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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:38 AM

It's Wednesday, which brings our weekly review of key NFL stats from the prior weekend. We hope our digging through the data helps you do a solid job of picking winners this coming week. The new NFL weekend starts Thursday with Cleveland at Pittsburgh on the NFL Network. We'll preview that game and the AFC Playoff picture for you tomorrow right here in this space.

As always, we take the games in rotation order...

  • Seattle outplayed Philadelphia last week even before you account for turnovers. You see the 4-0 turnover loss for the Eagles and assume it was a game they gave away. That's not true. Seattle won rushing yardage 174-132, yards-per-play 6.7 to 5.9, and third downs 41% to 25%. Vince Young just isn't an NFL caliber quarterback at this point. He's too mistake-prone, and he can't do the things consistently that win games. It's a huge strike against the Giants that they couldn't find a way to beat him. Nice bounce back for Seattle, who's been generally playing better than their reputation outside of the home loss to Washington where they were caught napping a bit.

  • Tennessee played some rope-a-dope in the second half after gaining a lead of more than two scores. That gave Buffalo some of the stat categories in misleading fashion. The most telling stat to us was the 187-97 edge on the ground for the Titans. If they're going to start dominating THAT category again, then they still have a chance to sneak into the playoff mix. More on that tomorrow. Tennessee moves to 7-5 with this win. Buffalo, who was in such great shape a few weeks ago, is now 5-7 and forced to ponder a coaching change.

  • Kansas City/Chicago was one of the ugliest games ever. The only TD came on a batted pass on a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half. Neither backup QB was capable of doing anything relevant. Yards-per-play for the game was 3.6 for KC, and 3.3 for Chicago. It is worth noting that Kansas City did have better across-the-board numbers...so fate did smile on the right team in terms of one play swinging the game. Caleb Hanie of the Bears was 11-24-3-88 in the air, and couldn't execute a single third down conversion all day (0 for 11 for the team).

  • Oakland finally had one of those "bad body clock" games that everyone's been waiting for with them or San Francisco all year. They're still tied for first with Denver in the AFC West, and they may have kind of accepted a loss here in a very tough schedule spot knowing that the division was going to be won or lost later in December. It is worth remembering that Miami has been playing at the caliber of at least a Wildcard type team for several weeks now.

  • Pittsburgh wasn't quite as dominant over Cincinnati as the 35-7 final score made it sound. The Bengals missed an early field goal that set them back...and then the Steelers returned a punt for a TD. Total yardage was only 295-232 for Pittsburgh. Once the margin got out of hand both teams kind of ran out the clock in the second half to save themselves for other wars. So, Pittsburgh is the better team...but Cincinnati still has better Wildcard hopes than this lopsided final score might suggest.

  • Cleveland has no offense, which makes scoring points on Baltimore's strong defense even more difficult. The Browns wouldn't break though until a garbage time TD very late. Even with that score and the gift yardage, they were outgained 448-233, outrushed 290-59, out third-downed 47% to 21%, and generally thrown around like a rag doll. The Browns hired an offensive minded coach, and he's made things much worse to this point.

  • The Jets/Redskins game was dead even in several areas (rushing yardage, yards-per-play, long distance scoring, third downs),but a 1-3 edge in turnovers helped the Jets post an impressive margin because they did an excellent job of cashing in their opportunities. Erratic Rex Grossman of the Redskins threw 27 incomplete passes including one interception. A more restrained Mark Sanchez avoided mistakes and helped his team find the end zone. Redskins had no workable options at quarterback this year, and spent the season proving to themselves what everyone else already knew.

  • Strong outing for Houston with third-team quarterback T.J. Yates. He managed to throw 25 safe passes without any picks. The team won rushing yardage 162-70, and Drive Points 14-3 (points scored on drives of 60 yards or more). It is possible to hang tough through the playoffs with a top notch running game and defense. We may end seeing both Houston and Denver try that approach this year if the both make it. Houston's in fantastic shape now with this win moving them to 9-3. Atlanta has to be disappointed that they couldn't take care of business against a third-team quarterback. There really aren't a lot of dangerous teams in the NFC at the moment once you get past Green Bay and New Orleans. San Francisco doesn't have a dangerous quarterback even if the rest of the team is rock solid.

  • Tampa Bay found out early in the day they'd be without Josh Freeman...and the team went out and played like they knew they'd have no chance to win without him. Carolina built a double digit lead by halftime and coasted. The most telling stat was the 28-7 edge in Drive Points for Cam Newton and company. Nice edge on the ground too with a 163-78 advantage in rushing yardage. Newton is very close to setting the full season record for rookie passing. He's getting overshadowed by Tim Tebow though because he's not winning as many games.

  • We'll discuss Detroit-New Orleans here in its rotation spot, even though it was moved to a night game. Detroit hung tough through much of the second half. They rallied from down 24-7 at the break to keep it close...then faded late in the 31-17 loss. A good sign for the Lions that they won Drive Points 17-14 while popping 6.8 yards-per-play. Those of you picking New Orleans as the eventual NFC champs need to remember that this soft defense struggles when not forcing turnovers. That could be a problem on the road at San Francisco in the playoffs, and would certainly be one on the road in Green Bay. Biggest edge for the Saints here came on third downs, with an edge of 50% to 18% thanks to maestro Drew Brees.

  • Minnesota/Denver had some odd extremes because of possession issues. Minnesota won total yardage HUGE, by a 489-336 margin. But, Denver won yards-per-play 6.9 to 6.0, which is impressive in its own light. Minnesota won Drive Points 21-15, and third downs 40% to 27%. Denver won rushing yardage 150-129, and played a much cleaner game. Ultimately, Christian Ponder lost it for the Vikings with a pick six the other way, and then the horrible interception that set up Denver's game winning field goal. Tim Tebow wasn't perfect, but he made more plays in the air than we're accustomed to seeing...and you can still see that the whole team is drinking the kool-aid.

  • San Francisco's win over the St. Louis Rams looked a lot like their win over Arizona on this field a couple of weeks ago. A grinder with way too many field goals if you're thinking about the Niners as a true Super Bowl contender. You're going to have to find the end zone to beat New Orleans or Green Bay. Third downs are still an issue, as SF converted just 28%. They were dominant in everything else though, and the 26-0 final score told the story pretty well. SF may be a grinder...but they really are great at it when facing inferior opposition.

  • Dallas certainly was in position to beat Arizona in the final moments of regulation, and screwed up something that should be fundamental. But, it's important to remember that this game really was very even the whole way...which is a strike against Dallas and a compliment to Arizona. Arizona would win Drive Points 16-3 and yards-per-play 5.9 to 5.0 after the overtime period. Dallas threw for 261 yards without any turnovers, which is a sharp game for Tony Romo on the road at a site that's given them trouble in the past (though he was sacked 5 times...probably cases where discretion was the better part of valor). Arizona is far from great with Kevin Kolb in the lineup...but they're not far behind the bulk of the NFC either.

  • Green Bay survived the New York Giants, basically pulling an ace out of their sleeve by driving the field in the final minute for a game winning field goal. The Packers join New England and Indianapolis (when Manning is playing) as teams who know how to use possession management to give themselves the ball and a chance to win very late in the game. As long as they don't overdue that luxury, they should be fine the rest of the way. Green Bay's offense scored 24 Drive Points and converted 58% of their third down tries even on an off-day for the team. The defense better find that extra gear sometime in January at least.

  • New England was leading Indianapolis 31-3 before allowing THREE garbage time touchdowns. So, the full-game stats here don't mean much at all. The Patriots know what they're doing, but still aren't as sharp as their won-lost record would suggest. Indy is at least figuring out how to score garbage time points, which might make them a value team against the Vegas numbers in the last month. Remember, they have some margin for error now with a two game lead over St. Louis and Minnesota in the suck-for-luck chase.

  • Remember when Monday Night Football used to be something to look forward to? ESPN hasn't had a good game since Bears/Eagles. San Diego was as dominant as the 38-14 score made it seem. Philip Rivers was 22-28-0-294 in the air...which is almost 300 passing yards with only six incomplete passes and no turnovers. Put the Chargers in a meaningless game, and they're going to dominate!

Back with you Thursday to preview Cleveland/Pittsburgh and talk about the AFC Playoff picture. Sunday's preview of NY Giants/Dallas on NBC will also look at the NFC Playoff picture.

Don't forget that the college hoops schedule is busy this week. We're looking at games like Arizona-Florida and Xavier-Butler for serious play on what could be a very WILD WEDNESDAY ticket. You can purchase our top plays nightly here at the website with your credit card. Or, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Sign up NOW for the full season of BLUE RIBBON BASKETBALL to get the most bang for your buck.

See you again tomorrow. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY here in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

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