NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 14

Final Word: AFC West

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:36
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Three nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeRomeo Crennel, Clark Hunt
Zumapress/Icon SMIThen-Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel gets a hug from team CEO Clark Hunt after an emotional win Dec. 2, 2012, the day after Belcher's murder-suicide.
Watching the Chiefs’ emotions: It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs react in this game. They got their second win of the season in Week 13, beating Carolina 27-21 at home in a contest charged by emotion. A day earlier, starting linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli after he killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. What will the Chiefs be like at Cleveland on Sunday? Will raw emotion still fuel this team? A week has passed, but the grief is still heavy -- and it will be that way for a long time. It might do the Chiefs good to go on the road, where they can further bond. It was important that they were home last week, but this could be the next part of the healing process.

Pittsburgh has not been kind to San Diego: The 4-8 Chargers have lost seven of eight games and are one defeat from securing their first losing record in nine years. If history is any indication, it won’t get easier Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Steelers are 14-0 all-time at home against the Chargers in the regular season.

Chargers need to stop the run: When the defense struggles, San Diego has a difficult time winning. That will be a key Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Chargers are 0-5 this season when they allow more than 115 rush yards.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:35
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Nickel issues: When the Patriots see a nickel package on the field, Tom Brady hands off the ball. New England runs against defenses with five or more defensive backs a league-high 73.5 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Texans have allowed 6.0 yards per rush when using such defenses this season, the worst rate in the NFL, but have allowed the second-fewest yards per rush (3.3) with four or fewer defensive backs on field. Brice McCain (foot) is out, so the fifth defensive back in this game will be safety Quintin Demps, inexperienced second-year corner Brandon Harris or corner Stanford Routt, who signed this week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is out, so the Patriots are likely to go three-wide a lot. If the Texans don't play better nickel run defense and have a corner on the field that Tom Brady can really pick on, it could be a recipe for big problems.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker and Chandler Jones
AP Photo/Joe HowelTitans QB Jake Locker could wind up facing heavy defensive heat the rest of the season.
Locker and Luck under pressure: Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Colts bring five or more pass-rushers 41 percent of the time, the third-most often in the league. That’s bad news for Jake Locker, who has struggled this season against the blitz. His .480 completion percentage against five or more pass-rushers is the worst in the NFL, a point and a half worse than Michael Vick. The Titans would be wise to put Locker on the move more often and earlier than they did last week against the Texans. In Dowell Loggains’ second game as the playcaller, I suspect we’ll see some major adjustments based on what worked and what didn’t for him last week. On the other side, Andrew Luck has been getting better under pressure. In his past six games, he’s completed 54.9 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt when under duress or hit while throwing, including a league-best 91.7 QBR (since Week 8). Over his first six games, Luck completed 29.4 percent of his passes under such pressure and failed to throw a touchdown.

The Jets in Jacksonville: The Jets have never won in Jacksonville (0-3), and they’ve scored fewer than 10 points in an NFL-high four games. But the Jaguars haven’t held anyone under 17 points this season, and they are allowing an average of 28.5 a game. Defensive end Jason Babin will play in his second game for the Jaguars and looks to boost an anemic pass rush as it chases Mark Sanchez. There will be a Landry brother on field at safety at all times. LaRon Landry of the Jets and Dawan Landry of the Jaguars have combined to play in 170 games, but this will be first time they’ll be on same field in a regular-season game.

Monday night bigness: The combined 20-4 record of these teams is tied for the best on "Monday Night Football" when each team has played at least 12 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1987, the 10-2 49ers beat the 10-2 Bears. New England has won 12 straight December games, tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. With a win, the Patriots would tie the 1968-72 Cowboys for the second-longest December win streak (the Chargers won 18 straight from 2006 to 2009). If the Texans lose, they will hear a lot about how they still aren’t a championship-caliber team. But even with a loss, 10,000 simulations by AccuScore say Houston still ends up winning the No. 1 seed 63% percent of the time while the Patriots win it in 36% of simulations.

Also: Thirty-seven teams have lost at least 14 regular-season games in a single season. A win Sunday for the Colts makes them the sixth to rebound to post a winning record the following season. … According to Stats & Info, Luck has had six potential interceptions dropped by defenders this season, most in the NFL. … Chris Johnson needs seven rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the fifth straight season. Johnson would be the eighth player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first five seasons and would match the Titans' last longtime feature back, Eddie George. … The Jaguars have scored only eight offensive touchdowns at home this season, tied for the NFL low with Cleveland. ... Although Houston has the most passes disrupted (40) when sending five or more pass-rushers, it also has allowed the most touchdowns and 30-plus yard passes in such situations. It's a risk-reward deal. ... The Titans are 0-4 against the AFC South this season and 4-4 against the rest of the NFL. They are one of four teams this season winless in divisional games, along with the Chiefs, Seahawks and Lions. Only the Chiefs (minus-53) have a worse scoring margin in divisional games than the Titans’ minus-49. ... We’ll see two of the league‘s best rookie receivers in this game. Kendall Wright’s 54 receptions leads all rookies by a wide margin. The next two receivers on the list are Indy’s T.Y. Hilton and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon with 39.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:34
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Return of Roethlisberger: The Steelers should get a boost with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger starting Sunday after missing three games with rib and shoulder injuries. In nine games with Roethlisberger this season, the Steelers scored 21 offensive touchdowns, including 17 through the air from the franchise's all-time leading passer. In three games without him, Pittsburgh scored four offensive touchdowns. Roethlisberger is also playing at Heinz Field, where he has been exceptional this season. He has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions at home for a 104.2 passer rating.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco, Torrey Smith
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco and Torrey Smith haven't been able to find much of a deep connection lately.
Off target: The Ravens aren't strong where the Redskins are vulnerable. Washington has allowed 10 completions longer than 40 yards, which is tied for the second-most allowed in the league. But the Ravens' Joe Flacco has struggled throwing the ball deep consistently this season. On passes beyond 10 yards downfield, his rate of overthrowing receivers (35 percent) is almost as high as his completion rate (39.3 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the Ravens’ past three games, Flacco has completed 2 of 14 attempts (14.3 percent) to Torrey Smith more than 10 yards downfield.

Keeping grounded: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis got off to a slow start in his first season with the Bengals. In his first nine games, when Cincinnati went 4-5, he ran for 537 yards, an average of 59.7 yards per game. In his past three games, all victories, Green-Ellis has nearly doubled that average per game (116), gaining 348 yards rushing. He is one of three running backs to gain more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. If Green-Ellis can crack 100 yards against Dallas, he will become the first Cincinnati back in 44 years to do so in four straight games (Paul Robinson did it in 1968).

Not so ordinary: In the past five games, Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson is averaging 95.8 rushing yards per game. Cleveland is 3-2 during that stretch. His three games with over 100 yards rushing is tied for the most ever by a Browns rookie. Richardson also leads AFC rookies with 827 yards. He needs 116 yards Sunday against Kansas City to surpass Hall of Fame back (and one-time Richardson critic) Jim Brown for most rushing yards by a Browns rookie.

Bad neighbors: The home stadiums for the Ravens and Redskins are separated by 33 miles. This regional rivalry hasn't been that close. The Ravens have won three of the four meetings with the Redskins. Baltimore has allowed a total of 47 points in those four games (an average of 11.7) and hasn't given up more than 17 points in any meeting with Washington. The only time the Redskins defeated Baltimore was 2000, which was the year that the Ravens eventually won the Super Bowl.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:33
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Protecting Brady: The New England Patriots' biggest key to success is protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and they will have a tall task blocking the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Houston is third in the NFL with 36 sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. New England’s pass protection has been up and down this season. Brady has been sacked in nine games, including last week when the Patriots allowed four sacks against the Miami Dolphins. Houston and Watt will be bringing the heat to disrupt Brady, and the Patriots have to do a better job of keeping Brady upright.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Texans could have trouble finding room to run against Vince Wilfork, right, and the Patriots.
Focus on Foster: The Texans can beat you in a variety of ways, but their first option is the running game. Houston runs the ball more than any other NFL team at 34.4 attempts per game. Texans running back Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 1,102 yards and first with 13 rushing touchdowns. He is the engine for the Texans. In Houston’s only defeat, Foster rushed for 29 yards on 17 carries in a 42-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots have a physical front seven and are ninth against the run. So expect a war of attrition in the trenches.

Sanchez’s time to respond: New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez returns under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting benched last week in the third quarter. This was a stern wake-up call for the four-year starter. Sanchez has a good chance to have a bounce-back game Sunday against the lowly Jaguars (2-10). The Jaguars are 28th against the pass and 31st against the run, which is tailor-made for the offensively inept Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan proved once that he’s not afraid to pull Sanchez if he’s playing poorly. Expect Sanchez to be on a short leash.

Martin vs. Smith: Miami rookie Jonathan Martin will make his first NFL start at left tackle Sunday at the San Francisco 49ers. Martin's reward: San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon SmithJake Long (triceps) for the season this week and put him on injured reserve. Long will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Martin has a four-game audition for the left tackle spot. If Martin does a good job, starting this week against Smith, the rookie could replace Long next season.

Buffalo's shift at center: The Buffalo Bills lost starting center Eric Wood for the next two to four weeks with a knee injury. If last season was any indication, this is awful news for the Bills. Wood is one of the top leaders on offense, but he has been injury prone. Wood missed seven games last season with an ACL tear, and the Bills were 1-6 without him. Buffalo has been working guard Kraig Urbik and rookie David Snow at center this week.

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