NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 13

Final Word: AFC North

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

The Big Ben factor: Whether Ben Roethlisberger, who has been limited in practice all week with rib and shoulder injuries, plays Sunday at Baltimore will weigh heavily in the outcome. Since 2004, including playoffs, the Steelers are 9-4 against the Ravens with Roethlisberger starting at quarterback. Pittsburgh is averaging 18.3 points and 212.6 passing yards in this rivalry with the franchise's all-time leading passer, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh is 0-6 against Baltimore, averaging 14.7 points and 182.2 passing yards. If Roethlisberger can't play, the Steelers will turn to Charlie Batch, who has lost four of five career starts against the Ravens.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Frank Victores/US PRESSWIREBengals QB Andy Dalton will look to work on his ball security and third-down passing in 2013.
Sophomore no longer slumping: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled to repeat the success of his rookie season in the first half of 2012, when he threw an interception in each of his first eight games. But Dalton has bounced back strong and turned around the Cincinnati offense as well. The Bengals are averaging 31 points during their three-game winning streak, which is third-best in the NFL over that span. Over the past three weeks, Dalton has thrown for 639 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 117.2. He is one of three players in NFL history with at least 20 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. The others were Peyton Manning and Dan Marino.

Back on the attack: Jonathan Dwyer was named the starter again after the Steelers' running back-by-committee failed. In each of two starts this season, Dwyer has gained more than 100 yards. He's also only one of nine backs this season to average at least 2 yards per rush before and after first contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That shows Dwyer's combination of power and speed. The Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in run defense this season. Six running backs have gained at least 90 yards in a game against Baltimore, including two 100-yard rushers (Jamaal Charles and Trent Richardson).

Rookie on the road: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is expected to start at Oakland a week after suffering his first concussion. Weeden's QBR this season is 21.8, the lowest in the NFL. It's the third-lowest since 2008 (only Jimmy Clausen and Blaine Gabbert had worse QBRs). But the Cleveland first-round pick has fared better on the road than at home. Weeden has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions on the road, and he's been picked off 10 times at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Raiders have been one of the league's most generous teams this season, allowing opponents to score 34 or more points in four consecutive games.

Hold onto that ball: The Steelers committed eight turnovers last Sunday, the most by any team since the Rams had eight in 2001. Pittsburgh fumbled the ball eight times and lost five of them. All four running backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Dwyer and Chris Rainey) coughed up the ball. The Ravens have forced running backs to fumble nine fumbles this season. Only the Patriots have caused more fumbles.

Final Word: AFC East

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Tom terrific: Even at 35 years old, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is playing some of the best football of his career. The Patriots have won five straight games and Brady put up monster numbers in that stretch, including throwing for 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has had five consecutive games of at least two touchdowns and zero interceptions, which is the second longest streak of his career according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Patriots lead the NFL in total offense and scoring, and Brady is the primary reason. He’s justifiably one of the favorites for the NFL MVP award this season.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireQuarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots take on the Dolphins in a Week 13 matchup that Miami is desperate to win.
A wild card: New England’s opponent Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, is in the thick of the wild-card race. Miami (5-6) is one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-5). All three teams have tough games. The Steelers are on the road against the Baltimore Ravens (9-2), while the Bengals travel to play the San Diego Chargers (4-7). It’s possible that both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati could lose their road games Sunday, which would open the door for Miami to gain a game. But the Dolphins upsetting the Patriots is a tall task.

No shotgun for Sanchez: New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is having a poor season all around. But it may be wise for the Jets to keep Sanchez out of the shotgun as much as possible in the final five games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Sanchez has the NFL’s second-lowest completion percentage (56.6) from the shotgun formation. Sanchez also has six interceptions and has been sacked 15 times from the formation. New York is a ground-and-pound team that’s not adept at using multiple wide receivers and airing it out.

Jets need sacks: A lot of the focus has been on the Jets’ struggling offense. However, New York’s defense also has been inconsistent. This was a group expected to finish in the top five in the NFL. But injuries and underachieving have kept New York’s defense back. One big issue has been New York’s inability to pressure the quarterback. The Jets are 30th in the NFL with only 17 sacks. Look for New York to attack the Arizona Cardinals with different blitz looks Sunday. The Cardinals are starting struggling quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Bills could face Babin: The Philadelphia Eagles created national headlines earlier this week when they released Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin. He was claimed 24 hours later by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on Sunday. Babin is expected to make his Jacksonville debut against Buffalo in some capacity this weekend. The irony is Buffalo tried to claim Babin, who was one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers last season. The Jaguars (2-9) are last in the NFL with 13 sacks.

Final Word: AFC West

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Could be a special weekend for John Elway: The Broncos, 8-3, can clinch their second consecutive AFC West title with a victory over visiting Tampa Bay or a San Diego home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon. The last time Denver won back-to-back division titles was 1986-87, when Elway was the team's star quarterback. The Broncos also are looking for their seventh straight win. The last time they had a streak that long was when they won 14 straight spanning 1997-98, Elway’s final two seasons as a player.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
John Rieger/US PresswireJamaal Charles could give the Chiefs' offense a boost with some third-down carries.
Chiefs need to look to Charles on third down: Despite their big problems on offense, the Chiefs haven’t been horrible on third down this season. Going into last week’s loss to Denver, Kansas City was 14th in the NFL on third downs, with a 38.7 conversion percentage. Running back Jamaal Charles has converted 38.5 percent of the time on third down with the ball in his hands, according to ESPN Stats & Information. However, against Denver, Charles didn’t touch the ball on third down. The Chiefs went 3-for-14 on third down -- just 21.4 percent. The Chiefs need to get Charles involved on third down Sunday against Carolina.

Will another rookie run over the Raiders? In Week 9, Oakland’s home crowd saw Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin run all over the Raiders in a 42-32 Oakland loss. Martin had 251 yards rushing on 25 carries, with four long touchdown runs. Now, four weeks later, Oakland hosts Cleveland and running back Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft. Richardson has not been as good as Martin, rushing for 755 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. But you know he is going to be motivated by Martin’s performance against a defense that has struggled all season.

Can Ryan Mathews get a 100-yard game? The Chargers’ offense needs a boost as San Diego clings to faint playoff hopes. If the Chargers have any hope of beating the smoking-hot Bengals on Sunday, their offense will need to come alive. That means running back Mathews must have a big game. San Diego hasn't had a 100-yard rusher all season. So much was expected from the No. 12 pick of the 2010 draft in his third season. But Mathews has been slowed by injuries once again, compiling 594 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He certainly has showed flashes, but he hasn’t been dominant. Mathews hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 14 of last season. It’s time for another.

Freeman-Denver battle brewing: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman likes to go deep; Denver’s defense is equipped to stop him. Something will have to give. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver has allowed eight completions and a completion percentage of 17.9 on passes longer than 20 yards this season -- both league lows. Freeman, meanwhile, has completed 22 such passes to lead the league.

Final Word: AFC South

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Big-play potential: The Colts' game in Detroit features the NFL’s top two players in receiving yards. The Lions' Calvin Johnson (1,257) and Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne (1,105) are the primary guys in their respective offenses. Since Johnson entered the league in 2007, they are also both in the top three in the NFL in receiving yards, with Wayne second and Johnson third behind No. 1 Roddy White. We can expect both receivers to get chances downfield. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Andrew Luck has thrown 125 passes this season that have traveled at least 15 yards downfield, the most in the league. Matthew Stafford is second with 106 such attempts. Pass defense will be an issue on both sides at Ford Field. Neither team features cornerbacks of the caliber of those receivers, which means quality pass-rushing will be extra important.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
AP Photo/David J. PhillipHouston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will match wits against Tennessee's Dowell Loggains, who will be calling plays for the first time.
Rematch: The Texans defeated the Titans 38-14 in Week 4. Houston is seeking a season sweep of the Titans for the second time in its history and first time since 2004. Jake Locker suffered a shoulder injury early in that game when an unblocked, blitzing Glover Quin drove Locker's nonthrowing shoulder into the ground. The big story is the coordinator matchup when the Titans have the ball. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the business, and he will be trying to outfox Dowell Loggains, the Titans' new offensive coordinator who will be calling his first game. The Texans have allowed more than 30 points in back-to-back games after allowing that many just once in their first nine games.

Streaking with Henne? The Jaguars seek back-to-back wins for the first time since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2010 season. In the past two games with Chad Henne doing most of the quarterbacking, the Jaguars have jumped from 14.1 points per game to 30.5, and from 263.6 yards per game to 389.5. Rookie receiver Justin Blackmon has been a big part of that, with more receiving yards in Weeks 11 and 12 (298) than he had in the first 10 games (250). But Blackmon and the team’s other top receiver, Cecil Shorts, didn’t practice Thursday because of leg injuries; their status for Sunday’s game in Buffalo is in doubt.

Heading for 1,000: Chris Johnson needs 58 rushing yards for his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season to start his career. He would become the eighth player in NFL history to accomplish that, joining Curtis Martin and Barry Sanders (who did it for 10 consecutive seasons). The others were LaDainian Tomlinson (eight), Eric Dickerson (seven), Corey Dillon (six), Tony Dorsett and Eddie George (five each). In Johnson’s past six games, he has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and broken off 17 10-yard runs.

Also: Andre Johnson's 461 receiving yards in his past two games are the most in consecutive games in league history, per Elias Sports Bureau. With a 152-yard day, he would post the best three-game stretch ever, passing Charley Hennigan’s 612 yards for the Oilers in 1961. Johnson has been the Texans’ targeted receiver on 40.7 percent of the team’s play-action passes the past two games. Before that, he was the target on just 22.4 percent. … The Bills have been outscored by 72 points in the second half. … With a victory, Luck would become the first rookie quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the common draft era to win eight games. … The Titans rank 31st in points allowed (30.5 per game) and the Texans rank second in scoring (29.7). … Arian Foster has six consecutive 100-yard games on the road. He has scored a touchdown in every game but one.

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