 6-2 mark away from Sun Life Stadium.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Tolbert not a force at the goal line: The San Diego Chargers would like to see bowling-ball running back Mike Tolbert regain his mojo at the goal line Sunday against visiting Kansas City. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolbert has scored on just 1-of-6 goal-to-go situations in two games. Last year, he was 10-of-21 in those situations. Tolbert was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the goal line at New England last week. It was one of the most crucial plays of the game.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Mike Tolbert
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Chargers need to get more production around the goal line from running back Mike Tolbert.
Raiders need to put hex on Rex: One of the reasons New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has been so effective as a head coach is his confidence. He is not afraid to play anywhere. He certainly won’t fret about entering the Black Hole on Sunday. Since he took over the Jets in 2009, Ryan’s team is 6-0 against non-divisional AFC competition on the road. It’s up to the Raiders to show Ryan the road can be a tough place.

Last trip to San Diego not good karma for Chiefs: The last thing the Kansas City Chiefs need right now is bad memories. The Chiefs are floundering at 0-2. They have been outscored 89-10 in two games, they have injury issues, and coach Todd Haley is reportedly on the hot seat. A win at San Diego would solve a lot of problems, but the Chiefs will not be hitting the field in San Diego with terrific memories. The Chargers hammered the Chiefs, 31-0, in Week 14 of last season -- Kansas City's last visit. The Chiefs were without quarterback Matt Cassel, who had an appendectomy earlier that week.

Did the Titans pick the right QB? Before the end of the lockout, there was speculation the Tennessee Titans would pursue a veteran quarterback to help groom first-round pick Jake Locker. A lot of the speculation centered on Denver’s Kyle Orton. However, instead of trading for Orton, the Titans signed Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, Orton didn’t get dealt, and now the two veterans will face each other Sunday in Nashville. So far, Hasselbeck is enjoying a fast start for the Titans, so they probably don’t have any regrets going into this matchup.

Raiders’ defensive front could have a field day: New York star center Nick Mangold is out for Sunday’s game. Rookie free-agent Colin Baxter is expected to start in his place. Baxter was claimed off waivers from the Chargers after the Chargers cut him with the intent of stashing him on the practice squad earlier this month. Baxter has had nine practices with the Jets and will be in charge of protecting Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has a bruised arm. The Raiders’ defensive front, one of the best in the league, must take advantage of this. They have to attack the middle of the Jets’ line and try to make life as difficult as possible for Baxter. If Baxter fails, the Jets are prepared to use left guard Matt Slauson at center. That would put the Jets’ offensive line in even more upheaval.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Watch the Jaguars' defense: It did not play badly in New York, it’s just that the Jets were given so many chances by the Jacksonville offense. Cam Newton is due for a comedown, and a defense that loaded up on veterans this offseason needs to see a payoff Sunday in Carolina. Put the spotlight on Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, Matt Roth, probable new starting safety Dwight Lowery, and Drew Coleman. They were brought in to make this a good defense now, and if they can’t fare well against a rookie quarterback and a rebuilding team, it will be a major disappointment. The defense should play well enough to give Blaine Gabbert a chance to win his first start if he plays efficiently.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Saints will look to bring pressure on Matt Schaub to slow down the Texans' air attack.
Blitz alert: The Texans are probably sick of hearing about how challenging the blitz packages of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be. But they’ll also be reviewing the possibilities and reminding themselves of their schemes for handling blitzes. Matt Schaub is better when teams sit back and play coverages rather than coming after him. Still, although New Orleans wants to blitz and has the people to do it, the Saints are only 18th against the pass through two games. Although they collected eight sacks against the Packers and Bears, they’ve also allowed an opponent passer rating of 95.6. There will be room for Schaub to succeed.

Quick and short: I expect the Colts will try to combat the Steelers' high pressure 3-4 front with quick, short passes, hoping for yards after the catch. Kerry Collins can certainly connect with Joseph Addai in such circumstances. He’s done OK with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The guy who needs to be a bigger part of things is Austin Collie, who was targeted 10 times a week ago but had only three receptions for 24 yards. To move it better, particularly in the red zone where it was a struggle against the Browns, I think Collins-to-Collie has to become a bigger part of things.

Denver’s health: The Broncos were awfully banged up last week against Cincinnati when they managed to win without several key guys -- defensive end Elvis Dumervil, linebacker D.J. Williams, cornerback Champ Bailey, receiver Brandon Lloyd and running back Knowshon Moreno. At least some of those guys will return, and the Titans will face a better team than the one they have been watching on tape. Kyle Orton led Denver to a win at LP Field last season, so this is a trip the Broncos know they can make successfully. Underrated Titans left tackle Michael Roos will be ready for Dumervil if the defensive end is back.

Making Newton uncomfortable: Newton’s been very comfortable in his first two NFL games, even as Carolina has dropped both. For the Jaguars, making Newton do things he’s not been doing well is a major goal. What might that entail? According to ESPN Stats & Info, Newton’s been the best quarterback in the NFL throwing outside the numbers, where he’s got a passer rating of 109.5 and a Total QBR of 91.6. Take away receivers on the perimeter and make him look inside the numbers and you’ll find a much more average player: passer rating of 63, QBR of 39.2. The pressure is on Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, particularly against Steve Smith, who is responsible for a good share of Newton’s numbers to the outside.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Jim Brown/US PresswireThe Ravens' Joe Flacco hopes to rebound from a subpar performance against Tennessee.
Rebound for Ravens: This will show whether the Ravens learned their lesson in taking a less-talented team lightly. This is also a potential bounce-back game for quarterback Joe Flacco. The last time he completed fewer than half of his passes in a game (it was Week 2 of last seaosn), he came back the next week to throw three touchdowns against the Browns. It'll be interesting to see whether Flacco responds the same way this time.

Focus for Bengals: The Bengals' week has included putting their slot receiver (Jordan Shipley) on injured reserve, dealing with wide receiver Jerome Simpson's getting detained in a marijuana incident and finding out that running back Cedric Benson could miss three games in October because of an NFL suspension. How the Bengals handle these distractions will tell a lot about a team that is starting over in many ways with a young quarterback and wide receiver. The home opener against San Francisco is blacked out. The Bengals understand they have work to do to convince their fan base.

Pressure for Pittsburgh: The Steelers' trademark on defense has been the harassment of quarterbacks, forcing them into poor throws and timely turnovers. So far this season, the only consistent pressure by Pittsburgh came in the meaningless fourth quarter of last Sunday's shutout of the Seattle Seahawks. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley need to ramp up the heat against Indianapolis' Kerry Collins, who is extremely mistake-prone after taking a few hits. This could lead to some easy scores for Pittsburgh.

Red-zone advantage: The Browns have been stingy defending their turf inside the 20-yard line. Cleveland is tied for third in red-zone defense this year and didn't give up a touchdown last Sunday until there were 24 seconds left in the game. Among the many problems for the Dolphins has been punching the ball into the end zone. Miami head coach Tony Sparano said his offense has made the eighth-most negative plays in the red zone.

Strength against strength: The best friend for a young quarterback like Andy Dalton is a strong running game. Under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 31-2 when one of their running backs gets at least 25 carries. Cincinnati's commitment to the run is going to get tested against the 49ers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 24 straight games -- the longest current streak in the NFL.

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