NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2011 Week 14

Final Word: NFC East

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:50
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Playing into their hands: The best hope the Washington Redskins have against Tom Brady and the Patriots would seem to be getting to the quarterback. The Redskins excel at pressuring the passer. It is the strength of their team, and sacking or at least hitting Brady and somehow limiting his production is surely part of their game plan. The problem is Brady has been very good against the blitz this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brady's 66.7 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 14 touchdowns and 84.1 Total QBR against five or more pass-rushers all rank second in the league behind Aaron Rodgers. So the Redskins could be disappointed to learn that much like Omar Little, Brady don't scare.

[+] EnlargeRex Grossman
Howard Smith/US PresswireWashington's Rex Grossman has thrown 15 interceptions in nine games this season.
Protect the ball, get the ball: The Redskins are tied for last in the league with a minus-13 turnover margin. Quarterback Rex Grossman is largely to blame, of course, having thrown 15 interceptions and lost three fumbles in only nine games this season. But the Redskins' defense hasn't been doing a great job of getting turnovers, either. Its eight interceptions are the sixth-lowest total in the league.

Will Mike be like Mike?: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is expected to start Sunday in Miami after missing three games because of broken ribs. After missing three games with a rib injury last season, Vick returned and passed for 218 yards and rushed for 74 more in a victory against the Indianapolis Colts. Vick is also better, at least since he's been with the Eagles, on the road than he is at home. Vick is 7-3 as an Eagles starter in road games, with a 61.1 completion percentage, 273.4 yards per game, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 60.3 rush yards per game and five rushing touchdowns.

Giants look for rebound: The New York Giants have lost four games in a row, something they also did in 2009, when that season fell apart on them in the second half. The last time the Giants had a losing streak longer than four in a row, however, was in 2004. That was Tom Coughlin's first season as Giants head coach, and the team lost eight games in a row from Week 9-16. The Giants have won two straight in Dallas, however. The last time they won three in a row in Dallas was 1988-90.

Romo on a roll: Had Sunday's game in Arizona ended differently, there would have been a lot of talk this week about how well Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been playing lately. Since Week 9, Romo has simply been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. ESPN Stats & Information says Romo's 67.6 completion percentage ranks third in the league over the past five weeks. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11:2 ranks fifth in the league during that time, and his Total QBR of 75.2 ranks sixth. Romo should get one of his best wide receivers, Miles Austin, back this week from a hamstring injury.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:48
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

New territory. It’s been pretty obvious coach Sean Payton has taken the Saints to a new level since arriving in 2006. That Lombardi Trophy from the 2009 season is tangible proof. But here’s another sign that success is here to stay. If the Saints win Sunday at Tennessee, they’ll have three consecutive 10-win seasons. That’s never happened in franchise history. The Saints previously had back-to-back winning seasons in 1987 and ’88 and 1991 and ’92.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireMark Ingram and the Saints have shown the kind of rushing attack that could be a factor in cold weather.
Dome team? Sunday will be the last time the Saints play outdoors this season. They’re 6-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but only 2-2 in away games in outdoor stadiums. Keep that stat in mind, because I’ve got a feeling it could be a talking point if the Saints have to go to San Francisco or Green Bay in the postseason. One thing to keep in mind as we start looking ahead: As much as people like to talk about New Orleans' passing game, I think the Saints also have the ingredients for the kind of running game that could come in handy in a bad-weather game.

Defense has been offensive. The Bucs go against a rookie quarterback for the second straight week. Cam Newton’s inexperience didn’t exactly help the Tampa Bay defense last week as the Panthers scored 38 points. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert hasn’t put up Newton-like numbers, so this might be a chance for Tampa Bay’s defense to stop a very bad slide. The Bucs have given up at least 350 yards of offense in each of their past nine games. They’re allowing 393.8 yards per game, which ranks No. 30 in the league. The Bucs also have a chance to break their own franchise record for average yards allowed per game over the course of the season. That was set by the 1986 squad, which allowed 395.8 yards per game.

Bouncing back. In one way, the Falcons' loss to Houston might be a good thing. Atlanta is 4-0 following a loss this season. In fact, the Falcons haven’t had back-to-back losses since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2009 season.

Bringing the heat. If you want a preview of what Atlanta’s defense might do against the Panthers, just find film of the Week 6 game these two played in Atlanta. Although Newton has done a nice job handling the blitz overall, he struggled with it against the Falcons. In the previous meeting, Newton completed only 37.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted three times when Atlanta sent five or more pass rushers.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 14:

[+] EnlargeChad Clifton
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Packers can clinch a playoff bye this week, which could be important for injured starters like left tackle Chad Clifton.
Seeking rest: Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, the Green Bay Packers will be going for their 19th consecutive victory, which would stand alone as the second-longest streak in NFL history. More important, they would clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and thus a first-round bye. (Even if they lose to the Raiders, the Packers could clinch the bye with a loss by the New Orleans Saints.) The value of that week seems clear when you take a look at the Packers' increasingly lengthy injury list. Right guard Josh Sitton (knee) has already been ruled out. Left tackle Chad Clifton hasn't played in more than two months. Linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk have been sidelined for two weeks of practice by calf injuries. It's also possible that running back James Starks (ankle) will need some time away. The Packers aren't in disproportionate shape relative to the rest of the NFL at this time of year, but their injuries have piled up in recent weeks.

Moving east: The Raiders caught a break a few weeks ago when the NFL moved the kickoff from 1 p.m. ET to 4:15 p.m. ET. West Coast players traveling east historically struggle in early games, which start at 10 a.m. according to their body clocks. The Raiders are 4-2 on the road this season, but haven't won in the Wisconsin in 24 years. You would think the Packers' defense would try to jump on the Raiders' offense early in the game. The Packers have made a relative habit of sending at least one extra pass-rusher this season, doing so 45.4 percent of the time -- the fourth-highest mark in the NFL. And for what it's worth, Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer has a 59.3 passer rating against the blitz this season, the second-lowest mark in the NFL. He has thrown three interceptions, taken eight sacks and completed only 53.6 percent of his passes against five or more rushes this season.

Change of sentiment: My, how times have changed in the NFC North. As recently as last season, we approached the annual Minnesota Vikings-Detroit Lions matchups as presumed victories for the Vikings. Now, the opposite is true. Does anyone see the 2-10 Vikings mustering what would qualify as a massive upset in Detroit? The Lions, who have lost five of their past seven games, are whopping 12-point favorites, according to ESPN's compilation of various lines. On paper, at least, the Lions' passing game should have a field day against a decimated Vikings pass defense that has allowed its past seven opponents to complete 73 percent of their passes for 1,808 yards, 18 touchdowns and no interceptions, according to 1500ESPN.com.

Fighting chance: The Vikings haven't lost five consecutive games in the same season since 1997, and if they're going to avoid that Sunday, they'll need a monster game from defensive end Jared Allen. Truth be told, Allen had his way with Lions left tackle Jeff Backus in the teams' first matchup, beating him for three sacks. Allen, however, has cooled off a bit and has only one sack in his past three games. He'll likely hear his share of boos after again trashing the city of Detroit in a radio interview, but I'm guessing he won't mind.

Career trends: The Chicago Bears haven't had much luck replacing injured quarterback Jay Cutler, and now they'll try to replace tailback Matt Forte as well Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Veteran Marion Barber was once a hard-running feature back for the Dallas Cowboys, but the Bears signed him as a short-yardage specialist and change-of-pace back for Forte this season. The last time Barber averaged 4.0 or more yards per carry in a game that he rushed more than 10 times? Week 17 of the 2009 season.

Final Word: NFC West

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireArizona's Beanie Wells could be a tough matchup for the 49ers, who will be without linebacker Patrick Willis.
Putting streak on the line: The San Francisco 49ers have tied a franchise record by allowing no rushing touchdowns in their past 13 games. Since the 1970 merger, only the 1985-86 Chicago Bears have gone more games in a row (15) without allowing one. The streak began with a 38-7 victory against Arizona to close last season. It could end against the Cardinals as well. Beanie Wells has nine rushing touchdowns this season, tied for fourth-most in the league. The Cardinals have blocked well in the running game and they won't have to contend with injured 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. Then again, the streak without allowing a rushing TD began the last time Willis missed a game.

Sweeps week: The 49ers-Cardinals series has been lopsided every year since 2004. The Cardinals swept the season series in 2005, 2006 and 2008. The 49ers swept it in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010. A victory by San Francisco at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 14 would ensure an eighth consecutive season sweep for one of the teams in the series. The 49ers have won the past five.

Gaining momentum: The 49ers and Cardinals are among 11 teams with at least four victories apiece in their past five games. They are the only such teams playing one another in Week 14. The AFC East, AFC North and NFC West are the only divisions with two such teams. Pittsburgh, New England, Miami, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Dallas, Green Bay and New Orleans are also 4-1 or better over their past five games.

Prepping for the Steelers: The Cardinals provide the 49ers with a good test run for San Francisco's looming Monday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. Arizona and Pittsburgh use the same defensive scheme. Ray Horton, the Cardinals' first-year defensive coordinator, spent the previous seven seasons with the Steelers under longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. So, while Pittsburgh has 11 days to prepare for San Francisco following a Thursday night victory against Cleveland, the 49ers have been preparing for the Steelers' defensive scheme even longer.

Yes, the Rams and Seahawks play, too: The Monday night matchup between the teams marks the third week in a row with a prime-time game featuring at least one NFC West team. We'll preview that game in greater detail Monday. For now, though, consider this: The 137.0 NFL passer rating Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson posted against Philadelphia last week was higher than any single-game rating by a Rams or Seahawks starter since Matt Hasselbeck's 147.7 against Tennessee in 2005. No Rams starter has posted a single-game rating above 137.0 since Kurt Warner's 145.6 against New Orleans in 2001. Marc Bulger never had one that high as a starter. Hasselbeck had just that one.

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