Buffalo Bills Week 2 Primer

The Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday in what will be the biggest home opener in Western New York in years.  It will be an emotionally charged day in Orchard Park as the Bills face their biggest rival, the Miami Dolphins.  Both teams are coming off of big opening weeks wins.  The Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in Miami by a score of 33-20 and the Bills defeated the Chicago Bears at Soldier’s Field in overtime by a score of 23-20.  A win on Sunday will be huge for either team as they will jump ahead of the division with a 2-0 record.  The Dolphins had perhaps a more impressive victory last week but the Bills will be the ones with the home field advantage on Sundays.  Here is a look at what to watch for in this Week 2 match-up:

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

When the Bills have the ball:  The Bills slowed it down last week opposite the high-powered Bears offense but look for a quicker pace on Sunday.  The Dolphins suffered several key injuries in week 1 on defense and the Bills will try to exploit that by keeping the Dolphins on their toes.  The Patriots had some success against the Dolphins on the edges last week so look for the Bills to get creative with Sammy Watkins.  They’ll also try to pound the ball with the running backs to try and control the clock.  The Bills’ offensive line held their own last week against Chicago but will have a tough task with Cameron Wake and company on Sunday.  E.J. Manuel bucked his rookie year trend by passing for a 7.9 yards per pass average in week 1, over a yard better than the 6.4 yard average that he had during his rookie season.  Look for Manuel to take more shots down field with Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin.  If the Bills can protect Manuel they should be able to find success on offense against a depleted a Dolphins defense.

When the Dolphins have the ball:  The Dolphins got a big game out of former Broncos’ running back Knowshon Moreno on opening day.  They tired the Patriots’ defense out last week in the Miami heat and humidity but they won’t have the same opportunity this weekend in the cozy September Western New York atmosphere.  They’ll need to come up with a different game plan in Buffalo.  They are going to have to protect Ryan Tannehill like they did last week.  The Dolphins’ O-Line looked great against New England but will be facing 3 Pro Bowlers in Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus on Sunday.  If Tannehill is under heavy pressure all day it will force him into mistakes and give the Bills opportunities to score points off of turnovers.  Tannehill does not have a stellar track record away from Sun Life Stadium so if he wants to show that last Sunday wasn’t a red herring he’s going to have to show up big eventually in a tough road environment.  Sunday will be a perfect opportunity to do just that.  We’ll see if he can get it done on Sunday.

X-Factor for the Bills:  QB E.J. Manuel – Manuel could probably go one of three ways on Sunday.  He can exploit the injuries on the Miami defense and ride the emotional highs to a big time performance, he can lay an absolute egg and hurt the Bills’ chances of winning or he can be an effective game manager and do just enough that the defense and running game can take over the game.  He hasn’t had too many of the first type of games but if there ever was an opportunity for one in his young career it will be this Sunday. It could be the perfect storm for Manuel to have a break out game.  However if the Dolphins come to play on offense game manager Manuel will probably serve the Bills best.  How the game plays out early will dictate how many chances that they let Manuel take.  If the Dolphins struggle on offense early and the Bills’ defense can force some turnovers then Manuel may take some early shots to try and get in a rhythm.  If Manuel can get his confidence up early he can make a huge impact for the Bills and both this game and beyond.

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

X-Factor for the Dolphins:  DE Cameron Wake – Wake can literally take over a game – just ask Tom Brady.  Wake was in Brady’s back pocket all day long last Sunday and severely hampered Brady’s production late in the game.  Expect Wake to spend most of the game at left defensive end opposite Bills’ rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson.  It’s a match-up that Wake can exploit and is a much better draw than Henderson’s counterpart, the severely underrated Cordy Glenn.  If Wake can get in Manuel’s back pocket all day like he did to Brady he could single-handedly force Manuel to lay the aforementioned egg.  If Wake is neutralized by the Bills’ offensive line then it could be a long game for an injured Miami defense.  Wake is that star of that defense and needs to set the pace.

Final Thoughts:  It’s going to be very tough for the Dolphins to take the Buffalo crowd out of the game.  It has all of the makings of an epic crowd this a Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The RD lot was already full on Saturday afternoon.  Ryan Tannehill will have to battle the crowd noise along with a stout Buffalo front line.  Both teams have a good amount of momentum heading into the game but this is just too good a set-up for a happy ending of the Bills’ story book week.  Maybe Ryan Tannehill puts it together but I don’t think it happens this week.  The Bills ride a week of momentum with a complete team victory and get to 2-0.

Final Score Prediction:  Buffalo Bills 31, Miami Dolphins 23

Full AFC East Draft Recap

The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books.  I’m not going to give out grades because I think it’s pretty stupid to judge guys who have not even stepped on an NFL field yet.  Instead I will outline all of the picks for the AFC East and say what I liked and didn’t like about the 2012 NFL Draft.

Buffalo Bills

  1. 105th pick Nigel Bradham

    10th Overall – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

  2. 41st Overall – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  3. 69th Overall – A.J. Graham, WR, NC State
  4. 105th Overall – Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State
  5. 124th Overall – Ron Brooks, CB, Louisiana State
  6. 144th Overall – Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
  7. 147th Overall – Tank Carder, MLB, Texas Christian
  8. 178th Overall – Mark Asper, OG, Oregon
  9. 251st Overall – John Potter, K, Western Michigan

WHAT I LIKED: Pretty much everything they did from Rounds 1-5 with the exception of A.J. Graham.  Gilmore was the 2nd best CB in the draft and Cordy Glenn was a 1st round talent drafted in the 2nd.  They added some guys with a lot of experience from big schools in rounds 4 and 5.  Ron Brooks could be a real steal coming from a stacked LSU secondary that included Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, and Tyronn Mathieu.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  This was a deep wide receiver draft and to end up with only Graham who had more of a mid round grade seems to be a bit disappointing.  The Bills could have used more depth at WR, TE, and LB but went with a guard in the 6th round after taking two offensive linemen earlier in the draft.

Miami Dolphins

  1. 42nd pick Jonathan Martin

    8th Overall – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

  2. 42nd Overall – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
  3. 72nd Overall – Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami
  4. 78th Overall – Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
  5. 97th Overall – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
  6. 155th Overall – Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon
  7. 183rd Overall – B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
  8. 215th Overall – Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  9. 227th Overall – Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada

WHAT I LIKED:  Martin is a good tackle prospect.  He can play right tackle and if the Dolphins continue the purge and dump Jake Long after next season he can move over to the left side.  Egnew will be able to catch the ball, just don’t ask him to block.  Cunningham was productive in college.  Lamar Miller is a low risk/high reward guy.  He could replace Reggie Bush if they decide to jettison him.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  Ryan Tannehill.  I wasn’t enthralled by their front 7 picks.

New York Jets

  1. 202nd pick Terrance Ganaway

    16th Overall – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

  2. 43rd Overall – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
  3. 77th Overall – Demario Davis, MLB, Arkansas State
  4. 187th Overall – Josh Bush, S, Wake Forest
  5. 202nd Overall – Terrance Ganaway, HB, Baylor
  6. 203rd Overall – Robert T. Griffin, OG, Baylor
  7. 242nd Overall – Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
  8. 244th Overall – Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan

WHAT I LIKED:  Stephen Hill is a high risk/high reward pick in the 2nd round but at his best could be a poor man’s Randy Moss.  Davis will give them decent depth in the middle and provide for some Bart Scott insurance.  I LOVED the Ganaway pick in round 6, that guy is a little ball of fire.  Also loved the Antonio Allen pick in Round 7.  He was very productive in college, that seems like great value.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  No one can talk me into liking the Coples pick.  Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, even Courtney Upshaw were better options that were still on the board to bring in to rush the passer.  I’m not sure a guy with a reputation of taking plays off is the best guy to add to the Jets locker room.  They also took the wrong Robert Griffin from Baylor.

New England Patriots

  1. 21st pick Chandler Joens

    21st Overall – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

  2. 25th Overall – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
  3. 48th Overall – Tavon Wilson, FS, Illinois
  4. 90th Overall – Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
  5. 197th Overall – Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State
  6. 224th Overall – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  7. 235th Overall – Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

WHAT I LIKED:  Obviously the aggressive moves in the 1st round.  Belichick and co. picked up two huge pieces for their defense.  Jones was the sexy pick because he’s the sack guy and has a UFC fighting brother but Hightower is the meat and potatoes guy that can be the heart of your defense.  Jake Bequette is a solid pick, he’s your standard hard working, never give up defensive lineman.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  Going way off the board for Wilson and Ebner.  I’m not sure what the point is?  I understand the Dennard pick but a guy doing something so stupid so close to a life-changing event just rubs me the wrong way (Dennard got arrested for assaulting a police officer last week).  Guys like that don’t usually stick.

The Pats made the biggest impact early by securing Jones and Hightower in the 1st.  The Bills I thought had the most consistent draft and really hit on their picks in rounds 4 and 5, which included a pick acquired for Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch respectively.  In total the 4 AFC East teams made 33 picks.  Of those 33 picks 15 were on the offensive side of the ball, 17 on the defensive side, and 1 on special teams.  The ACC had the most picks to the AFC East with 9.  The SEC and Big 12 came in second with 5 each, the Pac-12 and Big 10 had 4 each, the Mountain West and MAC had 2 each and the Big East and Sun Belt Conference each had 1.  Ryan Tannehill was the only QB picked by any of the AFC East teams.  There was 6 WRs drafted, the most of any position.

Now all of these guys will get to work in the coming weeks with rookie mini-camps and OTA’s and then training camp.  Some of these guys will make an immediate impact, some will sit for a while before they hit their strides and then some will never pan out at all.  You never know what return you are going to get on any draft pick until they hit the field.  That’s the beauty of the draft – it’s a crap-shoot.  That said, I think it’s time for ESPN to give up their draft coverage because NFL Network was light years ahead of them in quality all weekend long.

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AFC East Draft Day 1 Review and Day 2 Preview

Day 1 of the NFL draft is in the books and day 2 looms tonight.  From a pure recap and review stand point the new draft format works a whole lot better.  You can spend all day analyzing the first round picks and then move on to what will happen on Friday night in Rounds 2 and 3.  Here’s a look at what I liked and didn’t like on Day 1:

  • The Pats got aggressive in order to acquire the uber-versatile Hightower

    I LIKED:  The Patriots’ aggressiveness in Round 1.  Their swindling pick system became obsolete with the new draft rules and so instead of finding trade partners to kick the ball down the road they reversed course and aggressively pursued their targets by trading up.  They got two good young defensive guys to add to their front 7 although I seem to be in the minority in liking the Hightower pick more than the Jones pick.  You just don’t find that versatility that Hightower possesses often.

  • I DIDN’T LIKE:  The pick of Ryan Tannehill from a football standpoint.  I get why they did it and I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have done it if I were in their shoes but this guy just doesn’t do it for me.  If he doesn’t pan out then it could set your franchise back for years.  Is it worth it to get a few months worth of fan support?  It certainly is desperately needed after the failures by Stephen Ross to woe coaches and quarterbacks to Miami.  The only benefit of the doubt I will give them in that Mike Sherman, who was Tannehill’s college coach, is now the Offensive Coordinator in Miami so that may help Tannehill’s transition.
  • South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore fit the Bill for Buddy Nix and co.

    I LIKED:  Buddy Nix staying true to his draft board again and not reaching for need.  The Bills need a WR and LT the most but since they had Michael Floyd off of their board due to character issues there was no guy at those positions worth the #10 pick.  It happens every year…two years ago it was Jimmy Clausen and Bryan Bulaga.  If they took either one of those guys then they would still be looking at trying to find a QB and a LT since Clausen sucks and Bulaga plays the right side.  Gilmore should be a great player in time and will get veteran leadership from Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee in the meantime.

  • I DIDN’T LIKE:  The Jets picking Quinton Coples over Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, or even Courtney Upshaw.  Coples was seen as a top 10 pick during the college season but attitude and effort issues dropped him down the board.  He also seems big to play OLB in the 3-4 which is what the Jets needed.  The Ingram pass is the biggest mystery to me because I think Ingram is going to be a real player in the future.  I can’t fault them too much for passing on Upshaw because everyone else did too but I still think he’ll be a player in the right situation.
  • NON AFC EAST THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THE DRAFT LAST NIGHT:  Loved Pittsburgh’s pick of David Decastro at #24, best pick of the night in my opinion.  Just a perfect fit and there may not be a guy in the draft set up to contribute right away than DeCastro.  Dallas made out by moving up to get Morris Claiborne at #6.  Dre Kirkpatrick could be a steal for the Bengals if he pans out, his arrest helped Cincy with that one.  They also got a good player in guard Kevin Zeitler with their 2nd 1st rounder.  I think Melvin Ingram was a steal for San Diego at #18 as well.
  • I didn't like the Poe pick before he got up to the podium...

    NON AFC EAST THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:  I’m not sure about Dontari Poe going #11 to the Chiefs.  Even factoring the systems I liked Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers better.  Whitney Mercilus was a one year wonder so Houston going with him was a bit of a surprise.  I didn’t like the AJ Jenkins to San Fransisco pick although there is room for him to develop behind Moss and Manningham.

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR TONIGHT:  What’s interesting is that the 3 AFC East teams that didn’t make the playoffs all have the same needs going into tonight.  The Bills, Jets and Dolphins all need receivers and offensive tackles.  The Pats have multiple picks and still need help in the secondary and could use some offensive line depth but they can add it anywhere, don’t necessarily need a tackle.  Buffalo is up 1st with the 9th pick of Round 2 however any 1 of the other 3 teams can move up.  As you saw last night that’s not hard to do these days.  There are plenty of wide receivers and tackles at the early stages of the 2nd round so look for a lot of action there.  The 3rd round seems so far away at this point but I’m sure the teams will be looking for whatever they didn’t get in Round 2.  I am not bold enough to mock the next two rounds especially after all the movement of last night.

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AFC East 1st Round Mock Draft

I don’t know enough about all 32 teams and all of the 50 or so potential 1st round prospects to do a full 1st round mock draft but I follow all of the AFC East teams enough to know what they need, who they like, etc.  So instead of trying to pick the 32 picks of the 1st round I will focus on the 5 that the AFC East teams currently hold.  Here is my prediction for what happens tonight within the AFC East

Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M -The Dolphins are desperate for a QB.  They lost out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn this off-season.  They desperately need a win in the PR column right now and that’s why they’ll reach by about 20 spots to take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.  The problem the Dolphins have is that they hold the #8 pick in a draft where the two best quarterbacks are also the two best players.  The drawback to taking Tannehill is that they have created so many holes in the off-season that they really need a guy who can come in and contribute right away.  Tannehill will likely start the season playing behind Matt Moore, David Garrard, or both.  It would probably be for the best as the Dolphins traded their best receiver and lost their starting right tackle to retirement.  They are in year 1 of a rebuild and they can sit on their future franchise QB for a year while they build a team around him.  The question that remains is whether or not Tannehill is a franchise guy.  Some people feel strongly that he is and some feel strongly that he isn’t.  He’s got a big arm but he lacks experience playing in NFL style systems.  He hasn’t played the same competition that Andrew Luck played against at Stanford or Robert Griffin III played against at Baylor but Texas A&M is no slouch playing in the Big 12.  I guess only time will tell whether or not he can be “the guy” for an NFL franchise.  Back-up pick: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore

10. Buffalo Bills – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina – The Bills upgraded their pass rush in the off-season and need a few more players at key positions.  Left tackle, wide receiver, and cornerback are the three most glaring needs.  The left tackle crop isn’t all that strong and the Bills could probably get a similar player at tackle at the 41 spot as they can at #10.  They need a big wide receiver with speed opposite Stevie Johnson and Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd would seem to fit the bill but the Bills had not engaged much with Floyd in recent weeks and didn’t even bring him to Buffalo for a visit.  That leaves cornerback.  The Bills are also very high on Alabama safety Mark Barron but at this point he is flying up the boards and I doubt that he even makes it to #10.  The Bills have two aging corners, Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee, and can put Gilmore with 2nd year player Aaron Williams and match them up on the outside for many years to come.  They play in the AFC East with the pass happy New England Patriots and their secondary has struggled against Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  Getting a ball-hawk could be enhanced if the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson do what they are supposed to do up front and put pressure on the passer.  Despite their interest in Barron they are deep at safety and adding Gilmore would give them a great deal of youth mixed with some veteran leadership in the secondary.  It would not shock me to see the Bills trade down and try to grab and extra 2nd rounder so they can fill the LT, WR, and impact secondary guy all within the first 2 rounds.  But if they stay put and make the pick at #10 my prediction is that Gilmore will be the guy.  Back-up pick – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

South Carolina DE/OLB Melvin Ingram

16. New York Jets – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina – The Jets have a few areas of need and are another team that has been rumored for a trade up but in the end I think they stay predictable and go for the pass rusher.  Syracuse DE Chandler Jones is an intriguing option at this spot but I’m not sure that Jones projects well in the 3-4 scheme that Rex Ryan loves.  Ingram has the skills to be a prototypical hybrid defensive end/linebacker.  He is skilled at rushing the passer, which the Jets are looking for, and has the savvy to play in the Rex Ryan 3-4 defense.  He’s got decent enough cover skills so that he won’t kill them but a match-up against a Gronkowski could be an issue.  Still, the reason he would go here is his pass rush abilities and he has plenty of those.  The Jets could use a receiver and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd could still be in play but I doubt it.  They could go secondary or they could go offensive line as well but at the end of the day I think the instincts of Rex Ryan win out and the Jets go and grab the pass rusher and put him with the outstanding trio of Bart Scott, David Harris, and Calvin Pace.  It’s a safe pick and it makes the most sense.  Back-up pick – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

Notre Dame S Harrison Smith

27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints) – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame – I know that every Patriots fan in the world will be screaming for front 7, for someone to rush the passer but I don’t think it’s the pick here.  Bill Belichick and his staff rarely do what you think they are going to do.  I could see them trading this pick because it will have more value than the #31 pick but you’re probably not going to be able to get another 1st round pick next year for either pick so might as well use the higher one.  The Pats biggest problem last year was in the secondary.  They played poorly in pretty much all areas.  They had no one at safety almost all year with Patrick Chung’s injury.  Adding a player like Smith to the fold and assuming Chung can stay healthy for a season would make a huge weakness into a strength.  The Pats still need help at corner as well but Smith may be a safer pick than the corners that will be left at the end of the 1st round.  The Pats could go D-line here but I think that Belichick is weary about putting a rookie into his complex system, especially one that could be a 4-3 for several weeks then back to a 3-4 for another stretch.  Smith is a versatile safety who could help with both the run and the pass.  I just get the feeling that they are going secondary with this pick and in my opinion Smith is the best bet at this spot in the draft.  Back-up pick – Nick Perry, DE, USC 

31. New England Patriots – Trade down into the 2nd round.  You know it’s coming.  The Patriots love drafting players in the 2nd round and #31 is a prime spot for someone to move up 10 or so spots to get the player they want and Belichick will jump all over the opportunity.  He’ll probably get more than he should for the pick too.

We’ll see how I do.  If I am close enough maybe I will try the 2nd and 3rd rounds for tomorrow.  Enjoy the draft.

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Breaking down the mess that Peyton Manning has left in his wake

So Peyton Manning called John Elway this morning and informed him that he has decided to join the Denver Broncos.  Now the Broncos and Manning’s representation with put the finishing touches on the contract which the parameters seemed to have been established during the recruiting process.  Here’s a breakdown on how it will affect the other teams and players left in the wake:

  • Tim Tebow, current Broncos starting QB – Tebow will now be placed on the trading block.  Tebow was an exciting player last year but he still needs time to develop into the NFL game.  Elway and Fox clearly preferred a more traditional pocket passer and they jumped at the chance to acquire Manning and mitigate whatever backlash from the fan base that would be caused by jettisoning Tebow.  Now Tebow will be shopped around to other teams, some who need a QB and even some who don’t.  The best play for Tebow would be to go somewhere where he could develop but I could imagine one of the teams desperate to sell tickets, and there is two of them down in Florida where Tebow is heralded as football royalty, might make a big push to get him in and sell tickets.
  • San Fransisco 49ers – The 49ers and Alex Smith where playing a cat and mouse game that culminated in the Niners dabbling in the Peyton sweepstakes and Smith flirting with the Dolphins and the Seahawks.  You would assume that the Niners would move quickly to bring Smith back in the fold.
  • Alex Smith, current 49ers starting QB – Smith and the Niners are clearly the best fits for each other but negotiations turned south for whatever reason and led to the situation that I outlined above.  Smith looks to have two choices now – re-sign with the 49ers or essentially punish them by signing with the Dolphins.  Of course you could make the argument that he would be punishing himself if he signed with Miami.  I think cooler heads will prevail and these two sides will get back together and work things out.  You don’t fix what’s not broken and the Niners and Smith were a score away from the Super Bowl last season.
  • Tennessee Titans – They were the other runner-up in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.  Honestly the collateral damage seems to be limited here.  The Titans made it no secret that it was an ownership call to pursue Manning and it didn’t come from the football people.  Matt Hasselbeck has always been a pro and he knows that he doesn’t have much time left in the game so he should come in and work hard like he always has.  Jake Locker shouldn’t be effected either because he was either going to develop under Hasselbeck or develop under Manning, now it should take less time for him to get in the lineup with Hasselbeck in front of him.
  • Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins are in a slightly worse position than they were yesterday.  Sure they could try and acquire Tebow but there will be 30 other teams that could be in on him.  The Manning signing puts pressure on the Niners to re-sign Smith and let’s face it – if your choices are San Fransisco and Miami who would you choose?  The only hope is that the Smith/Niners relationship is damaged beyond repair but it doesn’t seem that bad at this point.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars are a new entry into the QB carousel.  Like the Titans in the Manning sweepstakes the football guys would just as well go with what they have, 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert battling it out with newly signed Chad Henne, but their is a new ownership in Jacksonville and the Jags haven’t been able to sell tickets in years.  If it comes down to an ownership call (and as we’ve seen in the past few weeks it could happen) expect Jacksonville to jump into the Tebow derby and try to bring him home.
  • Cleveland Browns – The Browns only shot at acquiring a veteran quarterback was if Peyton chose Tennessee.  Mike Holmgren would have no doubt tried to re-unite with Matt Hasselbeck but since that won’t happen they will probably sit tight.  Unfortunately for them sitting tight probably means reaching for Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill with the #4 pick.  They could jump into the Tebow derby but I doubt they will.
  • Matt Flynn/Seattle Seahawks – Matt Flynn, the other QB on the free agent market, played his situation as best he could.  He identified the two teams, Seattle and Miami, desperate for a QB that Peyton Manning wouldn’t consider.  He visited with both of them and made a call on where he felt most comfortable.  Now both Flynn and the Seahawks can sit back and watch everything else unfold.

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Will Peyton Manning land in the AFC East?

Peyton Manning is now a free agent and reports say that 12 teams have already made contact with him.  Miami and maybe the Jets look to be heavily involved in the recruiting process so it seems that there is at least chance that Manning lands in the AFC East.  It would be significant, not only because he would improve the Jets or the Dolphins tremendously, but also because Manning would play Tom Brady’s Patriots two times a year.  Here’s a look at the chances of Manning landing with any of the AFC East teams:

The recruiting has already started in Miami

Miami Dolphins:  Stephen Ross is ready to roll out the red carpet and whatever else he needs to lure Manning to Miami.  Miami has some good pieces in place.  Receiver Brandon Marshall can be a prime target for Manning and receiver Davone Bess catches almost everything and would quickly become one of Peyton’s favorite targets.  Reggie Bush is a threat out of the backfield.  The line as anchored by Jake Long, one of the best offensive tackles in the game.  They have a good enough defense.  Still they finished 6-10 last season and have a new coach coming in.  Ross might want Manning but perhaps new head coach Joe Philbin will want Matt Flynn, who played under him in Green Bay.  My guess is that Philbin would obviously be open to acquiring Peyton Manning for his offense but wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if the consolation prize was Flynn.  Location wise Miami is obviously an enticing destination and Manning does have a condo down on South Beach.  Stephen Ross has been trying desperately to bring a big name to Miami since he became owner but for whatever reason guys are scared off.  He missed out on Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who leveraged the situation to secure a better job in San Fransisco.  He missed out on former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who leveraged the situation to get himself more power at his new job in St. Louis.  Manning could leverage this situation to secure a better contract in a situation that might be a bit closer to winning, say a Kansas City or a Arizona or the next team…

Odds: 10 to 1

Ryan would love to have Peyton on his side

New York Jets: For his first two years in the league quarterback Mark Sanchez was dubbed “The Sanchise”.  The Jets made the AFC Championship game in each of his first two years.  Now after an 8-8 season they are ready to throw him into the scrap heap.  The Jets were in turmoil at the end of last season and even though Sanchez may have been the least of their worries we all know that head coach Rex Ryan loves attention and would love to bring in Peyton Manning to make fans forget about the locker room woes on 2011.  Their receiving corp has malcontent Santonio Holmes and they have Shonn Greene coming out of the backfield.  Dustin Keller is a weapon at tight end that Manning would love to utilize.  The Jets have one of the top defenses in the league.  Obviously the big story about Peyton playing for the Jets would be that he was playing in the same city as his brother.  We’ll hear the jokes about Archie and Olivia Manning’s reduced travel schedule or the Manning duplex but I think this might be more of a deterrent than an advantage.  Eli has built himself into an icon of New York City after spending much of his career in Peyton’s shadow and I’m not sure Peyton is ready to step back into his spotlight.  Also it needs to be acknowledged that the turmoil and the in-fighting in the Jets clubhouse was very real at the end of last season and Peyton would probably need assurances that it’s in the past.  The problem with that is that public enemy #1, Santonio Holmes, is virtually unmovable and Rex Ryan has too much pride to change his coaching style for one player.  Still they will go all out if they really want him and they will probably be one of the better teams to make a run at Peyton.

Odds: 20 to 1

The Bills already have a QB that's dedicated to the team

Buffalo Bills:  The Bills just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 6-year, $59 million extension during last season.  Fitzpatrick is no Manning but he is the most productive Bills quarterback statistically since Jim Kelly.  Also his favorite receiver, Stevie Johnson, just signed a 5-year extension himself and Fitzpatrick shaved his head into a mohawk with a #13 and the words “he’s back” shaved into the side of his head.  I don’t think he would have done that if his job was in jeopardy.  In the end, even if there was serious interest from the Bills, I don’t think they’d crack the top of the list of his preferred destinations.  They might stick their toes in the pool but I don’t see them going much further than that.

Odds: 250-1

New England Patriots:  For the past 11 seasons it’s been 1A and 1B.  They already have one, they don’t need the other.

Odds: 1,000,000 to 1

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Appreciating how unprecedented the release of Peyton Manning is

Peyton Manning will be released by the Colts today.  It’s weird just to write it.  Imagine if you had just read that the New England Patriots were going to release Tom Brady.  If you had told someone either of those things this time last year people would have called you crazy.  Now one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time is going to hit the free agent market.  Not because his contract is expiring and he will be too rich for his new team to pay him but because the Indianapolis Colts decided to replace him with Stanford QB Andrew Luck and cut him outright.  In an industry that has been as cut-throat as any in its history no bigger athlete has had his contract terminated by a team than Peyton Manning.

Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay will officially break up today after 14 years

Obviously the question is can he still play?  Judging by how quickly 8 or 9 teams have already jumped up to greet him at the door as he enters free agency I’d say that’s a pretty good sign.  Couple that with the positive medical records over the past few weeks as well as the leaked video of him throwing (leaked by his camp no doubt) and it doesn’t look like Manning is ready to walk in the sunset.  He’ll be supremely motivated as well after what’s gone on in the past few weeks, months, year.  Remember, each team will give him a physical by their own team doctors so if an offer is extended you’d have to assume that the doctors liked what they saw.  Sure he could just retire regardless, he holds a ton of league passing records and he’s won a Super Bowl, but would a Hall of Fame quarterback really want to go out like this?  Cut by a franchise that he turned around and made relevant because he was injured and the team fell apart without them which allowed them to position themselves to draft the next, well, Peyton Manning?

Instead Peyton Manning will enter free agency and play out his career for another team.  I estimate that 15 teams – the Giants, the Eagles, the Rams, the Lions, the Packers, the Falcons, the Panthers, the Saints, the Patriots, the Raiders, the Chargers, the Ravens, the Bengals, the Steelers, and the Colts – will not even do due diligence on Manning due to their current QB situation.  That leaves 17 teams that could look into the situation. Out of the 17 a few might to some due diligence but never fully jump into the pool.  I can see the Bears, Bills, and Broncos fitting into that group.  And while there may be no better fit for Manning to go and be a Super Bowl contender right away than the San Fransisco 49ers, word is that they have an offer out to incumbent QB Alex Smith.  With Manning hitting the market I think it might be wise for Smith to sign that contract soon.

Peyton Manning will don a different uniform in 2012

In the end these are the teams that will definitely be in the running – the Redskins, the Dolphins, the Seahawks, the Cardinals, the Chiefs and the Jets.  You can add a few dark horse teams in there.  Le me throw something out there for you – the Dallas Cowboys.  We all know Jerry Jones loves the attention and how much longer is the Tony Romo experiment really going to go on in Dallas?  Most of the talk is centered around Washington and Miami but keep an eye on Kansas City.  They have a new coach, Romeo Crennel, who won three Super Bowls on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England, a Pro Bowl running back in Jamaal Charles, and a tough defense.  It would be tough for Matt Cassel to lose his job because of an injury but it’s tough for him to complain when the same thing just happened to one of the greatest free agent of all-time.

Peyton Manning is going to be a free agent.  You can put his name on the list along with LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie White, and Pete Rose as the biggest guys ever to go out on a free agent market.  All those guys had expiring contracts.  Peyton is getting cut.  The turk is coming for Peyton Manning.  Guys like Joe Montana and Brett Favre put on another uniform at the end of their careers but they were traded by their old teams, not outright released.  One thing for sure is that we’re a far cry from where we were last off-season in the NFL.  This time last year a lockout was starting.  One year later Peyton Manning is hitting the free agent market.

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My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

My AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense

A lot of people like to do a list of their mid-season all-stars to feel self important and I am no exception.  This is my All-AFC East Team – 11 starters on offense, 11 starters in a 3-4 defense, and 4 special teamers.  Today will be the offense and kicker and tomorrow I will unveil the defense and punter.  Here is the AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense (1st team write up, second team in parenthesis)

Quarterbacks

  • 1st team – Tom Brady, New England Patriots (212 of 321, 2,703 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.0 comp. %, 100.0% QBR) – It’s been another banner year for Pats QB Tom Brady.  He hasn’t been efficient as he has in years past, including last year when he had an unreal 36/4 TD/INT ratio.  But his stats for the first half of the year are as gaudy as anyone’s in the league and he’s leading a Patriots offense that is one of the best passing attacks in the league.  He’ll be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year again
  • 2nd team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (170 of 260, 1,930 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTS, 65.4 comp. %, 92.3% QBR) – Fitzpatrick has emerged as the Bills’ long term answer at QB, a stature made official with a contract extension signed two weeks ago.  Fitzpatrick is once again on pace to put up numbers that only rival that of Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe in the past twenty years for this Bills franchise.

Running Backs

  • 1st team – Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (150 car. for 803 yards, 5.4 avg., 6 TDs, 1,194 total yards) – Jackson is far and away the best halfback in the AFC East.  He’s already got 1,194 total yards halfway through the season, which is on pace to eclipse O.J. Simpson’s single season Bills record.  He’s also on pace to crush his previous career high for rushing yards in a season.  He is the workhorse behind a potent Bills offense and like Brady will be a candidate for NFL MVP at the end of the year.
  • 2nd team – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (108 car. for 452 yards, 4.2 avg., 5 TDs, 501 total yards) – Green-Ellis narrowly beats out Reggie Bush because he’s been more in touches (and scores) and Shonn Greene because he is more consistent in average per carry.  Green-Ellis is the workhorse in a Patriots offense that uses many different pieces.

Fullbacks

  • 1st team – John Conner, New York Jets (7 car. for 26 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD, 35 total yards) – Conner is emerging as a top fullback in the league this year.  He’s been by far the most versatile fullback in the division this season, contributing in the rushing, passing, and blocking games.
  • 2nd team – Corey McIntyre, Buffalo Bills (No stats) – McIntyre hasn’t been utilized as a ball-handler in the Bills offense this year but he is a physical load.  He is a grinder who opens up huge holes for Fred Jackson in the short yardage and goal line situations and Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.

Wide Receivers

  • 1st team – Wes Welker, New England Patriots (66 cat. for 960 yards, 6 TDs, 42 1Ds) – Welker has been off the wall this season and is on pace for his best season to date.  He is one of Tom Brady’s security blankets and is virtually impossible to cover with Brady throwing him the ball.  Oh, and he’s a free agent at year’s end so don’t look for him to slow down any time soon.
  • 1st team – Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (46 cat. for 644 yards, 2 TDs, 31 1Ds) – Marshall edges out Stevie Johnson for the second WR starting spot on my team.  He’s made headlines for what he’s said off the field so for this year but what he has done on the field has been nothing to sneeze at.
  • 2nd team – Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills (42 cat. for 523 yards, 4 TDs, 28 1Ds) – Johnson was edged out by Marshall for first team honors but makes a fine first receiver off the bench.  Johnson is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • 2nd team – David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (35 cat. for 402 yards, 3 TDs, 19 1Ds) – Nelson beats out Deion Branch for the last WR spot on the team with a bit more consistency.  Nelson has seen fewer targets but has more receptions.  Nelson’s hands are as sure as anyone’s in the league and as such a big target he gets to balls that other receivers can’t.

Tight Ends

  • 1st team – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (44 cat. for 596 yards, 6 TDs, 34 1Ds) – Gronkowski is a beast in the passing game, plain and simple.  He is versatile, he can block and catch, but he is most dangerous in the middle of the field where his big body and athleticism make him incredibly difficult to defend.
  • 2nd team – Dustin Keller, New York Jets (29 cat. for 436 yards, 2 TDs, 21 1Ds) – THE AFC East tight end pool is deep with Aaron Hernandez and Scott Chandler also getting consideration but Keller is just two big a part of the Jets offense to overlook.  He is their best receiver through the first half of the season.

Tackles

  • 1st team – Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – Long’s Dolphins might only have one win but Long is still among the best left tackles in the game in 2011.  Reggie Bush’s 4.9 yards per carry would help speak to that.
  • 1st team – Wayne Hunter, New York Jets – Hunter is probably not the best tackle on his team (see below) but he is the best right tackle in the division with Sebatian Vollmer splitting early time with rookie Nate Solder.
  • 2nd team – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets – Ferguson is definitely not a high first round disappointment for the Jets, playing again at a extremely high level while guarding Mark Sanchez’s blind side.
  • 2nd team – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots – Vollmer has been plagued by health problems and has dealt with the emergence of fellow right tackle Nate Solder but is consistent as ever when he’s in there.

Guards

  • 1st team – Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills – Levitre has been a monster this season for the Bills.  He’s done all that’s been asked of him, including kicking out to left tackle the past two games for the Bills’ injured tackles.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just twice in those two games.
  • 1st team – Brian Waters, New England Patriots – Waters was a great veteran pickup by the Patriots just before the start of the regular season.  Waters has stabilized a line that was inconsistent at time for the Pats last season.
  • 2nd team – Logan Mankins, New England Patriots – Mankins is having another great season, just not one as good as Andy Levitre’s up in Buffalo.  Mankins is the anchor for the Pats offensive line.
  • 2nd team – Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins – Carey has not skipped a beat moving inside from right tackle to right guard this year, playing at his usually high level and being a beast in the run game.

Centers

  • 1st team – Nick Mangold, New York Jets – Mangold missed a few games earlier this year due to a high ankle sprain but he is by far the best center in the NFL when healthy.  He is dominant virtually any time out there.  He was sorely missed during his injury, a huge blow to the Jets offense
  • 2nd team – Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills – Wood is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his first season back at his college position.  He would probably  a 1st teamer if he was in any other division, or Mangold wasn’t in his.  He might be the best pull center in the league.

Kickers

  • 1st team – Nick Folk, New York Jets (12-13 FGs, 23-23 XPs, 50 long) – Folk has been the most consistent kicker in the division, only missing once and being 2 out of 3 from over 50 yards out.
  • 2nd team – Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills (13-15 FGs, 25-25 XPs, 49 long) – Lindell has had his usual consistent season with 13 makes, including a game winner against the Patriots.  Unfortunately he will miss the next 4-6 games for the Bills with a shoulder injury.

Defense tomorrow

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Whiteout at the Ralph day is upon us

The anticipation has been building up for a week and the day is finally here.  The biggest game of the year to date for the Bills and the Jets and the Bills fans decided to go old school, like back in your college days old school, by staging a whiteout at the game against the Jets.  I’ve never seen a whiteout before in the pros and am quite looking forward to it.  I’m not sure what impact it will ultimately have on the outcome of the game, if any, but there is one thing that you’ve got to admit – there are no fans like Buffalo Bills fans.

As for the actual game, I expect this to be one of the more lower scoring games of the years for the Bills. I’d be shocked if the Bills were able to run up and down the field on the Jets like they did at times against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Pats.  I do expect a big game for Freddie Jackson and that may open things up underneath for a David Nelson or a Scott Chandler.  Conversely, with a week of inactivity I don’t believe that Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense will exactly come out guns blazing.  The Bills defense will be playing with confidence in their own house, coming off of a dominant performance against the Redsins a week ago.  The bugaboo for the Bills in the past two years against the Jets and I don’t think the Jets will see anything close to the numbers that they’ve seen in the past 4 games rushing-wise against the Bills.  It will be a close game but I give the edge to Buffalo 24-17.

Over in Foxboro the Patriots play host to the Giants in the first match-up between the two teams since the Giants broke up the Patriots perfect season in the Super Bowl back in 2007.  I can’t help but shake the feeling that Bill Belichick will be out for blood, but Eli Manning matches up great with the Pats defense.  It’s like mind of matter when picking the outcome of this one.  Do you believe in Belichick’s dark magic or believe that Eli can play with these guys.  I’ll go with a little bit of both – Manning moves the ball on the Pats defense but Brady proves too much for the Giants and they pull away late 38-31.

Over in Kansas City it is formulaic.  The Chiefs have bounced back for a horrid start and are suddenly in contention for the division title.  The Dolphins are hapless and in disarray.  The Chiefs didn’t dig out of their early hole to lose to a winless team.  They win easily Sunday 27-6.

My full slate of picks today, with spread are BUF, DAL, ATL, KC, TB, SF, CLE, CIN, OAK, NYG, STL, GB, PIT, CHI

Twitter @ErikVenskus