Oct 092013
 

Rats RankingsWe lost a couple of the unbeaten teams this week, as the Seahawks fell to the Colts and the Bengals bested the Patriots in a defensive struggle. That leaves us with the Broncos, Saints and Chiefs all locked at 5-0. On the flip side, the Giants and Jaguars have both started the year at 0-5, while the Steelers and Buccaneers benefited from byes to stay at 0-4. In the stunner of the week, the Jets outplayed the Falcons on Monday Night Football, while the Raiders got out to an early lead and then held on the beat the Chargers in another relative surprise. Our contributors have been polled, and here are our rankings and questions as we move into Week Six. Last week’s rankings are in [brackets].

1. Denver Broncos (5-0, six first place votes) [1] – Can anyone but the Broncos beat the Broncos?
2. New Orleans Saints (5-0) [4] – Can Drew Brees keep taking a beating and keep on ticking?
3. Seattle Seahawks (4-1) [2] – Still the best team in the NFC?
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) [7] – Will it be the 9-0 Chiefs versus the 9-0 Broncos?
5. Indianapolis Colts (4-1) [12] – Does the AFC South belong to Indy once again?
6. New England Patriots (4-1) [5] – Is that a Gronk sighting?
7. San Francisco 49ers (3-2) [8] – Isn’t Frank Gore amazing when he gets the ball?
8. Chicago Bears (3-2) [3] – Has the inevitable drama involving Jay Cutler begun?
9. Miami Dolphins (3-2) [6] – Does Miami now have two teams to cheer for?
10. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) [10] – Was this a statement win, or just the rain?
11. Green Bay Packers (2-2) [13] – Ready to roll, or more hot and cold?
12. Detroit Lions (3-2) [14] – Why did they move up? Because reality settled in for #s 16 and 17.
13. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) [15] – Why is it that Tony Romo always manages to kill a brilliant performance with one stupid decision?
14. Tennessee Titans (3-2) [16] – Can they manage with Jake Locker gone?
15. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) [17] – Can they slow down the Packers?
16. Houston Texans (3-2) [9] – Will it be five games in a row for Matt Schaub to throw a pick six?
17. Atlanta Falcons (1-4) [11] – Is Mike Smith trying to coach the Falcons out of the playoff hunt?
18. New York Jets (3-2) [20] – Will the real Geno Smith please stand up?
19. Arizona Cardinals (3-2) [23] – When is the last time the Cardinals won games in spite of their quarterback? Oh yeah… guess nothing has changed.
20. Cleveland Browns (3-2) [27] – Is Brandon Weeden’s return the worst thing that could happen to this suddenly resurgent club?
21. St. Louis Rams (2-3) [18] – Think they are missing Steven Jackson? Yeah, and so are the Falcons.
22. San Diego Chargers (2-3) [22] – With this record, is it like Norv Turner is still there?
23. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) [21] – Is Chip Kelly wishing the Eagles could play the Giants every week?
24. Minnesota Vikings (1-3) [25] – Is it time to move from one failed quarterback to another?
25. Carolina Panthers (1-3) [19] – They played like that AFTER a bye week?
26. Buffalo Bills (2-3) [24] – Is there a spike in barrels going over Niagara Falls with EJ Manuel injured?
27. Oakland Raiders (2-3) [30] – Is anyone else thinking this team is going to be deadly after they spend $50 million in the coming off-season?
28. Washington Football Club (1-3) [31] – Is that Daniel Snyder’s final answer on the name of his team? This is ours.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) [28] – Is this team really going to lose to the Jets?
30. New York Giants (0-5) [26] – How is Eli still standing with an offensive line this bad?
31. Tampa bay Buccaneers (0-4) [29] – Did the bye help, or is this just an extra week between losses?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) [32] – So what will the Broncos’ team tweets be like AFTER the game?

To be fair to Sharpe, he had a really good question that got preempted by our commentary. For Washington, he asks: “Do they need more French players?” It’s a fair question.

See you next time!

Sep 032013
 

Peyton ManningLet me get our annual writer’s picks started with my own. After an off-season of controversy and roster turnover, my beloved Patriots enter the 2013 as a certain favorite in the AFC East and are likely to make another deep playoff run. With an improving defense to help offset offensive uncertainty, the Patriots look solid but uncertain. Even as a die hard fan, it’s hard to envision the Patriots winning the Super Bowl this season.

Baltimore made some strategic decisions after winning the Super Bowl, and have sought to put all of their eggs in the Joe Flacco basket, which I find problematic. While they have cobbled together what is likely to be a top ten defense again, the offense after Ray Rice looks problematic. Letting Anquan Boldin leave was a huge mistake, and the loss of Dennis Pitta for most of the season is a huge blow to this team.

Thus, the Broncos look like the class of the AFC, even if their defensive front seven leaves me a little bit squeamish. I know people are thinking the offense will be unstoppable with Wes Welker complementing Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as receivers for Peyton Manning, but the loss of Dan Koppen leaves the line a little shaky and I am not sure the running game will consistently produce. Still, the Broncos would appear to have the edge in the battle for the Super Bowl.

On the NFC side, the 49ers will be a fashionable pick, but Colin Kaepernick no longer has the advantage of being an unknown, and now defenses will get their chance to adjust to his style of play. The loss of Michael Crabtree hurt, forcing Boldin into the role of being a primary receiver rather than a complement. The Niners can run the ball and have a stout defense, so they have to be considered a favorite to get back to the big game. That’s possible, but San Francisco may not even win their division given the resurgent Seahawks, who have their own answer to Kaepernick in Russell Wilson, who seems to be a star in the making. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks have an efficient receiver corps that doesn’t scare people but manages to get the job done, and a bruising running game embodied in Marshawn Lynch with a sleeper in reserve Christine Michael. The Seattle defense looks to be just as good as the one in San Francisco, so this team must be considered a serious threat.

Finally, we get to Atlanta,, who flamed out in the playoffs last season after a very successful regular season campaign. The Falcons added Stephen Jackson in the off-season and have the best receiving tandem in the league in Julio Jones and Roddy White, complemented by the ageless Tony Gonzalez. The defense is the big question mark on this team, with a re-engineered secondary and a lack of impact players in the front seven. It’s entirely possible that the Falcons will make it to the Super Bowl, but it would be really helpful if they could gain the top seed and avoid the 49ers and Seahawks for as long as possible.

This is a wide open year in the NFL, with no one clear favorite to win it all, so it should be an exciting season. But for those of us craving some certainty this year, let me provide it for you; the Jets will end the season by jettisoning Mark Sanchez, they will have already figured out that Geno Smith isn’t the answer, and Rex Ryan will be in search of a coordinator job.

So with all of that said, here are my 2013 predictions:

AFC EAST
New England124
Miami79
Buffalo610
New York Jets214
AFC NORTH
Cincinnati115
Baltimore97
Pittsburgh97
Cleveland79
AFC SOUTH
Houston115
Indianapolis97
Tennessee610
Jacksonville313
AFC WEST
Denver124
Kansas City88
San Diego511
Oakland214
NFC EAST
Washington106
New York Giants97
Dallas97
Philadelphia511
NFC NORTH
Green Bay106
Chicago106
Minnesota88
Detroit79
NFC SOUTH
Atlanta133
New Orleans97
Carolina79
Tampa Bay79
NFC WEST
Seattle115
San Francisco106
St. Louis88
Arizona610
AFC PLAYOFFS- Wildcard Round
Cincinnati over Indianapolis
Houston over Baltimore
Divisional Round
Denver over Houston
New England over Cincinnati
AFC Championship
Denver over New England
NFC PLAYOFFS- Wildcard Round
Washington over Chicago
San Francisco over Green Bay
Divisional Round
Atlanta over San Francisco
Seattle over Washington
NFC Championship
Seattle over Atlanta
SUPER BOWL
Denver over Seatttle
NFL POST SEASON AWARDS
Most Valuable Player -Adrian Peterson
Offensive Player of the YearDrew Brees
Defensive Player of the YearJJ Watt
Offensive Rookie of the YearTavon Austin
Defensive Rookie of the YearDesmond Trufant
Comeback Player of the YearMaurice Jones Drew
Coach of the YearBill Belichick
Jun 282013
 

Mark Sanchez is lucky that it’s not a slow news week in the NFL.

Mark Sanchez

That’s right, the same Sanchez of butt fumble fame has decided to make his butt… well… the butt of further jokes. The video is from a private party that Sanchez had with two young women, and he can be seen flashing his naked butt for their homemade video.

The video doesn’t show Sanchez killing anyone, not is he committing a crime or (likely) violating any team rules. But for the guy known as the worst starting quarterback in the league who has made more news with his GQ spread than with his play on the field, it is not a good look.

Of course the person who might be loving this video the most is Geno Smith, the quarterback the Jets drafted to replace Sanchez.

Jun 122013
 

Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan9. New York Jets
Head Coach: Rex Ryan
2012 Record: 6-10
2012 Offense: 281 points scored, 28th in points, 30th in yards (30th passing, 12th rushing)
2012 Defense: 375 points allowed, 20th in points, 8th in yards (2nd passing, 26th rushing)

Key Additions
RB Mike Goodson, RB Chris Ivory, G Willie Colon, DL Antonio Garay, LB Antwan Barnes, S Dawan Landry, G Stephen Peterman, WR Ben Obomanu, CB Dee Milliner, DT Sheldon Richardson, QB Geno Smith, G Brian Winters

Key Losses
CB Darrelle Revis, S Yeremiah Bell, DL Mike DeVito, WR Braylon Edwards, RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller, S LaRon Landry, LB Bart Scott, DT Sione Pouha, G Brandon Moore, G Matt Slauson, WR Chaz Schilens, LB Bryan Thomas, QB Tim Tebow, S Eric Smith

Why 2013 will be better
Define better? If by better we mean that the Jets will no longer have a circus sideshow in Tim Tebow, then yes it will be better. Otherwise, I’m not so sure. But since this is the part of the article where we look for bright spots, let’s start with running back Chris Ivory, who appears ready to replace the steady but enigmatic Greene. There are question marks after Ivory, with Goodson appearing to be a personal train wreck. Still, Ivory looks like the real deal and will be getting the bulk of the snaps this season. Given a weak passing game, the Jets should once again rank in the top twelve rushing attacks. The offensive line is beginning to come together, with Nick Mangold, D’Brickasah Ferguson, Austin Howard, Willie Colon, and Brian Winters eyeing starting roles, and the group should be able to open holes for Ivory, but it is in pass protection where this group must improve, as the Jets ranked 30th in pass protection last season, yielding 47 sacks, along with one very memorable butt fumble. However, the Jets are very thin on the line after the five starters, so health will be a key to success. On defense, the team looks to improve on its sub-par performance in 2012 with Rex Ryan taking a more direct role in defensive meetings and play calling, and looks to be a better group. Muhammad Wilkerson is a dominant presence at end, and looks to be flanked by Sheldon Richardson, who also looks like a beast. The only downside is that Quinton Coples will see an increased role at outside linebacker, which does not appear to cater to his strengths. Kendrick Ellis, Garay, and Damon Harrison round out this solid unit.

Why 2013 will be worse
The quarterback controversy that consumed 2012 has a new face in 2013 in rookie quarterback Geno Smith. It remains to be seen who will win the competition, as Sanchez has the early lead but Smith has the bigger potential upside. That said, I am unconvinced that Smith’s game will translate to the NFL. The Jets gambled on a quarterback in a weak quarterback draft, and I suspect will lose this bet in the long run, just as they are losing their gamble on Sanchez. In an offense happy league, the Jets enter the fray with one arm tied behind their collective backs. The wide receiving corps is weak and wounded, with Stephen Hill dealing with a knee injury, and Holmes’ status is unknown for the start of the season. Jeremy Kerley is finally healthy, and could see his numbers increase in 2013. Jeff Cumberland takes over at tight end in place of Keller, but will have a difficult time filling Keller’s shoes when Keller was healthy. Hayden Smith may also see time, but this is not a group that will cause panic in opposing defenses. The linebacker unit will be interesting to watch with Coples moving outside, with David Harris and Demario Davis inside and Pace playing the opposite side. Pace was brought back after being cut, and struggles to apply pressure to the quarterback, resulting in the Jets bringing in Barnes, a pass rush specialist. Harris was one of the worst starting inside linebackers in the league last season, who despite good tackling numbers is a significant liability in pass coverage and who also had a poor year against the run. While the Jets’ defense will likely still be in the top half of the league this season, the linebacker group doesn’t appear to be as solid as it has been in years past. Losing Revis in the secondary doesn’t help matters, especially since Milliner is struggling to even get onto the field. Milliner is a natural talent but was a risky pick for the Jets, who need Antonio Cromartie to step up in a big way this season. Cro may not be able to remember his kids’ names, but he is a solid corner talent, and the drop-off should not be significant. Kyle Wilson started opposite Cro last season and may not be able to hold off Milliner for a starting nod once Milliner is healthy. At safety, the Jets replaced one Landry with another, but overall the safety group has slipped from last year’s one year rentals, both of whom performed admirably.

Outlook
Only the most blindly loyal Jets’ fans will think this team has a chance of competing in 2013. New GM John Idzik tore the team apart to deal with Mike Tannenbaum’s salary cap debacle, but the Jets didn’t go as far as the Raiders did in simply blowing things up in order to start again. That’s why David Harris and Mark Sanchez still have jobs despite spotty performances (to be generous) and big salary cap hits. The Jets’ defensive front will be able to improve its performance against the run, but pass rushing issues have not been resolved, and a weakened secondary means their performance against the pass can be expected to slip. On offense, the quarterback drama promises to undo 2013 before it begins, and a lack of quality receivers who can’t stay healthy won’t help matters. Chris Ivory may be carrying a heavy load this season, but thankfully for the Jets he appears to be up to the task. In the final analysis the Jets got rid of Tim Tebow, but the circus remains firmly planted in town. I subscribe to the view that this is Year One of Idzik’s rebuilding plan, and that Year Two will be sans Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, among others. The Jets will battle the Bills for third place in the AFC East, and can be expected to win anywhere from three to six wins in 2013.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I missed the addition of Kellen Winslow, Jr. I must admit to not being real high on him as a solution at tight end. He is a beast of an athlete, but his attitude has gotten him run out of more than one town. The Jets are not a team I would send a reclamation project to, but he might none the less be helpful. Winslow has not signed yet, but he and Mike Sims-Walker have been trying out for the team.

Apr 272013
 

Half MeasuresThe big talk of the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft is the Jets’ baffling selection of quarterback Geno Smith with the 39th pick. That’s right; a team riddled with needs and saddled with four non-starting quarterbacks bypassed all of their need areas to make a terrible quarterback situation even worse.

It was striking to me that immediately after Smith’s name was called, Jets’ fans in attendance at the draft were shown with their hands on their heads in stunned disbelief, while a Patriots’ fan was seen standing and applauding.

The decision to take Smith leads one to question who is calling the shots in New York. Is it owner Woody Johnson? Rookie general manager John Idzik? Or is it lame duck head coach Rex Ryan? It’s likely that fans will never know until all three write tell-all books blaming one another, but what is certain is that the debacle in New York promises to bring continued failure to Jets’ fans for the foreseeable future.

Jets’ fans stubbornly hold on to the fact that, not all that long ago, Head Coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez led the Jets to two straight AFC Championships. That has fueled the irrational hope in the fan base that the best days were still ahead… that the Jets would regain the glory they had last known with Broadway Joe. Guess again, Jets’ fans.

The cold truth is that those two AFC Championship Games were a fluke, and that the team got there on their defense and in spite of Sanchez, not because of him. As the Jets’ defense began to break down, the pressure built on Sanchez to do more than simply not lose a game, and Sanchez clearly has not been up to the challenge. The bottom fell out last season as Sanchez couldn’t get out of his own way, and the butt-fumble served as the crystallization of not just Sanchez’ 2012 season, but of his entire tenure with the New York Jets.

The half measures began when Woody Johnson ditched Mike Tannenbaum, who created the salary cap hell that the team faced after last season, but held on to Ryan, despite the fact that Ryan had badly mismanaged the Jets for two consecutive seasons. The wiser move would have been to get rid of Ryan as well, and let Idzik work with Johnson to identify a head coach who could help them realize their plan… assuming they had one. Instead, they kept Ryan as a buffer; to have a fall guy when the 2013 season tanks at least as badly as 2012. Enter Idzik, who took on a position that many GM candidates did not want, and Idzik seemed to start out well. He slashed payroll to bring the Jets under the cap and relieve themselves of some over-priced players. He brought in David Garrard as competition for Sanchez, and although Garrard’s best days are behind him, he could at least serve as an interim plan until 2014, when a better crop of quarterback talent is set to hit the draft. The Jets then suffered through a mini-circus with Darrelle Revis, and try as they might to drum up interest in the mercurial corner, only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were interested, netting the additional first round pick this season and a conditional (third round) pick next season. It also seemed odd to me that the Jets stubbornly held on to Tim Tebow, seemingly under the delusion that any NFL team was going to offer anything more than a kicking tee for the personal punt protector. Through all of this the Jets were insisting that Sanchez was their quarterback but that a competition would determine who would play in 2013, when the better move would have been to mirror the approach of the Oakland Raiders; simply cut Sanchez and take the financial hit while planning for a brighter future.

Geno SmithBut that would have been too easy for the Jets. Instead they have stubbornly held on to both Sanchez and Tebow, and then last night threw more gasoline on the fire with the selection of Smith. Is it possible that Smith could be a successful NFL starter? Sure. But is it likely? I’m not thinking so. First, Smith is not NFL-ready. Yes, he has a high percentage rate and few interceptions, but he regressed in his play at West Virginia, and the Mountaineers ran a safe offense that sought to hide Smith’s weaknesses. He locks on to his first read, his ball sails, and he worked almost exclusively from the shotgun. Remember also that the comparable talent level for Smith in West Virginia was better than what he is going to have in New York. This is a kid who needs time to develop with the right mentor, but the current landscape he appears more likely to be starting when the Jets face the Buccaneers on September 8th.

And where is the mentoring of Smith to come from? Marty Mornhinweg?  The Jets’ offensive coordinator came to New York from the Eagles, where they have suffered through a similar drama with Michael Vick and a chorus of backup quarterbacks. Quarterbacks coach David Lee didn’t fare well with Ryan Fitzpatrick, so maybe Smith will have to look towards the other quarterbacks on the roster for some assistance. Sanchez? Probably not a good idea to have arguably the worst starter in the league mentor a guy to take his job, right? Well then, how about Tim Tebow? Yeah, never mind. David Garrrard? He hasn’t played in two years and his best season is seven years into his rear-view mirror. That leaves Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. Once again, the Jets are guilty of taking a player who needs significant development, and they delude themselves into believing that they can maximize his potential. Yet if the best indicator of future performance is past performance, there is zero objective evidence to suggest that the Jets will be successful. On a team loaded with holes, the Jets now have six quarterbacks on their roster, and none of them is a capable NFL starter.

Idzik did make one good move yesterday in trading the Jets’ fourth round pick to the New Orleans Saints to obtain running back Chris Ivory. The Jets’ know that the lack of a running game exposes the teams’ lack of a quarterback, and Ivory is a hard-nosed runner who has done well in limited opportunities with the Saints, rushing for 217 yards and two touchdowns last season. But the Jets still have no receiving corps to speak of, and their offensive line is in need of additional improvement. Throwing another quarterback into the mix is a waste of second round talent that would have been better applied somewhere else on the roster.

While I didn’t particularly like the Milliner pick (a high first round pick on a corner with bad shoulders), the Jets were practical on Day One, grabbing a corner and a defensive tackle. With their second Day Two selection they took a versatile guard, so they are  starting to address their larger needs. But adding Smith to the roster is an unnecessary distraction to trying to do business the right way. It adds to the circus atmosphere that the Jets have created, and squanders a second round draft pick.

Last season I (accurately) predicted that the Jets would collapse, and that both Tannnenbaum and Ryan would be fired (I got that half right). So here is another prediction for Jets’ fans to consider; three years from now, after the Oakland Raiders have completed the task of rebuilding their franchise, they will be on top of the AFC West and will return to being an annual contender. Meanwhile in New York, Ryan will be long gone, Idzik will be out the door, and the Jets will still be at the bottom of the AFC East and in search of their franchise quarterback. And Joe Willie will still want to kiss Suzie.