January 01, 2016

It's been a good season for road teams.

Heading into Week 17, visitors have gone 111-129, a .463 winning percentage. That's the best since 2006 (.469) and fifth best ever. Tops since the 1970 merger was 1972, when visitors nearly broke even, going 87-90-5 (.492).

Most successful away from home have been, not surprisingly, the teams with the best overall records, Carolina (14-1) and Arizona (13-2), each finishing 7-1 on the road. Denver and Cincinnati are 6-2, while New England is 5-2 and concludes the schedule at Miami.

Why such success?

For one, weather has not been much of a factor, taking away some of the home-field edge such locales as Green Bay, Buffalo, Chicago and Denver often enjoy. Also, several clubs have been downright awful in their backyards: the Bears and Cowboys are 1-6, Tennessee 1-7.

Considering that there are only 14 of the 32 clubs with winning records, it's no shock that being home hasn't been so comfortable. Look at the home records in such traditionally tough places to play as New Orleans (4-4), Baltimore (3-5) and Chicago. Even the Seahawks, supposedly with the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL, are 5-3 at CenturyLink Field.

Twice this season, road teams have been dominant, winning 11 times in Weeks 10 and 13. The fewest road victories came in Week 9 with four.


IMPACTFUL FILM: A trip to the movies made a huge impact on Jets left tackle. D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

He watched the Will Smith film ''Concussion'' this week, and it left him with questions about how the NFL handled head injuries and had him wondering about his future health after football.

''I'm like, `Wow, this really comes close to home,''' Ferguson said in the Jets' locker room.

The movie tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who identified a degenerative disease in football players known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

''It was just such an impactful movie, and I think it told a message that I don't think a lot of people were aware of as far as the degree of what participating in the sport we love can cause,'' Ferguson said. ''It's a different issue when you hear about somebody else going through it, but it's another thing when you're a part of the game and people that you've played with - Junior Seau, for example - have succumbed to some of these brain injuries.''

Ferguson, a players union representative, said he's uncertain if he would allow a son, if he has one someday, to play the sport - although he acknowledged the NFL has put an increased emphasis on head injuries.

Ferguson has never missed a game or practice because of injury during his NFL career, which began when he was drafted in the first round in 2006. He was a rookie when the team's doctor was Dr. Elliot Pellman, who is depicted in the movie.

''It's one thing when it's an outside issue, but it's another when you touch it so closely,'' Ferguson said. ''He was our doctor. You just always want to make sure that the people that you're around have your best interests at heart. In that particular instance, I think that wasn't the situation.''

Ferguson wrote an essay for SI.com in which he discussed seeing the movie and feeling ''a bit betrayed by the people or committees put in place by the league who did not have my best interests at heart.''

He didn't back down from those comments when asked, and mentioned that he is unsure what type of effect hard hits to his head area in games and practices have made during his 10-year career.

''I think a lot of times we focus on the game snaps, but we don't talk about practice, training camps, college, high school, junior high school,'' he said. ''There's a lot of snaps that go into the conversation, and I think the accumulation of those small hits over time is what leads to CTE, and I think that's what is most eye-opening about both the movie and the discussion of brain injury.''


LATE FLAGS: Twice this season Malik Jackson has been whistled for a penalty long after the play was over.

On Monday night, he sacked AJ McCarron for a 1-yard loss, and Cincinnati's quarterback jumped up looking for a face-mask penalty.

None was called.

Almost 30 seconds later, referee Ed Hochuli - who had a tough night, misidentifying the Broncos as the Bengals in the opening coin toss and then leaving his microphone on at the end of regulation - threw his yellow flag.

Apparently, Hochuli saw the infraction on the replay shown on the giant scoreboard in the south end zone.

''Yeah, that was interesting,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. ''I can't speak for the league. I don't know. I know it happened very late. There was a face mask on the play. There is no doubt about that, but yet there was no flag and you're almost to the next play, and here it comes.''

Kubiak asked Hochuli about the flag.

''Ed was very honest with me and said that he got late information, but he thinks it was right. It's kind of hard to argue with that,'' Kubiak said. ''I know they're trying to do the best job they can.''

But 30 seconds later? Shouldn't the penalty be punctual? Isn't there a statute of limitations here?

''I don't know that I know exactly how late they can throw one,'' Kubiak said. ''I know there is a lot of communication going on around the league from the league office, the officials, from New York, whatever. I know that has changed. Those guys get a lot of information as the game goes on.

''Anytime it is `the game,' the Monday night game, all the help is coming at one direction, not like a normal Sunday where there is 14 or 15 football games. That's a little bit different, but I think I do understand they're trying to get right.''


EIFERT'S CONCUSSION: Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert suffered a concussion during a 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 that demonstrated how it's sometimes difficult to tell right away when a player should leave the game.

Eifert got helmet-to-helmet contact with safety Mike Mitchell on a catch off a slant pattern. He stayed in the game and had one more catch before leaving to be evaluated.

''I didn't feel right, but in my head I was like, `I can still get my job done,''' Eifert said. ''But I guess you don't think clearly when you're concussed, either. That's pretty much how all that went down.

''I didn't black out or anything. I was just kind of dazed, I guess, and I felt really kind of groggy and just kind of out of it. I remember everything.''

Eifert hadn't had a concussion since he played at Notre Dame. After leaving the game against Pittsburgh, he missed the Bengals' next two games, but was cleared to play against Baltimore on Sunday.


IN REVIEW, NEW PATS: That 33-yard extra point? Veteran San Francisco placekicker Phil Dawson isn't a big fan.

''Yeah, I still hate it,'' he said with a smile going into the season finale.

And he's someone who made all but one, which was blocked at Chicago on Dec. 6. He was 19 for 20 heading into Sunday's home game against St. Louis.

''It's had an effect on the game,'' said Dawson, planning to come back for an 18th season at age 41. ''I think it will continue to have an effect. I may have jinxed myself, I said in training camp that where it will probably show up is on sudden scores maybe later in the year when fields are tough and you've got to jog out there kind of cold and try to make one. Well, that was Chicago a couple weeks ago and we get it blocked. I think those types of things will continue to happen.

''But I would expect in time kickers are going to figure out how to adjust to it where it becomes the new norm and maybe it's not as big a deal as it was this year.''

Last week, Dawson's field goal and two extra points put him at 16th on the NFL's career points list with 1,598.

With all those missed PATs along the way - eight in some weeks alone - there was added intrigue.

''I'm more of a traditionalist, but it's different,'' 49ers special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr. said. ''It's definitely made the game a little more exciting. It's not just an automatic field goal or automatic points, so to speak. But it's definitely made it a little bit more interesting.''


AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Arnie Stapleton, and Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., Joe Kay and Janie McCauley contributed to this notebook.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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