NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 11

Final Word: AFC East

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Hot playoff contenders: Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots (6-3) and Indianapolis Colts (6-3) could be a playoff preview. If the season ended today, both teams would be in. The Patriots would be the AFC East champions with a home playoff game and the Colts would be a road wild card. The Patriots and Colts are hitting their stride at the right time. Indianapolis is on a four-game winning streak and New England has won three in a row. One of these streaks has to end at Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Christopher LeeGetty ImagesRob Gronkowski has scored five touchdowns in his past three games.
‘Gronk’ more involved: Patriots Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski set the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end last year. But he got off to a slow start this season. Gronkowski appears to be finally hitting his stride and has five touchdowns in the past two games. He is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's favorite option in the red zone and is looking to extend his touchdown streak to four games.

Are the Jets focused? Do the New York Jets realize they have a game this weekend? It’s hard to tell considering how much the zany Jets have focused on backup quarterback Tim Tebow this week. There have been anonymous quotes, Tebow’s response of “sadness” and coach Rex Ryan’s ire. Tebow has dominated the headlines this week over New York’s opponent: the St. Louis Rams. The circus-like atmosphere makes you question how it impacts New York’s focus and preparations going into this game.

Sanchez under pressure: New York Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez has a lot on his plate. But one of the most glaring issues for Sanchez is struggling against the blitz. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Sanchez has a NFL-worst 48.7 completion percentage against the blitz. He’s also thrown four interceptions and has been sacked 10 times. New York has little supporting cast around Sanchez and teams are not afraid to bring extra rushers.

Moving forward: The Buffalo Bills (4-6) beat the Miami Dolphins (4-6), 19-14, on Thursday night. Both teams are relagated to the spoiler role the rest of the season and will try to make it tough on playoff contenders. It starts next week. Buffalo will have extra time to prepare to play the Colts on Nov. 25. The Dolphins will host the Seattle Seahawks (6-4).

Final Word: AFC North

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Shaking off the rust: Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, who is replacing Ben Roethlisberger, will make his first start since September 2009. It's been even longer since he celebrated a win as a starting quarterback. Leftwich has lost his past six starts dating back to Week 6 of 2006. Over that span, the only quarterbacks to start more games without a win are Brodie Croyle, Curtis Painter and John Beck, none of whom are on an NFL roster, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only active quarterback with a longer active losing streak than Leftwich is Chad Henne, who has lost his past seven starts.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRay Rice put up big numbers against the Steelers last season.
Strange results on the road: In what is an unusual trend for rookie quarterbacks, the Browns's Brandon Weeden has played better on the road than at home. When playing away from Cleveland Browns Stadium, Weeden has averaged 299.2 yards passing with six touchdowns and three interceptions. His rating on the road (86.4) is far better than the one at home (50.1). But this hasn't led to success for the Browns, who are 0-4 this season on the road. Cleveland hasn't won a game on the road since Week 2 of last season. The stretch of 11 straight road losses ties a franchise record (1974-76) and is the longest active streak in the NFL

Success against Steelers: When the Ravens swept the Steelers last season, Ravens running back Ray Rice totaled 235 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns, becoming the first player in 11 years to reach those marks against the Steelers in the same season. How rare is this feat? Since 1960, only four running backs have produced at least 235 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh: Rice, Fred Taylor, James Brooks and Jim Brown. Rice leads the NFL in net yards since 2009 with 6,826, which is 235 yards more than anyone else in the league.

Eight is not enough: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has caught a touchdown in eight straight games, which is tied for the second-longest streak in Bengals history. The team record for most consecutive games with a receiving touchdown is 10, which was set by Carl Pickens (1994-95). If Green can reach the end zone at Kansas City, he will join some elite company. The last player with a receiving touchdown in nine straight games in the same season was Jerry Rice, who caught one in 12 straight games in 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Green leads the NFL with nine receiving touchdowns, which is three more than the entire Chiefs team combined.

Slowing down Smith: The last time the Ravens played the Steelers, they beat Pittsburgh with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds remaining. But this year, Joe Flacco has overthrown Smith on 27 percent of his total targets, with only the Blaine Gabbert-to-Justin Blackmon combination yielding a higher overthrow percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Steelers have the top-ranked pass defense and limiting the big plays is a big reason why. Pittsburgh has given up 17 passes over 20 yards, which is the fewest in the league.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:29
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Big rookie test: Andrew Luck will attempt to become the first rookie starting quarterback to win at New England since Kerry Collins for the Panthers in 1995. Since then, Peyton Manning, Byron Leftwich and Mark Sanchez have all lost, while combining to throw for three touchdowns and nine interceptions. (Manning lost his first five regular-season games in New England.) If Luck picks up his seventh win of the season, he will tie Sam Bradford for the most wins by a rookie quarterback selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the common draft era.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesMatt Schaub burned the Jaguars on play-actions passes in Week 2, completing 14 of 16.
Schaub’s success: Since Week 7 of last season, Matt Schaub -- with a 12-1 record as a starter -- has the best winning percentage for a quarterback in that span in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jay Cutler is 11-2, Matt Ryan 15-4 and Aaron Rodgers 14-4. Although Schaub is first in win-loss record in that time, he’s just eighth in touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.6 TDs for every INT). When the Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 2, Schaub was 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) on play-action passes. That’s the second-highest completion percentage on play-action throws since the start of 2008 (minimum 15 attempts).

Jaguars’ woes: Jacksonville has lost six consecutive games, the team's longest losing streak since dropping six straight in 2002-03. The Jaguars have lost seven straight games only once, back in their inaugural season of 1995. Jacksonville has played the NFL’s toughest schedule thus far, with its opponents carrying a combined 50-32 record (.610). According to Elias: Since the 1970 merger, there have been 15 matchups in Week 10 or later featuring a team with one or fewer wins against a team with one or fewer losses. The team with one or fewer losses is 12-3 in those matchups. The last such underdog to pull off a win? The Jaguars in 2003 when they beat the Colts.

Reggie Wayne's reliability: Luck and Wayne have connected downfield in ways that Manning and Wayne didn’t in their final seasons together. Wayne has 37 catches of more than 10 yards downfield through nine games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In his final four years with Manning as his quarterback, he never had more than 33 in a full season. Luck’s average pass has traveled a league-high 10.3 yards downfield, but his short passing has gotten better recently. Luck has completed at least 69 percent of his throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in the Colts’ last four games. He had completed fewer than 60 percent of those throws in four of his first five games.

Also: Arian Foster has scored a touchdown in each of his past 11 games, tied for the second-longest streak in the past 10 years. LaDainian Tomlinson had an 18-game streak spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons. ... New England and Indianapolis face each other for the 10th time in the regular season since 2002, which is when the current division format was created. Only one other pair of non-division opponents played each other as many as nine times over that same span: Carolina and Arizona. ... The Colts are getting a league-high 42.7 percent of their yards from scrimmage from rookies. Washington is No. 2 at 37.9 percent. ... The Titans have their bye this week.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Manning-Thomas combination is taking off: Nine games into Peyton Manning's time with the Denver Broncos, it appears third-year receiver Demaryius Thomas is becoming his favorite target. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Week 5 at New England, Thomas has been Manning’s go-to receiver, catching 33 of the 40 passes Manning has thrown his way. Thomas has been targeted at an average depth of 13 yards, and he has eight catches of 30 yards or more. In the first four weeks, Thomas caught 21 of 35 targets, with an average target depth of 7.6 yards and two pass plays of 30-plus yards.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning
AP Photo/Jack DempseyPeyton Manning has found Demaryius Thomas, left, more often, and for big gains, in recent weeks.
Yardagepalooza possible in Oakland: All kinds of offensive records could fall in Oakland on Sunday when the New Orleans Saints visit. Rain is in the forecast -- and perhaps only a slick surface could help these defenses. New Orleans has allowed 4,224 yards in nine games; Oakland has allowed 97 points in its past two. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees leads the NFL in passing yardage; Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer leads the AFC in passing yardage. The putrid defensive possibilities are endless.

Can the Chiefs protect Arrowhead Stadium? One of the more embarrassing facts in a season rich in embarrassing facts for the Chiefs is their performance at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs used to be extremely difficult to beat at home. That’s not the case in this 1-8 season. The Chiefs are 0-4 at home and have been outscored by 46 points there. The faithful are hoping that all changes Sunday against Cincinnati.

Chargers need to buck Broncos’ trend: The Chargers owned the Broncos in recent years, but the Broncos have beaten the Chargers twice in a row. A win Sunday would give Denver its first season sweep in the series since 2005, the year before Philip Rivers took over as San Diego's starting quarterback. Before this short Denver win streak, the Chargers won nine of 11 games in the series. The most recent meeting between the two teams was one of the most memorable in the rivalry’s history. Denver turned a 24-0 halftime deficit into a 35-24 road victory on “Monday Night Football” in Week 6. The Broncos haven’t lost since, while the Chargers have won just once.

More milestones for Manning: Every week, it seems like Manning sets a new record. Week 11 doesn’t appear different. Manning needs one win to tie John Elway -- the man who brought him to Denver -- for the second-most career victories by a starting quarterback at 148. Manning needs a touchdown toss to overtake Dan Marino for the second-most career touchdown passes. They are tied at 420.

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