Dec 302013
 

Mike ShanahanIt’s that time of year… the day following the end of the regular season when NFL head coaches get shown the front door. We’ll keep a running commentary of any coaches fired over the course of the week leading up to the Wildcard Round.

Here are our coaching casualties to date:

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

OK, so the Texans got the jump of Black Monday a few weeks back by ousting Kubiak, which was a long time coming. Kubiak’s job was hanging on precarious threads a few times in the past, and even when the team was successful they managed to find ways to underachieve. But this year’s total collapse was the final straw in Houston. Bill O’Brien is the early front-runner, but the Texans will be looking at several candidates, including former Bears’ coach Lovie Smith.

Rob Chudzkinski, Cleveland Browns

I’m not sure I get this one. Sure, the Browns were 4-12 this season and can be accused of under-performing, but I’m not entirely sure that Chud was the problem. The team has been laden with personnel issues from the previous regime, and is still lacking consistent quarterback play. Given that the Browns fleeced the Colts for a first-round pick, I would have loved to see what Chud could have done with the addition of two first round picks and an improving defense next season. But the Cleveland brass seems to have needed a scapegoat, and Chud gets the honors.

Mike Shanahan, Washington Football Club

Like there was any doubt about this one. Sure, Daniel Snyder hates to part with money, but it was pretty obvious he would pay just about anything to be rid of Shanahan and his staff. Let me be honest, I think Shanahan is one of the most overrated coaches in NFL history, two Super Bowl wins not withstanding. His 55% winning percentage includes two Super Bowl wins, which he never would have gotten without John Elway, and he has had seven losing campaigns (along with three 8-8 seasons) in his twenty year career as a head coach. He finishes 24-40 after four years in Washington, along win one playoff appearance in last year’s loss to Seattle.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings

It’s hard to argue with this one after the Vikings fell off a good 2013 campaign, and the year was undermined by Frazier’s inability to settle on a quarterback that he could get consistent play from. The team went from 10-6 last year to 5-10-1 this season. Coupled with the Vikings’ refusal to extend his contract after last season’s success, Frazier looked like a prime candidate to lose his job as the Vikes plummeted in the standings. Early reports link Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase (both of the Broncos) as possible replacements.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay

Public discussion was back and forth on whether or not the Bucs had done enough at the end of the season to save Greg Schiano’s job. They didn’t. The Bucs cleared house on Monday, sending Schiano and his staff packing along with GM Mark Dominik. This may clear the way for Schiano and his sunny disposition to wind up at Penn State if an when Bill O’Brien leaves. The Bucs went 4-12 this season, and Schiano’s two-year tenure with the team netted an 11-21 record.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions

Speaking of sunny dispositions and overrated coaches, Jim Schwartz is out in Detroit, and for good reason. The demise of the Green Bay Packers earlier in the season left the Lions an inside track to a division crown and playoff spot. The team’s response? To close the season with a 1-5 record over the last six games to finish at 7-9. While Schwartz deserves some credit for dispelling the culture of losing from the Lions, he failed to instill discipline in his team on or off the field, and was sometimes a coaching catastrophe on the sidelines. Schwartz had only one winning season in his five years in Detroit (10-6 in 2011), finishing with a 29-51 mark.

Along with the casualties, the New York Jets have given a vote of confidence to Head Coach Rex Ryan, in that they are allowing him to return in 2014 after a very good run by the Jets this season. There is still no word on a contract extension, but either way it is fair to assume that Ryan will once again be coaching for his job in 2014.

We are still waiting word on the fates of Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Mike Munchak (Tennessee), Jim Schwartz (Detroit), Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay), and Jason Garrett (Dallas). My money is on Garrett and Munchak keeping their jobs, and Frazier, Schiano and Schwartz losing theirs. (Update: Right on Frazier. Right on Schwartz. Right on Schiano.)

(Update: Right on Garrett as well. Jerruh has committed to another year of him as GM, Garrett as coach, and a recovering Romo at QB. What could possibly go wrong?? Here’s to another 8-8 season, at best.)

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 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 292013
 

Tim TebowIf only someone could have predicted that it would all turn out this way. Oh wait…

The Jets cut Tim Tebow, their sixth string quarterback, early this morning, thus proving that while many fans believe that Tebow can walk on water, he can’t tread it on an NFL roster.

Tebow was getting ready for an early morning workout at the Jets’ facility this morning when GM John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan told him the news. The Jets had held on to Tebow all the way through the draft with the irrational hope that someone would be willing to part with even a seventh round pick for the former University of Florida star, but it was not to be. In a statement released by Ryan, he said, “We have a great deal of respect for Tim Tebow. Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we all had hoped.  Tim is an extremely hard worker, evident by the shape he came back in this offseason.  We wish him the best moving forward.”

Teams are all now lining up to say that they are not interested in Tebow. New England is widely believed to be one possible landing spot, if Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick can convince Tebow to abandon his desire to play quarterback, as the Patriots would be able to put Tebow’s ferocity to use as a hybrid tight end/running back. Belichick scouted Tebow hard prior to the 2010 draft, even taking him out to dinner in Boston, plus Belichick shares a close relationship with Urban Meyer, Tebow’s former coach in Gainesville. Throw in Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels as the guy who drafted Tebow in Denver, and it certainly looks like a possibility. Chicago has also been mentioned as a possible landing spot, though the Bears say they are not interested. However, if Tebow hangs on to the belief that he is a starting quarterback, he will likely have to look north to the CFL in the hopes of establishing himself as a serious quarterback.

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.

Mar 142013
 

The sky is fallingYesterday’s signing of Wes Welker by the Denver Broncos has prompted quite an outcry of hysteria from Patriots’ fans, and from the Boston media in particular. I know I will find myself in the minority view on this one, but I am shedding no tears over Welker’s departure.

I hold no malice towards Welker, and think he has been a sensational player while in New England, racking up Hall of Fame caliber numbers while revolutionalizing the slot receiver position. An unproven talent coming out of the dysfunctional Miami Dolphins franchise, Welker caught 672 passes in six seasons with the Patriots for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns. In the post-season Welker has been equally deadly, catching 69 balls in nine game for 686 yards and four touchdowns. Throw in Welker’s reliability as a punt returner, and it is clear that the Patriots have had the luxury of having one of the best all-purpose players in the NFL for the last six years. Critics will note that Welker led the league in dropped passes this season and has had some big post-season misses, and this is a fair criticism, but not one that suggests that the Patriots would be better off without Welker on the roster.

So what has changed?

Wes WelkerThere were a number of factors that led to Welker’s departure from Foxboro. From a strictly business perspective, the Patriots were not thrilled with spending over $9 million on a franchise deal last season after the Patriots offered Welker a two year deal worth a reported $16 million. Welker wanted a three year, $22 million deal, but the Patriots seemed concerned with a player on the wrong side of 30 in an offense that was designed to become less reliant on his talents. Welker chose not to take $8 million a year when it was offered, setting the stage for the showdown this off-season.  In the end Welker lost leverage and money, averaging just over $7 million a year for three years when he would have gotten $16 million from the Pats in two years and still had an opportunity for an extension. By contrast, the Patriots landed Danny Amendola for five years at $6.2 million per year, less than what Welker was initially offered, but more than he was offered ($5 million a year for two years) after the Patriots (from their perspective) overpaid in 2012. Like it or not, the Patriots are cold calculators of positions and talent, and felt that Amendola, a more proven but less durable receiver than Welker, was worth the risk.

One can also not know whether or not Welker had worn out his welcome with Bill Belichick. Welker famously got into trouble for his foot comments in the 2010 post-season, and was benched for the first drive of the Patriots’ divisional game against the Jets, a drive that resulted in a Brady interception on a play where Brady normally would have been looking for Welker. The drive helped set the tone for an embarrassing playoff loss. And while many fans were angry with Belichick for the benching, the head coach had been explicit in instructing his players to avoid the topic of Rex Ryan’s personal woes at all costs. Then we had the contract dispute last season, followed by Welker being miffed over the expansion of Aaron Hernandez’ and Julian Edelmans’ roles in the slot early in the season. At the end of the season Welker quipped how good it was to “stick it” to Belichick with his productivity, and I have no doubt that those words still linger in Bill Belichick’s memory.

Danny AmendolaEnter Danny Amendola. The Boston media is in hyperbolic full throttle about how Amendola will never “replace” Welker, and isn’t fit to hold his jock. While I can’t form an opinion on the latter part of that, the former is obvious. Of course Amendola will never replace Welker. No one could. But we need to consider what it means to “replace” Welker in the NFL’s best offense.

In his best season in New England (2009), Welker caught 123 passes in only 14 games. Last season, Welker was destined to see fewer balls thrown his way until injuries to Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski deprived Tom Brady of key targets. He ended the season with 118 receptions. So, just for giggles, let’s assume that the Patriots are looking to replace 120 catches in Welker’s absence. So where is that coming from?

In 2010, when Amendola was healthy for every game, he caught 85 paases (for 689 yards and three touchdowns). Amendola has struggled to stay healthy, appearing in just twelve games over the past two seasons. But in those games has has caught 68 passes. When he is on the field, Amendola is money, and easily worth the financial investment made by the Patriots to secure a younger (27) and taller, slightly quicker talent. Yes, he hasn’t proven to be as durable as Welker, but injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. And Amendola is more proven as a receiver than Welker was when the Patriots acquired him for a second round pick, which at the time was viewed as a wild gamble on the part of Belichick.

Let’s assume that Amendola catches 80 passes in 2013; we can argue higher based on being in the Patriots’ (and Josh McDaniels’) “system” or we can argue lower based on injuries. But 80 catches seems to be a good place to start. That leaves us 40 more to find. Our eyes next fall on Aaron Hernandez, who caught 51 passes in 10 games last season after struggling with an ankle sprain. Assume Hernandez, who is a hybrid tight end and slot receiver, plays 15 games this season. On last year’s pace, that puts Hernandez at 75 catches, netting 24 more from last season and leaving us looking for another 16. Rob Gronkowski caught 55 balls in 11 games, so let’s assume he plays in 14. Gronk should be expected to catch 70 passes next season, and we are suddenly only one reception off of what we had with Welker. The jury is out on Brandon Lloyd, who had a solid season with 77 catches, but was deemed to be a “problem” in the locker room. Still, with Josh McDaniels as the coordinator, I rather suspect the Patriots will pay the $3 million roster bonus to keep Lloyd and his acrobatic catches in town. The only question left is who plays opposite of Lloyd, and the Patriots are likely to look at a number of players, including Donald Jones (scheduled for a visit), David Nelson, and possibly bringing back Julian Edelman. Throw in the fact that the Patriots have a very talented backfield duo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and the idea that this offense is any less dangerous without Welker is a big stretch. Vereen’s play-making talent is extraordinary, and may well let the Patriots walk away from Danny Woodhead in the off-season. Leon Washington is being considered to replace Edelman and Welker on special teams, as well as to be a third running back.

All of these numbers are speculation, of course. But the fact remains that the league’s best offense in 2012, as good as it was, did not live up to its potential, particularly in big games.  Meanwhile, this wise expenditure of resources leaves the Patriots with enough cap room to bring in a small draft class (five picks) and still improve on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots’ defense is again on the rise, and there is every reason to believe that the Patriots will again contend for another AFC Championship and Super Bowl bid.

Finally, there is the whole angle about the “sacrifice” made by Tom Brady to clear up cap room to retain Welker. With all due respect to Tom Brady (and a LOT is due), Brady freed up cap money to improve the team, not just take care of his friend. And improving the team means continuing to improve the defense, maintaining a potent offense, and getting younger as a team. And just for the record, Brady did not “sacrifice” money; it just got paid out to him up front. Not dissing on Brady, mind you, but instead suggesting that the anonymous source “close” to Brady who is spouting off against the Patriots  really needs to get a grip. I’m sure Tom will when training camp rolls around.

Wilfork jerseyFew Patriots players (Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, and hopefully Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork) make it to the end of the road as Patriots. Just ask Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel and many others. The Patriots’ business model says they would rather get rid of players a year too early than a year too late, and that model has served the Patriots well, as they continue to dominate the AFC East and are perennial championship contenders. We cheer for the laundry, folks, and any attachment to the players comes at our own risk as fans.

I greatly value the contributions made by Wes Welker and thank him for his service to the Patriots’ organization, the team that I love. I also wish him well in Denver, though I will hope he drops a key Peyton Manning pass in the closing minutes of the AFC Championship to seal a Patriots’ win. :-) Still, it is time to move his jersey to the back of the closet until he retires, when I can once again wear it with pride. And if Wes Welker does make it to the Hall of Fame (and he should), I fully expect him to be enshrined as a New England Patriot.

And now I finally have my justification to buy a Vince Wilfork jersey. I wonder if my loving wife will fall for that.

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.

Dec 312012
 

Rex Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum, and Woody JohnsonUltimately, New York Jets’ owner Woody Johnson has decided that final accountability for a failed 6-10 campaign rests with the guy shopping for the groceries, and had decided to fire GM Mike Tannenbaum. The Jets have opted to maintain Rex Ryan as their Head Coach for 2013.

“Mike devoted 15 years of service to the Jets, and I want to thank him for his hard work and dedication,” Johnson said in a statement. “Although he helped guide us to two consecutive AFC Championship games, we are not where we want to be, and a new general manager will be critical to getting this team back on the right track.”

The Jets of course, suffered through a terrible 2012, but the 8-8 record in 2011 was a warning of things to come for those who wished to see the signs. In truth, Head Coach Rex Ryan won with talent collected by Tannenbaum and former coach Eric Mangini in his first season, reaching the AFC Championship Game before falling to the Colts after g0ing 9-7 and sneaking into the playoffs. In 2010, the Jets posted a respectable 11-5 record, again reaching the playoffs as a wildcard. The height of Ryan’s career was achieved when the Jets beat the Patriots in the division round before falling to the Steelers in the AFC Championship. In four years at the helm, Ryan is 34-30 during the regular season, and signs don’t look good for 2013. The Jets face salary cap hell, a poor starting quarterback with a prohibitive cap number, a disgruntled backup quarterback, and an absence of talent across the entire offense. Perhaps Johnson understands that a new head coach will make little difference in 2013 while the Jets begin to enter a rebuilding mode, or perhaps Johnson is still operating under the delusion that Ryan is the right guy for the job. In any event, it feels fair to say that the Jets appear to have fallen out of relevance in the AFC East for at least the near term.

Regarding Ryan, Johnson said, “I believe that he has the passion, the talent, and the drive to successfully lead our team.” I’m not sure anyone is questioning his passion, talent, and driven, but rather whether or not Ryan has the aptitude to be a head coach as opposed to coordinator, whether he has the respect of his players (not just whether or not they like him), and whether or not he has been provided the talent to win with New Jersey’s second team.

Tannenbaum is likely to be most remembered for engineering the team that made two straight AFC Championship games, as well as for the “poison pill” contract offer that pried Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin from the Patriots when he served as director of player contract negotiations. Martin played for the Jets for eight seasons after spending his first three in Foxboro, rushing for over 14,000 yards in his career.

UPDATE: Despite the confidence expressed by Johnson, there are whispers that Ryan’s fate has not yet been decided. We should know final word of Ryan’s status in the next day or so.

Dec 122012
 

This week the New England Patriots reinforced why we moved them into the top spot two weeks ago, with a solid 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans. Coupled with the Falcons falling to the Panthers, and there is some shifting at the top of our rankings this week. With three weeks to go, some teams appear to be emerging from the pack, and the AFC is faring surprisingly well, given the dominance of the NFC in inter-conference play this season.

Here are our rankings through Week 14.

1. New England Patriots (10-3, U, W7) – First #2 Houston and now #3 San Francisco; can the Pats hang on to the top spot?

2. Denver Broncos (10-3, +3, W8) – They look ready for the post-season, but face a tough test against the Ravens this week

3. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1, +1, W1) – The Patriots offer some challenges for the new 49ers phenom

4. Houston Texans (11-2, -2, L1) – So how did those letterman jackets work out?

5. Atlanta Falcons (11-2, -2, L1) – Matt Ryan wasn’t telling anyone to get the $#%$ off the field in Charlotte

6. New York Giants (8-5, U, W1) – Osi thinks they are the best, but had to qualify it with “if we play the way we are capable of playing”; Talk is cheap, Osi… consistency is better

7. Green Bay Packers (9-4, +1, W2) – The Packers have a running game? Who knew?

8. Indianapolis Colts (9-4, +1, W3) – They don’t have to win pretty as long as they keep winning

9. Baltimore Ravens (9-4, -2, L2) – Jim Caldwell has never called plays; is he really the answer for the struggling offense?

10. Seattle Seahawks (8-5, +2, W2) – Let me get this right… the Seahawks ran up the score? The Seahawks?

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6, -1, L1) – So they get Ben back and lose? Quarterback controversy! (just kidding)

12. Washington Redskins (7-6, +3, W4) – Now we know why they drafted Kirk Cousins too

13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6, -2, L1) – That wasted opportunity may come back to bite them in Week 16

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, -1, L3) – We wanted to believe, but three straight losses has this team on the outside looking in

15. Chicago Bears (8-5, -1, L2) – You knew it was just a matter of time before Jay Cutler stated getting beat like a drum again

16. Dallas Cowboys (7-6, U, W2) – Emotional win doesn’t make up for the Cowboys weaknesses

17. Minnesota Vikings (7-6, +1, W1) – Just when we thought they were done, they find a way to become relevant again

18. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1, +1, W3) – Jeff Fisher has his team believing; if they win out that tie could be the deciding factor

19. New Orleans Saints (5-8, -2, L3) – It took about twenty minutes for Brees to come out with a snarky statement about the bounty decision as he continues to defend the indefensible; just shut up already, Drew

20. New York Jets (6-7, +4, W2) – Beating the Jaguars doesn’t exactly cure their ills, but it gives Rex another week to pretend that they don’t exist

21. Cleveland Browns (5-8, +2, W3) – Any more wins this season, and Fat Jesus is going to have to write a retraction piece about Pat Shurmer

22. Buffalo Bills (5-8, -2, L1) – Remember when some of us thought the Bills might be a playoff contender? Yeah, we’re trying to forget that too…

23. San Diego Chargers (5-8, +2, W1) – If Norv sells that game ball, he might get enough to cover his moving expenses

24. Miami Dolphins (5-8, -2, L2) – The Dolphins find it ‘disrespectful’ when a team successfully runs the same play over and over; this isn’t Madden – if you don’t like it…. stop it

25. Detroit Lions (4-9, -4, L5) – Whether or not Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player, he certainly has exhibited punk behaviors both on and off the field

26. Carolina Panthers (4-9, +1, W1) – Greg Hardy returned the favor to the Falcons this week; this team could close at 7-9

27. Tennessee Titans (4-9, -1, L3) – Remember when some of us thought the Titans might be a playoff contender? Yeah, we’re trying to forget that too…

28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9, +2, W1) – Is Gruden a possibility for the Eagles? And by Gruden, we mean Jay…

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11, U, L2) – So the Jags lost twice in the Timmy Sweepstakes

30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11, +1, L1) – Anyone else think that Dwayne Bowe is excited to be headed to the IR?

31. Arizona Cardinals (4-9, -3, L9) – And suddenly Brian Hoyer is the best quarterback on the roster

32. Oakland Raiders (3-10, U, L6) – Can a visit from the Chiefs help them escape from our basement?

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.