NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 9

Final Word: AFC West

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Where’s V-Jax? Much of the Chargers’ offensive woes are being pinned on quarterback Philip Rivers. Yes, he is off to the worst start of his career. But he is getting a lot of help. The Chargers’ playmakers have not been making big plays. Top receiver Vincent Jackson has slowed down. He had 17 catches in the first three games of the season for 266 yards and two touchdowns. In the past four games, Jackson has 10 catches for 206 yards and one touchdown. If the Chargers are going to be able to keep up with high-flying Packers on Sunday, Jackson is going to have to increase his production.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREThe pace of Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson has slowed since the beginning of the season.
Can Raiders break another streak? A byproduct of the Raiders’ terrible run from 2003-09 was that they built a lot of bad streaks. The good news, for Oakland, though, is since last season, they have been busting several negative streak. Oakland -- which hosts Denver on Sunday -- has a chance to end another bad streak. It has lost eight straight games after its bye week. It is the longest streak in the NFL dating back to 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It would be an upset, though, if this streak extends to nine.

Prater is getting his kicks: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver kicker Matt Prater is a perfect 18-for-18 on kickoffs going for touchbacks in Denver this season. Prater has 26 touchbacks on 30 kickoffs overall (86.7 percent). The Broncos have 59 return yards against them this season, which is an average of 2.0 yards per kickoff. Prater could be challenged in Oakland, Sunday, though. Oakland return man Jacoby Ford has four career kickoff returns for touchdowns and he has shown he is not afraid to take the ball out of the end zone.

Who needs Luck? A month ago, the Chiefs’ home game against the Miami Dolphins would have had major Andrew Luck Sweepstakes ramifications. The forecast was the loser of the game could end up being the big winner and land the Stanford quarterback, who is widely considered the best NFL prospect in years. But the Chiefs have won four straight games, are 4-3 and are tied for first place in the AFC West. The Dolphins have lived up to their end of the Luck bargain, though, at 0-7. The Chiefs have another prize on their mind -- beating the Chargers and moving a game closer to the postseason.

Tebow not moving the chains: There are a lot of reasons why the two-game Tim Tebow starting era is not working in Denver. There’s delivery, accuracy and pocket issues. But the truth is, he is not moving the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow has converted 3-of-17 third-down chances this season. It is a league-worst 17.6 percentage. He has been sacked six times on third down. He has the same amount of completions on third down.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Beating Big Ben at Heinz: The Ravens have lost five straight times to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field, where he has thrown 10 touchdowns and two interceptions against Baltimore during that streak. The last time the Ravens beat Roethlisberger on his home turf was 2006, which is also the last time they won the division. But Roethlisberger has some motivation as well. He turned the ball over a career-high five times (three interceptions and two fumbles lost) in the season opener at Baltimore, the most turnovers by a player in a game this season. Since then, he has six turnovers in seven games.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAndy Dalton has been comfortable on the road this season, completing 64.4 percent of his passes.
Rookies on the road: The Bengals' young players are bucking the trend that they're supposed to struggle away from home. Maybe Cincinnati's rookies just like playing in front of packed crowds, something they don't see at Paul Brown Stadium. First-year quarterback Andy Dalton has completed 64.4 percent of his passes and has averaged 190 yards passing on the road this season. He has thrown seven touchdowns and three interceptions for a 91.8 passer rating on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His prime target has been rookie first-round pick A.J. Green, who is looking for a touchdown catch in his fifth straight road game. Cincinnati takes a 3-1 road record into Tennessee.

Slumping at the start: The Browns' first-quarter woes aren't just a rut. It's becoming the Grand Canyon in terms of dysfunction. Cleveland has been outscored 44-3 in the first quarter this season, and the three points are the fewest in the NFL. It's actually the fewest by a team in the first quarter through the first seven games of a season since the 2000 Cardinals had three points (this comes courtesy of ESPN Sports & Information). Don't look for this trend to change at Houston on Sunday. The Texans have outscored teams, 57-13, in the first quarter. If the Browns are in comeback mode early again, they might have to get away from their running game and Peyton Hillis, who is expected to return from a hamstring injury.

Stopping the big runs: The Bengals shouldn't have much concern over the NFL's No. 2 run defense going against struggling running back Chris Johnson, right? Well, maybe they should have some concern. Cincinnati has been strong against the run overall, allowing only two running backs to go over 66 yards rushing. The Bengals' weakness has been the big runs. They've given up a run of at least 16 yards in all but one game, and there have been three 20-plus yard runs against them in the past four games. Johnson has only broken two runs over 20 yards this season, but he's had 44 in his previous three seasons.

Cooking with Rice: The Steelers have allowed only three 100-yard rushers in their last 58 games (dating back to 2007), and Ravens running back Ray Rice has produced two of those. He gained 141 yards on the ground at Pittsburgh in December 2009 and ran for 107 yards in the season opener against the Steelers. In that last meeting, Rice became the first running back since Jacksonville's Fred Taylor in 2007 to rush for over 100 yards and average over five yards per carry in a game against the Steelers. Pittsburgh ranks No. 8 in the NFL in run defense this season.

Final Word: AFC East

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Rex Ryan versus Buffalo: The New York Jets should feel very confident facing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. New York swept the Bills last season by a combined score of 76-21, and Ryan is 3-1 all-time against Buffalo since 2009. On paper, the Jets have plenty of good matchups against the Bills. New York is one of the few teams talented enough and deep enough at defensive back to defend Buffalo's spread offense successfully.

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets coach Rex Ryan
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRex Ryan and the Jets swept the Bills last season by a combined score of 76-21.
Winless on the road: The Jets remain one of seven NFL teams yet to win a road game. New York is 0-3 away from Met Life Stadium and losing by an average margin of 12 points. The Jets have to turn that around if they want to remain in playoff contention. New York (4-3) is just one game behind the New England Patriots (5-2) and Buffalo (5-2) in the AFC East. The Bills are 4-0 at home, which includes last week's win in Toronto, Canada, over the Washington Redskins.

Protecting Sanchez: New York's offensive line is playing better. But it faces Buffalo's front seven, which is coming off its best performance of the season. The Bills recorded an astounding 10 sacks against Washington, which was the second most in franchise history. The Jets have allowed 16 sacks of quarterback Mark Sanchez in seven games. New York allowed only 27 sacks all last season.

Slowing down the Pats: What's happened to the New England Patriots’ high-scoring offense? The Patriots have scored their lowest point totals of the season the past two weeks. New England scored 17 and 20 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, respectively. That has many wondering whether teams have finally figured out quarterback Tom Brady and Co. The Patriots were fortunate enough to get a late touchdown against Dallas to pull out a 20-16 victory. But opponents are not giving up huge yards and are controlling the clock against New England. Look for Sunday's opponent -- the New York Giants -- to have a similar game plan.

Thunder and lightning: The winless Miami Dolphins (0-7) have been unable to get their running-back duo of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas on the same page. Sometimes that's been because of injuries and other times it was questionable game plans and play-calling. But this week is a good opportunity for Bush and Thomas to help Miami. The Kansas City Chiefs have the NFL's 22nd-ranked run defense. Bush is coming off his first 100-yard game this season, and Thomas (hamstring) is expected to return. Miami's best chance to pull the upset is for Bush and Thomas to run wild against the Chiefs, who are coming off a short week of preparation.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Over in the first? The Texans have scored 57 points in the first quarter, third most in the league. The Browns have scored three, the fewest in the league. If the patterns hold, could we have a snoozer by the time the teams switch ends? ESPN Stats & Information says no quarterback has been less threatening downfield this season than Cleveland’s Colt McCoy. He has three 30-yard pass plays in 163 completions. That’s 1.8 percent, the lowest percentage of 30-yard plays of anyone this season. I don’t expect the Texans to have receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring), but Houston should still be more threatening downfield than the Browns.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMIIn Julio Jones' last full game, he caught 11 passes for 127 yards.
Bad timing: The Colts seem to be catching the Falcons at the wrong time. If Julio Jones returns from a hamstring injury that cost him the last two games, he will have wide eyes looking at the Indianapolis secondary. In his last full game, Jones was targeted 15 times, the fourth most for any player this season. He wound up with a franchise-rookie record 11 catches for 127 yards. On defense, the Falcons have broken out of a sack slump with eight in their last three games, not good news for Curtis Painter, though he should be behind a better line as some guys are healing up.

Watch the deep stuff: Cincinnati rookie receiver A.J. Green is giving the Bengals something the Titans lack without the injured Kenny Britt -- a serious deep threat. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Green has six receptions on throws more than 20 air yards downfield this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. Only four rookies have had more than six such receptions since the start of 2008. The Titans have covered reasonably well this season. Odds are we’ll see both Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner working against Green. They’ll need a pass rush to help make it work.

Never ahead: The Colts have run 77 plays when leading this season, the fourth fewest in the NFL behind the Broncos, Seahawks and Rams. Just 16.6 percent of the Colts’ offensive plays have come when leading this season compared to 41.9 percent the three seasons before with Peyton Manning. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have been quiet in recent weeks, and they obviously thrive when a quarterback has to throw. Indianapolis is best playing from ahead, and the Colts have rarely been in that situation this season.

Bengals in nickel: Cincinnati’s pass defense has been stronger when it has had at least five defensive backs on the field, allowing just one touchdown. The Titans are hardly a great three-wide team considering their third receiver is Lavelle Hawkins. They’d be wise to go with two tight ends more often and feature Jared Cook, a player who’s been underused. The Bengals have not covered tight ends well this season. Why let Cincinnati get into its nickel package when Matt Hasselbeck has thrown five of six picks against defensive sets with at least one extra defensive back?

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