“It’s good to be 9-3 and our team is in a decent position here,” says New England Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK. “Hopefully we can keep improving through the last quarter of the season.”

With four games to go, there are 22 teams either in or within two games of a playoff spot

“This is the time of year where everything gets hard,” says quarterback MATT RYAN of the 7-5 Atlanta Falcons. “And this is the time of year where it gets fun too. We are right in the mix of things. We have everything we want right in front of us and it is going to be important for us to stick together.”

Two teams have already clinched spots in the 2011 playoff field – San Francisco and Green Bay.

The 49ers (10-2) claimed the NFC West division title for the first time since 2002 with a 26-0 win over St. Louis.

“It feels great,” says 49ers running back FRANK GORE, who became the team’s all-time leading rusher, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE PERRY. “I’m happy that we get the opportunity to play in the postseason.”

The Green Bay Packers, who defeated the New York Giants 38-35, won the NFC North division and are the second defending Super Bowl champion (1998 Denver) to start the following season 12-0. The Packers have won 18 consecutive games (including the playoffs), tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

“We’re 12-0 but we need to get to 13-0,” says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY. “We have other goals in front of us. When you play in this league, you better line up and get ready and have a good week of preparation to make sure you are on point.”

The Week 14 schedule starts on Thursday night (8:00 PM ET, NFL Network) when the Cleveland Browns visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC North showdown.

The Steelers are tied with Baltimore, Houston and New England for the best record in the AFC (9-3). Pittsburgh notched a 35-7 victory last week against division-rival Cincinnati.

“We have a short week and we have some more AFC North football waiting for us,” says Steelers head coach MIKE TOMLIN, who became the sixth head coach since 1970 to win at least nine games in each of his first five seasonsSome of the key games in Week 14:

 

            HOUSTON TEXANS (9-3) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-5) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)                

Two teams in the middle of the AFC playoff race will meet on Sunday afternoon at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.

The Texans lead the AFC South by two games and improved to 9-3 with a 17-10 win over Atlanta. Houston running back ARIAN FOSTER leads the NFL averaging 142.6 scrimmage yards per game (1,426 yards, 10 games) and the Texans’ defense ranks second in the league (274.1 yards per game).

“Every game is going to get bigger and bigger from here on out,” says Houston wide receiver ANDRE JOHNSON. “We’re 9-3 and on top of the AFC. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

The Bengals are tied for the final playoff spot with a 7-5 record and are gearing up for the final four games of the season.

“We’re going to play a really good team in Houston, so we’ve got to get ready to go,” says Bengals rookie quarterback ANDY DALTON, who has passed for 2,644 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.  

 

            NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-3) at TENNESSEE TITANS (7-5) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)                

The Saints have won four in a row and lead the NFC South by two games. Quarterback DREW BREES leads the NFL with 4,031 passing yards and is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in the first 12 games of a season. Last week, Brees completed 26 of 36 passes (72.2 percent) for 342 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 129.6 passer rating. He has completed at least 20 passes in an NFL-record 32 games in a row and has aTD pass in 39 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in league history.

“It’s one game at a time and the games don’t get any easier,” says Brees. “On the road at Tennessee is going to be a huge challenge. The Titans are playing very well right now. They’ve got some big-time players on that team.”

Among the big-time players on 7-5 Tennessee is running back CHRIS JOHNSON, who has rushed for 343 yards (171.5 per game) in the past two games. In last week’s 23-17 win at Buffalo, Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yard TD run. He has nine career TD runs of at least 45 yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer OLLIE MATSON and PAUL LOWE for the fourth-most in NFL history. Johnson trails Pro Football Hall of FamersBARRY SANDERS (18), JIM BROWN (13) and O.J. SIMPSON (10).

“A lot of guys are growing confidence and we’re starting to realize we have a good chance at being a great football team here,” says Titans wide receiver NATE WASHINGTON. “Not just good, but great.”

 

            OAKLAND RAIDERS (7-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-0) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)                

The Raiders are tied with Denver for the AFC West lead and look to become the first team to defeat the defending Super Bowl champions. Oakland has won three of its past four games and is 4-2 on the road this season.

“It’s the NFL, so I think everybody is going to give you their best shot every week,” says Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS, who is one of three quarterbacks – Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS (1959) and PEYTONMANNING (2004) – to throw multiple touchdown passes in each of a team’s first 12 games. “Being undefeated and the defending champions, there might be an extra motivation at times. We’re looking forward to each challenge.”

Green Bay improved to 12-0 last week with a 38-35 win at the New York Giants when MASON CROSBY kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired. It marked only the third time in NFL history that a team maintained a perfect record at least 10 games into a season by scoring the winning points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. In 1934, the Chicago Bears improved to 10-0 with a 10-9 win over the Giants on a 24-yard field goal with 50 seconds to play. In 2007, New England moved to 12-0 with a 27-24 victory at Baltimore on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.

 

            NEW YORK GIANTS (6-6) at DALLAS COWBOYS (7-5) (Sunday, NBC & Telemundo, 8:20 PM ET)                

Entering Week 14, the Cowboys and Giants sit just one game apart atop the NFC East. The division rivals will meet twice over the final four weeks starting with this Sunday night’s matchup at Cowboys Stadium.

 

“It’s a playoff atmosphere the rest of the way and you want to play in must-win games,” says New York quarterback ELI MANNING, who leads the NFL with a 120.5 passer rating in the fourth quarter. “We know if we win out, then we’re in the playoffs. That’s exciting. It’s something to look forward to and it starts this week with Dallas. We have to get ready for them, play our best football and find a way to get a win.”

Dallas boasts a 5-1 record at home and the Cowboys have won four of their past five overall.

“We need to focus on what we need to do,” says Dallas head coach JASON GARRETT. “We need to play our best on Sunday against the Giants. They’re a good football team and we understand the challenge.”

In addition to NBC, the game will air on Telemundo in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco/San Jose and Washington, DC. 

This is the second of three simulcasts on Telemundo during the 2011 season through a production partnership with NBC Sports. The final game will be Sunday Night Football in Week 15. 

*****************************************************************************************************

NFL FACTOID

Carolina rookie quarterback CAM NEWTON rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another in the Panthers’ 38-19 win at Tampa Bay. Newton joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON as the only players in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown in nine of his first 12 games in the league.


*****************************************************************************************************

WHAT TO LOOK FOR – WEEK 14

WINNING MODELThe New England Patriots (9-3) are tied with Baltimore (9-3), Houston (9-3) and Pittsburgh (9-3) for the best record in the AFC.

 

With a win against the Redskins on Sunday, New England will reach 10 regular-season wins for the ninth consecutive season and would join the San Francisco 49ers (16) and the Indianapolis Colts (nine) as the only teams to accomplish the feat in NFL history.

The teams with the most consecutive seasons with 10+ regular-season wins in NFL history:

TEAM

YEARS

CONSECUTIVE SEASONS WITH 10+ WINS

San Francisco 49ers

1983-1998

16

Indianapolis Colts

2002-2010

9

New England Patriots

2003-present

8*

CHARGING AHEADThe Denver Broncos (7-5) have won five consecutive games after starting the season 2-5 and are tied with the Oakland Raiders for the AFC West lead. With a win against Chicago on Sunday, Denver can become the third team ever to win six consecutive games after starting a season 2-5 or worse.

The teams that won six consecutive games after starting a season 2-5 or worse:

TEAM

YEAR

SEASON START

FINAL RECORD

Cincinnati Bengals

1970

1-6

8-6*

Minnesota Vikings

2005

2-5

9-7

                                                                        *Advanced to playoffs

THE CHAMP IS HEREGreen Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS, who has an NFL-best 37 touchdown passes this season, has registered multiple TD passes in each of the Packers’ first 12 games in 2011.

With two TD passes on Sunday against Oakland, Rodgers will tie PEYTON MANNING (13) for the most consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes to start a season.

The most consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes to start a season:

PLAYER

YEAR

TEAM

CONSECUTIVE GAMES W/ 2+ TD PASSES TO START SEASON

Peyton Manning

2004

Indianapolis Colts

13

Aaron Rodgers

2011

Green Bay Packers

12*

Johnny Unitas

1959

Baltimore Colts

12

*Active

 

 

 

TARGETING 4,000: Entering Week 14, three quarterbacks are within 300 passing yards of joining DREW BREES (4,031) with 4,000 passing yards this season – TOM BRADY (3,916), AARON RODGERS (3,844) and ELI MANNING (3,705).If Brady, Manning and Rodgers reach 4,000 passing yards on Sunday, they would surpass the record set in 2008 (Brees, 4,100; KURT WARNER, 4,020) for the most QBs with 4,000 passing yards through Week 14

COOL BREESNew Orleans quarterback DREW BREES, who leads the NFL with 4,031 passing yards this season, will make his 150th career start at Tennessee on Sunday. Brees’ 39,076 passing yards in 149 career starts are already the third-most passing yards through 150 starts in NFL history. He can challenge Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (39,498) and PEYTON MANNING (39,164) for the most passing yards in the first 150 starts of a career in NFL history.

The most passing yards through 150 starts in NFL history:

QUARTERBACK

MOST PASSING YARDS THROUGH 150 STARTS

Dan Marino

39,498

Peyton Manning

39,164

Drew Brees

39,076*

Dan Fouts

37,302

Tom Brady

37,053

*Through 149 starts

                         

Brees’ 264 touchdown passes in 149 starts are the fifth-most through 150 starts and he can improve that mark on Sunday.

The most touchdown passes through 150 starts in NFL history:

QUARTERBACK

MOST TD PASSES THROUGH 150 STARTS

Dan Marino

290

Peyton Manning

286

Tom Brady

279

Brett Favre

272

Drew Brees

264*

*Through 149 starts

 

SUPER CAMCarolina rookie quarterback CAM NEWTON has passed for 3,297 yards this season.  With 216 yards this Sunday against Atlanta, Newton can surpass MATT RYAN (3,440 in 2008) and SAM BRADFORD (3,512 in 2010) for the second-most passing yards by a rookie in NFL historyPEYTON MANNING holds the rookie record with 3,739 passing yards in 1998.

Last week, Newton (13) passed STEVE GROGAN (12 in 1976) for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history.

The most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history:

QUARTERBACK

TEAM

SEASON

PASSING YARDS

Peyton Manning

Indianapolis Colts

1998

3,739

Sam Bradford

St. Louis Rams

2010

3,512

Matt Ryan

Atlanta Falcons

2008

3,440

Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers

2011

3,297*

Joe Flacco

Baltimore Ravens

2008

2,971

                                                                    * Through Week 13

WILD WILD WESNew England wide receiver WES WELKER leads the NFL in receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,253) through Week 13. With seven receptions on Sunday, Welker can join MARVIN HARRISON and Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE as the only players to have four seasons with 100 receptions.

The players to record four 100-reception seasons in NFL history:

PLAYER

MOST SEASONS WITH 100 RECEPTIONS

Marvin Harrison

4 (115, 102, 109, 143)

Jerry Rice

4 (100, 112, 122, 108)

 

 

Wes Welker

3 (112, 111, 123)

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