NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2012 Week 11

Final Word: NFC West

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
AP Photo/Jed JacobsohnThe condition of QB Alex Smith will be a priority for the 49ers should he play on Monday night.
QBs on alert: The concussion issue takes center stage Monday night when the San Francisco 49ers host the Chicago Bears. Both starting quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler, are coming off head injuries suffered last week. Smith appears likely to play. Cutler has been ruled out. With an "Outside the Lines" investigation revealing potential conflicts in the NFL's position on concussions, the subject will be unavoidable during the broadcast. Quarterbacks could be at heightened risk for taking punishment in this game. Both teams field ferocious defenses. The 49ers have taken 29 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL. The Bears have taken 28, which ranks fifth.

Advantage 49ers?: Home teams have won the past 10 meetings between the 49ers and Bears, counting playoff games. The 1988 49ers were the last road team to win in the series. They beat Chicago at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship Game. However, the 49ers are 1-1-1 in their past three home games. Their quarterbacks have two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, four interceptions and 13 sacks during those games. Their defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of those three games.

Ground and pound: The 49ers continue to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game and per carry. Their offensive line, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers block well, and Frank Gore's low running profile makes him difficult to handle. The Bears have allowed 100-yard rushers in consecutive games, a rarity for them (first time since 2009). This is looking like a great week for the 49ers to rely on their ground game. Their quarterback is coming off a concussion. The visiting Bears lead the NFL in interceptions with 19.

Will Cards' woes continue?: These are rough times for the Arizona Cardinals and the schedule isn't doing them any favors. Arizona takes a five-game losing streak to Atlanta, where Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a 30-4 starting record. Cardinals quarterback John Skelton, meanwhile, needs an interception Sunday to tie Ryan Leaf for the longest streak of games with at least one pick. Leaf had a 13-game streak from 1998-2000.

Slim pickings: The St. Louis Rams picked off eight passes during their first four games. They have collected zero interceptions over their five subsequent games. That is the Rams' longest drought in a season since the 2009 team failed to pick off a pass over its final seven games. That team went 1-15. This team is much better and can actually pass Arizona for third in the standings with a victory over the New York Jets and a Cardinals defeat in Atlanta. The Jets have thrown at least one pick in all but two games this season. If the Rams don't get one this week, a Week 12 visit to Arizona could help.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 11 games:

Piece of history: The Falcons have a chance to be a part of history that would be nice on their end, but that would put Arizona quarterback John Skelton in some pretty bad company. Skelton has thrown an interception in each of his last 12 games. Who was the last quarterback to throw an interception in 13 straight games? Ryan Leaf, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireThrough nine games, Bucs RB Doug Martin has rushed for 862 yards and seven touchdowns.
Numbers game: We’re about to find out if nine really is an unlucky number for the Falcons. Last week, they had a chance to start 9-0, but lost to New Orleans. On Sunday, they’ll have a chance to run their home winning streak to nine consecutive games. That would be the longest streak since the Falcons won 10 straight at home between the 1997 and ’98 seasons.

Who needs Nicks? A lot of people thought Tampa Bay’s offensive line would crumble when All-Pro guard Carl Nicks went out with a season-ending injury. Surprisingly, the loss of Nicks doesn’t seem to be having a negative impact on rookie running back Doug Martin. In the two games since Nicks went out, Martin has averaged 8.3 yards per carry when running up the middle or to his left.

Missing the deep ball: You can put some of the blame for this on a battered and struggling offensive line, but Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who showed a big arm as a rookie last year, hasn’t had much success throwing downfield this season. Newton has 31 pass attempts of more than 20 yards without a touchdown. That’s the most in the league, by far. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder is next with 16 downfield attempts without a touchdown.

Rally cry: The Saints have become just the 10th team since 1966 to start 0-4 and rally to win at least four of their next five games. But their playoff chances remain slim. Of the nine other teams to rally like that after an 0-4 start, only the 1992 San Diego Chargers made it to the playoffs.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

History rules: The Green Bay Packers have won 12 of their past 13 games against the Detroit Lions and 14 of their past 16, dating to the start of the 2004 season. Their most recent loss came in 2010, a game that quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't finish because he suffered a concussion. Most every bit of conventional wisdom suggests the Packers, coming off their bye, are in the driver's seat heading into this game. All 14 ESPN experts have picked them to win and they are 3.5-point favorites to win on the road. The Packers are also riding an eight-game winning streak in NFC North games, the second-longest active streak in division games in the NFL. Of course, we all know what can happen when we rely on history and conventional wisdom.

Mike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Packers have a record of 17-7 in domes since Mike McCarthy became coach.
Indoor dominance: While we're on the subject of conventional wisdom, it's also worth updating the Packers' elevated performances when they play indoors under coach Mike McCarthy, as they will Sunday at Ford Field. Overall, they're 17-7 in domes since McCarthy's tenure began in 2006 and have averaged 30.7 points in those games. Rodgers, meanwhile, owns an NFL-record 117.0 passer rating in his career indoors. In his past eight indoor games, including the playoffs, he has put up these incredible numbers: 71 percent completion percentage, an average of 327.9 yards per game with a total of 25 touchdowns and one interception. No wonder he prefers playing indoors so much.

Lions' opportunity: Could the Lions make this game a shootout? They certainty have the personnel in place. Receiver Calvin Johnson has been impacted by injuries but still managed to put up a 200-yard game as recently as last week against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers will be playing without their two most important defensive players, cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews, and will have five rookies playing prominent roles Sunday. To do so, however, the Lions will have to overcome a near-season-long problem of slow starts. Did you realize that all 11 of quarterback Matthew Stafford's touchdown passes this season have come when the Lions were trailing? I didn't until ESPN Stats & Information pointed it out. When the score differential is under 10 points, Stafford has completed 59.6 percent of his passes and thrown seven interceptions. Facing a deficit of 10 points or more, he has completed 70 percent of his passes and thrown only one interception.

Tough trip: The Chicago Bears haven't won in San Francisco since their Super Bowl year of 1985, having lost the ensuing seven games at Candlestick Park by a combined score of 239-42. Although there was no shame in a close loss at home to the now 8-1 Houston Texans, the Bears haven't spurred much confidence among national experts. ESPN's 14-person/machine crew almost unanimously picked the 49ers; the lone holdout was former Bears coach Mike Ditka.

Campbell profile: The Bears announced Friday that Jason Campbell will make the start at quarterback because of Jay Cutler's concussion. For what it's worth, Campbell's recent history suggests he has the type of approach that could help the Bears win this game. We noted earlier this week that he has the NFL's lowest average distance on throws since the start of the 2008 season (6.6 air yards per attempt.) But that relatively careful approach has helped him compile a pretty impressive career touchdown-interception ratio of 74 to 50. A careful approach, with few mistakes, might not be a bad formula for this game. Campbell is 10-5 in his last 15 starts dating to 2010.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Rookie talk. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles appears likely to make his first career NFL start against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Redskins have lost their last eight games against rookie starting quarterbacks. The last one they beat was Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Rams in Week 13 of 2005. Elias also reports that this game between Foles and Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III would be the eighth game since the start of the 2011 season that featured two rookie starting quarterbacks. There were a total of seven such games from 2003-10.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Nick Foles
Dale Zanine/US PRESSWIRERookies Nick Foles, above, and Robert Griffin III will meet as starters on Sunday.
Last man standing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, left guard Evan Mathis is the only offensive lineman to start every game for the Eagles so far this year. Every other team in the league has had at least two offensive linemen start every game. The eight different starters the Eagles have used on the offensive line is tied for second-most in the league. If newly signed Jake Scott were to get a start Sunday (unlikely, but possible), that would obviously make nine.

Just send four. The Eagles tend to rely on their front four defensive linemen to rush the passer, and that might be a good idea against Griffin. ESPN Stats & Information's Next Level stats tell us that Griffin has a Total QBR of 97.7 when facing five or more pass-rushers. That's the highest such mark in the league. (Remember, 100 is as high as that scale goes.) But when facing four or fewer, Griffin's total QBR drops to 71.6. Teams have picked up on this. Griffin is facing four or fewer pass rushers on 79 percent of his dropbacks. Only two quarterbacks in the league see four or fewer on a higher percentage of their dropbacks. Carolina may have shown the blueprint for containing Griffin in the game two weeks ago, when they were able to create a narrow pocket that limited his options.

Clean up the house. The Dallas Cowboys have seven games remaining this season, and five of them are at home. The only reason that doesn't sound encouraging is that the Cowboys are just 1-2 at home this year. And a big reason for that is that they have a turnover differential of minus-9 in those three home games. Only the Kansas City Chiefs (minus-13) have a worse turnover differential in home games this season. No one else is worse than minus-6. Of Tony Romo's 13 interceptions this year, 10 have come in those three home games. The good news? The Cleveland Browns, this week's opponent at Cowboys Stadium, have lost 11 straight road games and haven't won anywhere but Cleveland since Week 2 of last season.

Going deep, or not. Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has a completion percentage of 19.4 percent on throws 20 or more yards downfield this season. Through Week 10, only Buffalo's Fitzpatrick had a worse completion percentage on such throws. (That's right. We started and finished with a note that included Ryan Fitzpatrick. We dig symmetry here.) Romo's completion percentage on such throws this season is just 32.4, but over his past two games he's 5-for-7 for two touchdowns when throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield. Better choices may be leading to more success for Dallas in the deep passing game.

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