Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
When it comes to drawing up a passing strategy to win Monday night, the New York Jets would be wise to keep it short and simple. Mark Sanchez likes to throw deep. Only five quarterbacks have thrown more passes 21 yards or deeper than Sanchez has. But ESPN Stats & Information notes the New England Patriots' pass defense has been suspect on throws shorter than 15 yards. Opponents are posting a 98.9 passer rating, ranking the Patriots 27th in the league. But on passes 15 yards or longer the Patriots rank 12th in allowing a 74.4 passer rating. Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty has a league-high five interceptions on throws that travel at least 15 yards.
With so many injuries, the Buffalo Bills might not be able to hang tough for long. The Bills have been remarkable in their competitiveness over the past two months. The Bills looked putrid through their first five games, so I explored what would happen if they played a UFL team. Since then, they are 2-4, with all of their losses by a field goal and three of them coming in overtime. But the Bills' iffy defense suffered two more casualties this week. Starting right defensive end Dwan Edwards and starting linebacker Reggie Torbor were placed on season-ending injured reserve, giving less experienced players more responsibilities. They must contain some serious offensive firepower Sunday in the Metrodome.
Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall has been the year's most disappointing acquisition. Marshall on Thursday spoke of his restlessness and bemoaned his lack of production. He said, "I've been too boring this year" and asked reporters for help in coming up with ways to show his emotions without drawing penalties -- as he has his previous two games before missing last week with a hamstring injury. "Say something. Spark some controversy. It's too calm." Marshall has one touchdown reception. Bills undrafted rookie Donald Jones has that many.
Steve Johnson has taken over the lead in drops, but Wes Welker is right behind him. Johnson's awful afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers placed him atop the drop list ESPN Stats & Information tracks throughout the season. He now has nine on 99 targets. But there are established receivers high on the chart. Welker is tied for second with seven drops on 90 targets. Jets tight end Dustin Keller has six on 70 targets. Marshall has five drops on 95 targets. Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has five on 50 targets. Lee Evans of the Bills and Jerricho Cotchery of the Jets have four drops apiece. Only the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts have dropped more passes as a team than the Patriots with 27. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins rank ninth, 11th and 12th, respectively. That's a lot of drops for one division.
Indianapolis is not New England's hottest rival. In our Double Coverage debate this week, AFC North blogger James Walker and I argued which rivalry was better, the Jets and Patriots or the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. One of Walker's main planks was the Jets aren't the Patriots' biggest rivals and proclaimed the Colts were. Here's what ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi had to say:
"Throughout my career, with all the rivalries -- Steelers, Colts, Jets -- I always felt it more coming from the coaches during Jets week. That's all the way back to Bill Parcells' years, when Al Groh was here, the whole drama of [Bill] Belichick being the 'HC of the NYJ' for one day and when Eric Mangini was here. You could feel the tension and motivation that coaches had to win this game when it was against the Jets. This may go back to when the coaches had ties. They coached you harder. When they were in front of you in defensive meetings, there was urgency in their voices. You knew it was Jets week and the coaches would lead the way. Colts, Steelers, we knew, and we really wanted to establish ourselves as the tough guys in the league against them. But this, against the Jets, was more of an organization versus another organization, and we really felt that."