- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

STORY OF THE WEEK

THE AFC WORST

British football - also known as soccer -has one practice the NFL should consider adopting: moving teams from one division to another each season on the basis of record.

In that vein, perhaps NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should drop the entire AFC West to a lesser league.

The performance of those four teams Sunday was the latest embarrassment for a division that has posted a collective 7-23 record against the rest of the league.

The division-leading Broncos got clobbered 31-10 at home by the lousy Raiders. The 6-5 Broncos, who lost their third straight game at home, would be in last place if they were in the AFC East, four games out in the AFC South and two games behind in the AFC North.

The Broncos’ pathetic defense, toasted by much-maligned former teammate Ashley Lelie, surrendered completions on 11 of 12 passing attempts as the Raiders’ offense - the NFL’s lowest-scoring team through Week 11 - kept the ball for 32:04.

The Raiders almost certainly will suffer a double-digit losing season for a sixth straight year.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, took a 54-31 beating at the hands of the Bills - a loss that dropped their record to 1-10. Amazingly, that figure actually understates just how bad this team is: The Chiefs have won only one of their past 20 games.

And finally there are the Chargers, who sank to 4-7 after losing 23-20 in Indianapolis. San Diego reached the AFC Championship game last season, but its only hope to return to the playoffs is that the AFC Worst is so bad it can get in by default.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Patriots aren’t dead yet. Not by a long shot.

The Patriots were devastated by the season-ending knee injury to MVP Tom Brady in Week 1, and they entered the weekend’s rematch with the Miami Dolphins with a 6-4 record.

The Dolphins had stunned the Patriots 38-13 in Foxborough in Week 3, but there would be no replay this time.

Brady’s former caddy, Matt Cassel, delivered a monster game for the second straight week, passing for 415 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots pounded the Dolphins 48-28.

The victory moved the Patriots within a tiebreaker of the Ravens for the final AFC playoff spot, and it’s likely they will hit double-digits in victories for a sixth straight season.

Bill Belichick’s suddenly leaky defense has issues, but the three-time champion coach might be doing his best job this season.

FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 12

1. At 39, Brett Favre can still defy the odds. The NFL’s only three-time MVP quarterbacked the Jets (8-3) to a thumping of the league’s last unbeaten team, and he did it with ease - the Jets never trailed in their 34-13 victory over the Titans in Nashville, Tenn.

2. The Falcons (7-4) are no longer just a nice turnaround story. They pounded the Panthers 45-28 on Sunday - the most impressive victory yet for rookie coach Mike Smith. Running back Michael Turner keyed the victory, running for four touchdowns against a defense that had allowed just five scores on the ground all year.

3. Tony Romo and Terrell Owens are back in sync. Romo and Owens hooked up for only 38 yards on five completions against the Redskins on Nov. 16, a victory that marked the Dallas quarterback’s return from a broken pinkie. On Sunday, Owens torched the 49ers for 213 yards and a touchdown on his seven completions from Romo, who passed for 341 yards and three scores.

4. Donovan McNabb might not be the No. 1 quarterback in Philadelphia much longer. McNabb, made the starter by coach Andy Reid as a rookie in 1999, was benched by Reid at halftime of a 36-7 rout by the Ravens. McNabb had a 13.2 passer rating when he got the hook. He will start Thursday at Arizona, but changes are brewing for the 5-5-1 Eagles.

5. Bye for the Bucs? If the Buccaneers (8-3) can beat the Panthers on Dec. 7 or the Falcons on Dec. 14, they could earn a first-round bye and a second-round home game in the NFC playoffs. The Buccaneers, 5-0 at home, spotted the Lions a 17-0 lead Sunday, then roared back for a 38-20 victory. Tampa Bay scored on offense, special teams and defense in a 12-minute span.

NEXT MAN UP

Big injuries from Week 12:

QB Marc Bulger, Rams (concussion): He went down in the first quarter of a 27-3 loss to the Bears and was replaced by Trent Green. His status for this week’s game against the Dolphins is uncertain.

WR Plaxico Burress, Giants (hamstring): He aggravated a tender hamstring and figures to be questionable again for this week’s game at Washington.

WR Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (knee): The Dolphins’ leading receiver suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Patriots. He will be replaced by rookie free agent Davone Bess.

QB Drew Stanton, Lions (concussion): Stanton replaced the benched Daunte Culpepper in the third quarter against the Bucs and exited in the fourth with a concussion. Culpepper will start Thursday against the Titans.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 12 games:

1-6 Record for the Chargers in games decided by a touchdown or less. They fell to the Colts 23-20 on Sunday, dropping coach Norv Turner to 35-52-1 as the guy in charge in San Diego, Oakland and Washington.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 12 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

ROMEO CRENNEL

Coach Romeo Crennel and the Browns were the chic pick in the preseason as a Super Bowl dark horse. The Browns just missed the playoffs last season with a 10-6 record - a loss total they already have exceeded this season. The road gets no easier: The Browns face the Colts next, followed by the Titans. Crennel already has benched both of his quarterbacks, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. Maybe January will be the time for Browns owner Randy Lerner to bench Crennel permanently.

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