Jun 122013
 

Doug Marrone8. Buffalo Bills
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
2012 Record: 6-10
2012 Offense: 344 points scored, 21st in points, 19th in yards (25th passing, 6th rushing)
2012 Defense: 435 points allowed, 26th in points, 22nd in yards (10th passing, 31st rushing)

 

Key Additions
Head Coach Doug Marrone, QB Kevin Kolb, DL Alan Branch, LB Jerry Hughes, LB Manny Lawson, QB EJ Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin

Key Losses
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Tavaris Jackson, G Andy Levitre, DB Terrence McGee, DB George Wilson, LB Kelvin Sheppard, DE Shawne Merriman, DE Kyle Moore, LB Nick Barnett, WR Donald Jones, DE Chris Kelsay, WR David Nelson

Why 2013 will be better
To be blunt, it won’t be. Buffalo is entering (yet another) rebuilding year, with the Bills slugging it out with the Jets for the basement of the AFC East. Kolb showed some potential last season in Arizona before getting hurt, but his track record to date is that of an up and down quarterback with nearly as many interceptions (25) as touchdowns (28). EJ Manuel is a project with big potential upside, but he won’t be ready to save a season if Kolb falters or gets hurt again. The strength of the offense is in the running game, where the Bills feature Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, two of the more talented backs in the league. The defensive line is a solid unit with Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alan Branch, and Alex Carrington. The Bills have the potential to shut down opposing running games and apply consistent pressure, but both Anderson and Dareus must step up their games on a consistent basis. Jairus Byrd is a solid safety playing on a franchise tag,and Aaron Williams has converted from corner to safety. The Bills also added two safeties in the draft, giving them plenty of depth in this group.

Why 2013 will be worse
Beyond mediocrity at quarterback, the receiving unit is thin, to put it mildly. After Stevie Johnson (a thousand yard receiver for the past three seasons), the burden immediately falls onto rookies Woods and Goodwin, with only TJ Graham and Brad Smith having any real experience. TE Scott Chandler promises to be a big target for Kolb, but will also likely draw a lot of defensive attention this season if he can successfully return from an ACL injury. The Bills failed to replace guard Andy Levitre in the off-season, and really failed to address the entire offensive line in the draft. Beyond center and right guard the line is in flux, which doesn’t bode well for protecting Kolb for sixteen games, particularly with a quarterback who is known to hold onto the ball too long. On defense, the linebacking corps is an underwhelming group anchored by Hughes and Lawson, and rookie Alonso figures heavily into their plans. The Bills ranked 31st in run defense last season, and they will face challenges anytime a back breaks through the defensive line this season. In the secondary, after second year player Stephon Gilmore, the Bills are decidedly undermanned at corner, with Leodis McKelvin the best among ho-hum options.

Outlook
I was fooled in 2012 into thinking the Bills had solved their defensive woes and would be a playoff contender. Instead, the defense fell apart and the offense was erratic, leading to another lost season in Western New York. I won’t be fooled this season into thinking that the new linebackers will be a huge improvement, or into believing that Kolb is a significant upgrade over Fitzpatrick. More likely the Bills are in the start of a two to three season overhaul, assuming their management has the patience to stick to the plan. And assuming, of course, that there is a plan. This is a Buffalo team that will score 40 points one week and seven the next, with a defense that will consistently give up 21 or more. Three to six wins appears to be this team’s range in 2013.

Jun 112013
 

Arians and Palmer7. Arizona Cardinals
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
2012 Record: 5-11
2012 Offense: 250 points scored, 32st in points, 32nd in yards (28th passing, 32nd rushing)
2012 Defense: 357 points allowed, 17th in points, 12th in yards (5th passing, 28th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, DL Frostee Rucker, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Javier Arenas, CB Jerraud Powers, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Antoine Cason, S Curtis Taylor, DE Matt Shaughnessy, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu, G Earl Watford

Key Losses
S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB Brian Hoyer, QB John Skelton, S Kerry Rhodes, S James Sanders, CB William Gay, LB Quentin Groves, LB Paris Lenon, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet, CB Greg Toler, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, DE Vonnie Holliday, DE Nick Eason, LB Stewart Bradley

Why 2013 will be better
The Cardinals offensive line gave up 58 sacks in 2012… that’s right – 58. It’s hard to imagine the line performing that poorly again. So by default one can expect the offense to fare better than it did last season. Tackle Levi Brown spent last season on IR, so his return is good news for the Cardinals. Jonathan Cooper will start next to him, meaning the left side of the line will be a vast improvement over last season. Center Lyle Sendlein returns, flanked by another rookie in Watford. Only second year player Bobby Massie returns as a starter from all 16 games at right tackle. Carson Palmer will bring stability to the quarterback position and will love throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. That will result in huge fantasy number for the pair; it remains to be seen whether or not it will convert to wins. Despite a solid defensive last core from last year, this group also went through an off-season overhaul, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. If Mendenhall can return from injury (and attitude) to post 1,000 rushing yards, the Cardinals could be looking at an 8 or 9 win season.

Why 2013 will be worse
I’m not sold on Mendenhall as the answer at running back, and I’m really not sold on Carson Palmer. Palmer will put up big numbers for yards and will rack up some touchdowns, but he also has a knack for interceptions and lost fumbles, and has never proven to be a quarterback who can will his team to victory. He may stop the revolving the door and increase the point totals, but he’s not a guy I would stake the franchise on. The key to 2013 will once again be the defense, and as long as Palmer and the offense don’t turn the ball over with the frequency that the Cardinals’ offense did last season, the worst the Cardinals are looking at is another five win season.

Outlook
The Arizona Cardinals started off the 2012 season with four straight victories before collapsing the rest of the way, with an offense that scored 20 or more points only once in the team’s final twelve games. So it was no wonder that the Cardinals cleaned house in the offseason, on the roster as well as on the coaching staff. Palmer is an upgrade, but he’s not the answer, at least not by himself. Mendenhall has to bounce back in a big way for the Cardinals to rack up more wins, and an offensive line with two rookie guards has to find its chemistry early. Bruce Arians proved last season with the Colts that he is a tremendous coach, and it will take no less of an effort than the one he gave last season for the Cardinals to exceed six wins.

Mar 122013
 

Mike WallaceWe will continue updating this article for the next few days until may of the top tier free agents have landed. Some may get their own article, but this spot will keep track of the major comings and goings of players as the free agency period begins.

 

Tuesday, March 12

– Prior to the start of free agency today, the Jets released defensive tackle Sione Po’uha, who had a base salary of $4.9 million for the upcoming season, creating $3.8 million in cap space. No word yet on whether or not he is expected to re-sign at a lower price.

– The Panthers released linebacker James Anderson, whom they had overpaid for last season to the tune of 5 years and $22 million.

– The Chargers released tight end Randy McMichael.

– The Rams released safety Quintin Mikell, and have now parted ways with both starting safeties from last season.

– Word is that Wes Welker is still waiting to hear the Patriots’ first contract offer before free agency begins.  Tom E. Curran suggesting it is hard for the Patriots to know what the market for Welker will look like, but Welker is likely to wait for offers to increase his leverage. The soft market for wide receivers doesn’t help the Patriots. The Colts and Broncos may well rival the Patriots for Welker’s service. The Pats are risking not making the highest offer to Welker, and it might come back to bite them. Perhaps the Patriots are heading in another direction? One thing is for sure… Bill Belichick has ice water in his veins.

Tony Gonzalez looks like he is heading back to the Falcons.

– The Texans have released receiver Kevin Walter.

– The Vikings have re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson for one year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are giving Plaxico Burress another shot (drum roll).

– Safety James Ihedigbo has re-signed with the Ravens, insuring another year of him being able to drop to the ground in pain after every play.

– Linebacker Larry Foote has worked out a deal to stay in Pittsburgh. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has also agreed to restructure his contract.

Santonio Holmes has worked out a deal to restructure his contract and remain with the Jets.

– Cornerback Antoine Winfield has been released by the Vikings.

– Running back Beanie Wells released by the Arizona Cardinals.

– The Rams reach a deal to keep defensive end William Hayes in St. Louis.

– As expected, the Eagles have released cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha from their famous “Dream Team”

– Prediction 14 minutes before free agency begins, though not a stunner. Wes Welker is not returning to New England, and the Patriots don’t appear too concerned about losing him, despite numbers that put him on a path to the Hall of Fame.

– Giants sign cornerback Aaron Ross, who did not have to wait for free agency to begin as a result of being released by the Jaguars and going unclaimed.

– Vikings keep tackle Phil Loadholt just before free agency begins.

And now free agency begins…

Paul Kruger looks like he is headed to Cleveland… major surprise that the Ravens couldn’t get this one done. New word is that he has officially signed.

– The Bengals re-sign defensive end Robert Geathers.

– The Broncos steal away guard Louis Vasquez from the Chargers.

Mike Wallace appears set to make $13 million a year with the Miami Dolphins.

– Tight end Delanie Walker agrees to a deal with the Titans.

– The Bills have cut quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. I guess that prank phone call caused some embarrassment in western New York. Talk about addition by subtraction.

– The Chiefs have agreed to a deal with tight end Anthony Fasano.

– The Alex Smith to Kansas City trade is now official.

– Are the Colts set to steal both Talib and Welker from the Pats? A tweet from the Colts’ bizarre owner seems to go in this direction.

– Former Bills guard Andy Levitre headed to Titans on a six year deal.

– Or is this what Irsay was talking about? The Colts have reached agreement with offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus. Does he really merit that many exclamation points?

– Quarterback Chase Daniel agrees to terms with Chiefs.

– No, this is why Irsay is excited. The Colts have agreed to terms with cornerback Greg Toler. It’s a good move by Grigson.

– The Colts are on a roll. Linebacker Erik Walden has left Green Bay to join the Colts. Good moves by Indy, even if they aren’t sexy.

– Ah, the Colts did steal a Patriot! Guard Donald Thomas is headed to Indy.

– Punter Sav Rocca is staying with the Redskins.

– Elvis Dumervil now appears willing to take pay cut from Broncos; the two sides are apparently negotiating according to Ian Rapoport.

– Another Ravens loss: Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe reaches agreement in principle with Miami Dolphins.

– Colts make it five Day One signings as they pen linebacker Lawrence Sidbury from the Falcons. Busy day for the Colts.

Taking a dinner break now… will be back later.

Back from a long dinner break, and lots more has happened…

– Safety Darius Butler will be remaining with the Colts.

Martellus Bennett has landed with the Bears, with the tight end signing a four year deal.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Chris Canty to a three year deal.

– The Vikings re-signed fullback Jerome Felton to a three year deal.

– The Dolphins dumped linebacker Karlos Dansby, who started all 16 games last season playing with a torn biceps muscle and racking up 134 tackles. Ouch. They added linebacker Phillip Wheeler and re-signed safety Chris Clemons.

– The Rams are poised to sign the coveted tight end Jared Cook, formerly of the Titans.

– The Eagles get into action by signing former Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung (good riddance) and former Panthers’ linebacker Jason Phillips, as well as tight end James Casey from Houston.

– The Eagles keep it coming with former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoga and former Rams’ cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

– The Raiders released receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and safety Michael Huff.

– The Chiefs have stolen away a Jets’ favorite by signing defensive tackle Mike DeVito.

– Apparently Warren Sapp doesn’t think much of covering Bill Belichick on the NFL Network. Or maybe he just doesn’t think.

– The Browns get another one with the signing of defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.

The pace is slowing down a little at 8:30 pm Central, but there may still be a few transactions before the end of the night. In the meantime, the free agents that we are waiting to see what transpires with on this thread include (in no particular order):

Cliff Avril (Det / SEA)
Wes Welker (NE / DEN)
Jake Long (Mia)
Greg Jennings (GB / MIN)
Aqib Talib (NE)
Dashon Goldson (SF / TB)
Osi Umemyiora (NYG)
Steven Jackson (StL / ATL)
Ed Reed (Bal)
Danny Amendola (StL / NE)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Phi / DEN)
Sebastian Vollmer (NE)
Connor Barwin (Hou / PHI)
Adrian Wilson (ARI / NE)
Andre Smith (Cin)
Cary Williams (Bal / PHI)
Brian Urlacher (Chi)
Dustin Keller (NYJ / MIA)
John Abraham (ATL / NE)

– Last one for tonight – offensive tackle Sam Baker is staying with the Falcons, signing a six year deal. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 13

A few early tidbits before the action begins again in earnest.

Wes Welker and the Patriots are described as very far apart on terms, with the Patriots maintaining an offer on the table. It will be interesting to see how this develops between now and the weekend.

– The Redskins signed defensive tackle Kedric Golston to a new three-year contract on Tuesday.

Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma are taking big pay cuts to stay in New Orleans.

– The Chargers signed former Eagles tackle King Dunlap to a two year deal.

– The Browns signed free agent linebacker Quentin Groves, who played in Arizona last season.

– The Jets housecleaning is in full swing. And even with Revis likely on his way out of town, it didn’t stop the the Jets from restructuring the contract of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Baby Mamas should beware.

More to come as the day develops!

– The Ravens have just released safety Bernard Pollard. Is he worth a look in Foxboro?

Mike Giardi is tweeting that Wes Welker drew some attention, and those offers have impacted negotiations with the Pats. Expect the Patriots to move on and find a new slot receiver.

– The Lions have re-signed cornerback Chris Houston.

– The Broncos have guaranteed the salary of Peyton Manning for the next two seasons.

– Linebacker Manny Lawson has signed a multi-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.

– Some very interesting chatter about where Wes Welker may be going. Due to the source I won’t share where, but this is going to be a very interesting thing to watch. Plus I am going to lay $5 on my info.  I know, I know… big spender. :-)

– The Steelers have signed quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to a three-year deal.

– The Jaguars have waived wide receiver Laurent Robinson one year after signing the former Cowboy to a huge deal.

Wes Welker’s agent has described the Patriots’ offer to the wide receiver as “laughably low.” Sounds like all sides are ready to move on.

– The Giants have signed kicker Josh Brown.

– Former Colts’ receiver Donnie Avery is joining the Kansas City Chiefs.

– The Ravens have re-signed offensive guard Ramon Harewood.

Reggie Bush is the new lead back for the Detroit Lions.

– Word is that the Patriots offered 4 year, $32 million to Wes Welker and the Welker camp is unhappy. Suitors may be down to the Broncos and Pats, though I am hearing there are two dark horses, at least one of which has made a better offer than New England.

– The Arizona Cardinals agree on a one-year deal with former Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall.

– A big one is off the market; the Rams have signed offensive tackle Jake Long to a contract. Update: Correction; an offer has yet to be made or accepted (as of 1:56 pm Central).

– It looks like the Broncos are working hard to get a deal with Wes Welker done today. I’m going to lose my five bucks.

– The Detroit Lions have added safety Glover Quin, formerly of the Texans; this is a big upgrade in their secondary.

– The Buccaneers have signed former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson to a five year deal.

– The Jaguars signed former Bears free agent linebacker Geno Hayes to a one-year deal.

– The Wes Welker to Denver deal is looking close to done.

– The 49ers have agreed to a contract with former Chiefs defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

– The Titans have reached agreement on a three-year, $10 million deal with former Jets’ running back Shonn Greene.

– According to WEEI, Wes Welker’s camp has brought the Broncos’ offer back to the Patriots to give New England a chance to match. My guess is no, but this shows where Wes’ heart really is.

– The Broncos announce one-year deal with linebacker Stewart Bradley.

– Running back Lex Hilliard has signed a one year deal to stay with the Jets.

– Cornerback Drayton Florence has agreed to a one year deal with the Panthers. It looks like the corners are now going to start to go.

– Defensive tackle Samie Lee Hill has reached agreement on a three-year, $11.4 million deal with the Titans.

Wes Welker has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos. Clearly, the Patriots declined the offer to match. It is only a two year deal, so it must be coming down to guaranteed money. Waiting for the details.

– Details on Wes Welker… it is “only” two years, $12 million. Must be fully guaranteed, and it must be that the Patriots set a value for the position and would not exceed it.  Sounds like the Patriots had already determined that Welker was no longer “Plan A.” Patriots have yet to make major moves, but it’s in the air. The next couple of days should show us the Pats’ off-season approach.

According to Greg Bedard, Patriots initial offer to Wes Welker was two years and $10 million with incentives. Albert Breer accurately notes that the Pats likely see Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker as redundant, and Hernandez is much younger and at least as difficult to cover. This deal underscores how much the Miami Dolphins, who have agreed to shell out $30.55 million over five years for Brian Hartline, overpaid for a number two receiver.

– Quarterback Drew Stanton signed a three year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s hoping they don’t trade for Tim Tebow.

– The Broncos have signed former Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

OK… time for another dinner break… and to make sure I move the Wes Welker to the back of my closet.

– The Oakland Raiders signed linebacker  Kaluka Maiava and defensive tackle and defensive end Pat Sims, as well as defensive end Jason Hunter.

– The Arizona Cardinals signed cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell.

– The Seattle Seahawks have landed defensive lineman Cliff Avril, who provides an instant upgrade to the Seahawks’ pass rush.

– Not waiting long to respond to Wes Welker’s deal with Denver, the Patriots have signed wide receiver Danny Amendola to a five year, $31 million deal,, with $10 million guaranteed.

– The Titans signed linebacker Moise Fokou, formerly with the Colts.

– The Broncos complete a successful day by reeling in cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one year deal.

– The Colts have signed former Jets free agent safety LaRon Landry

That’s all for tonight…. more to come on Thursday!

Thursday, March 14

I’m expecting today to be a little bit slower as the agents and teams take a breath and assess where they are, and as remaining players line up visits with teams.

– Former Seahawks’ running back and return man Leon Washington will visit the patriots, who just lost their punt returner yesterday (what was his name again?). Washington has also been connected to talks with the Bucs.

– Cornerback Derek Cox has signed a four year, $20 million deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Running back Chris Ogbonnaya will be staying in Cleveland, agreeing to a two year deal.

Greg Jennings will be visiting the Minnesota Vikings, who seem to be the front runners (along with Green Bay) to land the veteran wide receiver.

– A mystery suitor for Wes Welker has been revealed by Adam Schefter.. the Tennessee Titans. I rather suspect we will learn of one or two more teams in the coming days.

Great article from Mike Reiss details that Wes Welker went back to the Patriots with the Broncos’ offer, only to be later informed that the Patriots had already made a commitment to another player (Danny Amendola).

– The Chiefs have released Matt Cassel. Is a homecoming a possibility in Foxboro?

– The J-E-T-S are trying to build leverage by suggesting that they are not actively trying to trade Darrelle Revis.

– The Panthers are keeping quarterback Derek Anderson for another year.

– Cornerback Sean Smith has found a new home in Kansas City, agreeing to a three year deal.

– It turns out that the Patriots signed Danny Amendola on Tuesday, a full day before the Wes Welker drama took place. Anyone else think the team hadn’t already decided to move on?

– The Redskins and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood have reached a deal.

Kevin Kolb is about to be released by the Cardinals, and his next destination appears to be the starting quarterback of the J-E-T-S.

Ricky Jean Francois has agreed to a four-year, $22 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

– The Vikings have landed quarterback Matt Cassel, who was just released from the Chiefs.

– The Eagles have added cornerback Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips .

– Cornerback Keenan Lewis has agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints on a five year deal.

– The Falcons have landed running back Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner in Atlanta.

– Linebacker Connor Barwin leaves Houston for Philadelphia and a six year deal.

– The Patriots have landed kick returner and running back Leon Washington.

– The Buccaneers have signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.

 Friday, March 15

We’ll wrap this thread up with a recap of last night’s signings and some look at today.

– The Jets are close to signing running back Mike Goodson. UPDATE: Goodson has signed.

– Defensive end Michael Bennett has agreed to a one year, $5 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers may be an early favorite for the Super Bowl, but right now they appear to have serious competition to win the NFC West.

– Former Vikings’ linebacker Jasper Brinkley has agreed to a two year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

– John Elway says that defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s salary is “out of whack.” From a business perspective Elway is right, but does anyone seeing a change of location coming for the pass rushing star?

– The Jaguars re-signed cornerback Antwaun Molden to a one-year veteran minimum deal.

– The Rams have re-signed defensive end William Hayes and defensive tackle Jeremelle Cudjo.

– The Bears re-signed defensive tackle Nate Collins to a one-year contract.

– Former Bears’ linebacker Nick Roach has joined the Oakland Raiders.

– Adam Schefter is expecting cornerback Aqib Talib to return to the Patriots, as the cornerback market is not drawing the same dollars it was just a year ago.

We’ll keep updating the list presented at the end of Day One, but we will only be posting updates for bigger news the rest of the way out.

– OK, this is worth an update. According to PFT, the 49ers are in “serious discussions” with cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson.

– The Patriots have signed former Bills’ wide receiver Donald Jones.

– Tight end Dustin Keller has joined the Miami Dolphins, who appear to be cementing second place in the AFC East.

Kevin Kolb is being released in Arizona. Is New York next?

– Cornerback Kyle Arrington has re-signed with the Patriots and a four year deal.

– Running back Danny Woodhead has signed to two year deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Offensive Lineman Willie Colon has joined the Jets.

– Safety Louis Delmas has signed back on with the Detroit Lions.

– Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy has a one-year deal in Arizona.

– Huge drama surrounding Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil agreed to a salary reduction but the paperwork did not get filed on time by his agent. The Broncos were seven minutes late filing, and Dumervil has been officially released. The release, along with Welker’s new deal, has just created a cap problem in Denver. The Broncos can likely still work out a deal, but they now have a huge financial mess on their hands. UPDATE: The release creates $4.87M in dead money for this season, meaning Denver will be hard pressed to bring Dumervil back. Question: Why are teams in a multi-billion dollar industry still relying on fax machines?

– While fax machines are being flung out windows in Denver, defensive end John Abraham officially becomes a member of the New England Patriots.

– Eagles announce they acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a former 2nd-rd pick, and 7th-rounder from Tampa Bay for a 2013 6th-rounder and 2014 conditional pick.

– Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

– Running back Justin Forsett has agreed to terms with the Jaguars.

– Big news breaking that the Patriots have signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, which is undoubtedly front-loaded with case. The cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers now have a chance to match the offer. It’s been a big day for the Patriots.

– The Cardinals agree to terms with cornerback Antoine Cason on a one year deal.

– Safety Adrian Wilson has signed a three year deal with the New England Patriots. Right now Bill Belichickk is looking like a salary cap genius.

– Big news in Minnesota… the Vikings have signed wide receiver Greg Jennings away from Green Bay.

– The Jets signed defensive tackle Antonio Garay to a one year deal. That’s two good moves in the same day, Jets’ fans.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Marcus Spears to a two year deal.

Saturday, March 16

– Per Adam Schefter, the Patriots have not signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet… yet. They are mulling over the possibility. That may be a cap issue, or it may be an issue of whether or not they believe they can fit Sanders in with Lloyd, Amendola, Jones, Gronk, Hernandez, and Balllard. The Pats have also been quiet on the re-negotiations with Lloyd, so that may be part of the calculus.

– Hearing that something is likely forthcoming on cornerback Aqib Talib’s return to the Patriots. All is still quiet on the Sebastian Vollmer front.

Jan 052013
 

not-the-droidsI’m sorry to rain on the parade of Kansas City Chiefs’ fans who think that the hiring of Andy Reid means that the team is about to experience a significant turnaround. The more likely outcome is more of the same in Western Missouri.

It’s not to say that Andy Reid isn’t a successful head coach. His resume with the Eagles is impressive… a 130-93-1 regular reason record in 14 seasons in Philadelphia, along with seven division championships, four appearances in the NFC Championship, and one appearance in the Super Bow, where the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots. If we were buying a new car and looking at the 54-year old Reid’s resume as a spec sheet, this would seem like a pretty flashy vehicle.

The trouble is that in the NFL there is no equivalent of a test drive; it’s buy or pass. And only after driving off the lot will Chiefs’ fans likely discover that the engine isn’t as powerful as hoped for, the tires leak, and the odometer has been set back so that the 100,005 miles on the vehicle now reads 000,005. This is not an experiment that is going to turn out well.

Without trying to “hate” on Reid, there were plenty of warning signs that should have made Clark Hunt pause before hiring his new head coach. His history with the Eagles’ carries a great deal of success, but also held warning signs that seem to have been ignored. Let’s start with Reid’s inconceivable decision to move offensive line coach Juan Castillo into the role of defensive coordinator in 2011, a move that improved neither the defense nor the offense. Reid then maintained Castillo in that role for 2012 despite the obvious evidence of a failed experiment the year before. Reid finally let Castillo go in October, but the damage had already been done for the 2012 season. There was also the matter of not reigning in defensive line coach Jim Washburn, whose stubbornly adhered to a defensive scheme that did not match the strengths of his players while also sowing seeds of discontent. Washburn was eventually fired as well, but the damage had already been done.

Then there is the matter of Reid’s actual coaching skills. Former Eagles’ linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who played for Reid for seven seasons, was openly critical of Reid’s coaching skills this week. “If it come down to both teams were even, talent-wise,” Trotter stated. “I think the opponent’s team would win if it came down to coaching, Andy Reid got outcoached in a lot of games man, a lot of big games.”

Proof of Trotter’s complaint? Eagles’ fans know full well that there were countless occasions where Reid mismanaged the game clock, wasted time outs, and struggled with miscommunication on the sidelines.  Philly fans have also watched as talented running backs like Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and more recently LeSean McCoy went under-utilized because Reid was too much in love with a gimmicky passing game. As they sometimes say in Philly, Reid loved to throw in order to set up the pass. And of course there was the poor offensive play calling in the 2004 Super Bowl, made worse by the slow march drive that squandered the Eagles’ chance to pull off the upset win. Reid is a brilliant football thinker, but he is also a slow football thinker.

Finally, Reid has final say over personnel in Kansas City. Yet his track record does not suggest that giving him this type of authority will serve the franchise well. Reid managed to turn a quarterback duo of Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb into Michael Vick. The team gave up on Kolb far too soon simply because Reid was in love with a player who has missed 17 games in four seasons due to injury, often related to Vick’s reckless playing style. But even when Vick was on the filed, the results were far from spectacular. His touchdown to interception ration of 52 to 30 while with the Eagles was offset by his 13 lost fumbles as a quarterback and another 6 lost fumbles as a runner. While I understand the chance that Reid wanted to take on giving Vick a second chance, particularly in the wake of his own problems with his sons, but was this a player really worthy of a $100 million commitment? Reid then pieced together the infamous “Dream Team” of 2011, but was unable to successfully manage personalities, or instill the discipline needed for the team (particularly the defense) to success as a unit. His 12-20 record over the last two seasons is an accurate depiction of the situation that he himself has created in Philadelphia. In 2012 Reid failed to address depth problems on the offensive line, then continued relying on the passing game with the porous line, adding to Vick’s injury woes. Only when Nick Foles took over did the team begin running the ball more consistently and utilizing screen passes to open up the passing game.

Some might be tempted to argue that Andy Reid is simply tired out in Philadelphia, and needs a change of venue, a new project to work on. And that’s where Kansas City looks like the answer. They have a talented roster that includes five Pro Bowlers in 2012, including Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles, Dustin Colquitt, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson. All the team needs it seems to get them closer to the playoffs is a quarterback, and Reid has had success with McNabb and Jeff Garcia, had brief success with AJ Feeley and Kevin Kolb, and rescued Michael Vick’s career from the (ahem) doghouse. So, just looking at the spec sheet again, Reid looks like a reasonable answer, offering respite from the frustrating failure of Scott Pioli’s reign in the City of Fountains. Reid’s history suggests that the Chiefs will experience some success, and the talent is in place to do so. With the addition (or improvement) of a quarterback, the pieces are in place for the Chiefs to contend for a playoff spot in the nest two to three seasons. But just as I always said that Andy Reid would never win the Super Bowl coaching the Eagles, I am equally confident in saying that Reid will also never win the Lombardi Trophy as the coach of the Chiefs. While it might be enough for fans of long-suffering franchises such as the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals and others to simply make the playoffs, winning the Super Bowl is the true measure of success in the NFL.

What Chiefs’ fans are about to discover is what Eagles’ fans already know; having a team with potential doesn’t ease the pain when that potential goes unfulfilled.

Sep 162012
 

What Gronk giveth, Gronk taketh away.

Rob Gronskowski helped Tom Brady lead a feverish comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, overcoming multiple drops on the day, but then two late penalties against Gronk cost first a touchdown and then five yards on a missed field goal attempt that ultimately doomed the Patriots in a stunning 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in the home opener at Gillette Stadium.

Here is the game recap:

FIRST QUARTER

The Cardinals came out with a good game plan, trying to take whatever the Patriots defense would be willing to give. The Cardinals used a solid rcompleted tack, complemented by a Peterson wildcat and opportunistic passing to advance to the Patriots 20 yard line before being forced to settle for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. On the first play of the ensuing New England possession, the Cardinals were able to turn a pass deflection  into an interception to takeover the at Patriots 36. But the Pats’ defense stiffened forced the Cardinals into another field goal and a 6-0 lead.

The Patriots came out with a mix of running and passing in their first drive, assisted by a key third down offsides by the Cardinals on their way to a 46 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, closing the gap to 6-3.  However, the drive resulted in the Los of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was assisted off of the field with what appeared to be a painful ankle injury.

The Cardinals were then forced into a three and out, with a key third down stop by Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots then closed the first quarter with two Stevan Ridley runs netting 21 yards.

SECOND QUARTER

The Patriots opened the quarter with two straight incomplete passes, forcing a Mesko punt. Chandler Jones began asserting himself on the next Cardinals drive,stuffing one run for a loss and drawing a holding call while relentlessly pursuing Kevin Kolb. The Patriots got a good punt return from Julian Edelman to start the next drive on the Cardinals side of the 50. Ridley began the next drive with four hard runs to bring the ball to the 16, before the drive stalled and the Patriots were forced into a field goal to tie the game at 6. The officials blew an obvious offsides call on the field goal that would have extended a drive with an automatic first down, annoying the faithful at The Razor. The Cardinals were executing a solid drive until the Patriots forced a turnover near The Patriots 40. Two big Patriots losses led to a safe third down draw and another Patriots’ punt.

Brandon Spikes opened the next possession with a sack, and Hightower added a key stop on third down. The Patriots started their next drive at their own 10 and went into safe mode, but a big connection to Welker after the two minute warning ignited some offensive movement.  After a near miss in the end zone to Gronk, the Pats stalled near midfield to end the half.

THIRD QUARTER

The Pats opened with a huge pass play to Welker for 36 yards. But the drive stalled at the 32 and the Patriots were forced to settle for a third field goal and a 9-6 lead.  The Patriots forced a punt on the next possession, with Dont’a Hightower making his presence felt. The Pat riots then suffered a three and out deep in their own territory, before the Cardinals blocked the punt and recovered at the Patriots’ 2 yard linE and turned a third down into a Cardinals touchdown and a 13-9 lead.

The Patriots went to the air attack on the next series, passing three times before Ridley hammered out a first down run. Then they went back to the air to Lloyd, before Ridley again moved the chains. Hilliard churned out the next first down before the Patriots again we shut down by the tenacious Cardinal defense forced a Patriot punt. The next drive by the Cardinals was a methodical march down the field, aided by a personal foul by safety Steve Gregory.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Cardinals’ drive was capped by a 6 yard quarterback draw by Kevin Kolb for a touchdown and a 20-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. With no choice left, the Pats went back to the air and in two quick strikes were in Cardinals’ territory. An acrobatic catch by Brand on Lloyd netted another nine yards, but a bad play call on third down forced another Patriots’ punt. Frankly, I found Belichick’s decision not to go for it on fourth down to be a questionable call given the ability of the Cardinals offense to execute all day.  Predictably, the Cardinals used the running of Beanie Wells to mete out a first down, killing time off the clock, before the Patriots stiffened on the next set of downs.

Julian Edelman started off the next series bringing the ball across midfield and then Brandon Lloyd made a catch for another first down. But poor play-calling on a second down run and a nice pass defense on third down led to another  Gostkowski field goal and a 20-12 deficit.

The Cardinals’ next drive was stuffed by the Patriots defense, after a review of a third down non-catch by Larry Fitzgerald. The Pats took over at the 35, and the ensuing drive was vintage Brady, as he carved the Cardinals’ defense before connecting with Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown. The Patriots were unable to convert the two point try, and the Cardinals’ lead was cut to 20-18.

The Cardinals ran the ball for almost five yards to bring the clock to 2:00, and then Ryan Williams slashed through the middle for a first down, essentially ending the game… or so it should have. On the ensuing third down play, the Cards inexplicably handed the ball off to Ryan Williams, who lost it on a hit by Brandon Spikes, and the ball was recovered by Vince Wilfork. The Patriots then seemingly won the game on a touch won run by Danny Woodhead, but the play was called back on a questionable holding call on Rob Gronkowski. While Gronk did turn the player and thus draw the flag, the call was likely one that would have gone as a no-call with regular officials (or dare I say, real ones). The Patriots then moved into easy field goal range but lost five yards on a false start penalty, again on Gronk. Still, the Pats were set up for a 42 yard field goal by Gosttkowski, which he promptly pulled left to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.

FINAL SCORE: CARDINALS 20 PATRIOTS 18

Post- Game Analysis:

The Cardinals wanted tis game more than the Patriots, and executed their game plan almost flawlessly. They were able to effectively move the chains on offense, and defensively took the Patriots out of their own game plan. Aaron Hernandez’ injury seemed to have the affect of knocking the Patriots off kilter. Wes Welker picked up the slack for Hernandez, solitude Cardinals’ defense repeatedly punched the Patriots in the mouth all afternoon, and the Patriots had few answers until the closing minutes, and then a failure to execute routine plays cost them the chance at their comeback win.

Patriots’ fans can take heart in knowing that the last time the team lost a home opener was in 2001, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl which, coincidentally, was in New Orleans.

When the Patriots Ran:

Stevan Ridley ran for 71 yards and Danny Woodhead ran for another 18, but the Patriots were unable to run at key times, or chose to run at times where a pass play was the better call. Despite the productive play, disruption caused by the Cardinals gives the cards the edge. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady threw for 316 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Welker, Gronkowski, Lloyd and Edelman all had big receiving days in the absence of Aaron Hernandez. If anything, the Patriots didn’t pass enough today given the tempo of the day and the grittiness of the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals were able to apply consistent pressure on Brady, sacking him four times. Advantage: Patriots

When the Cardinals ran:

The cards used a balanced rushing attack, with five runners posting double digits in yards and outgaining the Patriots 105-86. It’s wasn’t an outstanding attack, but it was a consistent one. The error by Williams (really a play call error) nearly cost the Cards the game. That play had to be one of the worst play calls I have seen in recent years, as the Cards should have taken a knee to insure a punt and a long field for the Patriots. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Cardinals passed:

Kevin Kolb only threw for 140 yards with one touchdown and no interception, but it was his headiness that won the day for the Cards. Kolb made good decisions, took what the defense would give, and knew when to take a loss.  Todd heap caught five passes before leaving with an injury. Still, the Patriots once again kept their opponents from any long gains, holding the longest reception to 36 yards. The Patriots shut down Larry Fitzgerald (1 catch for 4 yards) but Kolb took advantage of his other options. Advantage: Even

Special Teams:

The Ghost made four field goals and two from beyond 50 yards, but missed a makable 42 yarder that would have won the game. The Patriots were able to contain the Cardinals’ return game, and Julian Edelman was the more effective returner today. Still, we will remember the last play as the key in the Patriots’ loss. The punt block was a key play, setting up the Cardinals on the Patriots’ two yard line, which the Cards punched in for a score. Advantage: Cardinals

Key Moment: Holding call on Rob Gronkowski that cost the Patriots a 30 yard touchdown by Danny Woordhead. While it was a questionable call, any holding was unnecessary on the play, as Gronk had effectively shielded his man on the play.

This week’s game ball goes to Calais Campbell, who registered seven tackles and two sacks

Sep 132012
 

As much as I enjoyed live blogging last week’s contest, I am not so sure it is in “cards” (pardon the pun) this week. We are having a house warming/wedding celebration this weekend out at the house on Saturday, and I have a feeling that having three hours dedicated to writing while we are picking up debris from the party and managing five kids is going to prove unrealistic (Rat’s Widow is quietly nodding in agreement somewhere as I write this!).

So on the very likely chance that I won’t be able to live blog this week, here’s a quick look at the upcoming contest between the Patriots and the Cardinals.

Three keys for the Patriots

1. Good Health. The Patriots are coming into Week Two in good health, as all players participated in practice on Thursday. The most significant health note is the return of right guard Dan Connolly, who suffered a head injury against the Titans, and while concussion tests were negative he was held out until today.

2. Neutralizing Larry Fitzgerald. Like they say on ESPN, you can’t really stop Larry Fitzgerald; you can only hope to contain him. The Patriots’ secondary will be tested this week, but looks to be vastly improved over 2011. Of course, a good pass rush is a secondary’s best friend, and the Patriots appear to be greatly improved here as well. The front seven suffocated the Titans last week, and this week faces off against an offensive line that has been besieged by injuries. Look for the Patriots to pressure Kolb and give him little time to find Fitzgerald.

3. Maintaining the run/pass balance on offense. Every game plan is different for the Patriots, but last week was rare in that there were more designed run plays than pass plays called by the offense, and the Titans never seemed to know what to expect from the potent Patriots’ attack. The Patriots will likely rely heavily on their dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but another effective performance by Stevan Ridley would give the Patriots enough of an edge to once again break 30 points, this time against a much more stout defense than what they faced last week.

Three keys for the Cardinals

1. Pressuring Brady. This is true for all Patriots’ opponents, but the Cardinals have a solid defense and the Patriots’ offensive line is still coming together. Consistent pressure on Brady is a primary key in the Cardinals pulling off an upset. The Cardinals safeties may be able to give Gronk and Hernandez problems if the defensive line is able to apply pressure, but given any time to throw the tight ends will be able to pick apart the Cardinals’ secondary.

2. Protect Kevin Kolb. The opposite of #1 is also true; the Cardinals must keep Kevin Kolb on his feet and keep his passing lanes open if he is to move the Cardinals down the field with any effectiveness. Like the Patriots, the Cardinals offensive line is a work in progress, and will have its hands full with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Kyle Love, Jermaine Cunningham, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower. The Cardinals are unlikely to be able to sustain long scoring drives against the Patriots and will need big strikes down the field.

3. Capitalize on Special Teams. Patrick Peterson is an explosive return man who is capable of providing the big plays that the Cardinals will need to get good starting field position. Mesko is an excellent punter, so this battle will be an interesting one to watch.

Tidbits:
* The Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 regular season games. This is surpassed only by the Patriots, who are 9-1.

* Tom Brady has won all 10 of his home openers as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots.

* Interestingly, the last time the Patriots and Cardinals met, the Patriots won 47-7. That was also the year the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have not beaten the Patriots since 1991.

PREDICTION: The Patriots might be facing a “trap game” here with a Week Three road matchup on tap in Baltimore, but I’m not buying it. The Patriots are hungry and seem to be intent on proving that they have an improved team over a year ago. I anticipate that the Patriots will blanket Fitzgerald and force Kolb to beat them elsewhere while bringing major pressure to bear through the front seven. On offense, I expect both Gronk and Hernandez to have productive days, and expect to see Ridley rush for at least 80 yards. Look for Welker and Lloyd to be targeted as well in a game that will be close in the first half, but that the Patriots will dominate in the second half. PATRIOTS 31 CARDINALS 14

Sep 092012
 

Week One provided its share of predictable outcomes and upsets, and it also proved that the NFL is in dire need of bringing back the locked out officials. While Wednesday night was a great night for the replacement officials (presumably because the NFL grabbed the ‘best’ of the replacements, the rest of the first week was not as kind. Particularly disastrous was the San Francisco at Green Bay game, where both teams had cause to be upset with poor officiating. otherwise, Sunday saw some strange officiating misfires, including several in the Sunday night showcase in Denver. Anyone (including the Commissioner and league owners) who says the officiating is just as good (or even close) was watching this weekend’s slate of games with their eyes closed.

Here’s your re-cap of the Week One games:

Still to Come:

San Diego-Oakland

 

Aug 242012
 

Can you feel it? It’s getting closer. The start of the 2012 NFL season is a mere twelve days away (as of 8/24) and the pre-season results keep rolling in. Some teams are looking a little more ready for the regular season than others, but it’s all speculation until the Cowboys kick off against the Giants on September 5th.

Here is a re-cap of the games this week:

Aug 102012
 

Welcome, patient readers! As I’m sure you’re painfully aware, it’s been two long months since the first installment of this series (The Snowball Report: 2012 AFC). As they say, “Poop happens.” Also, “It’s better to sue than jockey.”

Yeah, don’t ask me. Ask this guy.

Anyway, in case you’ve forgotten, the point here is to identify that one team from each division which shouldn’t bother coming out of the tunnel in 2012, because they haven’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell of making the post-season. Frankly, the AFC edition of this was much easier than the NFC — there’s only one division on this side of the aisle where the choice is obvious. I’m speaking, naturally, of the…

NFC West

2011 Results: 49ers (13-3); Cardinals (8-8); Seahawks (7-9); Rams (2-14)

2012 Offseason Grades[1]: 49ers (A-); Cardinals (C-); Seahawks (B-); Rams (A-)

Do we really need to spend a lot of time, here? In certain corners of the internet, the 49ers are the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Seahawks, while not locks for a playoff berth, can enter the 2012 season with high hopes — assuming the Seahawks resolve their QB situation quickly, and Kevin Kolb gets over his little snit. (Aww… your team thought about going after Peyton Manning? Who didn’t? Get over yourself.)

So, that leaves the poor Rams. Seriously… in 2002, coming off two Super Bowls in the previous three years, a wunderkind under center, and an offensive genius stalking the sidelines, who woulda thunk St. Louis would have a grand total of one playoff win in the next 10 years? It’s sad, really.

There is hope for the future. Jeff Fisher is awesome (as part of the ’85 Bears, he couldn’t be otherwise) and there’s still reason to think Sam Bradford could soon be among the top ten (twenty?) in the league. Nevertheless, don’t talk to me about playoffs. The NFC West Snowball is the St. Louis Rams.

NFC South

2011 Results: Saints (13-3); Falcons (10-6); Panthers (6-10); Buccaneers (4-12)

2012 Offseason Grades: Saints (D-); Falcons (C+); Panthers (B); Buccaneeers (A)

For me, the story in this division is clear: can the Falcons get over the hump and knock the Saints off the top? Smart money says not yet, but it will be interesting to watch.

I’m thinking neither Carolina nor Tampa have much to look forward to this year — to get a wild card berth, they’ll have to get past either the Falcons or Saints AND hope every other contending team in the NFC slips on the soap while showering. Ain’t gonna happen. But there can be only one snowball…

The Bucs have a young team, with a leaner, meaner Josh Freeman under center and a new head coach. It’s a volatile situation, which means the upside could be huge (unlikely as that may be). On the other hand, USA Today’s summary of the Panthers’ offseason begins with the words, “If the doctors and trainers come through…” Not exactly a vote of confidence. The NFC South Snowball is the Carolina Panthers.

NFC East

2011 Results: Giants (9-7); Eagles (8-8); Cowboys (8-8); Redskins (5-11)

2012 Offseason Grades: Giants (A); Eagles (B+); Cowboys (A-); Redskins (B)

Let’s see. Giants win the Super Bowl, then spend the next six months getting better. The Eagles have shored up their defense. The Redskins bet the farm on RG3 (man, I’m already sick of THAT acronym) while picking up a number of better-than-average free agents.

That leaves the Cowboys. “America’s Team”. Jerry Jones’ plaything. The raison d’etre for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Whatever.

Fact is, they’re the NFC version of the Raiders. Flashy owner who loves to play head coach/GM (someone buy the man a copy of Madden ’13 already) and loads of grade-B talent, yet never able to really gel and make the dynamite go boom. In my opinion, they’d be better off promoting Kyle Orton to starter right now — it’s gonna happen by week 6 anyway. I don’t see them making the playoffs. On the other hand, there are others with more obstacles to overcome. The NFC East Snowball is the Washington Redskins.

NFC North

2011 Results: Packers (15-1); Lions (10-6); Bears (8-8); Vikings (3-13)

2012 Offseason Grades: Packers (B+); Lions (B-); Bears (B); Vikings (B)

And so we come to the hardest pick of all.

I can create a realistic scenario in which any of these teams (except maybe the Vikings) could win the division. And the Vikings, despite their poor 2011 record, are worthy of wild card consideration. Christian Ponder showed flashes of, if not brilliance, then at least competence, and the addition of Jerome Simpson should help considerably.

There’s really no reason to talk about the Packers (ever), and the Lions are no fluke. But it’s the Bears who give me the most excitement coming into 2012. They were in pretty good position in late November; 7-3 and tied for second in the division with three consecutive games looming against the weak AFC West. Unfortunately, Cutler’s injury on an interception return in the win against the Chargers (along with loss of Matt Forte) spelled doom. Assuming Cutler is back to pre-injury form, and there’s no reason to think he’s not, the addition of Brandon Marshall means the Pack and Lions should be looking over their shoulders all season.

Thus, by default (although I’m not as confident in this as I am with some others), the NFC North Snowball is the Minnesota Vikings.


[1] As before, I’m using grades assigned by USA Today. Because reasons.

May 222012
 

 

Arizona Cardinals

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

Projected Starting Quarterback: Kevin Kolb

2011 Record:  8 wins, 8 losses (2nd in NFC West)

No postseason appearance

19th in Total Offense, 18th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 65 wins, 95 losses (T-25th in NFL)

4 wins, 2 losses in postseason

0-1 in Super Bowl appearances

0-1 All-time in Super Bowl