Following are a number of whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:
• No member of the Titans has come further both on and off the field this season than WR Nate Washington. Washington, who set a career high with 130 receiving yards in Week 14, has shown that he will play through injuries this season, and he has made great strides as a leader and mentor to the other young wide receivers in the Tennessee locker room.
• The Texans hope to get ORG Mike Brisiel back in time for the playoff run after he suffered a broken leg in the Week 14 win in Cincinnati. But S Danieal Manning, who missed only three games with the same injury, was an exception — not the rule — in making such a speedy recovery. It could be a much taller order for a much bigger man, Brisiel. Backup Antoine Caldwell, a former third-rounder with starting experience, should not be a huge drop-off from Brisiel, we hear. Houston loves Brisiel because he is the ultimate tough guy. "He would run through a wall if the coaching staff asked him to," according to a source on the scene. "But Caldwell is actually a better athlete."
• It is a no-brainer that Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert needs much better weapons surrounding him next season. Acquiring a top-flight receiver could be No. 1 on Jacksonville's wish list. But rebuilding the O-line will also be imperative, we hear. OLT Eugene Monroe and ORG Uche Nwaneri are both keepers. Beyond that, though, C Brad Meester is nearing the end, and OT Eben Britton and OG Will Rackley are unproven commodities.
• WR Pierre Garcon has had a career year despite the poor QB play for the Colts. Garcon's contract expires after the season, however, and it would not be shocking to see him sign elsewhere. Garcon, a native of Haiti, has made no secret that he would like to live somewhere warmer than Indianapolis.
• There hasn't been much said this season about Dolphins second-year OLB Koa Misi, who will miss Sunday's game with a shoulder injury. "He's been invisible," said one daily team observer. Misi has played in 12 games, with nine starts, and has 31 tackles, a sack and four tackles for loss. He splits reps with OLB Jason Taylor. Misi racked up some sacks as a rookie but is not getting many snaps on passing downs now. Former head coach Tony Sparano said last month that Misi's pass rushing is "getting much better" and he has been using some skills he has learned from assistant coach Bryan Cox.
• The Jets entered this season excited about DE Marcus Dixon, and the team is very happy with his play, we hear. Dixon has 13 tackles, three QB hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He proved to be a much better replacement for Mike DeVito than rookie Kenrick Ellis, who still needs time to develop, in the team's win over the Redskins. Dixon got one-half sack vs. Kansas City. "Marcus Dixon's done a tremendous job for us, especially recently. (We're) excited (about) the way he's playing," Rex Ryan said on Friday.
• Before the season, there was a question mark at right tackle for Buffalo, but the team quickly chose Erik Pears over Mansfield Wrotto. That decision has paid dividends. Pears received a three-year contract extension, and he's the only Bills O-lineman to start every game this season at the same position. "Erik has done a great job," said head coach Chan Gailey. "He's been very solid and very consistent. He's brought a level of toughness, a work ethic to our football team and to the offensive line in particular." Pears has allowed 2½ sacks this season.
• Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered this assessment of recently benched OLG Chris Kemoeatu, who has been struggling with penalties of late: "He either has to change his technique or improve his technique, or he won't get the opportunity to." Kemoeatu had been penalized six times entering Week 15, second-most on the club.
• Browns president Mike Holmgren didn't make sweeping changes early in his tenure, and the effects of not starting over earlier are apparent today, he said this week. Holmgren retained head coach Eric Mangini for 2010 and then fired him after a 5-11 campaign, replacing him with Pat Shurmur. "This is like the second first year," Holmgren said of 2011, "and you can say, 'You wasted a year.' We know that now — I suppose you could say that now — but at the time? No. I don't regret the decision I made. We had a good draft, we're building it. Now we're awful young because we had to change the roster quite a bit after the first year."
• While Ravens OLB Sergio Kindle appeared in his second NFL game in Week 14, we're told that it's likely more a case of Kindle getting a chance to get some potentially valuable experience against a struggling Colts club rather than him pushing for more playing time right now on a defense at the top of its game.
• Kyle Orton is starting the Chiefs' Week 15 game against the Packers, but we hear his time as the first-string QB won't be long. The team may opt to give rookie Ricky Stanzi a shot down the stretch. Even if Stanzi doesn't play, it is unlikely the Chiefs will re-sign Orton this offseason, given how much they have invested in starter Matt Cassel.
• The Raiders were hoping for more out of DE Lamarr Houston than just one sack this season — he had five last year. Head coach Hue Jackson said that although the second-year pro has been solid, the team could use a greater contribution from him. "Obviously, you want to see more flash because he has that kind of ability, but he's been very consistent and solid for our football team."
• As WR Demaryius Thomas has become more involved in the Broncos' offense, it has come at the expense of the team's tight ends. Thomas had a combined 11-222-3 in Weeks 13 and 14, but the tight ends didn't catch a single pass. When TE Daniel Fells enter the game, we hear it is primarily to be a pass blocker, not a receiving target.
• One of the keys during the final weeks of the season for the Chargers will be evaluating the progress of their young defensive linemen. NT Cam Thomas and DE Vaughn Martin have both flashed potential, but according to a team insider, the organization wants to see if they can prove to be future starters or just rotational players.