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Baltimore is the best in the AFC at getting off the field and getting the ball back for its offense, allowing a first down on just 17.6 percent of all running plays, followed by Cincinnati (18.9) and Kansas City (20.2).

In the NFC, the top teams are Arizona (18.7), which could go 11-5 and miss out on the postseason party, Carolina (19.6) and San Francisco (19.7).

Even though it’s almost New Year’s, chances are still pretty good the ball will go through the air once it gets in the quarterback’s hands. Last week, 54 percent of all plays were passes, but of the 16 teams that won, they averaged 33 runs and 30 passes.

Compare that to the opening weekend of the season, when 59 percent of all plays were passes and the teams that came out on top threw an average of 37 times and ran 30 times.

Teams got a taste of what January _ and the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J. on Feb. 2 _ might be like earlier this month. An Arctic blast dumped snow on most of the country and games were played in icy or even blizzard conditions.

In the playoffs, the mercury usually falls some more and the pressure only rises.

And if there is a sunny day in there somewhere, you can bet the ground game will still be a priority.

“When you run the football, they’ve got to respect that part of the game that much more,” Broncos receiver Eric Decker said. “The safeties come down a little harder. Linebackers may bite on play-action more. It just opens the middle of the field, gives you more 1-on-1 opportunities. And that is how this game is played. It’s complementary. You’ve got to be able to run the football to pass. You’ve got to be able to pass the ball to run.

“Especially this time of year, you see teams that make it to the championship, they’re running the football.”


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writers Steven Wine, Joe Kay, Tim Booth and Dave Skretta contributed.


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