NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 16

Final Word: AFC South

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
1:39
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

[+] EnlargeBrooks Reed
Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Houston linebacker Brooks Reed returns from a groin injury to face Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
Stop AD: Adrian “All Day” Peterson leads the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards and needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards in 1984. Peterson needs 188 yards to become the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. According to ESPN Stats and Info, more than half his yards have come after contact. Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards in his past eight games, the most by any player over an eight-game span in league history. He’s rushed for at least 150 yards in three games in a row. Houston is allowing 93.2 ground yards a game and gets one key defender, outside linebacker Brooks Reed, back from a groin injury.

To blitz or not to blitz: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked or put under duress on 31.1 percent of his dropbacks since the Packers’ Week 10 bye, second-highest in the NFL. Rodgers has been able to handle the pressure though; he has an 84.3 Total QBR when under duress this season, best in the NFL (league average: 24.9). The Titans' pass rush has really picked up in recent weeks, but it’s been against quarterbacks of far less stature than Rodgers. Will defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, whose job security is in question, continue to blitz or back off? Rodgers has completed 79.4 percent of his passes to Randall Cobb this season. That’s the highest rate for any quarterback-wide receiver combination with at least 50 attempts.

Beating bad teams: I never fault any team for its schedule, which it doesn't control. But let’s note each of the past seven Colts’ wins have come against teams currently under .500. Indianapolis has not beaten a team that currently has a winning record since the Packers in Week 5. Andrew Luck needs 74 passing yards to break Cam Newton’s record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback (4,051 last season). Luck needs six touchdown passes over his final two games to tie Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (26). Luck has thrown 18 interceptions this season, tied for the league lead with Drew Brees. However, per Stats and Info, Luck has also had seven potential interceptions dropped by defenders this season, most in the NFL.

Bad news for the Jaguars: Over the past 10 seasons, Tom Brady is 22-4 in games following a loss. Brady had 53 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in those games. That's bad news for Jacksonville, hosting the Patriots after their Sunday night loss to San Francisco. Jacksonville has been outscored 189-78 at home this season. It has the worst home scoring margin (-111) in the NFL. One more loss for the Jaguars and they will be assured of the worst season in franchise history. The team was 4-12 in 1995, their first season in the NFL.

On the verge: Chris Johnson needs 196 rushing yards over his final two games to reach 7,000 career rushing yards. He’d be the fourth player in NFL history to reach 7,000 career rushing yards in his first five seasons. Currently, he has the seventh-most rushing yards ever by a player in his first five seasons. With 71 yards, he’ll surpass Eddie George on that list. The Titans can take heart that they’ve got a young receiver to go with Johnson moving forward. Kendall Wright's total of 62 receptions leads NFL rookies by a wide margin. Justin Blackmon is next with 51. Wright needs 11 over the final two weeks to set the franchise rookie record for most receptions in a single season. Bill Groman had 72 catches in 1960.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Busting loose: Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has six runs of 20-plus yards in his past five games (106 total rushes), according to ESPN Stats & Information. This is quite a hot streak for Green-Ellis, who had six 20-plus yard runs in his first 62 career games total (667 rushes). The Steelers have been stingy when it comes to allowing big runs. Pittsburgh has given up four runs of 20-plus yards this season, but two have come in the past three games (Ray Rice ran for 34 yards and DeMarco Murray broke free for 28).

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsBenJarvus Green-Ellis has been hitting home runs lately; the Steelers defense allows few.
Tiger tamer: Ben Roethlisberger can become the winningest quarterback against the Bengals with a victory Sunday. He currently has a 13-4 record against Cincinnati in the regular season. Only Warren Moon, who was 13-7 against the Bengals, has as many wins against Cincinnati. The only team that Roethlisberger has beaten more is the Browns (14 wins). In his past three games against the Bengals, Roethlisberger has completed 67 percent of his passes and has averaged 233 yards passing with a passer rating of 95.2.

Flacco factor: Everyone knows the Ravens' success when Ray Rice gets the ball at least 20 times. But there's another key factor to the Ravens' victories. Since he was drafted in 2008, Baltimore is 11-1 when Joe Flacco throws for more than 300 yards. The Ravens are 4-0 this season when he goes over that mark. But Flacco has slumped recently, posting a Total QBR of below 50 in four of his past five starts. Since Week 11, he ranks just 29th in the NFL in Total QBR (25.2). The Ravens need a strong game from Flacco against the Giants, who are vulnerable in the secondary. New York has the 28th-ranked pass defense.

Sound protection: The Browns have done a solid job in protecting rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has been sacked a total of six times over the past three weeks despite throwing the ball at least 30 times each game. Cleveland has allowed 26 sacks this season, which is tied for the eighth-fewest in the league. Denver has been putting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks this season, ranking second in the NFL with 42 sacks. The Broncos' Von Miller has 10 sacks in his past seven games. Miller will line up across from rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has given up 4.5 sacks this season.

Red-hot in the red zone: The Bengals have risen to 10th in fewest points allowed on the strength of their red-zone defense. In winning five of its past six games, Cincinnati has allowed just 13 trips inside its 20-yard line, giving up three touchdowns (23.1 percent). In their last game, the Bengals held the Eagles to one touchdown in three red-zone possessions. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the fourth-best QBR in the red zone this year (only Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are better) with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

[+] EnlargeMcElroy
AP Photo/Kathy WillensGreg McElroy will get a two-game audition to make his case to be the starter next season for the Jets.
Time for Big Mac: New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy has a chance to cap one of the most unexpected seasons in the AFC East. The former third-string quarterback will make his first career start Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. McElroy played well in spot duty and was able to beat the Arizona Cardinals with a second-half touchdown in Week 13. These next two weeks McElroy has a chance to put his claim on New York's starting job. The Jets have come to the realization that quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are not the long-term solutions.

Rex and Norv: An interesting development could be in the making when Rex Ryan faces Norv Turner. This most likely will be their final meeting with Turner as head coach of the Chargers. Multiple reports indicate Turner will be fired after another disappointing season. The two coaches have a history of facing each other in big games, which has led to some heated comments in the past. However, the Jets could be in the market for an offensive coordinator next year and Turner may be at the top of the list. New York offensive coordinator Tony Sparano struggled mightily in his first season. The Jets are 30th in total offense and both quarterbacks -- Tebow and Sanchez -- have regressed.

Showing up: Which Buffalo Bills team will show up Sunday against the Miami Dolphins? Will we see the listless Bills team that was thrashed last week by the Seattle Seahawks, 50-17? Or will we see the Bills group that played hard and beat the Dolphins in their first meeting in November? The Bills have been a schizophrenic team all season. They only put together one winning streak of two games all season in Weeks 2-3. Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey is on the hot seat and needs his team to play hard in these final two games.

Dolphins D vs. Spiller: One of the better matchups in this game will be Miami's stout run defense against dynamic Bills tailback C.J. Spiller. The Dolphins are eighth against the run and have a disciplined front seven. Spiller is coming off his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season in a loss to the Seahawks. He rushed for 91 yards against Miami in the first meeting on Nov. 15. Spiller certainly will be the focal point for Miami's defense on Sunday.

Hope for the best: It looks more likely that the AFC East champion New England Patriots (10-4) will be playing in the wild-card round. The Patriots are hoping that the Denver Broncos (11-3) can lose one of their final two games to the Cleveland Browns or Kansas City Chiefs. But that's a long shot. The Patriots should be able to dispatch their next two opponents. They play the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday and host the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale. However, those games don't improve New England's standing unless Denver loses.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

No Luck in 2013 draft: The Kansas City Chiefs will get an up-close look at what it means to be able to get a star quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, has led the Colts to the cusp of the playoffs. The 2-13 Chiefs are on pace for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, and quarterback is their greatest need. But there are no Lucks in the 2013 class, so the Chiefs will have to either take a chance on someone like West Virginia’s Geno Smith or acquire a veteran and take the best player available. Seeing Luck on Sunday won’t make reality easier to take.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesThe Broncos got their top QB choice in the offseason by acquiring Peyton Manning, but Brandon Weeden was on their radar.
Denver Broncos will get close look at Weeden: Brandon Weeden will be quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns in Denver on Sunday. It could have been different. Weeden could have been Denver’s quarterback. Had Peyton Manning not opted to sign with the Broncos, they very well could have tried to move up a few spots from No. 25 to take Weeden. But, of course, Manning signed with Denver in March and the Browns took Weeden at No. 22. The Broncos were scouting Weeden when they sent their jet to fetch Manning for an early-March meeting that set the signing into motion. It is clear the Broncos wanted to move away from Tim Tebow, and the strong-armed, pocket-passing Weeden impressed Denver’s brass. But in the end, Denver got its ultimate quarterback choice and did not have to draft its fallback choice.

Raiders trying to salvage NFC South slate: The Oakland Raiders’ game at the Carolina Panthers completes the AFC West-NFC South series this season. It has not gone well for Oakland or the AFC West as a whole. The Raiders are 0-3 against the NFC South and the AFC West is 5-10. Denver has three wins and both of Kansas City’s wins have come against the NFC South. Considering Oakland coach Dennis Allen’s roots are with the Falcons and the Saints, I’m sure he’d like to end this series on a high note. By the way, the AFC West plays the NFC East next season.

Could Chargers take another look at Ryan? The San Diego Chargers are ending the Norv Turner era and the Rex Ryan era could be coming to a close as well. Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the host New York Jets may mark the end of two tenures. If Ryan is fired by the Jets, could he be a possible replacement for Turner? The team interviewed Ryan and he was a top candidate before Turner was hired in 2007. If ownership likes Ryan, perhaps he will be on the list again. I’m not sure he would be the right choice. Ryan is a defensive coach and the Chargers need to get their offense and quarterback Philip Rivers right. We’ve seen Ryan’s New York offense flounder. The Chargers can’t risk that again.

Manning owns the Browns: Last week, Manning beat the Baltimore Ravens for the ninth straight time. It was the Broncos' first win at Baltimore. Denver’s opponent this Sunday is Cleveland. Manning owns the Browns, too. He is 5-0 against them. He also has been stellar at home this season. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions in Denver this season.

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