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.

Jan 032013
 

JestNo, that’s not a typo. Based on the accompanying picture for this article from NFL Game Day, it seems that even the NFL Network understands how dysfunctional the circus from New Jersey really is. Not only did the Jets post a 6-10 record and officially cross the threshold into being a bad team, they can’t even manage to get the post-season right.

Here’s how it went down; the Jets had just finished their worst season since 2007 (that’s right… we don’t have to look far) and Woody Johnson made the decision to fire General Manager Mike Tannenbaum. It was a good decision to be sure, but only one third of the house cleaning needed to demonstrate a real commitment to change, as the Jets carry a talented but seriously overrated head coach and a “Sanchize” quarterback who is the worst starting quarterback in the league. But the Jets had financially committed to Mark Sanchez (after his Tebow-incited meltdown) and were poised to have a news conference in which they publicly committed to Rex Ryan as the team’s head coach.

Only the press conference was delayed, and everyone in the Jets’ organization has gone silent, with Ryan leaving New Jersey. NFL rules require that head coaches be made available to the media within one week of the team’s final game, but the Jets have now scheduled a conference including Rex Ryan for next Tuesday, which is outside the time permitted. This led the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) to file a complaint against the Jets. The NFL is now looking into the matter, and it seems that a stiff fine may be coming in order to deter future teams from ignoring the seven day rule.

The reason for the delay has been subject to much speculation. Is the team reconsidering its commitment to Ryan? Or are the Jets trying to wrap up their search for a GM and first allow the new GM to determine if he wants to keep Rex on staff, either in 2013 or beyond. Ryan was alleged to have kidded that he would rather be fired than to quit, and he may soon be wishing that he was fired along with Mike Tannenbaum. One possible scenario is a new GM agreeing to keep Ryan on board for 2013, but then firing Ryan after the Jets fail to make the playoffs next season.

And given the Jets’ continued commitment to Mark Sanchez, the salary cap Hell that Tannenbaum placed the team in, and the team’s clear lack of talent and depth, that scenario doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.

Week 15 Recap

 Posted by
Dec 182012
 

Brandon CarrWhat did Week 15 teach us? For starters, it taught us that the AFC North is a mess and the Bengals might be the best team in the division. We also learned that the Redskins can function pretty well even without RG III, that Seattle’s offense may need to be taken seriously, and that the New York Jets are in fact what we thought they were. Finally, we learned that the Patriots can make mistakes just like everyone else, and that a New England – San Francisco re-match in the Super Bowl just might be a hell of a game.

Here is our Week 15 recap.

Dec 032012
 

For anyone wanting to blame Mark Sanchez for the plight of the New York Jets, remember this; the reason he has been playing when he might have been pulled by many other coaches, was because Head Coach Rex Ryan allowed him to play. So while this Patriots’ fan is glad to see that Ryan finally had the courage to bench Sanchez and bring in Greg McElroy, who rallied the Jets to win over the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, the fact is that the decision is too little, too late to allow Ryan to escape responsibility for riding so long on the back of a quarterback who simply is not capable of carrying the load.

Forgive me for playing the comparison card, but maybe Ryan should have been more willing to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings and learn something from the mastermind in New England. Belichick banked on a 199th draft pick in Tom Brady over an established starter in Drew Bledsoe even after Bledsoe was cleared to return from injury, a move not unlike the gambit that Jim Harbaugh is trying to pull off in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick. Had Brady faltered, that might have been a lethal blow to Belichick’s coaching career in New England, and the Patriots would not enjoy the three Super Bowl banners that currently hang in Gillette Stadium. Sometimes successful coaching requires calculated risks, even if the odds don’t seem to be immediately in your favor.

But in Rex Ryan’s case, there was ample warning that Sanchez was never going to be the quarterback he was drafted to be. Yes, he “got” the Jets to two AFC Championship games, but is there anyone who really thinks that the Jets’ defense was not more responsible for those achievements?

Let’s look at the information that Rex Ryan had available to him going into 2012.

  • In Sanchez’ first three seasons, his completion percentage never exceeded 56.7%; it is at 55% this season
  • In his first three seasons, Sanchez’ passer rating never exceeded 78.2; it is at 71.4 this season
  • In his first three seasons, Sanchez had thrown 55 touchdown passes against 51 interceptions; this year he is at 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions
  • Despite improvements claimed by his coaches, Sanchez inevitably demonstrated a proclivity for mental errors that cost the Jets in key games; in 2012 this has been a regular occurrence that culminated in an embarrassing performance on Thanksgiving night where two key Sanchez mental mistakes led to turnovers

The Jets’ faithful will rightly argue that Sanchez saw better statistics in each of his first three seasons; he was definitely improving. Ah yes, but improving into what? At the end of Sanchez’ “best” season, he was the 23rd ranked quarterback in the National Football League. 23rd. So the Jets wasted three years in developing a quarterback who would “blossom” into  the 29th percentile? Is that an accomplishment to be proud of? In a league where young quarterbacks get routinely chewed up and spat out too quickly, the Jets have been more than gracious in giving Sanchez time to develop into something more than he is. And the reward for this patience is a quarterback who is now ranked 32nd in the NFL.

But that isn’t Ryan’s greatest crime. Ryan had gone out and gotten Drew Stanton as a capable backup for Sanchez in the event that he faltered, only to cash that in for what was behind Door #2…. Tim Tebow, the quarterback who never was. Then the Jets made it worse by committing $8.5 million to Sanchez in 2013 in order to soothe his hurt feelings. Now the burden of winning potentially falls to third-stringer Greg McElroy, who showed composure by going 5 for 7 and leading the Jets to their only score yesterday, but it was enough to win the game. It’s almost more important that McElroy did nothing to lose the game, which is something that seems to be beyond the capabilities of Mark Sanchez.

Of course now Rex is saying he needs more time to make the decision on who will be starting the next game against Jacksonville, where they are removing the tarps to accommodate Tebow-mania. What will Rex decide? It really doesn’t matter. This bed was made in the off-season and the results through thirteen weeks have proven that Ryan has been wrong to stubbornly stick with Sanchez in the hopes that Sanchez would improve. And it was Rex Ryan who removed his best alternative by bringing in Tebow. While McElroy helped the Jets win an ugly defensive contest, it seems clear that the future of success at quarterback is not currently on the Jets’ roster. If the Jets’ brass is smart (and I question if they really are), Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan won’t be controlling or managing that roster in 2013.

Time for you to lie down in what you made, Rex.

UPDATE (12/5): Rex Ryan has determined that Mark Sanchez will be the starter this weekend in Jacksonville. What’s that again about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? I’ll say this for him; he’s consistent.

Nov 282012
 

There’s a shake up at the top of the Power Rankings this week, as our contributors seem to have had enough of the narrow victories coming from both the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. Yes, they keep winning, but the victories themselves raise questions as to whether either team will survive the divisional round of the playoffs.

Our new Number One? It’s the New England Patriots, who have now won five straight and seem to be pulling away from the pack as we hit the home stretch of the regular season. The Patriots’ consecutive beat downs of both the Colts and Jets (teams that they should beat down), have us believing that the team is starting to peak at exactly the right time. The bigger question is whether the Patriots can sustain that into February, and tough home tests against both the Texans and the 49ers in the next three weeks will help us gauge whether or not they really deserve the top spot. The 49ers come in second this week, and might have come in first, save for the uncertainty surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s creation of a quarterback controversy in the City by the Bay. We like Colin Kaepernick and think the offense is more dynamic with him on the field, but Alex Smith has done nothing but win in his last 26 contests (20-5-1). So exactly why is Kaepernick starting? Having him start in the post-season would be an invitation to destruction as top teams begin to scheme on how to beat the developing star. The team’s consistency has improved of late, but playing quarterback games doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.

Here are our Week 12 rankings:

1. New England Patriots (8-3, +3, W5) – The Patriots are still fighting for a first round bye, but seem poised to make another of their late season runs; will it net Super Bowl success this time around?

2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1, U, W2) – Kaepernick is the future, but why isn’t Smith the present?

3. Houston Texans (10-1, -2, W5) – Will Gary Kubiak be sending Jim Schwartz a pack of red hankies for Christmas?

4. Atlanta Falcons (10-1, -1, W2) – OK, we’re pretty sure they’ll score more than two points in the playoffs, but why are they feeling like a one and done team?

5. New York Giants (7-4, +3, W1) – Is it that time of the year again?

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-2, -1, W4) – Will gifts like last Sunday keep happening, or is this team’s luck about to run out?

7. Denver Broncos (8-3, U, W6) – Is Peyton Manning simply changing where he has great regular seasons, only to flame out in the playoffs?

8. Chicago Bears (8-3, +1, W1) – Nice win against the Vikings, but are we the only ones waiting for this team to collapse?

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4, -3, L1) – And if the Bears collapse, can the Packers catch them?

10. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, +5, W1) – They responded well to a blowout loss, now can they take control of a playoff spot?

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5, +1, L1) – With a tough loss out of the way, can they bounce back like Indy and nudge the Seahawks out of the way for a playoff spot?

12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5, +4, W3) – They are making noise now, but can they beat the Steelers and Ravens in Weeks 16 and 17, when things really matter?

13. Seattle Seahakws (6-5, -2, L1) – Are they ever going to win again outside of Seattle?

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, -4, L2) – Do they really have any chance without a healthy Ben?

15. New Orleans Saints (5-6, -2, L1) – Is the offensive line really as bad as the defense, or did it just look that way?

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-5, -2, L1) – They really were just pretending this year, weren’t they?

17. Washington Redskins (5-6, +3, W2) – Have the Redskins finally left the NFC East basement for good?

18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6, -1, L1) – If the Cowboys got diagnosed for collective Schizophrenia, would the medication get the team in trouble for using performance enhancing drugs?

19. Detroit Lions (4-7, -1, L3) – Are the Lions victims of bad luck, or are they their own worst enemies?

20. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1, +4, W1) – Will that tie cost the Rams a shot at a wildcard?

21. Buffalo Bills (4-7, +1, L1) – Is Chan Gailey preventing the offense from performing better?

22. Miami Dolphins (5-6, +3, W1) – Will the Patriots crush the Fins wildcard hopes this weekend?

23. Arizona Cardinals (4-7, -4, L7) – Is this team only a quarterback away, or do seven straight losses signify a much deeper problem?

24. Cleveland Browns (3-8, +3, W1) – Did the Browns just cost themselves a top five draft pick?

25. Tennessee Titans (4-7, -2, L1) – Do you think Peyton knew this was coming when he decided to play in Denver?

26. San Diego Chargers (4-7, -5, L3) – 4th and 29? Seriously? Exactly why does Norv Turner still have a job?

27. New York Jets (4-7, -1, L1) – Between the “butt fumble” and refusal to make personnel changes, why do Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez still have jobs?

28. Carolina Panthers (3-8, +1, W1) – Is Cam Newton really handling adversity well, or do things just always look better after a win?

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9, +1, W1) – How eager do you think Shahid Khan is to start cleaning house?

30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8, -2, L7) – Exactly why does Andy Reid still have a job?

31. Oakland Raiders (3-8, U, L4) – Did Al Davis’ will require that the Raiders keep playing the way they did when he was alive?

32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10, U, L8) – Exactly why do Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli still have jobs?

Nov 232012
 

At the end of the first quarter, the game was scoreless, though the New England Patriots were driving deep in Jets’ territory. Just ten game minutes later, Stephen Gostkowski was kicking an extra point to push the Patriots’ lead to 35-0 while the Jets and their faithful looked on in stunned disbelief.

Thus is the tale of two NFL teams headed in very different directions.

For the Patriots, last night’s 49-19 blowout win was their fifth straight victory, locked up the AFC East except for the technicality of math, and cemented the Patriots as a favorite entering the final five games of the season in preparation for the playoffs. For the Jets, the crushing loss confirmed that big off-season changes can be expected for a franchise that has collapsed under its own weight in each of the last two seasons. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan, and Mark Sanchez all have their jobs on the line as the Jets come to terms with the fact that they simply not a good team.

The game started as a defensive struggle as the teams exchanged punts before the Patriots drove to the Jets’ 21 yard line, but the Patriots came up empty when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39 yard field goal. The miss seemed to spark the Jets, who rode Shonn Greene’s running and some short passes to the Patriots’ 23. But then Sanchez was fooled by the New England  secondary on the next play, and Steve Gregory picked off a pass intended for Bilal Powell, ending the threat. The Patriots offense then got into synch, as the Patriots drove 84 yards on 15 plays, with Tom Brady connecting to a wide open Wes Welker for a three yard touchdown and a 7-0 Patriots lead.

The Jets tried to answer back on the next drive, using Bilal Powell’s running  to push into New England territory. But on fourth down at the Patriots’ 31, the Jets called Greene on a very obvious run play up the middle, which was stuffed by Brandon Spikes, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Gregory at the New England 17. On the very next play Brady connected on a short pass with Shane Vereen, who outraced the Jets’ defenders for an 83 yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

After a touchback and a quick pass for 11 yards, Sanchez made a mental error and turned the wrong way to hand the ball off. Finding no running back to hand off to, Sanchez ran to the line, seeking running room. But Vince Wilfork manhandled Brandon Moore, shoving him back into Sanchez and forcing Sanchez to fumble the ball. Gregory continued his banner night by picking up the ball and racing 32 yards to extend the Patriots’ lead to 21-0.

But wait; there’s more…

On the ensuing kickoff, Joe McKnight got lit up by a shot from Devin McCourty and the ball popped into the air, landing in Julian Edelman’s arms as he returned the fumble 22 yards for a touchdown. The score was now 28-0, and the rout was on. Rex Ryan could be seen on the sideline shaking his head and muttering “bleeping unbelievable.”

The Jets tried to calm the game down on the next drive, seemingly more focused on preventing disaster than in striking back. Greene was finding room to run and rushed for 19 yards on the drive, but a Jerod Mayo sack snuffed out the drive and forced a punt. The Patriots then needed only four plays to cover 77 yards, as Brady hit Julian Edelman for a 56 yard touchdown pass and a 35-0 lead. The Jets would end the half with a field goal to get on the board, but the Jets’ fans booed loudly as the teams went in for the half, with some calling for Tim Tebow to replace Sanchez.

The Jets were forced to punt on their opening drive of the second half and the Patriots went back to work. New England drove again into Jets’ territory and seemed well on its way to another score before Eledman got hammered by LaRon Landry, forcing the ball out of his hands and knocking Edelman out of the game. The Jets then drove to the Patriots’ one yard line, but Greene was again stuffed by Spikes on a run, turning the ball back to the Patriots. However, on the next play Stevan Ridley was called for a chop block in the end zone, netting a safety and turning the ball back to the Jets. The Jets, now seemingly playing for pride, then drove 71 yards on 4 plays, ending with a Bilal Powell 4 yard touchdown and cutting the Patriots’ lead to 35-12.

Then, just as Al Michaels and Chris Collingsworth began filling the Jets’ fans heads of visions of a comeback, the Patriots marched methodically down the field, going 17 plays and using seven and a half minutes off the clock with Brady taking the ball the final yard for a score and a 42-12 lead. On the next play from scrimmage, Alfonzo Dennard stripped the ball from Chaz Schillens and Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Jets’ 37 tyard line. Brady then hit Welker on a 28 yard pass play before Ridley scampered the final 8 yards and a 49-12 Patriots’ lead. The Jets would add a late touchdown pass from Sanchez to Keller to close out the scoring, but it did little to mitigate the completeness of the Patriots’ domination of the game.

When the Patriots ran

Stevan Ridley ran for 97 yards on the night, never rushing for more than 9, but getting consistent chunks all night long. The Jets were soft up the middle, and Vereen added 42 yards as the Patriots amassed 152 yards on the night. The Patriots’ balance on offense kept another opponent off balance throughout the evening. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed

Brady threw for 323 yards and three scores, but could have had much more as he missed several open targets during the course of the game. None the less, the Jets had little answer for the Patriots’ passing attack. Welker caught 7 balls and was the primary target on the night, as Lloyd caught 3 passes and Vereen, Edelman, and Hernandez each grabbed two while Brady spread the ball to seven different receivers. Brady’s long connection to Edelman and Vereen’s big run after the catch on the way to his 83 yard touchdown helped pad Brady’s numbers for the night. The make-shift line did a great job protecting Brady, as the Jets rarely pressured Brady and did not register a sack on the night. Advantage: Patriots

When the Jets ran

The Jets found running room in the middle early, but then Vince Wilfork and Brandon Spikes seemed to will themselves to shut down running lanes and intimidate the running backs. Greene was able to gain an impressive 71 yards on the night as the Jets ran for 119 yards. Although productive early, the Patriots’ huge lead took the Jets out of their running game, although they were able to use it for some success in the second half. But the inability to convert on fourth and one on two occasions killed any hope the Jets might have had. We’ll call this one a push. Advantage: Even

When the Jets passed

Sanchez was able to throw for 301 yards, but much of this was in “garbage time” as the game was already out of reach and the Patriots were simply limiting damage.  Kerley caught seven passes on the night, while Keller added five and Jeff Cumberland caught four. The Patriots gave up yards but the secondary also broke up several passes, and Dennard forced a fumble after he had been beaten on one play. Steve Gregory’s interception was a beautiful job of baiting Sanchez into throwing an ill-advised ball. Kyle Arrington had a better performance last night than in the previous outing against the Colts. Slight edge here to the Jets. Advantage: Jets

Special Teams

The Patriots created a touchdown on special teams by forcing a Joe McKnight fumble on a kickoff return. This negated an otherwise decent performance by the Jets’ return unit. Malone was the better of the punters this night and Ghost missed a field goal, but McKnight’s gaffe tips the balance towards the Patriots. Advantage Patriots

 Intangibles

The Jets needed to win the turnover battle to have a fighting chance. Instead, the turnover difference was +4 in favor of the Patriots as they affected big plays on defense and, with the exception of the Edelman fumble, protected the ball on offense. The Patriots did commit eight penalties to the Jets five, but this game was decided by turnovers. Belichick and his staff did the superior coaching job this night as well, as Rex Ryan must now be scrutinized for his refusal to make personnel changes despite  some awful offensive performances. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment:  Vince Wilfork creating a Mark Sanchez fumble that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Steve Gregory. Sanchez never really looked confident after that play, it put the Patriots up by three scores and utterly demoralized the home crowd.

Game Ball: Steve Gregory for his interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

Notes: As noted by Patriots Life, Last night marked Bill Belichick’s 200th NFL coaching win, and marked the first time ion NFL history that a team has scored 100 or more (108) points in a five day span. Finally, the Patriots scored 35 points in the second quarter despite only possessing the ball for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. That is an amazing accomplishment.

Nov 212012
 

In Week 7 I chose the Patriots to wallop the Jets. As it turns out the Patriots won, but only as a result of a last minute regulation comeback and a field goal in overtime to edge the Jets 29-26. And while one could argue that a game being played five weeks later in the New Jersey and without Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski could yield a different result, that seems like an unlikely outcome for two teams that are headed in different directions.

Jets’ Head Coach Rex Ryan seems to understand this, given his very conscious decision to rein in the smack talk this week, to declare Tom Brady a once in a lifetime player, and to defend Bill Belichick’s decision to keep Gronkowski in on a special teams play that resulted in Gronk breaking his arm and missing at least the next three to four weeks. It took the New York media to start the hype, thanking Bill Belichick (in turkey form) for leaving Gronk in. Newsflash to the New York media: no coach selectively pulls players off of special teams in a blowout win, and the play was a fluke. Gronk had a better chance of breaking his arm on a touchdown spike than he did on special teams. As Bill Belichick said on WEEI this week, show me the player that we know is going to get hurt on this play, and we’ll pull him out of the game.

None the less, Gronk is out for this contest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean good news for the Jets. Aaron Hernandez, a healthy scratch for the past couple of games as a result of an abundance of caution, will return. The Jets likely won’t find Hernandez much easier to cover than Gronk, particularly when he is complemented by Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, and Danny Woodhead. The players may change from week to week, but the offensive assault remains.

In truth, the Jets fired their best shot against the Patriots in Week 7, and they came up short. Don’t expect the Patriots to let them hang around as long this time around. The Jets have tanked since the last match-up, coming out of their funk long enough to beat the Rams last week in St. Louis, but the Rams aided the Jets’ effort by turning the ball over three times, something the Patriots generally do not do. In a battle of turnovers, expect the Patriots to get the best of the contest. A Patriots win would further separate New England from the rest of their divisional foes, and would also likely end any hope of the Jets making the playoffs this season. Finally, a Patriots’ win would be the 200th of Belichick’s career.

Here’s how the game will likely break down:

When the Patriots run

The Patriots running game went to sleep last week against the Colts, in part by design and in part because of a solid effort by the Colts’ defensive front. But the Jets are giving up over 140 rushing yards per game so far this season, and the Patriots are averaging right about the same on offense. The Patriots ran the ball for 131 yards in the first contest, and I expect that Shane Vereen will get more opportunities this week, given how well he performed in Week 7 (8 carries for 49 yards). Expect the Patriots to come in around the 130 yard mark again on  Thursday night, as the Patriots are likely to focus on exploiting the Jets’ secondary. Ridley will once again not get close to 100 yards, but should be able to net consistent gains.

When the Patriots pass

The Jets possess the third best pass defense (200.1 ypg) in the league and the Patriots own the fourth best passing offense (289 ypg), so something has to give. Tom Brady had a sub-par performance in Week 7, going 26 for 42 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Since then Brady has started to look sharper, and the Patriots are likely to run a pass-heavy attack on the Jets. Gronk, Hernandez, Welker and Woodhead all did the damage in the first meeting, and this week Edelman and Lloyd will both get more looks with Gronk sidelined. Antonio Cromartie has the ability to shut down the man he is covering, but he can only cover one at a time. The Patriots will seek to create mismatches against safeties and linebackers and exploit those for consistent chunks of yards. The Jets have probably realized that their new safety tandem of  LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell is not an answer to shutting down the tight end and slot attack of the Patriots.  Look for Brady to be closer to the 300 yard mark on Thursday night. The Jets’ pass rush did sack Brady once in the first meeting, but the Jets will generally have to sell out in order to apply pressure to Brady, which typically results in big Patriots’ gains. Even without Logan Mankins out of the lineup, the Patriots offensive line is more than a match for the Jets’ defensive front.

When the Jets run

Ground and pound is what the Patriots do, not the Jets. The Jets are 15th in rushing with just over 108 yards per game, and the Patriots possess the 10th ranked run defense, giving up 99 yards per game. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes know how to fill running lanes and stuff the run, and Spikes has a knack for jarring the ball loose. Shonn Greene has had one game of over 100 yards this season, but has otherwise looked very pedestrian and is averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He ran for 54 yards in the first meeting and will likely come in somewhere near that number this week. Greene has a habit of putting the ball on the ground, but has not lost any fumbles yet this season; that will be a key factor if the Jets expect to have a chance of winning this game. The bigger threat is Bilal Powell, who gets fewer carries but has greater big play potential. Joe McKnight is an inconsistent runner, but is capable of an occasional big play as well. The Jets ran for 106 yards in the first meeting, and should be close too that number this week as well.

When the Jets pass

This is where we can expect to see the biggest difference between Week 7 and Week 12. In the first meeting Mark Sanchez was accurate, focused and poised (until the last play) while passing for 328 yards and a touchdown. But he also made key mental mistakes that seem to be the unfortunate trademark to his career as an NFL starting quarterback. Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller both had big days, each catching seven passes, while Greene caught six passes out of the backfield. The Jets are still likely to rack up yards on Thanksgiving, but not likely to match their Week 7 performance. Aqib Talib is working into the secondary rotation and will likely have safety help when he matches up against the Jets’ receivers, presumably matching up against Kerley. Alfonzo Dennard is turning out to be a seventh round steal in this year’s draft as he has established himself as a solid contributor in the secondary despite having a long way to go in his development. Kyle Arrington has been symptomatic of the struggling secondary, but moving McCourty to safety on a permanent basis will improve the secondary in the long run. The improvement in the secondary seems to be giving Bill Belichick the willingness to blitz more to improve the pass rush, and this will be important with rookie Chandler Jones out of the lineup this week. The Patriots racked up four sacks in the previous meeting. Vince Wilfork is playing like a man possessed, Rob Ninkovich is simply a playmaker, and Hightower and Jermaine Cunningham will likely get opportunities to take shots at Sanchez. Look for Sanchez to be closer to 200 yards this time around, with turnovers coming from quarterback pressure via strip sacks or errant throws.

Special Teams

In the first meeting the Jets surrendered a 104 yard kickoff return by Devin McCourty, though McCourty’s kickoff fumble in the fourth quarter nearly cost the Patriots the contest. The Patriots possess the superior return units, and the Jets have been plagued with special teams problems throughout the season. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots gain the field position advantage through special teams and perhaps pull off another big return. Julian Edelman is a dangerous punt returner.

Intangibles

Which Mark Sanchez shows up this week? The one who throws with 75% accuracy (v. the Rams) or the guy who has thrown with 53.5% accuracy on the year. As the Jets’ media is pointing out, the Jets’ lack first tier starters and solid depth on the roster. Bill Belichick’s team is perfect in the second half of the season going back through 2010, and Belichick is deadly when he gets a second look at an opponent in a season, even a divisional one. The revamped secondary may be the coach’s means for delivering a big headache to Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez on Thursday night. Finally, the Patriots are +20 in turnover differential this season, best in the league, while the Jets are at +1, 6th in the AFC.

Prediction

It’s entirely possible that the Jets could win Thursday night, and they have the advantages of no Gronk, a home game, and knowing that they gave the Patriots all they could handle in Week 7. But the Patriots are a better team now than they were five weeks ago, whereas the Jets are a team verging on a full-blown meltdown; a meltdown that becomes more likely if the Jets get blown out on Thursday night.

I am not expecting a Patriots’ blowout of the Jets, but do find it more likely than a Jets’ win. More likely we will see the similar script that has played out in recent Patriots’ contests; an early exchange of scores followed by a slow but inexorable assertion of the Patriots’ will in the second and third quarters before closing the game out in the fourth. In this case however, I think Gronk’s absence does help the Jets linger for the better part of three quarters before the Patriots put the issue to rest. Look for mismatches involving Edelman, Welker and Hernandez to allow the Patriots to sustain long scoring drives, while the Patriots defense  continues to both give up chunks of yardage and find ways to take the ball away from the opposition, offering up a short field to the offense. Predicted Score: Patriots 30 Jets 17.