AFC East: Aaron Rodgers

Is Joe Philbin overprotecting Tannehill?

November, 27, 2013
DAVIE, Fla. -- A day later, I'm still trying to decode a statement from Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin regarding starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Here is the background: Philbin was asked by Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero Tuesday about Tannehill's inability to take over games. Tannehill is 12-15 as a starter and rarely puts up huge numbers. It's a fair question.

Here was Philbin's response:
“Football is still a team game as far as I am concerned. I have never been around anybody that one person that can carry a football team. It takes 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense, 11 guys on special teams. I think [Tannehill] has had some very, very good games here, I anticipate that he will continue to do so. I have been coaching for 30 years, I have never seen one player win a game on his own.”

Philbin was then pressed by Salguero, who followed up by asking if Aaron Rodgers took over games when Philbin was offense coordinator with the Green Bay Packers?

“Not necessarily,” Philbin responded. “I am not going to comment on those specifics. I am going to tell you that in 30 years of coaching football is a team game and it takes 11 guys to execute in any phase.”

What exactly does Philbin mean?

Most would agree that Rodgers -- a Super Bowl-winning quarterback -- has taken over plenty of games in his career. He is an elite quarterback who gets hot, puts up big numbers and wins big games every year. The Packers are a mediocre team this season without Rodgers, who is currently injured. There is no debating this.

It appears Philbin went too far out his way to overprotect Tannehill for not taking over games. Either that or Philbin took a shot at Rodgers, which I'm sure was not Philbin's intent.

Philbin needs to take the kid's gloves off Tannehill, who is no longer a rookie. Tannehill must do more to lift his team down the stretch if the Dolphins (5-6) want to have a chance at making a postseason push. Having a big game Sunday against the New York Jets (5-6) would be a good start for Tannehill.

Morning take: Ranking Tom Brady

July, 22, 2013
I am back from vacation and it’s time for training camp and the preseason. Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC East: Morning take: The Brady-Peyton Manning debate is always close. But most agree that Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's top quarterback entering the 2013 season. Brady deserves kudos for still being at the top of his game at the age of 35.
Morning take: The top candidates are Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, defensive end Mario Williams and corner Stephon Gilmore. Buffalo has talent. It will just take better coaching from new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Morning take: Holmes is desperately needed this season, but he's still not fully healed from last year's foot injury. It could be a long season for the Jets’ offense if Holmes can’t return to form.
Morning take: This is the time when running backs must prove themselves. Training camp and the preseason are more physical and I expect players like Miller, Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee to be more assertive.

AFC East Stock Watch

January, 16, 2013
Let's take a look at whose stock is rising and falling in the AFC East.


[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesWith tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the rest of the season, the Patriots will have to rely on their depth to advance to the Super Bowl.
1. New England Patriots' tight-end depth: The Patriots lost dynamic Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season after he broke his arm for a second time Sunday against the Houston Texans. The Patriots must adjust to life without Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. Gronkowski had 11 touchdown receptions in just 11 games this season. No other Patriot had more than six touchdown receptions. New England still has dynamic tight end Aaron Hernandez, but will have to rely on the inexperienced Michael Hoomanawanui to fill that second tight end role. Hoomanawanui is more of a blocking tight end who has just five catches receptions this season.

2. New York Jets' GM search: Does anyone want to run the Jets next season? It doesn't seem that way after New York's prolonged general manager search is approaching three weeks. Jay Glazer of recently reported the Jets "can't give the position away" and are coming back to candidates who turned the team down earlier and asking them to reconsider. That is harsh. But it's understandable why New York's general manager position is not a desirable job. First, the team is well over the cap with old and overpaid players. Second, the Jets need to fix their extremely broken quarterback situation. Finally, the new general manager must work with Rex Ryan and cannot hire their own head coach. Add it up and you have a mess that apparently no top candidate wants to clean up.

3. Patriots kickoff coverage: New England had some rare mistakes last week in kick coverage. Houston had 230 kickoff return yards in the divisional round, which included a 94-yard return to start the game. The hidden yards and winning in the third phase made the final margin betwen the Patriots and Texans closer than it really was. New England head coach Bill Belichick defended his special teams this week and doesn't believe it will be an issue in the AFC title game against the Baltimore Ravens.


1. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback: Brady became the all-time winningest quarterback in NFL playoff history with a win over the Texans. Brady threw for 344 yards, three touchdowns and improved to 17-6 in the postseason. Brady has a chance to advance to his sixth Super Bowl with a win next week against the Baltimore Ravens. With other elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers knocked out of the divisional round, New England has a significant advantage at quarterback among the final four teams.

2. Shane Vereen, Patriots tailback: I knew Vereen was a threat catching out of the backfield. But I didn’t know Vereen was this dangerous. New England's second-year running back made some great catches in Sunday's playoff win over the Texans. Vereen finished with 83 receiving yards, 41 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Vereen and fellow running back Stevan Ridley are coming of age together for New England in the postseason. That makes the Patriots even more dangerous.

3. Buffalo Bills defense: The Bills made some quality hires on defense to land former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and former Jets defensive line coach Anthony Weaver. Both did a solid job in New York and will bring that experience to Buffalo. The Bills drastically underachieved on defense under Dave Wannstedt. Buffalo was 22nd in total defense and 31st against the run, despite having a defensive line that included Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Pettine is known to get the most out of his players. Expect the Bills' hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 defense to improve in 2013.

Have the stars aligned for Patriots?

January, 13, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Just two weeks ago, we were discussing the New England Patriots hosting a wild-card game, then potentially traveling to Houston and Denver in order to advance to the Super Bowl. But thanks to some good fortune, the reigning AFC champion Patriots do not have to leave Foxborough to make it to New Orleans.

The stars have aligned just right to boost New England's chances of another Super Bowl run. The second-seeded Patriots will host the Houston Texans Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. If the Patriots advance, they also will host the fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium in next week's AFC Championship Game.

Houston's loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season finale gave the Patriots a valuable first-round bye. But Baltimore's overtime upset of the top-seeded Broncos Saturday was the biggest surprise. It provided New England an unexpected home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Of course, none of this matters unless New England can take care of business on the field. Nothing in the postseason is easy. But home games against Houston and Baltimore in the playoffs is more appealing for the Patriots than playing a wild-card game and two postseason games at Houston and at Denver.

The Patriots are aware that anything can happen in the playoffs. It's interesting to note that elite quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers were both knocked out in the divisional round Saturday. Tom Brady & Co. must play their best football Sunday against the Texans to avoid joining that list.

Video: Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?

November, 6, 2012

Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate whether Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.
Tom Brady was on injured reserve with a knee injury the last time his New England Patriots visited the Seattle Seahawks.

The year was 2008.

The Seahawks had a 2-10 record. Seneca Wallace was their starting quarterback. Mike Holmgren was their coach. Pete Carroll was at USC.

Now, for the really different part: The Seahawks' defense, currently ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, ranked 30th back then. It had allowed six total rushing and passing touchdowns in its previous two games, one more than the 2012 team has allowed in five games this season.

Brady is back and leading the NFL's top-ranked offense against Seattle's top-ranked defense in Week 6. The teams kick off Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Brady's first road start against the Seahawks. The matchup has us talking already.

Mike Sando, NFC West blog: The last time an NFC West team drew New England, Arizona pulled off one of the more shocking upsets of the season, holding Brady to 18 points and leaving Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 victory. New England lost Aaron Hernandez to injury in that game. The Patriots have regrouped. They've scored 113 points in three subsequent games. Was that Arizona game an aberration, or should the Seahawks' defense expect similar results?

James Walker, AFC East: It feels like two different offenses since New England’s loss to the Cardinals, Mike. New England looked shell-shocked after losing Hernandez in that game. He's usually such a big part of the Patriots’ game plan that they had trouble adjusting on the fly. But New England made the proper changes. Tight ends no longer are the first option; now receiver Wes Welker is the top target. New England is no longer passing the ball 60 or 70 percent of the time; its run-to-pass ratio was 54-31 this past week against the Denver Broncos. The Patriots also used a no-huddle offense in all four quarters for the first time in that game. Can New England keep up that kind of pace, especially on the road? The Patriots are concerned about crowd noise in Seattle. Will the 12th man affect this game?

Sando: Yeah, the crowd will be a factor because the defense is good enough to make it one. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo combined for 19 points in Seattle. Brady and the Patriots are playing better offensively than Green Bay or Dallas, though. One key will be whether Brady can get the ball out to Welker quickly enough to avoid Seattle's pass-rushers. Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons and Jason Jones could have big games against the Patriots' offensive front if Brady holds the ball. But Welker should have a big advantage against nickel corner Marcus Trufant. Welker leads the NFL with 24 receptions from the slot over the past three games. Seattle's opponents haven't gone after Trufant all that much, but St. Louis slot receiver Danny Amendola did give him some problems. Welker is a tough matchup for everyone and should be a tough one for the Seahawks.

Walker: Seattle’s pass rush is the biggest concern for New England. Brady’s sack totals have gone up each of the past three seasons, and he already has been sacked 12 times in five games. Brady is not a young pup anymore and only has so many hits left in his 35-year-old body. New England’s pass protection hasn’t been the same after losing left tackle Matt Light and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters in the offseason. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Logan Mankins also have played hurt this year. The Patriots have done things schematically to counter their shaky pass protection. New England is running the ball more, and the no-huddle has slowed down opponents. But you wonder whether the inconsistent pass protection eventually will catch up to New England this season, especially this weekend against a good Seattle defense.

Sando: Seattle's defense was good last season, and it's better in 2012. This is a legitimate top-five defense with big, pressing cornerbacks and the potential for a strong pass rush, particularly at home. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per carry overall and 3.0 when we remove quarterback scrambles (Brady isn't exactly a running threat). There's speed at every level of the defense. Holding the Patriots' offense to a reasonable level -- say, somewhere in the 20-point range -- should be realistic as long as Seattle fares OK against Welker. The bigger question is whether Seattle's offense can score enough points to win the game. Russell Wilson is coming off his best game, but the offense isn't putting up enough points.

Walker: New England’s defense has improved in a lot of areas. The front seven is more physical and the pass rush is better, specifically with the addition of first-round pick Chandler Jones. However, New England is still 30th against the pass and continues to give up chunks of yards through the air. The safety play has been horrific at times. I think Seattle’s best chance to win is using play-action over the top. Patriots coach Bill Belichick usually tries to take one thing away, and I assume the focus this week will be Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. There will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game if Wilson can take advantage. Speaking of taking advantage, your NFC West division has crushed the AFC East at nearly every turn. What is going on here? Is this a special year for the NFC West, and will Seattle repeat what the Cardinals did by knocking off the top dog in the AFC East?

Sando: I've gone into several of these nondivision games a little skeptical about whether the NFC West team would score enough to win. The offenses in Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis lag in the rankings. But the defenses and special teams have more than made up the difference. I think Seattle has a winning formula and a good shot at pulling it off, but I still think Brady is more likely than Wilson to reach 20-plus points.

I've had similar thoughts before and been wrong. I really thought some of these top opposing quarterbacks would enjoy greater success against the NFC West. Brady, Jay Cutler, Rodgers, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Romo, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are a combined 2-8 against the division, and both victories were against St. Louis. Those quarterbacks have seven touchdown passes and nine picks against the division. Outside the division, NFC West teams have gone 10-0 at home and 11-3 regardless of venue.

I'll probably wind up picking the Patriots, but Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a good chance.

Walker: It looks as if the AFC East is having a second consecutive down year, and the arrow is certainly pointing up for the NFC West. But the Patriots are a legit team. Barring significant injuries, I expect New England to carry the banner for the division all season. I’m 15-2 predicting AFC East games this year, so I feel pretty confident in my picks. I think New England will pull this one out. The Patriots’ offense is very balanced, and their tempo puts a lot of pressure on teams. If they score points early, it could put too much pressure on Wilson to answer. Wilson has beaten Rodgers, Romo and Newton this year. But I don’t think Wilson will add Brady to that list.
There is a new sheriff in town -- at least monetarily.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees surpassed three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady in average annual salary with this week's new five-year, $100 million contract. Brees will average $20 million per season, an NFL record.

Brady began the offseason as the highest-paid quarterback in annual salary until two guys named Brees and Peyton Manning began searching for new contracts. Brady averages $18 million per season on a four-year contract he signed in 2010. Brady also recently restructured to give the Patriots cap room.

But Brees is now in a league of his own. After a rough offseason, New Orleans agreed to make Brees the highest-paid player and quarterback per year in the NFL.

Whether Brees is a better quarterback than Brady is another debate for another day. Both are elite. But Brees will make the most money -- at least until Aaron Rodgers renegotiates with the Green Bay Packers.

Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: I agree with Moon if I'm picking Brady to quarterback one big game. But Brady is 34, and for the long haul you have to take Aaron Rodgers.
Morning take: I don't see that one. Douglass is on an island – Revis Island apparently.
Morning take: Ochocinco was always fluid getting off the line. That's one of the biggest aspects to putting up numbers throughout his career. Can he still get the job done?
  • Will the Buffalo Bills be interested in former Baylor receiver Josh Gordon, who ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day?
Morning take: Every team in the AFC East showed up to the workout. Other than the Patriots, I don't think it's a bad idea to take a risk at the right price.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is still elite. But there are two quarterbacks currently better, according to ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski.

ESPN's top-30 quarterback rankings continued Sunday with Brady coming in at No. 3. That leaves Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, in no particular order, as the league's top two quarterbacks in Jaworski's rankings.

Things are very difficult once you get to the top five. Brady, Rodgers, Brees and Eli Manning are all elite franchise quarterbacks.

However, if I had to pick one quarterback to win one game, it would be Brady. He has immense big-game experience, playing in five Super Bowls, and his classic pocket style fits many different receivers and offenses.

Here is Jaws' analysis:
"Number three on my big board entering the 2012 season is Tom Brady. Brady is outstanding in so many areas, but what really stands out is his total command in the pocket. Few quarterbacks in NFL history move within the pocket better than Tom Brady. Pocket movement is an essential attribute to play NFL quarterback at a consistently-high level. Think of it this way: the ability to move within an area no larger than the approximate size of a boxing ring. Sometimes it’s a strain, just a step here or a step there. Other times, it’s more pronounced. The corollary, and it’s equally as important, you must maintain your downfield focus while you’re moving. You cannot look at the rush. It’s a far more important trait than running out of the pocket.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more comfortable pocket quarterback than Brady. There have been times over the years he’s literally been a statue in the pocket – static, stationary, motionless. I can tell you from experience that’s a rare trait. Everything is happening very fast. The ability to slow down your body like that, that’s remarkable.

But Brady's age (34) is an issue when comparing top quarterbacks. If I'm starting a franchise from scratch, I would pick Rodgers over Brady. Rodgers is 28 and probably has at least seven great years ahead of him. Brady wants to play until he's 40, but chances are he has maybe 2-3 elite years left.

Brees is coming off a record-setting year, but I would still take Brady over Brees. Still, you can't go wrong with any of these top-three quarterbacks.
It's early in the offseason. But from the looks of it, the Miami Dolphins want to run an up-tempo offense under first-year head coach Joe Philbin.

The former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers is known for putting pressure on defenses. Green Bay was as good as anyone in dictating tempo. Last year the Packers were third in total offense (405.1 yards per game) and first in scoring (35 points per game).

But can Philbin's philosophy work in Miami?

The key to Philbin's first year will be quickly learning and knowing his personnel. New coaches often make the mistake of assuming their system and concepts are one size fits all.

Miami quarterbacks Matt Moore or David Garrard certainly isn't Aaron Rodgers. Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline is not Greg Jennings, and tight end Anthony Fasano is not comparable to Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

The Dolphins have uncertainty at quarterback and the worst group of receivers in the division. Going up-tempo has its risks. Miami could face plenty of three-and-outs, which would put a lot of pressure on its defense.

Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman need to be careful about this while installing their new West Coast offense. Green Bay's strengths under Philbin were the quarterback and passing game. It's much easier to go up-tempo when you have a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl-winning quarterback throwing to stud receivers and tight ends.

Miami doesn't have that on its roster this year. The Dolphins' strength is their running game behind their offensive line and 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Bush. It would be wise for Miami's coaching staff to keep that in mind.
With free agency approaching, the Miami Dolphins are getting everything lined up to make their best pitch for potential free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning and unrestricted free agent Matt Flynn. Manning is expected to be released by March 8 before a $28 million bonus is due from the Indianapolis Colts. Flynn is the backup to Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers and is looking for a starting job.

While it's pretty clear the Dolphins will start top shelf with Manning, a Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer, Flynn is expected to be Miami's Plan B if Manning doesn't sign or his health is too big of a question.

But the AFC East blog has been getting emails and tweets from many Dolphins fans who think Flynn should be Plan A over Manning. Here is the case for Flynn:
  • Flynn, 26, is the younger, healthier quarterback. Manning turns 36 on March 24. The best-case scenario is that Manning has two or three good years left in him. But even that's not a guarantee. Flynn has the potential to be your starting quarterback for the next six or seven years.
  • The West Coast offense is the system Flynn is familiar with, not Manning. Flynn spent his first four seasons in Green Bay learning the West Coast offense under new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. The system and the terminology will all be the same for Flynn, which makes for an easier learning curve. A case certainly can be made that Manning is good enough to play in any offense. But he will command some say in the system and force Miami's coaches to adjust. The Dolphins don't have to worry about that with Flynn.
  • Flynn should be more affordable. Although Manning's contract will have plenty of incentives, he deserves to be paid like an elite quarterback if he stays healthy. If Manning's neck is not an issue in 2012, he will be the more expensive option.

Those are the main points from Flynn supporters. They're valid, but I still say a free agent like Manning is so rare that Miami has to chase him first. A healthy Manning makes Miami an instant contender. Flynn is still somewhat of an unknown.

The most important issue is the medical check. If Indianapolis releases Manning, which is the expectation, it will have something to do with Manning not being 100 percent. Miami, or any other team, would have to be confident Manning will be ready to go by September.
Here is a potential clue to tracking the Miami Dolphins in free agency: Watch the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, general manager Jeff Ireland is running the show in Miami. But that doesn't mean Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin won't add some influence about the players he's most familiar with.

Green Bay went 15-1 this season. Here are some key pending free agents for the Packers to keep an eye on:
Philbin worked directly with this group day-to-day as Green Bay's offensive coordinator.

It's no secret Philbin likes Flynn, who was Aaron Rodgers' backup for four seasons. Perhaps no coach outside of the Packers’ staff knows Flynn better than Miami’s rookie head coach. I fully expect Miami to be in the Flynn sweepstakes if Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is out of the equation.

Finley and Grant are interesting cases. I doubt Finley is going anywhere. He is one of Rodgers' favorite targets and most likely will get an extension or the franchise tag. Grant might be someone of interest, although Miami has 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Bush and budding rookie Daniel Thomas. Wells is Green Bay's starting center, and Mike Pouncey is Miami's long-term solution there.
Bill Belichick & Tom BradyGreg M. Cooper/US PresswireTom Brady and Bill Belichick have won three Super Bowls together -- can they make it four?

The New England Patriots are favored to win their first Super Bowl since the end of the 2004 season. That capped a run of three championships in four years, which happened to be the most recent NFL dynasty.

But are the Patriots quietly building another dynasty? New England is the only team to win back-to-back Super Bowls in the past dozen years. If any organization is consistent enough to pull it off, it's New England.

Here are five reasons the Patriots have a chance to once again reach dynasty status:

Reason No. 1: Patriots will beat the Giants

Whoops! Did I reveal my prediction too soon? Oh well. There was no point in waiting. The Patriots will beat the Giants on Feb. 5 to win the fourth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick era.

This is not only revenge for the Patriots, this is double revenge. New England lost to New York during the 2011 regular season and in Super Bowl XLII. Teams simply don't beat New England three times in a row. Belichick and Tom Brady are too good and too locked in to allow it. New England's defense is also playing much better in the postseason.

New York has looked impressive in wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. But New England will present some unique matchup problems and will attack New York's 29th-ranked pass defense. The Patriots also have allowed just one sack in two playoff games. If the Patriots' pass protection is successful, the Giants are toast.

A lot of people, particularly in the AFC East blog, have criticized my Patriots predictions all season. But I have been right about them every single time. New England was my Super Bowl pick in August, and I've never wavered.

The Patriots will win Super Bowl XLVI over the Giants, which will give them a chance to repeat and begin to chase dynasty status next season.

Reason No. 2: Brady shows no signs of slowing down

Last week we did a story on how much longer Brady can play at a high level. Everyone we spoke to says he still has several great years left in his Hall of Fame career.

Brady, 34, had one of his best seasons in 2011. He threw for the second-most yards (5,235) in NFL history and finished with a passer rating of 105.6. He almost single-handedly carried the Patriots to an AFC East title and a No. 1 seed.

Brady says he wants to play until he’s 40. That will be difficult. But after another great year, it’s hard to doubt him.

It's safe to say Brady will be an elite quarterback for at least the next two or three seasons. Three years is just enough time for New England to make a run at multiple Super Bowls. The Patriots will be a strong contender as long as Brady is healthy. He’s had only one major injury his entire career.

Reason No. 3: Patriots have draft capital and cap room

Guess which AFC East team has the most salary-cap room and first- and second-round picks this offseason? It’s the Patriots.

Belichick has done a masterful job of fielding a championship-caliber team while simultaneously positioning New England well for the future. The Patriots have two first-round picks and two second-round picks thanks to previous trades. The Patriots also have approximately $20 million in cap room to spend in free agency.

Expect most of those resources to go to New England's 31st-ranked defense. Belichick is a defensive-minded coach and I wouldn't be surprised if he spends at least three of those first four picks on that side of the football. That is where the Patriots need depth and impact players.

Leading receiver and pending free agent Wes Welker will take up a chunk of New England's cap space, assuming he re-signs. But the Patriots can still add two or three difference-makers in free agency.

A cover corner? A hard-hitting safety? A deep threat at receiver? The Patriots have the ability to plug all these holes next season.

If this year's Patriots are good enough to win a championship despite their flaws, why can't next year's team? New England should be even better next season.

Reason No. 4: AFC quarterbacks are average

Name the elite quarterbacks in the NFL: Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and you might be able to throw Eli Manning's name in the mix now. Most of the elite quarterbacks play in the NFC.

This year's AFC playoff field included quarterbacks Tim Tebow, T.J. Yates, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco. The overall quarterbacking in the AFC is average and lopsided compared to the NFC. That is a huge advantage for the Patriots.

New England has arguably the only elite quarterback in the AFC. (We are taking the injured Peyton Manning out of the equation for now.) Brady's closest competition is Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Like Brady, Roethlisberger has won multiple Super Bowls. But years and injuries are piling up for Roethlisberger and the Steelers; they didn’t win a playoff game this season. The core in Pittsburgh is past its prime.

Brady and the Patriots are fortunate they don't have to contend with quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brees, unless they reach the Super Bowl. In the AFC, they can continue to beat the Tebows and Flaccos of the world for the next few seasons.

Reason No. 5: Young tight ends

Contractually, Patriots stud tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be together for at least two more seasons. Both signed four-year contracts after being drafted together in 2010.

Gronkowski and Hernandez are both 22 and already in the top 10 at their position. A case can be made that "Gronk" is the best at his position, although it’s safer to place him in the top three.

As long as Gronkowski and Hernandez are together, New England’s offense will be hard to stop. Opponents have yet to figure out how to slow them down. Their development also made it easier for Brady to make quick reads and throws over the middle. That keeps the pass rush off Brady.

There is no doubt that Gronkowski will be a Patriot for a very long time. He’s the better all-around tight end, and New England will offer Gronkowski a big contract extension in the next year or two.

Hernandez’s case is a little more unpredictable. He’s clearly a No. 1 tight end, but how long will he be willing to play second fiddle? That’s clearly not an issue now. Both players are having fun learning and growing together. But two years from now, when Hernandez is in his prime and becomes a free agent, would he be willing to rejoin the Patriots as a No. 2 tight end? Also, can New England pay top-10 money to two players at the same position?

But those questions are down the road. Right now, New England is four quarters from securing another Super Bowl win.

Will a Super Bowl victory jump-start another Patriots dynasty?

Free-agency watch: One question

January, 12, 2012
Plenty of focus this week has been on the New England Patriots, who are the only division team remaining in the playoffs. However, let's briefly put the spotlight on the other three teams already planning for the offseason ahead.

Here is one free-agency question we have for each team.

1. Will the Miami Dolphins go after Matt Flynn?

Analysis: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was clear in saying the team needs a long-term franchise quarterback to make it to the next level. Matt Moore is a great backup and part-time starter. But he is not capable of leading Miami to a Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Miami, the team is in a tough spot trying to find a starting quarterback. The Dolphins will pick No. 8 or No. 9 in the NFL draft, depending on a coin flip with the Carolina Panthers. Miami’s pick will be too low to land Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III in April’s draft. It’s possible the Dolphins could look to move up into the top three picks. But there are no guarantees. Moving up would be costly and other quarterback-needy teams could be interested in doing the same. Something the Dolphins could control is pursuing pending Green Bay Packers free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn. He has been Aaron Rodgers' backup for four years and is looking to get his own opportunity next season. Flynn looked great in limited playing time. He threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in Green Bay’s Week 17 victory over the Detroit Lions. That performance will make Flynn a lot of money if he hits the open market. The Dolphins should be one of the first suitors in line.

2. Do the New York Jets need two safeties?

Analysis: It’s easy to focus on the quarterback position. But any chance of the Jets trading for or signing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is mere speculation unless he becomes available. But what is clear is New York needs a lot of help at the safety position. Starter Jim Leonhard and top backup Brodney Pool are both free agents, and Eric Smith struggled last season. The Jets may need to sign and/or draft two starting-caliber safeties next season. Opponents eventually figured out you can attack New York’s defense by avoiding the corners and throwing over the middle. Tight ends, in particular, had huge days against the Jets’ defense. Teams will continue to attack the Jets over the middle next season unless they drastically upgrade at safety.

3. Will the Buffalo Bills really chase big names?

Analysis: I like what I’m hearing from Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix. According to Nix, Buffalo can -- and will -- spend to the salary cap this offseason. That should be music to Bills fans’ ears. Buffalo has been notorious for not doing much in free agency. Nix and head coach Chan Gailey both know 2012 is a big year for the current regime. The Bills are showing slight improvement (4-12 in 2010, 6-10 in 2011) but need to make a bigger jump next season. Spending to the cap would help. The Bills have big holes at several key positions and there are a lot of players available. A pass-rusher is perhaps the Bills’ biggest need. One player I’d like to see on Buffalo’s radar would be Houston Texans defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams. The former No. 1 overall pick will be an unrestricted free agent coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. Houston’s defense finished second in total defense and looked fine without Williams. If the Texans aren’t willing to pay a huge extension or give Williams the franchise tag, he could provide the pass rush the Bills need.
Tom Brady...Tim Tebow...Joe Flacco...T.J. Yates.

Which quarterback would you prefer leading your team in the postseason?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's one-and-done exit from the playoffs leaves a huge gap between the remaining playoff quarterbacks in the AFC. The field is pretty much Brady, who has three rings, and everyone else.

Tebow, Flacco and Yates have all been inconsistent this season. Brady is the only Pro Bowler of the group and proven commodity who has played well deep into the playoffs.

Here is our ranking of the four remaining AFC playoff quarterbacks:

1. Tom Brady, Patriots

2011 stats: 5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs

QBR: 74.2

Analysis: Brady is elite, and he's far and away the best quarterback remaining in the AFC playoffs. New England relies on Brady more than ever, and he produced the second most passing yards in NFL history this season. The only two quarterbacks in Brady's class are in the NFC: Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. The chances of Tebow, Yates or Flacco outperforming Brady in the playoffs are slim -- and that is a huge advantage for New England. Last month we predicted the Patriots would win the AFC and advance to Super Bowl in Indianapolis. The Brady factor is the biggest reason. As long as Brady performs well, New England will be tough to beat, especially at Gillette Stadium.

2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

2011 stats: 3,610, 20 TDs, 12 INTs

QBR: 57.9

Analysis: Flacco is notorious for not playing well in the playoffs. He has a chance to buck that trend with second-seeded Baltimore this season. Flacco's natural ability puts him at No. 2 on our list of remaining starting quarterbacks in the AFC. He can make all the throws. Flacco just hasn't done it in the playoffs. This has been somewhat of a strange season for Flacco. In some ways he's taken a step back. His passer rating, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns all dropped from the previous year. But Baltimore is winning and needs Flacco to step up his game in the playoffs.

3. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos

2011 stats: 1,729 yards, 12 TDs, six INTs

QBR: 27.2

Analysis: Was Tebow's passing performance against Pittsburgh a fluke, or has he turned the corner? Tebow made some big throws in the playoffs and finished with a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh showed no respect for Tebow's arm and paid for it. Statistically it was a sound strategy, considering Tebow's 46.5 completion percentage this season. But Tebow has proven he can win games, despite his QBR being ranked 32nd out of 34 quarterbacks. But Tebow is still playing when a lot of quarterbacks with better numbers are sitting at home.

4. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans

2011 stats: 949 yards, three TDs, three INTs


Analysis: Yates, a rookie fifth-round pick, is ranked last of the remaining AFC playoff quarterbacks. He only has six starts under his belt and is 3-3 in those games. Fortunately for the Texans, they have a great running game that can protect Yates. That is paramount against Baltimore, because Yates most likely will not win with his arm. The best strategy for Houston is to try to run the ball well and hope Yates can make a few big plays through the air. Houston Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson is a tough matchup for Baltimore if Yates can get him the football. The Yates-to-Johnson combo worked great last week in eliminating the Cincinnati Bengals.