NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 9

Final Word: AFC East

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
1:33
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesMario Williams faces his former team for the first time on Sunday.
Mario homecoming: The Houston Texans will meet a familiar face when Mario Williams returns Sunday as a member of the Buffalo Bills. Williams was the No. 1 overall pick of Houston in 2006. He had a productive career in Houston, but the Texans refused to pay huge bucks to keep him. The Bills paid $100 million to bring Williams to Buffalo, but he has been a disappointment so far. Williams should be motivated to play against his former team. This weekend could jump-start his 2012 season.

Bills' defense vs. Foster: The Texans are a brutal matchup for the Bills for several reasons. But perhaps the biggest mismatch is Houston’s running game, led by tailback Arian Foster, against Buffalo’s run defense. The Bills are ranked last against the run and allow a league-worst 6.0 yards per carry. Foster is one of the NFL’s top running backs and has rushed for 659 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Texans will test the Bills to see if they fixed their run defense during the bye.

Running Dolphins: Speaking of ground attacks, the Miami Dolphins haven’t run the ball up to expectations the past couple of games. But Sunday’s contest against the Indianapolis Colts may provide that opportunity. Indianapolis is 27th against the run this season. The front seven is the weakest part of the Colts’ defense, and running the ball is an opportunity for Miami to avoid getting into a shootout on the road.

Gaffney's growth: The Dolphins are hoping for continued growth from receiver Jabar Gaffney. He was signed last month but didn’t get on the field until last week against the New York Jets. Gaffney caught one pass for 30 yards, which is a decent start. Gaffney also had one drop. Miami needs increased production from the veteran receiver to help take pressure off starters Brian Hartline and Davone Bess.

Healthy returns: The New England Patriots and Jets are both on the bye week and nursing injuries. For the Patriots, Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), guard Logan Mankins (calf) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (head) are some of the players recovering during the bye week. For New York, center Nick Mangold (ankle), linebacker Bart Scott (toe) and running backs Bilal Powell (shoulder) and Joe McKnight (ankle) are all looking to get healthy.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
1:31
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Third down after halftime: The Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled on third down on both sides of the ball, particularly in the second half. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Jacksonville’s offense is the worst in the NFL after intermission, converting only 20 percent. The defense ranks 26th in the second half at 43.1 percent. Third-down efficiency obviously keys time of possession. The Jaguars are expected to be without both starting corners Sunday against the Lions, so they need to keep the ball out of the hands of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. They can do so by extending drives on offense -- converting more third downs and by getting the Lions off the field with third-down stops.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesArian Foster faces the league's worst rushing defense when the Texans play the Bills on Sunday.
Rookie quarterbacks: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dolphins-Colts is the second game since the merger in which both teams enter with winning records and rookie starting quarterbacks, the Colts' Andrew Luck and Miami's Ryan Tannehill. The first such matchup was last year, when the Texans and T.J. Yates beat the Bengals and Andy Dalton in Week 14. To beat Tannehill, the Colts will have to diagnose play-action well. He ranks second in completion percentage (72.7) and yards per attempt (11.8) on play-action.

Arian Foster versus the Bills' run defense: Buffalo is allowing an NFL-worst 6.0 yards per rush this season. The only team in NFL history to allow more than 5.6 yards per rush in a season is the 1934 Cincinnati Reds (6.4). The Bills have allowed 5.8 yards per rush between the tackles this season, with an average of 4.1 yards coming before first contact, both worst in the NFL. The Bills have allowed league highs in touchdowns (10) and 20-yard gains (10) between the tackles this season. That’s not good news for Buffalo considering nearly 75 percent of the Texans’ rushes have been between the tackles.

Watch throws outside the numbers: The Bears' pass defense and Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be an interesting matchup based on what they’ve done so far this season. Chicago has intercepted 10 passes on throws outside the painted numbers this season and has allowed only one touchdown on such throws. It’s a breakneck pace -- last season the Packers led the NFL in such interceptions with 13. Hasselbeck has the most attempts (71) without an interception on throws outside the numbers this season.

Also: Johnson has exactly the same number of receptions through seven games as he did last year, but nine fewer touchdowns for Detroit. ... The Jaguars have lost each of their three home games by at least 17 points, and each of their four road games has been decided by single digits. … Jacksonville’s opponents have dropped back 50 times in the first quarter without being sacked. … Indianapolis has three takeaways this season, four fewer than any other team. The only other team in the Super Bowl era to have three or fewer takeaways through seven games is the 2011 Steelers (three). … The Titans have scored 14 points or fewer in all five of their losses and have scored at least 26 points in all three wins.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

'Giant' challenge for Steelers: The Steelers have made a major improvement in pass protection. After getting sacked repeatedly -- Ben Roethlisberger ranked in the top five in four of his past five seasons -- he's only been sacked 13 times this season, which is tied for 32nd in the league. A big reason why has been the switch to a short passing game under first-year coordinator Todd Haley. The Giants, though, have produced 13 sacks in their past three games. The impressive part is that New York doesn't need to blitz to get to the quarterback. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants have recorded a sack once every 12.2 dropbacks when sending four or fewer pass-rushers in their last three games.

Best after byes: Baltimore is 11-5 all-time coming off its bye week, including a perfect 4-0 under coach John Harbaugh. Since 2002, the Ravens are 9-1 after byes, the best mark in the AFC. The only team better after having a week off during this span is the Eagles, who are 10-1. But few teams have been as dominant as the Ravens after byes. Under Harbaugh, the average margin of victory is 18 points in games following the week-long break. Last season, Baltimore beat Houston by 15 points after the bye. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, which is also coming off a bye, is 6-16-1 in games following the break, the second-worst record of any team after a bye.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Ron Schwane/US PresswireBrandon Weeden has cut down on the interceptions lately, with only one in his past three games.
Turning it around: The Ravens might not recognize Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the first-round pick went 7-of-20 on throws more than 10 yards downfield at Baltimore in Week 4, but he's completed over 54 percent of such throws since. Weeden is 7-of-15 to Josh Gordon over the past four games with four touchdowns after going 2-of-6 to Gordon in the first four. Another change with Weeden has been his decision-making. He threw nine interceptions in his first five games, including one that was returned by the Ravens' Cary Williams for a touchdown. In his past three games, Weeden has been picked off just once.

Streaking Bengals: Quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown an interception in seven consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind Arizona's John Skelton (11 straight), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Dalton is the first quarterback to get picked off in his first seven games of a season since Eli Manning in 2007. No Bengals quarterback has ever been intercepted in his first eight games to start a season. While Dalton has struggled, wide receiver A.J. Green continues to reach the end zone. Green has caught a touchdown pass in six straight games. Only one receiver has caught one in seven straight over the past five seasons (Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe).

Road worriers: The Ravens are 1-2 on the road, averaging 15 points per game. In its past 10 quarters on the road (at Philadelphia, Kansas City and Houston), Baltimore has produced one touchdown, one safety, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six field goals and 13 punts. Much of the struggle on offense can be traced back to quarterback Joe Flacco's troubles on the road, where he is connecting on 50 percent of his passes and is averaging 188.7 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco is posting a 14.3 QBR on the road, the second-worst in the NFL this season. Flacco, though, is 4-0 at Cleveland for his career, throwing four touchdowns and one interception.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
1:30
PM ET
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Peyton Manning’s arm strength is fine: This makes you wonder how much pain Manning, who leads the Broncos to Cincinnati this week, was in during the 2010 season. He missed all of 2011 with a neck injury that led to four surgeries. In 2010, his final season with the Colts, Manning completed 27.6 percent of his throws longer than 20 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his first seven games this season, Manning is completing 51.9 percent of such throws. His accuracy is clearly better on deep throws post-surgery.

[+] EnlargeSebastian Janikowski
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaRaiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski hasn't missed from inside 40 yards in more than two years.
Scoring when it counts: Oakland has been terrific in the final two minutes of the first half. The Raiders -- who host Tampa Bay on Sunday -- have scored in the final two minutes of the first half in every game this season, notching three touchdowns and four field goals. Even more impressive, five of the scores have come with 49 or fewer seconds remaining.

Automatic from 40: If kicker Sebastian Janikowski lines up for a field goal attempt from 40 yards or shorter Sunday, just book three points for Oakland. Seabass is going to make it. He has made 43 consecutive field goals from inside 40 yards dating back to September 2010. Janikowski is 18-of-19 on field goal attempts this season. His only miss was a 64-yarder at the end of regulation against Jacksonville, a game Oakland won in overtime on a Janikowski field goal.

Denver goes tight end heavy: The Broncos had great success using multiple-tight end sets against New Orleans. I’d imagine they will try the same at Cincinnati on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning was 16-of-20 for 252 yards and two touchdowns with two or more tight ends against the Saints. It was the most he'd played using multiple tight ends since 2008.

Broncos’ schedule easing: Going in the season, the Broncos had the second-toughest schedule in the NFL. Now, the meat of the schedule is behind Denver, which leads the AFC West at 4-3. The Broncos’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 22-42 -- giving Denver the easiest remaining schedule in the league.

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