Inside Broncos numbers: Vic Fangio’s defense is excellent in crucial situations, ranking seventh on third down (34.9 percent conversion rate). The pass defense has allowed a conversion on just 16.7 percent of red-zone passing plays, second best behind only the great Patriots defense.
Inside Broncos roster: In Week 11 against Minnesota, Denver blew a fourth fourth-quarter lead this season, but Shelby Harris continued to make his extension case. The powerful defensive end sacked Kirk Cousins three times, the most impressive of which came on one of the harder hits a quarterback can take nowadays. (It forced a fumble.) Harris and Derek Wolfe are due for free agency at year’s end, and although Wolfe is a holdover from Super Bowl 50, the 28-year-old Harris is a year younger and has a better recent track record. He may reside higher among the Broncos’ offseason priorities.
Inside Bills numbers: Josh Allen has gone a career-best six consecutive games without an interception. He should have a good chance to keep that streak going against a Broncos defense ranked 30th in takeaway rate (7.3 percent).
Inside Bills roster: A weird revenge game will take place in Buffalo, with Isaiah McKenzie facing his former team and doing so with a much bigger role. The Broncos waived the 5-foot-7 wideout last season due to his ball-security issues on returns, but the Bills have plugged the gadget-type player in as their No. 3 receiver.
Inside Giants numbers: Daniel Jones, who ranks second in turnovers per game (1.9), must take better care of the football. The Giants need to help him accomplish that with stronger protection, as Jones has taken the league’s second-highest pressure rate (42.9 percent).
Inside Giants roster: Jones is on pace to be sacked 51 times – which would be the most a Giant has been dropped in 30 years. Although the rookie has not exhibited great pocket presence, the Giants’ offensive line rebuild hasn’t solved their years-long problems at tackle. Both Nate Solder and Mike Remmers are 30-something stopgaps for a rebuilding team, and while Solder’s contract stands to keep him at left tackle next season, the Giants will eye right-side help.
Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s offense, ranked 28th in points per drive (1.41), has been sabotaged by Mitchell Trubisky’s awful play. Trubisky ranks last in net yards per attempt with a mark of 4.7, the worst mark versus the league average by a Bears quarterback since Bobby Douglass in 1971.
Inside Bears roster: Chicago’s loss in the “Double-Doink Game” ignited one of the most public kicker searches in years, but the Bears have seen their attempted solution miss four of his past seven field goals. This included a potential winning 41-yarder against the Chargers. The Bears have chosen to stand by Eddy Pineiro, a 2019 Raiders cut who has only missed one extra point this season. But with Trubisky’s struggles giving Chicago little margin for error, Pineiro’s job may be on the line Sunday.
Inside Steelers numbers: The defense is excellent, owning the highest takeaway rate (20.8 percent) and ranking fourth in net yards per pass attempt (5.8) and fifth in yards per rush attempt (3.7). For the defense to take the next step, it must jump from average to elite on third down (currently 14th best) and in the red zone (16th best).
Inside Steelers roster: Mason Rudolph ranks 31st of 32 qualified passers in Total QBR, putting Pittsburgh in a tough spot. The Steelers’ rebuilt defense is leading a low-ceiling team; the franchise will need a 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger to be close to his pre-injury level next season. With that being dicey, and the Steelers having traded their 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, the team may need veteran insurance for next season. Either way, Rudolph’s issues amplify the importance of the Steelers’ 2021 draft – when the team could face a high-stakes Round 1 quarterback decision.
Inside Bengals numbers: Rookie QB Ryan Finley was atrocious in his first two NFL starts, posting a 52.8 passer rating. It’s the worst passer rating posted by a quarterback over his first two career starts (minimum 60 pass attempts) since Ryan Lindley in 2012 (37.4)
Inside Bengals roster: Whether Cincinnati lands Chase Young or the 2020 draft’s top quarterback prospect, it will need to deviate from its cautious free-agency approach to help kick-start this rebuild. Its offensive line, largely responsible for a woeful rushing attack and lower-end pass-protection work, needs help everywhere. Simply subbing in injured would-be left tackle Jonah Williams, along with maybe a Day 2 draft choice, probably will not be enough. With 2018 first-round center Billy Price again struggling, the Bengals need to pursue veteran help to aid its next quarterback’s chances.
Inside Dolphins numbers: Miami has become a decent red-zone team, ranking 13th offensively (60.9 percent) and 16th defensively (56.8 percent). They need to dominate in this facet against Cleveland, which ranks 21st offensively and 25th defensively in red-zone touchdown rate.
Inside Dolphins roster: Miami’s gamble backfired terribly on Mark Walton, an ex-Bengals third-round running back cut after a fourth 2019 arrest. Miami this season traded RB Kenyan Drake; new starter Kalen Ballage’s per-carry average dropped to 1.9 yards after his nine-tote, nine-yard Week 11 showing. So add running back to the lengthy list of offseason needs. It will take a backseat to some higher-profile positional deficiencies, but Miami needs better options next year.
Inside Browns numbers: The Browns must find a way to replace the production of suspended defensive end Myles Garrett, who is tied for fourth in the league in sacks (10.0) and 13th in pressures (49). The Dolphins have allowed the league’s third-highest sack rate (10.4 percent).
Inside Browns roster: The last time Cleveland assembled a defensive game plan without Garrett was during its 0-16 2017 season. This Browns’ defense ranks sixth against the pass, but its line may have just one of its starters – defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson – available Sunday. Trade acquisition Olivier Vernon, who has just three sacks in eight games despite defenses keying on Garrett, has yet to resume practicing after a knee injury that kept him out of the past two games. If the ex-Dolphin sits, second-year man Chad Thomas (three sacks) and 2018 signing Chris Smith (zero) will start at defensive end.