NFL Week 1 Review – Bills at Jets

After an off-season of hope this one was a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow.  The Bills were coming in with a wave of momentum and the Jets looked to be a mess on and off the field.  he Jets came to play and they shocked the Bills early, going up by 21 points in the 1st quarter en route to a 48-28 opening day win.  To many in Buffalo the bubble seems to have burst already.  Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were but the truth is that they have a heel of a lot of time to make up for it.  Here are some individual thoughts on the game:

  • Spiller ran past the Jets defense on the way to 169 yards on Sunday

    Regarding CJ Spiller, the lone bright spot for the Bills.  It looks as if CJ has finally figured out the tempo of the pro game.  If he continues to progress and improve as he has he could truly be an elite offensive weapon.  Earlier in his career Spiller was doing too much dancing and spending too much time finding the hole.  Spiller is shifty and quick.  Once he finds a hole he has to attack it.  That’s exactly what he’s started to do.  Between last week’s performance in relief of Fred Jackson and the last 5 games he started last year for the injured Jackson he is averaging just a hair under 7 yards a carry.  That’s a huge number for an NFL running back.  Spiller stills ahs some growing up to do but the Bills can win without Fred Jackson if they have to, provided other things go right.  Spiller will not be the problem.

  • Where is the new and improved defense?  Dave Wannstedt was hired to fix the Bills defense.  Clearly the Jets had an effective offensive game plan.  Use quick drops before the 4-man front can get to you and take advantage on the Bills young CBs who were playing 5-6 yards off of the receivers.  So where were the adjustments.  Despite Sanchez getting rid off the ball too quickly for the 4-man front to get to him the Bills brought extra guys only 4 times the entire game.  Stephon Gilmore has a reputation for being a physical corner yet he was giving the Jets receivers a cushion.  When you hire a coach with Super Bowl winning experience you except Super Bowl caliber coaching.  Wannstedt needs to bounce back this week against the Chiefs.
  • Sanchez excelled throwing the ball on Sunday

    Give credit where it’s due.  Mark Sanchez was ridiculed since the day the Jets acquired Tim Tebow.  He had a lot to prove.  The entire team did but Sanchez in particular.  And he put his money where his mouth is.  He shook off a very bad INT on the opening drive and played a great game.  He spread the ball around and threw the ball confidently.  For weeks we heard about a QB controversy leading up to week 1.  Entering week 2 there is no quarterback controversy.  This is Mark Sanchez’s team (for now).  The Jets locker room has become a happy place (for now).

  • Fitzpatrick was Jekyll on Sunday.  He still has the potential to be Hyde.  There is no way to mince words.  Ryan Fitzpatrick single-handedly put the Bills in a deep, early hole in the 1st quarter with two bad passes.  Then, while they still had a chance to come back in the 2nd half, Fitzpatrick gave up a pick-6 on the 1st drive.  He’s had bad days like this in the past.  Sometimes he’s bounced back, sometimes he hasn’t.  Losing David Nelson is a big blow but Donald Jones seems ready to step up and rookie T.J. Graham will get some important time early.  I said this last year but the Bills should really work tight end Scott Chandler more into the offensive game plan.  He’s a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers and safeties with his 6-7 frame.  And he catches pretty much everything.
  • The Bills offensive line is a good unit.  I know what that says about Fitzpatrick’s day but the truth is that Fitzpatrick’s mistakes weren’t because he had people in his face all game.  They opened up huge holes for C.J. Spiller.  The middle of the line is stout with center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.  Rookie Cordy Glenn held his own at left tackle.
  • Football isn’t everything.  Marcell Dareus had a bad day on Saturday in the Meadowlands but it pales in comparison to what him and his family are dealing with now.  On Sunday Marcell’s brother Simeon Gilmore was shot and killed in his native Alabama.  Gilmore was 20.  Obviously football seems very small in light of the tragedy and while Marcell is a big part of the Bills team I hope that he takes all the time that he needs to deal with this tragedy.  Condolences to the family of Simeon Gilmore.

The Bills open the home docket of their schedule this Sunday in Buffalo against the Chiefs.

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Are The New York Jets Messing With Us?

From ESPN.com: Jets players Brawl On Sidelines

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A brawl involving about 20 players erupted on the sideline in the New York Jets‘ practice Monday, causing reporters to scatter and coming dangerously close to fans.

Rex Ryan has got to be playing some jedi mind tricks on us at this point

This has got to be a joke at this point right?  A professional sports team simply can not be this dysfunctional.  You’ve got a high-profile quarterback controversy involving two painfully mediocre quarterbacks, a coach who continues to run his mouth despite the fact that the team didn’t win anything after he ran said mouth in each of his first three seasons as head coach, you’ve got a psychotic linebacker who’s about to rip the head off of the third string quarterback who wildly criticized the team in the off-season in a blatant attempt to get let go but is still with the team for some reason.  You’ve got a wide receiver who took a similar track in the off-season and was injured in practice by the cornerback who has never played a down on offense yet said that he’s the second best wide receiver on the team.  You know the one, the guy with 8 different kids from 8 different mother?  Now they are literally endangering their fans by having a battle royal within inches of the sidelines.

I refuse to believe that a pro sports team is this messed up.  Even with this group, it is literally impossible to be this dysfunctional.  Hell, they make the 2012 Red Sox look like the 2004 Red Sox.  At least the Sox made the effort to pretend that things were going alright during spring training.  The Jets haven’t even waited until a pre-season game has been played to show how much of a mess they are.  I’m convinced at this point that they are just messing with us.  They’re going to come out looking like the ’85 Bears and start singing Kumbaya together in the locker room after the games while Rex laughs in everyone’s face.  Because a team this messed up has to be joking right?  There’s no way this is real.

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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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Thoughts on Day 2 of the draft and looking ahead to Day 3

Day 2 is in the books and it’s on to Day 3 where teams fill out their rosters while hoping to find a diamond in the rough in the late rounds.  Then one of my favorite parts, something we missed last year, when the guys who aren’t drafted are bombarded with phone calls when they become unrestricted free agents the minute the draft is over.  Here is a look at Day 2 of the draft:

  • The Bills got great value picking up Glenn at #41

    AFC East 2nd Round Picks:  Bills took Georgia OT Cordy Glenn with the 41st pick.  Huge value here, this guy was a first round talent.  He’ll play LT in Buffalo’s quick drop offense and they hope he’s a road grader for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the run game.  The Dolphins took Stanford OT Jonathan Martin with the 42nd pick.  Martin should be a pretty good player but I’m surprised that they took him to play RT, he seems like a more natural LT and obviously he won’t play there in Miami with Jake Long.  The Jets took Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill with the 42nd pick.  This guy has a ton of speed for his size as shown at the combine but the concern is that he could be a one trick pony.  Mark Sanchez isn’t exactly Dan Marino with the arm.  The Patriots took Illinois S Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick.  Not much is known about Wilson since he wasn’t really on anyone’s draft board.  He played for a bad program and a horrible coach so there is no where to go but up for him.  Best pick: Glenn, getting 1st round talent and a starter at LT at 41 is tremendous value.  Worst pick: Wilson, if nothing else because the other 3 teams got good value with their picks and he is sort of an unknown.

  • AFC East 3rd Round Picks:  Here is where the waters get muddied for me.  I will confess to only hearing of one of these guys picked before tonight.  The Bills took N.C. State WR T.J. Graham with the 69th pick.  It was an interesting pick because they traded up two spots to get him and he looked to be 5-7 round range on most people’s boards.  He does look like a poor man’s Lee Evans which is exactly what the Bills need.  The Dolphins took Miami DE Olivier Vernon with the 72nd pick.  Again I don’t know much about this guy but he’s staying home which is good for him.  Miami is going 4-3 so they need those 4-3 bodies in there so I guess this is a start.  The Jets took Arkansas State LB Demario Davis with the 77th pick.  He’s not exactly Melvin Ingram.  He’s only 235 so he seems kind of smallish for the Jets defense.  The Patriots took Arkansas DE Jake Bequette with the 90th pick.  This is the one guy I heard of.  He’s the dreaded “high-motor white guy” defensive end type.  He could make up a great duo with Chandler Jones in the future.  Best pick: Bequette, SEC guy, high motor, plays hard.  Worst pick: Graham I suppose because it seemed like a reach.
  • Upshaw would have preferred to go in Round 1 but he can't complain about his destination

    Other picks I liked on Day 2:  The Ravens nabbing Courtney Upshaw at the top of Round 2.  His knock that he only played at an extremely high level in college because of all of the talent that he had around him.  Well, look at all of the talent that he has around him now.  The 49ers grabbed LaMichael James to round out the transformation of what was an average offense last year.  He’ll be their Darren Sproles.  The Eagles grabbing Vinny Curry at 59 seems like a steal.  I liked Mohammed Sanu getting redemption and actually getting that call from the Bengals but what are the chances he believed that it was really the Bengals when they first called?

  • NFL Network is king:  If it wasn’t clear that NFL Network had the superior coverage on Day 1, Day 2 confirmed it.  While ESPN resorted to something that assembled more of a shock jock talk show than a draft by the end of the night NFL Network showed every single pick announced until the very end.  Mike Mayock is enjoyable and he wasn’t being feed picks like the ESPN guys and for the most part Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk shut their mouths and only chimed in occasionally while the former players on ESPN were loud and obnoxious.  I probably won’t even turn on ESPN at all today.
  • What to look for in Day 3:  Well, I guess today is just checking out who your team picks.  If you went to college or have a college team that you root for you can check out where their guys go.  I like to see where the 2nd generation guys go, so I’m interested in seeing Nick Toon, son of long time Jets receiver Al Toon, get drafted.  Also a couple of name QBs remain, Michigan State’s gritty QB Kirk Cousins and Boise State QB Kellen Moore who barely ever lost but is only about a 6th round pick in the draft.  Enjoy your Saturday.

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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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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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Best Super Bowls of all-time – #9 – Super Bowl III – Baltimore Colts vrs. New York Jets

This is the game that put the Super Bowl, and the AFL, on the map.  The first Super Bowl was met with extreme skepticism when it was established, people didn’t think the new AFL teams could compete with the old school NFL teams.  The Green Bay Packers validated that skepticism early by winning the first two Super Bowls easily.  Joe Namath and the New York Jets changed all of that in Super Bowl III however and the Super Bowl went on to become America’s biggest sports game.

Super Bowl III – Baltimore Colts vrs. New York Jets – January 12, 1969, broadcast on NBC, announced by Curt Gowdy, Al DeRogatis, and Kyle Rote

Earl Morrall threw an INT after a long first drive by the Colts

The New York Jets were 18 point underdogs in this game.  “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.”  Those were Joe Namath’s famous words three days before the game was played.  People were astonished at Namath’s prediction.  No one thought that the Jets had a chance.  The Jets came out and looked flat early on.  After gaining once first down on their first drive, the Colts defense held them and they were forced to punt.  Colts quarterback Earl Morrall quickly tried to establish their NFL dominance by embarking on on 11 play drive that started at their own 27 yard line and brought them all the way down to the Jets’ 19.  The Jets stiffened up their defense and Colts kicker Lou Michaels failed to convert on a 27 yard field goal attempt and the Colts came away empty handed.  The Jets defense stiffened from here on out but the Colts wouldn’t let the Jets do anything offensively.  Then the Jets made a crucial mistake with about 2 minutes left in the quarter.  Jets receiver George Sauer fumbled the ball deep in Jets territory and it was recovered by the Colts at the Jets’ 12 yard line.

Jets fullback Matt Snell paced the Jets offense and scored the first TD of the game in the 2nd quarter

The Colts started off the 2nd quarter with the ball deep in Jets’ territory but on 3rd down an Earl Morrall pass was tipped high in the air and caught by Jets cornerback Randy Beverly in the end zone.  The Jets started the next drive at their own 20 yard line and started to get their offense going, thanks in large part to the power running of fullback Matt Snell.  Snell ran 5 times and caught a pass and capped the drive off with a 4 yard TD run to give the Jets a 7-0 lead.  That was the first time in the Super Bowl that an AFL team had a lead in the game.  Morrall once again attempted to drive the Colts down the field but once again the drive stalled in New York territory and once again Michaels failed to convert on a field goal attempt, this time from 46 yards out.  Namath struck quickly after the field goal, hitting Sauer with a 36 yard throw on the 2nd play of the drive.  The drive stalled at the Colts’ 34 yard line however and Jets’ kicker Jim Turner missed his 41 yard field goal attempt.  The Colts went back to work and running back Tom Matte had a 58 yard run and once again set the Colts up deep in Jets’ territory as halftime neared.  Morrall was intercepted again at the Jets’ 2 yard line and another drive Colts drive ended in a turnover.  The Jets went three-and-out and the Colts had the ball back and a chance to get on the board before halftime.  The Colts ran a flea flicker play and had the Jets defense fooled as receiver Jimmy Orr was wide open in the end zone.  Morrall didn’t see him though and attempted to complete a pass to running back Jerry Hill but the ball landed in the hands of Jets’ safety Jim Hudson for Morrall’s 3rd interception of the 1st half.  The game went into halftime with the Jets leading 7-0.

If the first half didn’t demoralize the Colts than the 3rd quarter certainly did.  The Colts could only manage to hold the ball on offense for 3 minutes in the quarter.  Tom Matte lost a fumble on the Colts’ very first offensive play of the half and set up a 32 yard field goal by Turner to give the Jets a 10-0 lead.  Namath took the next possession and took the ball 40 yards on 4 pass completions to set up another Turner field goal, this one from 30 yards out, to give the Jets a 13-0 lead.  With 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter Colts coach Don Shula decided to bench Morrall in favor of Johnny Unitas, who was in the twilight of his career and had struggled with arm injuries all season long.  Unitas’ first possession was a three-and-out and the Jets went into the 4th quarter with the improbable 13-0 lead.

Namath famously celebrates the Jets' improbable Super Bowl victory

On the first drive of the 4th quarter Namath once again found George Sauer for a deep 39 yard pass but the Colts defense stiffened up when the Jets got the ball down to the 2 yard line and the Jets settled for another Turner field goal.  The lead was 16-0 and neither Morrall nor Unitas could produce any sort of offense by the Colts.  Unitas started to drive the ball down the field on the Colts first possession of the 4th quarter.  He got the Colts all the way down to the Jets’ 25 yard line but the Jets recorded their 4th interception of the game when Randy Beverly picked off a Unitas pass in the end zone.  The Jets drove the ball down the field but Turner missed a 42 yard field goal.  Time was running out and after Unitas threw incompletions on the first 3 passes of the next drive the Colts were forced to go for it on 4th down.  Unitas connected on the 4th down play for 17 yards to receiver Jimmy Orr.  Ten plays later Jerry Hill finally got the Colts on the board with a 1 yard TD run to make the score 16-7 with only 3:19 left to go.  The Colts recovered an onside kick and Unitas quickly moved the offense to the Jets’ 19 yard line after 3 pass completions in a row but Unitas couldn’t connect on the next 4, turning the ball back over to the Jets.  The Jets held onto the ball until there was :08 left in the game.  The Colts attempted two meaningless passes before time expired and the Jets were the 1st Super Bowl champions fro the AFL.

Final Score:  New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7

Years later Namath claims that he was just going back and forth with an unruly Colts fan at a press conference when he made the guarantee.  Nevertheless the Jets players privately seethed in the locker room at the perception that they had no chance in the game.  Still the Colts couldn’t get out of their own way in the game, throwing for 4 INTs, fumbling the ball away once, and missing 2 FGs.  At the end of the day the Jets made enough plays to take the game and put the AFL on the map and helped change the face of the NFL into what we see today.

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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