Monthly Archives: August 2016

2016 AFC East Preview

What is there to say about the AFC East at this point? It’s the same thing every year. The New England Patriots dominate. It’s that simple. Under the reign of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the Patriots have lost the division crown only twice, once in 2002 (Brady’s second year as a starter) and once in 2008. But lets take a closer look.

The Jets won the division in ’02 with a 9-7 record, the same record as the Patriots, but due to the tie-breaker the Jets claimed the division. The’08 title was claimed by the Miami Dolphins, but Brady missed that entire season due to a knee injury in Week 1 and, even then, the Matt Cassel led Patriots finished with an identical 11-5 record, but missed out on division supremacy by way of a tie breaker once again.

However, the 2016 campaign could offer the Pats’ division rivals a jump of the juggernauts. Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games following theĀ  nauseating “Deflategate” ruling. (Here’s to hoping for a lengthy holdout next CBA discussions and the players get their rights back from Commissioner Roger Goodell ). The stage is set. Let’s rank ’em…

1.) New England Patriots

Brady or no Brady, this organization is too powerful and backup Jimmy Garoppolo has a lot of talent. He still has plenty to work on, but his second preseason game looked very impressive. Garoppolo led scoring drives on all but two series, one of which ended with a fumble near the Chicago Bears’ goal-line. They key to success will be the offensive line remaining healthy and efficient, after a very sub-par 2015.

It’s worth nothing the weapons Garoppolo will have at his disposal come Week 1. Already armed with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski, the Pats went out and picked up Chris Hogan from the division rival Buffalo Bills and traded for Bears tight end Martellus Bennett. Yup, Gronk AND the Black Unicorn on the same team. Good luck.

The defense still has room for improvement despite finishing ninth in overall defense in 2015. That growth will look to come from the secondary. The starters are entrenched with Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung. The issue is depth and second-round pick Cyrus Jones, looks to be the man to anchor the nickle position.

The front seven is as talented as it comes, highlighted by the elite linebacker tandem of Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. The Patriots traded away edge rusher Chandler Jones and will rely heavily on a rotation that includes starters Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, as well as youngsters Geno Grissom and Trey Flowers. Not to mention new comer and former first-round pick Chris Long. Expect a big leap from tackle Malcom Brown.

Breakout Candidate: Joe Thuney, OG

2.) New York Jets

I anticipate the Jets to slide a little from their very successful 10-win campaign in 2015. Make no mistake this is a very talented team with a great head coach in Todd Bowles, but the Jets will also be fielding the oldest unit in the league this season and they didn’t get any younger with the additions of Matt Forte and Ryan Clady.

The offense ran well under Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and, after a lengthy holdout, finally brought the 33 year-old back. He has two top flight targets in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The question remains who is after that? This will be a big year for former-second round pick Jace Amaro at the tight end position. He needs to prove himself with consistent hands and the ability to stay healthy.

Antonio Cromartie was cut once the offseason opened and Darrelle Revis, at 31, finally started showing signs of his play declining. The big gamble will be the movement of cornerback Buster Skrine from the nickle position to an outside cornerback. If it doesn’t pan out, expect him to shift back and Marcus Williams to man the outside. He led the team with six interceptions last season.

Age will be the calling card for Gang Green in ’16, but they are starting to build a youth movement on defense. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams form arguably the best defensive line in football. And at linebacker rush ends Lorenzo Mauldin and rookie Jordan Jenkins could form into a dangerous tandem.

Breakout Candidate: Marcus Williams, CB

3.) Buffalo Bills

Here is where things get muddy. The Bills and the Dolphins could easily flip-flop, but I’m going with the more organizationally grounded team for the bronze. Year One under head coach Rex Ryan was something else. The team finished better in total offense (13th) than defense (19th). Very odd for a Ryan unit.

The Bills posted the best rushing attack in the league last year with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams leading the backfield. But over the offseason Williams ballooned up to 260-pounds and was cut. They’ll need help from rookie Jonathan Williams and veteran Reggie Bush. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was second on the team in rushing.

Speaking of Taylor, what a year for him last year. Signed from Baltimore obscurity and given the keys to car in Buffalo. And overall? He performed pretty well, surpassing 3,000-yards and throwing 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Of course it helps when being protected by one of the most underrated lines in the league. It was good to see Sammy Watkins finally breakout for a 1,000 yard season.

The defense is simply in shambles. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has been suspended the first four games for substance abuse and has since checked himself into a treatment facility. First-round pick Shaq Lawson underwent surgery and could potentially miss the whole season. Second-round pick Reggie Ragland tore his ACL and will, in fact, miss the entire season. Both were expected to start.

It’s always important to find a silver lining, though. In that case, club house cancer Mario Williams is no longer with the team and team captain Kyle Williams is back from injury. The Bills can also rest their hat on the emergence of a possibly elite cornerback tandem of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.

Breakout Candidate: Ronald Darby, CB

4.) Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are rebuilding, but have a lot of upside. They have a lot of dynamic young talent on offense and by bringing in top coaching prospect Adam Gase to run the team, could maximize their ability much sooner than later. And the first place to look at is the wide receiver group which boasts Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and speedster Kenny Stills.

The big question mark is in the backfield. The club’s old regime never fully utilized former running back Lamar Miller. He’s gone and that leaves a platoon of Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake, and Arian Foster. All three have the potential to have a 1,000 season, the only question is who? The team will give Ajayi first crack.

Where the offense packs a punch, the back seven of the Dolphins defense doesn’t. The Dolphins swapped picks with the Eagles during the draft and also took the Eagles salary dump in the form of Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell. Alonso, has a wealth of talent, but has had trouble staying healthy going back as far as his Oregon days. The bright spot is unheralded Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones.

The teeth of the Dolphins’ D comes from their front four which boasts Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, and Cameron Wake. Wake is coming off an Achilles injury at 34 and will be unproven until Week 1. Williams, should have a bounce back year at his natural end position in a 4-3 defense.

Breakout Candidate: DeVante Parker, WR

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2016 NFC East Preview

Each team in the NFC East has one the division at least once over the past five, with the Washington Redskins being the only repeat winner. Yeah, that’s right this division makes no sense.

Last year the Washington Redskins finally got out of their own way and ended the quarterback controversy that surrounded the team for the previous two seasons to put together a successful campaign and took advantage of the injury bug breaking down the Dallas Cowboys, to come out on top of the division. The celebration was short lived as they went one-and-done, getting blown out by the Green Bay Packers on Wild Card Weekend.

The division always seems to be in flux and this year only highlights the notion as both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles have new (and first time) head coaches in Ben McAdoo and Doug Pederson, respectively. With some new faces in the crowd, lets take a look at how things could shape up this year.

1.) Dallas Cowboys

Much like last year, this is a very, very speculative placement. The Cowboys effectively have all the pieces to make a serious post-season run, but there is an “if”. They can make a strong post-season run “if” they stay healthy.

Tony Romo, played in only four games last season and isn’t getting any younger. The man is protected by, arguably, the best line in football, but Romo has a lengthy injury history and while he has admirably battled through many of them, the question must be asked: how much more of a beating can he take?

Rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott has been a pre-season sensation, but the team would like not to use that insurance policy. Instead, expect them to lean heavily on a running game that boasts two 1,000-yard rushers Alred Morris and Darren McFadden, as well as the fourth-overall pick in Ezekiel Elliott.

On defense, character issues are the major story line. Poised to release one of the most young and dynamic pass rushes in the league, the Cowboys were hammered by news that both Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence both received four-game suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

It was such an issue that Gregory checked himself into a rehabilitation facility and potentially could face another six games added to his suspension. And if that were to take place, Gregory would become the second Cowboy to be hit with a 10-game suspension as starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain was also hit with a 10-game suspension.

Breakout Candidate: Byron Jones, S

2.) Washington Redskins

Should the Cowboys falter, the Redskins should claim the division. Of course, a lot of that rides on the continued development of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins, took the reins of the franchise last season and turned in a quality season with over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

The Redskins took steps to bolster his arsenal by adding veteran tight end Vernon Davis as an insurance policy to oft-injured star Jordan Reed. They also spent their first-round pick on receiver Josh Doctson, giving Cousins a potent trio of receivers including DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The big question mark comes at running back where Matt Jones will be heavily relied on.

The team was hoping to get more from the defense after finishing the season 28th in total defense last year, but took an early hit when pass rusher Junior Galette was lost for the season, after he suffered a torn Achilles. His second in as many seasons.

To replace the pass rush threat opposite of Ryan Kerrigan will be last year’s second-round pick Preston Smith, who impressed as a rookie with eight sacks. Any quarterback pressure will be welcomed by a shape-shifting secondary that will see long time starter DeAngelo Hall move from cornerback to safety and a new comer in lockdown corner Josh Norman — cannot wait for those match-ups against the Giants!

Breakout Candidate: Preston Smith, OLB

3.) New York Giants

In his two seasons under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo (now head coach), Eli Manning has attempted more passes than at any other time in his 12 year career. That’s a lot to ask an aging quarterback, but Manning has risen to the occasion consistently completing over 60% of his passes, surpassing over 4,000 yards, and tossing at least 30 touchdowns each season. Good right?

Well, he’s also thrown 28 interceptions and only won 12 games, despite having Odell Beckham Jr. to throw to, who has emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the game. The the problem has come from three areas 1) no true secondary target after Beckham, 2) an oft-injured and vastly under-performing line, and 3) virtually no running attack.

The defense has been average at best over this time as well, which is why the Giants went out and spent $200 million on defensive players Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins. While they helped out the front four and the secondary, the linebacking corps still leaves much to be desired.

The G-Men are still a ways away from contending for division supremacy again. They need help at the safety position, could upgrade virtually any of the linebacking spots, and Victor Cruz needs to get healthy again. While, there’s not much the team can do for that last part, they still need to bolster Manning’s weapons to succeed.

Breakout Candidate: Sterling Shepard, WR

4.) Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles made splash after splash this offseason. First was firing head coach Chip Kelly, then hiring first time head coach (and former-Eagles quarterback) Doug Pederson, followed by GM Howie Roseman purging the roster of Kelly’s high priced signings, then trading up for the second overall pick in the draft, and lastly was the massive $103 million resigning of Fletcher Cox.

The team left many scratching their heads by how they handled the quarterback position. They resigned Sam Bradford to starter money, then signed backup Chase Daniel to a very lucrative contract, but once they traded up to second overall and selected quarterback Carson Wentz, Bradford requested to be moved, but eventually backed down. This mess has led to a whole new type of quarterback controversy.

On defense, things were much simpler. Cox got his mega contract and earned it. He’s one of the most disruptive interior players in the league and the main building block for the Eagles’ defense. The tricky part for the defense, will be transitioning from a 3-4 to 4-3 base defense, leaving one end spot up for grabs.

The secondary has a lot of room for growth. They added a lot of pieces during free agency in the shape of safety Rodney McLeod and cornerbacks Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin. A lot of the leadership comes from strong safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had a tremendous season last year and led the team in tackles with 109.

Breakout Candidate: Jordan Hicks, ILB

2017 Hall of Fame Predictions

The 2016 NFL season is officially underway with tonight’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s a night of absolute legends with Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Kenny Stabler, and Dick Stanfel all entering the hallowed halls of Canton.

At moments like these it’s hard to not think of those who are missing from the Hall. As the NFL floods our minds with highlight reels of miraculous plays and legendary drives, we often start to think “well what about so-and-so” or ask our friends for reaffirmation that (insert name here) is already inducted, only to find out he is not.

So in that light, lets look ahead at the potential class of 2017. After running through the history books. We narrowed it down to these eight, assuming the class is an eight man class again. Here is who we have come up with…

1.) Don Coryell, Head Coach
St. Louis Cardinals/San Diego Chargers

It should be considered a crime that Coryell is not already in the Hall. When people hear the name, they instantly recall the “Air Coryell” offense and for good reason. A dynamic innovator, the offensive scheme Coryell ran helped introduce the likes of the “move” tight end (in the shape of Hall-of-Famer Kellen Winslow) and the one running back backfield. After winning the Super Bowl in 1999, St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil noted that their offensive, nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”, was founded by using Coryell’s philosophy.

Then there is Coryell’s coaching tree, where you will find Hall-of-Fame coaches John Madden and Joe Gibbs getting their start. Not to mention famous coordinators Ernie Zampese and Al Saunders. While he may not have the most wins in history (111) and posts a 3-6 playoff record, Coryell did change the game forever and in the process developed four Hall of Fame players (Winslow, Dan Fouts, Charlie Jonier, and Fred Dean) and two Hall of Fame coordinators. That pretty much says it all.

2.) Everson Walls, Cornerback
Dallas Cowboys/New York Giants/Cleveland Browns

Another criminal absence. Of the 24 defensive backs already enshrined in the Hall of Fame today, Walls has more career interceptions (57) than 16 of them. That says a lot. He was a four time Pro Bowler and a first or second-team All Pro three times. In fact, until the likes of future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed, Walls was the only man in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times. An impressive resume for any player, but especially for one who went undrafted.

Some may think of Walls as the player on the wrong side of Dwight Clark’s infamous play “The Catch”, that sent the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XVI. But did Walls ever atone. After he joining the New York Giants, Walls made a critical play, tackling Thurman Thomas in the open field late in fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXV. Erasing a potential touchdown and keeping the score 20-19, the stage was set for another infamous play as Buffalo Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood would go on to miss his field goal thus anointing the New York Giants Super Bowl champs.

3.) Isaac Bruce, Wide Receiver
St. Louis Rams/San Francisco 49ers

Ninth all-time in receptions, fourth all-time in receiving yards, and 12th all-time in touchdown receptions make the case for Isaac Bruce simple. A five time Pro Bowl player, Bruce’s consistency help aid the hardships of a team relocating from Los Angeles to St. Louis.

In his second season, the team’s first in St. Louis, Bruce boosted his stats from 21-272-3 as a rookie on a 4-12 team to 119-1,781-13 on a 7-9 team. He would lead the league in receiving yards in 1996 and in 1999 (his lone AP All-Pro season), Bruce would haul in the (eventual) game winning 73-yard touchdown from Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXIV. The argument is simple here.

4.) Ty Law, Cornerback
New England Patriots/New York Jets/Kansas City Chiefs/Denver Broncos

Law was one of the best cornerbacks in the league while in his prime and played with swagger as if he were the best. A five time Pro Bowler, two time AP All Pro, and two time league leader in interceptions illustrates just how dominate he was. A measure further displayed by being named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team. Law, was one of the vital cogs to the New England Patriots Super Bowl championship run of the early 2000s, making big plays at the biggest moments.

First making his impact by intercepting the Rams’ Kurt Warner and returning it 47 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI, which gave the Patriots their first points of the game, which they would go on to win 20-17. Then, two years later, Law would intercept Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning three times in the AFC Championship to send the Patriots back to their second Super Bowl in three years.

5.) Alan Faneca, Guard
Pittsburgh Steelers/New York Jets/Arizona Cardinals

The linemen never get enough respect. Faneca, easily, should have been enshrined in his first year of eligibility. A Pro Bowler nine times, a first or second-team All Pro player eight times and a member of the NFL’s 2000 All-Decade team, Faneca was consistently elite. Not only did he help pave the way for Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, but he helped establish Willie Parker as an effective ground game element in 2005 that ended with the team beating the Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL.

In 2008 he signed with the New York Jets as Rex Ryan took control of his first ever head coaching job and was looking to add veteran leadership. Faneca, made an instant impact on the field and in the locker room. Over his two seasons with the team, Faneca helped the Jets churn out over 4,000 rushing yards and make it to the AFC Championship in 2009 after making the postseason as a Wild Card team.

6.) Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver
San Francisco 49ers/Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys/Buffalo Bills/Cincinnati Bengals

Owens slight this year is offensive. Say what you will about his antics off the field, Owens should have been a first ballot hall-of-famer by every logical means. The Hall is the crowning achievement of what you do ON the field and during his time in the league no one (arguably) did it better. Sixth all-time in receptions, second all-time in receiving yards, and third all-time in touchdowns receptions? Are you kidding? How is that guy not in first go-around? And I’m saying this not as a TO supporter, but as someone who looks at the numbers.

Sure, Owens flamed out in multiple spots, but give the man credit. Few have tried so hard to be great and achieved it. A third-round selection out of the lowly UT-Chattanooga, Owens maximized his potential to become a six time Pro Bowler, five time first-team All Pro, and member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team. Lets not forget the player who led the Eagles with nine receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIX despite having surgery less than a month and a half before the game to insert two screws and a plate. That is incredible.

7.) LaDanian Tomlinson, Running Back
San Diego Chargers/New York Jets

Next year will be Tomlinson’s first year of eligibility and it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: Tomlinson is a first ballot hall-of-famer. His numbers are staggering when looking back over them. It is incredible what he did in just 11 years and in retrospect it seems a bit ironic that he played for the “Bolts”.

The meat of Tomlinson’s career numbers came in just nine years, in which Tomlinson torched the NFL for 11,760 yards and 126 touchdowns. That is nine straight years of rushing for at least 1,100 yards. It is truly Barry Sanders-esque what Tomlinson was able to accomplish. His only two years in New York, were the only two in which he didn’t have double digit touchdowns. He retired as the fifth all-time in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns.

8.) Jason Taylor, Defensive End
Miami Dolphins/New York Jets/Washington Redskins

Another first-year eligible player who should make it is Taylor. He may yet have to wait a year, but if the senior committee nomination(s) and contributor nomination are accepted and we have an eight man class Taylor is number eight.

The list of accolades speak for themselves: sixth all-time in sacks (139.5), six Pro Bowls, four All Pros, 2006 Defensive Player of the Year. From 2000 to 2007 there was simply no pass rusher more dominate than Taylor. Having played basketball in addition to football while attending the University of Akron, the 6’6″ Taylor learned to use his length to dominate left tackles around the league. The battles between Taylor and division rival New England Patriots tackle Matt Light provided some of the greatest trench battles/rivalries of the early 2000s.