NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 3

Final Word: AFC West

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Seymour meets Roethlisberger again: The last time the Raiders and Steelers met -- a 35-3 Pittsburgh home win in November 2010 -- Richard Seymour earned a $25,000 fine for socking Ben Roethlisberger. After a Pittsburgh touchdown, Roethlisberger started celebrating and appeared to say something to Seymour. The defensive lineman turned and popped the quarterback in the face with his open right hand. Seymour was ejected, and the NFL later hit him in the wallet. It will be fun to see whether Roethlisberger steers clear of Seymour after the Steelers score.

A familiar foe for Manning: There will not be a team on the Denver Broncos' schedule this season that Peyton Manning will be more prepared to face than the Houston Texans, which visit Denver on Sunday. Manning used to play the Texans twice a year as a member of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. Yes, the Texans' defense has changed some since Manning last played in 2010, but he still has a good feel for it, which will help Sunday.

Rivers is painting inside the numbers: The Atlanta Falcons will surely try to snuff out the middle of the field Sunday at San Diego. Because right now, Philip Rivers owns it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the San Diego quarterback has completed 30 of 34 (88.2 percent) attempts inside the field numbers this season. All four of his touchdown passes have come between the numbers.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Jake Roth/US PresswirePhilip Rivers has hit 30 of 34 attempts and all four of his TDs between the numbers this season.
What will give in the Big Easy? Both the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints go into Sunday's game in New Orleans a disappointing 0-2. A big reason why is that their defenses have betrayed them. The teams are tied for last in the NFL in scoring defense, both allowing 75 points through two games. It's the most points the Saints have allowed through their first two games since 1985; it’s more familiar territory for the Chiefs, which allowed 89 points through two games last season.

McGahee is a 100-yard star: Denver running back Willis McGahee has been one of the steadiest running backs in the league in his 10-year career. Sunday, he could become the NFL's active leader in 100-yard rushing games. He had 113 yards at Atlanta on Monday, his 31st career 100-yard game -- tying him with San Francisco's Frank Gore and St. Louis' Steven Jackson for the most 100-yard games for active players.

Final Word: AFC East

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Hitting the ground running: The AFC East has three players in the top five of rushing after two weeks. Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller (292 yards), Miami Dolphins tailback Reggie Bush (241) and New England Patriots tailback Stevan Ridley (196) are No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 in rushing, respectively. The AFC East is running the football extremely well and not doing it with household names. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue for an entire season. But look for each of these three teams to ride their hot hands for now.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Reggie Bush
Robert Mayer/US PRESSWIREReggie Bush is one of three ACF East players ranked in the NFL's top 5 in rushing yards.
Protecting Brady: While everyone is focusing on the injury to tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), New England's biggest concern may be its shaky pass protection. Tom Brady has been sacked five times in two games. He is on pace to take 40 sacks this season, which would be the highest total for Brady since 2001. Brady, 35, is only getting older. He needs to take fewer hits later in his career, not more.

House of horrors: The Jets return to the site of last year's implosion at Sun Life Stadium. New York completely fell apart in the regular-season finale last year and is 2-4 against the Dolphins under head coach Rex Ryan. New York must play much better against its AFC East rival. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez also is 2-4 against Miami and needs to play big to avoid a two-game losing streak.

Play-action is key: Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has thrived off play-action passing this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tannehill has the highest completion percentage (88.9) and QBR (99.6) in the NFL off play-action fakes. Tannehill has completed 8-of-9 play-action passes this season for 129 yards. It’s working because Bush is second in the NFL in rushing. Defenses must respect Miami’s running game, and that puts less pressure and pass rush on Tannehill.

Must-win for Bills: I usually don't like to throw around the term "must-win." But when you consider the team and the upcoming schedule, the Bills (1-1) must win Sunday’s game against the winless Cleveland Browns (0-2). Buffalo's next three games are against the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, who have a combined record of 5-1. It’s very possible that the Bills could lose two or three of those games. That is why it’s important for Buffalo to pad its record against the struggling Browns on the road. These are the kind of games Buffalo must win if the team is going to be a legit playoff contender.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Bay Area blues: The Steelers fly cross-country to play Oakland, which is not Ben Roethlisberger's favorite part of the country. He is winless in his two trips to the San Francisco Bay Area, throwing a total of seven interceptions. He was picked off three times and failed to lead a touchdown drive in last season's 20-3 loss at San Francisco. That doesn't compare to the nightmare he endured in Oakland six years ago. Roethlisberger threw four interceptions against the Raiders and watched two of them get returned for touchdowns. It didn't help that he got sacked five times a week after he had a reported concussion.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireJoe Flacco has performed exceptionally well in the week following losses the past two seasons.
Rebound Raven: Losses bring out the best in Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. In games after a defeat the last two seasons, Flacco has averaged 271.8 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. Three of Flacco's eight career 300-yard passing games have come a week after a loss. The last time he lost consecutive games was October 2009. Flacco, who faces the Patriots on Sunday night, is looking to bounce back from one of his worst halves. Last Sunday, he was 8 of 25 for 140 yards after halftime in a loss at Philadelphia.

Drought for Browns: Cleveland has dropped its last eight games, which is by far the longest active losing streak in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The second-longest streak is just three games (Raiders). The last time the Browns won was 306 days ago, when they beat the Jaguars. It's not as though Cleveland has been blown out during this rough stretch. The Browns' last five losses have been by a total of 21 points, an average margin of defeat of 4.2 points. This marks the longest losing streak for the Browns since they dropped 10 straight from Week 12 of 2008 through Week 4 of 2009.

Less pressure for Dalton: Don't expect Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to feel sorry for the Redskins losing pass-rusher Brian Orakpo for the season. Dalton has struggled mightily this year when under duress. He has been sacked 10 times and has completed 3 of 10 passes this season when under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. It should be a safer pocket for Dalton at Washington on Sunday. Orakpo's 28.5 sacks in his first three seasons are a Redskins record.

Rev up the run game: The Steelers are disappointed that their running game ranks 30th in the NFL. They should be disturbed if it can't get back on track at Oakland. The Raiders allowed a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry last season and gave up 263 yards rushing (and four rushing touchdowns) at Miami last Sunday. It's unknown whether Rashard Mendenhall (knee) will play his first game of the season Sunday, but Pittsburgh could use his help. The Steelers' backups, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, haven't filled the void. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pittsburgh's running backs are averaging an NFL-low 0.7 yards before contact.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:29
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Defending Manning: As quarterback of the Colts, Peyton Manning owned the Texans. He’s with a different franchise now, so that past success doesn’t mean a lot, and he has not played against the Texans with Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. (Here’s how he has done against Phillips-coached defenses.) Against Houston, ESPN Stats and Info tells us Manning is 16-2 with 42 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Since the 1970 merger, Manning’s 16-2 record is the third-best by any starting quarterback against a single team, with a minimum of 15 games played against that team. Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns and Tom Brady against the Bills are better. More of note on Manning: He has not been great bouncing back from three-interception games, with an 8-7 record and 26 TDs versus 23 picks. He has not been great in the middle of the field so far, so he could really look to test the Texans’ second outside cornerback, Kareem Jackson.

[+] EnlargeDerek Cox
Fernando Medina/US PesswirerJacksonville's Derek Cox could cause headaches for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Better coverage: Derek Cox is the Jaguars' best guy in coverage, but he has been out so far with a hamstring injury from the preseason. It looks like he could return in at least a limited role. Jacksonville needs him. After three picks in Week 1 against the Bears, Indy’s rookie quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t throw one against the Vikings. He has done well to establish connections with Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. Cox could help mess with that, while alleviating some pressure on the other cornerbacks who would face less pressure in big situations. Cox healthy and contributing can be a difference-maker for the pass defense.

Interior space: The Texans don’t necessarily have to run well between the tackles to win, but it certainly helps their offense. ESPN Stats and Info says that with a change at right guard and right tackle from last season, Houston isn’t finding the interior space it did last season. The Broncos are allowing 2.8 yards per rush between the tackles this season, the fifth-best defense of that area in the NFL. The Texans are down 1.2 yards per rush, and nearly 1 yard after contact per rush on runs between the tackles so far this season. And in 2011 they had 11 runs of 20 yards or better in the middle of the field. So far this season they have none.

Pushed around: There are all kinds of stats and analysis floating around about how much penetration the Patriots and Chargers got from their defensive fronts in their routs of the Titans. Tennessee’s offensive line is clearly having issues, particularly with run-blocking. And it will be hard to solve those against a tough Detroit front built around Ndamukong Suh. “We are what we are, and we’re doing a good job in the pass-pro and the protection,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “Everybody has a trait that is either a strength or a weakness. You try to play to those strengths.” That’s as close as anyone not named Chris Johnson has come to talking about the offensive line as an issue.

Also: If the Titans stick with their preoccupation with minimizing big plays, Calvin Johnson will catch passes in front of them and then run over, through or around them … A touchdown for Maurice Jones-Drew would be the 63rd of his career, and move him ahead of Fred Taylor for the franchise’s all-time lead … A touchdown for Wayne would pull him into a tie for third in Colts’ history. Edgerrin James is third with 75, and will have his name added to the team’s ring of honor in a pregame ceremony … Of the six 2-0 teams in the NFL, the Texans have beaten the teams who were worst in 2011. While the 49ers beat two teams that were a combined 25-7 in 2011, Houston’s two wins have come against teams that were 11-21.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 2/2
WEEKLY LEADERS