NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 8

Final Word: AFC South

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
1:31
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Full effort: The Jaguars have struggled in the second half this season. To win at Reliant Stadium that means they’ll have to change the trend or jump ahead early. Jacksonville’s not had its bye yet but still has the fewest second-half points in the league (29). They are 30th in point-differential (minus-46) and 31st in yards per game (132.4). The defense and running game need to carry over what they did against Baltimore in the Monday night upset, while Blaine Gabbert has to do a lot more in the passing game.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jim Brown/US PresswireArian Foster has stepped up for Houston in the passing game with 287 receiving yards over the past three games.
Foster and more Foster: Arian Foster was fantastic last week, topping 100 yards rushing and receiving and scoring three touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Information says he’s averaging 4.0 yards a carry over the last two seasons against defenses with eight men in the box. The Texans would be wise to continue their patient approach with ailing star receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and continue to rely heavily on Foster. With Johnson out, Foster’s been targeted 20 times, the most of any Houston player. Only Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Jimmy Graham and Steve Smith of Carolina have more than Foster’s 287 receiving yards over the past three weeks.

Another run-game factor: Chris Johnson’s struggles running the ball for the Titans have been a giant story. We’ve talked extensively about his shortcomings and the potential for changes on the line. But tight ends have been big for him when things have gone well, too. Craig Stevens took over for Alge Crumpler as the team’s primary blocking tight end last year. But Stevens is dealing with a rib injury and there is only so much he can do given the level of pain he has to deal with. It’s hard to heal when you’re constantly getting hit in the area in question. Watch him and see if he’s able to take people on and if he’s less effective later in the game.

Scoring defense woes: The Colts have allowed at least 23 points in all seven of their games this season. If they give up 23 to the Titans, they will become the second team in the last 30 seasons to allow at least 23 points in their first eight games of a season, joining the 2010 Texans. How to slow the bleeding? Well, they’re giving up touchdowns 63.3 percent of the time opponents get inside their 20-yard line. There seems to be little to lose by playing more aggressively with tighter coverage close to their goal line. It can’t be much worse.

Double division action: With two head-to-head division matchups, the standings will tell us a lot come Sunday night. Houston can pull away, or allow the Jaguars to be right in the mix. The Titans can rebound and stay close to the top, or be part of Indianapolis’ first win and come out of things in third place. Labeling contenders and pretenders will be easier after we see how these two play out.

Final Word: AFC West

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets knowledge about Week 8:

This is the Chiefs’ chance: The Chiefs have a chance to pad their record. They have fought their way to 3-3 after starting 0-3, and if they beat the Chargers on Monday night, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West between the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders (who are on a bye this week) at 4-3. The San Diego game is the start of a three-game home stretch for the Chiefs. After the Chargers, the Chiefs host the Dolphins and Broncos. It is crucial for the Chiefs to win as many games as possible in this stretch. Their schedule gets incredible tough after that. It begins a five-game stretch (games 10-15) in which Kansas City plays five 2010 playoffs teams, including the four teams that advanced to the conference championship round.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Tim Tebow
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesDenver quarterback Tim Tebow is averaging 13.3 yards per pass attempt this season.
Air Tebow: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow is averaging 13.3 air yards per pass attempt this season and 12.3 air yards per attempt for his career. He has played four and a half career games. Since the start of 2010, no quarterback with at least 100 attempts has a higher average rate than Tebow.

Another Monday night monsoon? This is the second straight year these two teams played on Monday night at Arrowhead. Last year, the Chiefs beat the Chargers in Week 1, which opened the renovated Arrowhead Stadium. Much of the game was played in a monsoon. The Chargers’ offense was completely flustered by the weather. Will it happen again? The long-term Kansas City forecast calls for clear weather Monday.

The power of Tolbert: The Chargers’ favorite red-zone target (especially with tight end Antonio Gates out three games due to a foot injury) has been running back Mike Tolbert. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolbert is tied with former Charger Darren Sproles, who signed with New Orleans this summer, for running backs with 10 targeted passes in the red zone. Tolbert has seven catches for 35 yards and two scores in the red zone. Tolbert is active in the red zone on the ground as well. He is tied for the league lead with 15 rushes on goal-to-go carries. He has three touchdowns in those situations.

The return of Scheffler: Many Denver fans rue the trades of Jay Cutler, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Marshall, all made by former coach Josh McDaniels. Denver fans will see another offensive player discarded by McDaniels on Sunday when tight end Tony Scheffler and Detroit come to town. A favorite of McDaniels’ predecessor Mike Shanahan, who drafted Scheffler in the second round in 2006, Scheffler was caught in McDaniels’ doghouse and was traded to his home state of Michigan last year. The Lions love Scheffler, and he has become a key part of a potent offense.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Chasing history: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and starting quarterback Tom Brady can make NFL history Sunday. With a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady and Belichick will set a record for the most regular-season wins for a quarterback-head coach duo in the Super Bowl era. The Patriots' pair is tied with former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and former coach Don Shula with 116 victories.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireThe Patriots have won eight straight games following a bye under coach Bill Belichick.
Bye-week blues: But don't book that win for New England yet. The Patriots and Buffalo Bills could be primed for an upset. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams coming off the bye are an abysmal 3-9 (.250 winning percentage) this season. That is a significant turnaround from the 20-12 (.625) mark in 2010. Although there is no clear explanation, the lengthy NFL lockout might have something to do with it. Practice reps are important, especially during the first half of the season. Most teams practice a little, then take several days off during the bye. That has led to some sloppy play for teams following the bye. But the good news for New England is that Belichick has won eight consecutive games after byes.

Fitz factor: It is no coincidence the Bills have lost two of three at the same time starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick cooled off. Fitzpatrick threw for 841 yards and nine touchdowns during Buffalo's 3-0 start. He was an early MVP candidate. But Fitzpatrick has thrown for 636 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in his past three games. The Bills are 1-2 in that span. Fitzpatrick is known to be streaky. He's living up to that reputation so far this season. Buffalo needs Fitzpatrick to be consistently good the rest of the season to make the playoffs.

Miami's pass rush a fluke? Here is a key question for the Dolphins: Was Tim Tebow that bad, or is Miami's pass rush suddenly that good? Winless Miami had just eight sacks in its first five games. But the Dolphins exploded against Tebow and the Denver Broncos with six sacks last week. Tebow struggled mightily for 55 minutes until making a stunning comeback from 15 points down. Too often Tebow failed to recognize blitzes and held the ball too long in his first start of the season. Miami is big an underdog against the New York Giants. But if the Dolphins can get to Giants quarterback Eli Manning with the same proficiency, maybe they have a chance for the upset.

Get some rest: The next month for the New York Jets could be the biggest stretch of their season. New York plays three division games in that span, which includes a home game against the division-leading Patriots and two contests against the Bills. The two Buffalo games could have a lot of say in the AFC wild-card race. It's rare that three teams get in from the same division. So, New York and Buffalo have to treat these meetings in November as elimination games.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
1:30
AM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Off to the races: The biggest mismatch at Heinz Field is Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace against the Patriots secondary. Last year, Wallace burned New England for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots haven't been the only ones who struggled to keep up with Wallace. He has caught at least one reception longer than 40 yards in six consecutive games, which is one away from the longest such streak since the merger (this comes courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau). New England, which is last in the NFL in pass defense, has given up 37 completions over 20 yards -- six more than any other defense.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireSteelers receiver Mike Wallace burned the Patriots when the teams met last season -- and New England's pass defense is the NFL's worst this season.
Bad break: It was a bad time to have a bye for the Bengals, who had won three games in a row. Actually, it's never been a good time for a bye for Cincinnati. The Bengals have the worst wining percentage of any NFL coming off the bye since 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their record is 5-16-1, which means they win less than 25 percent of the time after the break. If Cincinnati can reverse this trend at Seattle, Marvin Lewis would have the most wins (including playoffs) in franchise history, surpassing Sam Wyche.

Not so special: Mistakes have made the Browns' special teams among the worst in the NFL. Last Sunday, Cleveland had two field goals blocked and a punt returned for a touchdown (which was wiped away by a highly questionable block in the back call). Two weeks ago, the Browns allowed touchdowns on a kickoff return and a fake field goal. Now, they'll face their old special teams coach, Brad Seely, and a potent 49ers return team. San Francisco is first in the league with seven punt returns of 20 yards or more and first in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.9 yards per return.

In a rush: Arizona's Kevin Kolb has been sacked 18 times, the fourth-most in the NFL. The pocket won't be much safer Sunday, when the Cardinals play at Baltimore. The Ravens have 19 sacks, the most they've had at this point in a season since 2006. It's quite a turnaround for the first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and the Ravens, who totaled a franchise-low 27 sacks last season. The Cardinals could be paying the price for passing over Terrell Suggs in the 2003 draft (they traded out of the sixth overall pick).

Tight coverage: One of the reasons the Steelers lost to the Patriots last year was their inability to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had five catches for 72 yards and three touchdowns. Stopping the tight end hasn't been a problem for Pittsburgh this season. The Steelers have allowed two tight ends to score (the Ravens' Ed Dickson and the Texans' Owen Daniels), but none has cracked 70 yards receiving in a game. In fact, starting tight ends have been held to an average of 35.8 yards receiving per game.

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