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Saturday, September 6, 2008
AFC East mailbag: We field complaints


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The AFC East mailbag came straight from the complaint department this week.

Readers took umbrage with several of my blogs over the past seven days. They were upset I sketched out a few reasons to be skeptical of Dolphins RB Ricky Williams. They thought some of the selections on my preseason All-AFC East teams were dumb. They didn't like how I slotted their teams in the power rankings. They say I write too much about the Bills. They say I write too much about the Jets-Dolphins game. They say I don't pick up my wet towel off the bathroom floor.

For good or bad, here's the mail. Sorted for your pleasure.

Sergio from Parts Unknown writes: Why are u so negative . whatch ricky do great the season and then i hope u write something again but this time to be positive. if not then leave the fins alone and stop writing stupit stuff find something better to do.

Sam in Norfolk, Va., writes: Why all the Ricky hate?

Mr Anonymous from Cleveland writes: You're a moran, you should think about what you write before you post it seriously. You're giving ESPN a bad rep.

Tim Graham: Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said the running back position was "solved" because Williams was under contract for another year, and I wrote that it could be a reckless assumption.

Just because I bring up some issues that aren't positive about Williams (and to a lesser extent, Ronnie Brown) doesn't mean I'm hating on the guy. I'd like to see Williams do well. A successful season would make for a classic comeback story.

Nowhere in that story do I say he will play poorly or fail or fall on his face. Throughout the whole article, all I'm saying is there are reasons to be skeptical despite Sparano's proclamation.

I'm just taking a wait-and-see approach.


Courtney in Boston writes: Whoa. You didn't really just suggest that Randy Moss might be a better WR than Jerry Rice was, right? Analysis of the numbers reveals that no active WR has a chance at coming anywhere close to breaking Jerry Rice's records, especially those in the playoffs. If the best receiver in the NFL was unanimously Marvin Harrison two years ago, you really can't make the case that now not only is Randy Moss the best active WR in the game (which I'll buy) but he's actually the best WR ever. The "Jerry Rice is the best WR ever" argument is one of those cliches that's only a cliche because it's so true that nobody even pretends to think otherwise.

Tim Graham: The numbers also would suggest Emmitt Smith is the greatest RB of all-time and not Walter Payton or Barry Sanders or Jim Brown. Numbers take you only so far when comparing players in an historical context.

First off, a point of clarification. I said that Moss is the greatest WR in the game today and "maybe the best ever." Maybe. There's nothing ridiculous about putting Moss in that conversation. Moss has played exactly one season with an elite QB. True, Daunte Culpepper tore up the NFL for a couple seasons, but he's already out of the game at 31 years old.

Rice played with a Hall of Fame QB from the time he entered the league and for the next 15 years. Moss has played only 10 seasons so far. Rice also played for a Hall of Fame coach in Bill Walsh, an offensive innovator who changed the game, and for offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren. Rice had teammates such as Dwight Clark, John Taylor and Terrell Owens to play off of.

Rice played for loaded teams almost his entire career. Moss has enjoyed that luxury once, and his numbers were 98 catches, 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns. It's a reasonable debate.


Mr. Anonymous from Wilmington writes: The talk about the Jets is all Brett Favre. Don't get me wrong it was a great move but I think their defensive signings and trades were amazing. That will give us more wins this year. Am I that far off, or is Brett a more important move?

Tim Graham: When people ask me why I've selected the Jets as one my wild-card entries, the reasons I give are the rebuilt O-line and the additions of NT Kris Jenkins and OLB Calvin Pace. But the Favre trade did address the Jets' biggest question mark.

QBs always will get the most attention, and when he's a future Hall of Famer the interest escalates exponentially. That's just the way it is.


Dylan in New York writes: Any word on Tom Brady's shoulder? Has he overcome the injury that's apparently plagued him for years now?

Tim Graham: For the first time in his life, Brady and his right shoulder aren't listed on the Patriots' injury report. Not many know this, but a strained rotator cuff is actually mentioned on Brady's birth certificate.


Oliver in Rochester, N.Y, writes: With the return of LT Jason Peters and the loss of LB Angelo Crowell, does the strength of the Bills sway back to the offense? I was looking forward to a revamped defense to help carry the offense this year, but should I expect otherwise?

Tim Graham: I still see the Bills' defense as their foundation. Peters won't have an impact for a few weeks until he gets comfortable in new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's system. Another factor is Peters' conditioning. We have no idea how he has been staying in shape -- if at all.


Jim in Boston writes: Any thoughts on Peters returning to the Bills? Will this help him get a new deal done sooner rather than later? How does this affect the AFC East expectations?

Tim Graham: It certainly will help Peters get a new deal done, but I don't know how talkative either side will be for a while. There essentially was no contact between the Bills and Peters for months. This car won't go from zero to 60 mph in a week. The Bills also aren't interested in restructuring his 2008 terms anyway. I predict he'll sign a deal that gives him the big bucks starting in 2009.

As for the Bills' playoff hopes, this is a huge boost. Now they just need to win more than they lose until he gets comfortable in the new system and can make a legitimate impact on the field.


Rick in Miami writes: The hack job you did in the Dolphins cutdown analysis was completely biased. I guess you spend a lot of time in Bristol and not in Miami because you SUCK. Did you have a chance to see any practices or OTAs? How about a game or two? How about this, did you a least read about how Miami's first-teamers dominated Jacksonville's and KC's? I can bet that any other journalist would at least have seen a different team than the team from last year. You are lazy and your work shows it. I suggest another career for you. Maybe you can do the want ads or the horoscopes if you want to stay in journalism, dude.

Tim Graham: I saw all of the Dolphins' OTAs the media was granted access to, was there for every day of minicamp and saw probably 12 training camp sessions. I was involved in probably nine or 10 interview sessions with head coach Tony Sparano and spoke with dozens of players.

But I don't understand why I struck such a nerve with my cutdown analysis because, yes, I did see how the Dolphins first-teamers fared against Jacksonville and Kansas City. I was at the Chiefs game. But the Dolphins didn't cut any first-teamers, so my cutdown analysis has nothing to do with how good the starters are.


Matt from Parts Unknown writes: What is holding up the Lee Evans contract negotiations? I
t seems they've been talking since early '08.

Tim Graham: The Bills WR spoke out of turn a few weeks back when he declared he was close to signing a deal. Talks have been ongoing, and there's really no rush. But the delay could favor Evans because the Giants this week signed Plaxico Burress to an extension that will pay him $7 million a year. That will raise the going rate for all No. 1 WRs out there.


Williams from Parts Unknown writes: Is it possible, or even thinkable that two wild-card teams could come out of one division, basically taking three spots in the field of six? If the Jets/Bills split their head-to-head matchups and beat who they are supposed to beat, could both finish 11-5 or 10-6 and take both wild-card spots from other competitors. Or is there a league rule stating that two teams from one division cannot take both wild-card spots?

Tim Graham: There is no rule against both wild cards coming from the same division. It happened twice last year. The Jaguars and Titans got in behind the Colts in the AFC, while the Giants and Redskins got in behind the Cowboys in the NFC.

It's possible two wild cards could come out of the AFC East, but it will be difficult because whoever finishes second in the AFC South will be a formidable team.


Matt in Seattle writes: "bills need to win the games their supposed to and this is one of them" I don't know about that. Maybe from your perch there on the East Coast. The Seahawks are coming to town with a defense that returns all 11 starters from a year ago. 17-9 Hawks win.

Tim Graham: I do believe the Seahawks are the better team overall, but not this Sunday. They have trouble on the road, and they're missing a crowd of players. DT Rocky Bernard has been suspended for this game, so that's one defender who won't be in Orchard Park on Sunday. QB Matt Hasselbeck won't have anybody to throw to because 73 WRs are hurt. I think the odds are tilted toward the Bills on this one.


Jason in Kailua, Hawaii, writes: How many more years do the "other teams" have to suffer before the AFC East is legitimately up for grabs again? It kills me to get so excited about the Bills' chances every preseason, while at the same time conceding the division to New England. It's difficult when teams like Buffalo, the Jets, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston and Indy are all expected to be in the mix for only two wild card spots. Obviously, if Brady gets hurt, the division will be up for grabs, but is there a realistic chance that the Patriots, with a healthy Brady, could finish second in the East in the next few years?

Tim Graham: Dynasties are too difficult to maintain, not only in the NFL, but in most sports. The Patriots already are starting to get old. There will come a time within the next couple years they'll need to reinvest in youth. Those times are always awkward and usually open the door for greater competition.


Mr. Anonymous from Methuen, Mass., writes: I think the Jets really messed up with bringing Brett Favre in as their QB. In fact, I think Chad Pennington will have better numbers than Brett will. And he is with a worse team.

Tim Graham: The thing is, Pennington probably might not have been the Jets' starter regardless. In the battle between him and Kellen Clemens, there was a strong sense the Jets wanted Clemens to win the job and were giving him every opportunity. They wanted to turn the page on Pennington.


Alan in West Palm Beach, Fla., writes: If Chad Pennington gets hurt within the first few weeks of the season (which isn't unlikely) do you think the Dolphins will stick with Chad Henne, or do you think they might try to pick up a veteran free-agent?

Tim Graham: They'll go with Henne. They're confident he's their QB of the future, and if not for Pennington's availability, Henne might have wound up the Week 1 starter anyway.


John in Dallas writes: The Bills are now reporting that injured LB Angelo Crowell is seeking a second opinion on his injured knee. Too little too late now that he's on the IR isn't it? Are you surprised that the Bills acted so quickly in placing him on IR?

Tim Graham: There's more to this story than we've been able to ascertain. That said, I'm not surprised the Bills placed Crowell on IR because I can see why they would be frustrated. They already were anxious that Peters' holdout looked like it would drag into the season, and then they're informed their leading tackler from last year -- a player who's not listed on the injury report, mind you -- has decided to have surgery. Their playoff hopes were getting damaged by players making poor decisions outside of the team construct.


Erik in Chicago writes: I'm sure you've gotten a lot of this, but is there any more to the Crowell story? I just don't get how you can put your starting linebacker on IR because he is going to be out for two to four weeks. If we are that concerned about being short-handed at LB, we could've cut DE Copeland Bryan and signed a LB. I would think a starting LB is more important than a fifth DE. This whole story just seems super fishy. The only reason I can see why they put him on IR is that he screwed the coaches over by getting the surgery, so the coaches wanted to get him back by not letting him play during his free agent contract year. This move might get back at Crowell but it also hurts the Buffalo defense and all the Bills fans who have shelled out for season tickets. I hope there is a lot more to this story, because it is frustrating to see Bills management hurt the team's playoff chances just to spite a player.

Tim Graham: We still have a lot to learn about what happened with Crowell. Until then, you're not alone in your wonderment. Your curiosity is warranted on every angle you mentioned.


Brandon in Fayetteville, N.C, writes: Has there been any news about Koren Robinson lately? I really would like to hear some new news about him.

Tim Graham: He has been calling teams to see if they're interested, but nobody wants the headache. Even the Dolphins have passed, and they could use another veteran WR. The Raiders are often mentioned as a team that might be willing to take a chance, but they have had plenty of time to pull the trigger if they truly were interested.


Bob in New York City writes: I see from your past you are uniquely qualified to report on the Bills (Buffalo News) Fish (Palm Beach Post) and Pats (Boston Herald). Any shot you are a looking for a gig at say the New York Times or Post since it is the only market you are missing? Let me guess here ... you are a Bills fan with a special place in your heart for the Fish and Pats. Good luck in your first year at ESPN.com we will be keeping an eye out for unbiased J-E-T-S coverage.

Tim Graham: Actually, I'm from Cleveland and was raised in Windham, Ohio. I grew up a Browns fan, but when they moved to Baltimore I lost my cheering interest. The only thing I root for now are good stories to tell.


Nicholas from Western New York writes: I wanted to comment on the Bills' fans being ranked No. 11 in last week's polls. I am completely disappointed with that. I understand that you used to write for the Buffalo News and assume you have some exposure to the intensity of the fans. My biggest disappointment is that the Bills were given a 3 in the loyalty factor. Record season-ticket sales this year after an eight-year playoff drought should prove that false. They should visit the Ralph before they
put out such ridiculous statements.

Tim Graham: I will agree the Bills' season-ticket sales for this year are remarkable. But that's only one of the factors. Other teams have sold out games for years and years and have season-ticket waiting lists. The Bills have sold out only eight games in a row and never have had a waiting list. I don't think a No. 11 ranking reflects poorly on Bills fans. There are some other teams out there that have packed the house no matter what.