Following are a number of whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the AFC:
• The Dolphins' defense is a huge reason for this season's dismal record, but one daily team observer said that DL Randy Starks has been a bright spot and one of the few consistent players on defense. The veteran has four tackles for loss and four QB hits on the season.
• Chris Kelsay is more productive for the Bills at his natural position of defensive end instead of outside 'backer, we hear. Kelsay missed time with an injury but had a sack in his return against Washington in Week Eight. "They try to put him in situations where he can play with his hand on the ground. He functions better there," said one daily team observer.
• Jets second-year CB Kyle Wilson has continued to show strides as the season goes along as the team's third corner. This season, he has an interception and a key QB hit, which came on a third down against the Chargers, forcing an incomplete pass. We hear that Wilson has his locker next to All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, and it's been good for Wilson to have that mentor.
• Patriots rookie ORT Nate Solder will give his starting job back to Sebastian Vollmer, but the Pats have to be pleased with how Solder has played. He will likely continue to be used as an extra blocker in some running situations. "I've been impressed with him as a talent, but I've also been impressed with the way he's like a sponge," ORG Brian Waters told PFW. "He picks up every piece of information and advice and he applies it to the game and at practice during the week."
• To Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the Ravens' stout pass rush is a product of a sound and swarming defense. "Not only are they rushing hard individually, I think they're doing an awesome job collectively," he told reporters leading up to Week Nine. (They're) closing the doors with their rush lanes. Man, it's very disciplined. It's really impressive when you look at it. If the first man doesn't get the quarterback, usually the second man or third man, in some instances, is in place to close the door. I think they've done a unique job of that, not only for them, but just relative to everyone in football."
• The Ravens used their first pick in the 2010 draft on OLB Sergio Kindle with the goal of bolstering their pass rush, but Kindle missed his entire rookie season after suffering a head injury in an off-the-field accident, and though he was able to rejoin the team this season, he has appeared in just one game. The Ravens have good LB depth and a stout pass rush, so if Kindle comes along slowly, Baltimore can certainly get by for the time being. Of Kindle, head coach John Harbaugh told reporters earlier this season: "There's an element of patience there. I say, 'Work hard and get better.' If you're not dressing, it's because you're not good enough yet. That's a fact. I hate to say it that way, but I think if someone got hurt and he dressed, he'd have the chance to prove himself. But, the fact is, there are better players right now." Harbaugh has also said that Kindle is a "very good player" and noted that when it comes to earning playing time, "it is always a competitive situation."
• One factor in the Browns' defensive success: The starters have stayed healthy. SLB Scott Fujita and CB Joe Haden were the only starters to miss any time in the Browns' first seven games, and each player missed just one game. The defensive line has had the same starters all season — DEs Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell and DTs Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin.
• All that opponents of the Jaguars have to do is turn on the tape and they will be salivating at the prospect of blitzing rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. Not only has he shown he cannot handle the rush, he has gotten worse, tucking and ducking more often as the season continues.
• The Texans' defense has been hit hard by injuries in recent weeks, and the same can be said for the special-teams unit. S Dominique Barber, who was placed on I.R. a few weeks back, was the unit's best cover guy. Losing ILB Darryl Sharpton is another big loss. It will be interesting to see if Houston's special-teams play drops off without a couple of key contributors.
• Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said on his weekly radio show that the club would entertain the idea of changing defensive schemes, as the Tampa-2 has been badly exposed this season. The way we hear it, Polian has made similar pronouncements before, and it is nothing more than placating the fans amid a disastrous season. Said a daily team observer: "I'll believe it when I see it."
• Following the Week Eight loss in Houston, several Jaguars defensive players complained about Texans players taking cheap shots. It is one thing to complain after a win, but to do so after being beaten comes off as sour grapes. Moreover, when your own coach doesn't back you, how strong can your argument be? One thing is certain: The Week 12 rematch between these two clubs will be chippy.
• Returning RB Darren McFadden to full strength will be a key to the Oakland rushing attack, but so, too, will be getting FB Marcel Reece back on the field. Having missed the past four games because of an ankle injury, Reece is close to rejoining the lineup. Head coach Hue Jackson called the fullback a "unique matchup problem" for opponents and admitted the offense runs better when Reece is in the lineup.
• It has been an up-and-down few weeks for Broncos DT Ryan McBean. His playing time has increased, as he has emerged as one of the team's top pass rushers in its nickel defense, recording sacks in two of the past three games. However, off the field, McBean is being investigated by the Denver district attorney's office for stalking charges. The lineman was arrested on Oct. 17, though he has yet to face any discipline from the team or the league.
• Curtis Brinkley, the Chargers' third-string running back, showed in Week Eight against the Chiefs he has the ability to make an impact, gaining 67 total yards with a touchdown in a reserve role. However, according to a team insider, Brinkley's number will be called only in games in which either Ryan Mathews or Mike Tolbert is unavailable. With Mathews nursing a groin injury, expect to see Brinkley on the field more in the coming weeks.
• The season-ending injury to SS Eric Berry has forced Chiefs FS Kendrick Lewis become more of a leader in the K.C. secondary. Lewis, like Berry, is a second-year player, but according to head coach Todd Haley, the safety has the respect of his older teammates. "(Lewis is) pretty impressive and an important part of our team pretty quickly. A lot of that had to do with his ability to be a leader and communicate and help other teammates around him," Haley said. It's never been too big for Kendrick. This guy's been pretty impressive from a leadership standpoint right out of the gate."