AFC East: Bill Belichick
2. What was Belichick doing the morning of the game? Still watching film of the Seahawks, of course. Specifically, he said he was watching Seattle's 27-24 overtime win against the Buccaneers from last season. The Seahawks had trailed 21-0 in that game before roaring back. This is another reminder to the level of detail that coaches take when preparing for a game.
3. Belichick was pretty witty after the game when asked if he's ever seen a catch like the 33-yarder that Jermaine Kearse made on his back. "Yeah," he responded. "I've seen two of them." Of course, he was referring to David Tyree's on-his-helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.
4. The response when asked if controversy relating to the NFL's investigation makes the win sweeter: "I think our team deserved to win. I don't know what more we need to do. This team deserves to be champions and that's why they're up here."
5. Belichick's opening remarks concluded with a personal touch. "The last time I won and got Gatorade [over the head], my dad was here. I was certainly thinking about him tonight, and I'm sure he was watching. I hope my mom is watching too. So, 'Hi, Mom.'"
6. He repeated something he said in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, noting that halftime of the loss to Kansas City on Sept. 29 was the season's turning point. "We weren't close to winning," he said, "but the fight and competitiveness was there. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the next week's game."
7. Asked about undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, Belichick reflected on how he first came to the team. "He was a rookie tryout guy. We had already had our draft. We had already signed our free agents after the draft [so] he was part of what we like to call, 'the few, the proud, the free.' He came in and did a great job in that rookie minicamp [and] we created a roster spot by juggling some other guys around, signed him, and he had a good training camp. That's a big jump from West Alabama to the NFL, but Malcolm competes hard."
8. There was no interest in speaking on what he accomplished on a personal basis, such as tying legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll with four Super Bowl victories as a head coach. "This isn't about me right now," Belichick said. "It's about our football team, these guys, and what we've accomplished as a group that a lot of people never thought we had a chance to accomplish." Belichick's opening statement also referred to the team being "counted out many times through the course of the year by a lot of people."
9. With two timeouts left prior to the second-and-goal play from the 1 that Butler intercepted, Belichick said he was holding them for if the Seahawks ran the ball on the play and the Patriots stopped them.
10. Asked about the Patriots' two long drives in the fourth quarter, Belichick said, "I've been in a few of these games and we've been on the other side of it. It's just hard to rush the passer for four quarters in a game like this. You just expend so much energy. Our offensive line did a great job, but I think as the game wore on, that probably helped neutralize the pass rush a little bit."
11. This will go down as one of Belichick's favorite Patriots clubs. "This is a great team," he said. "A great group of competitors who never gave in, never lost their will, mentally and physically as tough of a group as I've been around, and I've been around some. These guys are really special."
“If we were wrong, then we’ve been disciplined for that.”
The Patriots were docked a first-round draft pick and fined $250,000 and Belichick docked $500,000 after it was found they were illegally taping the New York Jets' defensive signals during a September game in 2007.
While Belichick acknowledged Saturday that he was in the wrong, he also said the signals were something that everyone could see.
“The guy is in front of 80,000 people, 80,000 people saw it. Everybody on the sideline saw it,” Belichick said. “Everybody sees our guy in front of 80,000 people. There he is. So, it was wrong and we were disciplined for it. That’s it.
“Again, we are never going to do it again and anything that’s close, we aren’t going to do it, either.”
Belichick stressed Saturday that he errs on the side of caution with NFL rules.
“We always do, but I mean anything that’s even remotely close, we are on the side of caution,” Belichick said.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered no response when asked Monday about Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's objection to New England's use of an odd alignment on several plays in Saturday's divisional playoff game.
Harbaugh argued that the strategy did not give him enough time to make adjustments once the identity of the ineligible receiver was known in the Patriots' four-offensive-lineman set. He added he had never seen it before.
Belichick said it was not out of the ordinary, citing special teams examples, and added inspiration for the strategy came from watching another NFL team.
"The origin of that play was from the NFL," Belichick said Monday during a conference call with reporters. "What they did it sparked some ideas. We did what we did.
"It's a play that it's a situation that I saw another team use, kind of, and then we talked about it and thought about ways to maybe put some pressure on the defense with that concept of having more receivers on the field than were eligible.
"[Traditionally teams] make them ineligible instead of making ineligible guys eligible. We'd go the other way around. So we came up with a few ideas."
Belichick also cited examples from special teams when asked where he's seen the strategy used previously.
"It happens all the time," Belichick said. "You come in on the punt team, ineligible guys report as eligible. They line up as guards and tackles on the punt team. The center [on the punt team] are eligible players that report ineligible and they cover punts.
"We've seen it on offense, particularly we see it a lot on special teams with the punt team, not so much on field goals because you have your linemen protecting in there.
"I'd say it happens in every game on the punt team, so you're allowed to do that. We did it."
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he has seen it used as well.
"I've seen it a few different places, where people try to do it differently," McDaniels said. "The situation it comes up in may be different, but you've seen linemen lined up different places, you've seen the center saddled by the two guards and the tackles are removed way outside the numbers at times. There are a lot of different formations that teams have tried or people have used to try to get a play here or there out of those types of things. Everything is part of the rules, and if there is a way to maybe give yourself an opportunity to get a positive play in a different situation, it's worth doing it. But I've definitely seen it before and I'm sure it won't be the last time."
Here are five additional notes and observations on the Dolphins:
- There will be plenty of speculation over the next two weeks about the future of Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Owner Stephen Ross was clear this summer that he wanted "improvement" after last year’s 8-8 season, and the Dolphins are currently 7-7. Philbin must win the final two games to make a case to return in 2015. An additional loss could spell the end of the Philbin era in Miami – and there is still a chance that Ross could make a change after a 9-7 finish. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons and had plenty of time to implement his program. The past two Decembers could be enough proof that Philbin cannot get the Dolphins to the next level.
- I criticized quarterback Ryan Tannehill often for his lack of deep throws, so it’s only right that I complement his big plays against New England. Tannehill threw the deep ball as consistently as I’ve seen in his three seasons. He connected twice for 50 and 35 yards to Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace and drew a pass-interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner on another deep throw. Even two deep misses to receiver Brian Hartline and running back Damien Williams were not Tannehill's fault. It remains to be seen if this was an anomaly or a sign of things to come. The Dolphins should continue to try to take deep shots with Tannehill in the final two weeks to see if he can consistently execute.[+] EnlargeWinslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsDespite the lopsided score, Ryan Tannehill wracked up 346 passing yards and made strides in the deep passing game.
- Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s motivation of using Dolphins quotes after their Week 1 victory was more manufactured than anything. Miami is not a trash-talking team, and the players were very respectful of New England heading into this week. Belichick had to dig deep and go back to the first week of the season when Dolphins players explained their win – and most of those quotes weren't inflammatory. But credit Belichick for motivating his players. Several Patriots, including cornerback Darrelle Revis, referenced the Dolphins trash-talking even when it can be argued that wasn't the case.
- Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry continues to impress. It was somewhat surprising that Belichick opted to put Revis on Landry often on third downs. That is a sign of respect for what Landry has done this season. Landry made a couple of catches over Revis and finished with eight receptions for 99 yards. The 2014 second-round pick has a bright future and will continue to get better.
- Miami starting linebacker Philip Wheeler had two really poor plays that stood out Sunday. His first was the inability to catch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during a 17-yard scramble that seemingly went in slow motion. Wheeler chased after Brady, stumbled and couldn’t keep his feet, which allowed Brady to get the big gain. The second play was Wheeler one-on-one against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 35-yard reception that later set up another touchdown. Wheeler was beaten badly on the play. It’s also partially the fault of the coaching staff to expect Wheeler to cover Gronkowski.
Belichick raved about Brady's work in that area.
"Tom's strung together a number of games here, in particular some outstanding plays -- I'd say particularly his movement in the pocket," Belichick said on the Dale & Holley program on WEEI. "Last night was a good example. He's done it several times this year, and several times on third down and critical situations where he's been able to slide into open space, get his eyes downfield, make a good throw -- third-and-20, third-and-15, third-and-forever, those kind of plays. Those are turnovers. If you don't make those, you're punting the ball and giving it back to them -- minus the 20 yards, or whatever it is you get on the play. So there is a lot of field position and there is possession of the ball.
"I think those plays have been really outstanding and Tom has made a number of them. He made them in the red area too and he's made some very accurate throws. We've seen him do that before. I don't want to say you get used to it. But I think in recent weeks he's done that at a very high level and done it very consistently a number of times."
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt had his defense practice against the very receiver-to-quarterback pass the Bengals employed in their 33-7 win over Tennessee. Whisenhunt's teaching wasn't quite enough, as Mohamed Sanu was able to complete the pass to Andy Dalton, who ran for a touchdown.
The New England Patriots' preparation for Sunday night's game also has included preparing for the unexpected. During a news conference earlier this week, Bill Belichick was asked about how defending the quirky plays of the Bengals could affect the quickness with which his defense can react.
"If you don't see [a particular trick play] very often, you aren't thinking about it or maybe you're not respecting it enough, and then it comes and it hits you," Belichick said. "Then you don't see it again for another year, but the damage is done. That's the way I would characterize those plays.
"Not that there's not a way to defend them, not that there's a magic to the play, but it's a play you haven't seen that we're not practicing against, because I'm sure the ones that [the Bengals] have already run, they're probably less inclined to run those. They're probably more inclined to run a new play that they're working on, and that's the one that we'll have to react to in the game. That's the challenge of those plays. The challenge on the other side of it is execution. Some play that you don't run very much, it's calling it at the right time to get maybe a look that you think will be good against that and then being able to execute it well. The Bengals have done a very good job of executing those plays."
Belichick said the key to defending the trick play is one fundamental principle.
"It comes down to everybody doing their job," he said. "It isn't everybody's job to stop everything. It's one person's job to handle a certain responsibility, whatever that is. It's somebody else's job to handle other plays. If they're running a sweep one way, then you have to play the sweep. Somebody else has to play the reverse. One guy's not playing both plays. That's kind of the 'do your job' mentality of taking care of what you have to take care of. Somebody else has to take care of what they have to take care of.
"I've never coached a defense where you tell the players, 'Well, we don't have a reverse on this play if they run it.' That would be a touchdown. Or if they run a halfback pass, that nobody is responsible for that and that will be a touchdown. Or if they run an end around, we don't really have that play. I just don't think you could coach like that. Somebody has to be responsible for plays over there. If they start over there, then somebody has to be responsible for a play back there. If a guy reverses his field or they run a reverse or they throw a double pass or the quarterback peels out of the backfield, whatever it is, there are fundamental responsibilities, and those plays are part of the responsibilities."
Belichick had an exchange with two reporters about the Patriots' long period of success and the talent around Brady:
Reporter: "Coach [Belichick], your team has been successful for so long, how difficult is it to react to the adversity of Monday night -- to get back on track so quickly -- because from a conditioning standpoint, this team, this organization hasn't had these sorts of issues in the past?"
Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati."
Reporter: "Bill you mentioned Tom's age at the draft ..."
Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati."
Reporter: "Do you think having a 37-year-old ..."
Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati. There's nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we are preparing for Cincinnati."
Reporter: "Do you feel that the talent you have here is good enough?"
Belichick: "We are getting ready for Cincinnati."
Reporter: "I'm just asking do you think you have done enough to help Tom Brady?
Belichick: "We are getting ready for Cincinnati. That's what we are doing."
Reporter: "So as you get ready for Cincinnati, does Tom Brady have the talent and protection around him to be on to Cincinnati and handle that challenge?"
Belichick: "We are going to gameplan to do the best we can to be ready to go Sunday night, same as we always do. Nothing has changed."
The division was an impressive 3-1 last weekend to open the regular season. The Miami Dolphins (1-0), New York Jets (1-0) and Buffalo Bills (1-0) all picked up victories, while the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots (0-1) suffered a loss to Miami.
That brings us to our latest poll question: Who will win the AFC East?
What about the New York Jets? Head coach Rex Ryan & Co. finished 8-8 last year but made some improvements via the draft and free agency. The Jets beat the Oakland Raiders last week and look to be a strong defensive team.
Can the Bills surprise the AFC East? Buffalo has the NFL’s longest playoff drought. The Bills haven’t made the postseason since the 1999 season. But Buffalo picked up a quality road win last week against the Chicago Bears in overtime and can make another statement by beating Miami in Week 2. Are the Bills a legitimate threat to win the division?
Finally, will the Patriots win the AFC East? Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have ruled the division for a decade. New England is the preseason favorite to win the division but didn’t show it last week in Miami. Will the Patriots get back on track and win the AFC East?
Using our SportsNation poll, vote on which team will win the AFC East. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.
The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?
In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.
ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.
Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?
Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.
Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.
Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?
Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.
In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?
Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.
Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?
Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.
Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.
Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.
But opportunity knocks once again for Tannehill. He has a chance to make a huge statement Sunday if he can beat future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium. Some feel New England is a Super Bowl contender and a favorite to come out of the AFC. Not much is expected of the Dolphins from a national perspective.
“I think that I am at the point in my career now where progression has to be made fast and you have to be consistent and there are no more rookie mistakes or second-year mistakes,” Tannehill admitted. “We are at the point where you have got to make the plays when it comes down to it in the fourth quarter on third down. You have to be able to make a play, find a way and that’s football.
“You are going to have those tough situations where someone is going to have to step up and make a play. I want that to be me. I want that to be the guys with me on offense and if we do that we will win a lot of games.”
Tannehill must produce and play smart Sunday for the Dolphins to have a chance to upset the reigning AFC East champions. Brady historically has given Miami’s defense trouble. It will be Tannehill’s job to put up enough points against New England’s defense to keep Miami in the game.
Tannehill split the season series with the Patriots last year, which included a big win over New England in Miami.
“I thought he played well, did a good job,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He does a good job taking care of the ball, played well, obviously, in the two-minute drive. He’s excellent in those situations and that’s probably really what beat us last year down there was their ability to execute at the end of the game.”
Tannehill said he’s excited about the game plan and how Miami’s offense plans to attack New England. Sunday will mark the regular-season debut of first-year Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
The Dolphins and Tannehill have worked hard for months in order to prepare for this game. Tannehill will carry a lot on his shoulders for the Dolphins this weekend and this season.
“You can’t play quarterback and have excuses,” Tannehill said. “It’s your fault a lot of times, whether it looks like it is or whether it actually is -- that is part of playing the position. You take on the responsibility and take ownership for the mistakes that the offense makes.”
“The tablets have the ability to hold all the pictures in the one tablet,” Belichick told reporters Friday. “You can scroll through them, certainly much more concise.”
“I’d say the quality of the tablets is good. The clarity of the pictures and all that is good. Better than what we had.”
Traditionally, NFL teams used photo printers on the sidelines to produce snapshots of plays and formations. Coaches and players could then draw on the pictures to analyze them.
While the use of tablets provides coaches and players with a simple, organized system of managing in-game pictures, the method is far from foolproof. The tablets -- which run on a Wi-Fi network -- lost connection during the Patriots’ game.
“The issues are those are wireless tablets down on the field and so if the wireless or the Wi-Fi isn’t connected or something happens, then you have nothing -- you have zero,” Belichick said.
The connectivity issues were not exclusive to the Patriots’ sideline. Other teams throughout the league have run into problems with tablets.
“That happened in our game and it has happened in other games, from my understanding of talking to other people that have been involved there, too,” Belichick said.
Belichick said the Patriots use the same tablets in the press box and like using them up there. But tablets used in the press box do not have the same connectivity issues like the ones on the field.
“But the consistency -- or lack of -- and dependability of it based on the connections or whatever the technical aspects of it are makes it a little bit of an issue as to the dependability of the product,” Belichick said.
While the Patriots’ experience with tablets has not been entirely smooth, Belichick says the tablets are a good experience for everyone on the team. Though with anything new, there are always obstacles to overcome.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
Since PlaybookGate erupted last Thursday, most experts have downplayed the potential impact of having an opponent's playbook. Not Martin, who responded this way when asked if it could help coach Bill Belichick:
"Oh, tremendously, to be honest with you," Martin told ESPN.com at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York. "What most people don't understand is that football is a science. There are little signals and little movements from one person that can give an indication on where the entire play is going. I think it can have a tremendous effect on a game. If we're playing chess and I understand all of your moves before you make them, my probability of winning is pretty high."
Martin said he wasn't taken aback by Ryan's decision to give a playbook to Alabama coach Nick Saban, whom former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine suspects may have passed it along to Belichick. Martin figures that sort of stuff goes on between coaches. Belichick, he said, doesn't need any help.
"Belichick is one of those football savants," he said. "He (understands) the game, especially from a defensive perspective, at a different level. Does he need it? No. Does he have it? I don't know. I don't think so. Who knows? I don't like to talk on things that are assumptions. If they come out and say Belichick has the book, I'd say, yeah, it makes a big difference."
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said he laughed when he first heard the story.
"I have no idea about any of that," said McCourty, who also attended the charity golf outing. "I feel like to comment on it keeps the nonsense going."
Another person with knowledge of the Jets-Patriots rivalry, Eric Mangini, said the benefit of having an opponent's playbook would be minimal.
"There may be some value from an off-season perspective, but you still have to get through the terminology and you have to get through the adjustments," said the former Jets coach and ex-Patriots assistant. "Ideally, you have someone in the system that can take you through it. From a weekly perspective, it would be hard to get much (useful information) because you can't be sure that what's in there is what you're going to see."
Mangini is the broken branch on Belichick's coaching tree. He was cut off when he reported Belichick's illegal spying tactics to the league, resulting in SpyGate. So, yes, he can relate to the Pettine-Ryan situation. He's not sure why Pettine revealed such information, but Mangini believes it has been blown out of proportion by the media. Asked if he's ever given a playbook to a friend or colleague outside his organization, he paused for a moment.
"Typically, I haven't done that," he said, "but I don't think it's so far out of the range of what happens."
Since 2002, the Patriots are 92-18 at home (including playoffs), which is the best mark in the NFL. They went 9-0 last year.
That was the question tossed out for discussion by host Molly Qerim, as analysts Steve Wyche, Jordan Babineaux and Shawne Merriman opined on a home slate that includes the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions and Raiders.
Babineaux: "The answer is no ... As long as Rex [Ryan] is in that division I'm always going to give the Jets an opportunity and a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots. I think Rex Ryan comes up with the best game-plan for Tom Brady."
Merriman: "Another team that's on that [schedule] is Denver. They have two outside pass-rushers now in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who is probably going to come back healthy. Now you're looking at an offense that can put up points, I don't see [the Patriots] getting a win over those guys at home. It's just too much."
Wyche: "I have them going 7-1, but I have them losing to the Chicago Bears. That defense is going to be better this year. I know the Patriots have [Darrelle] Revis. I know they have Brandon Browner. But Chicago has a whole lot of other weapons there, and if it's cold, it doesn't matter [to them]. So I like Chicago."
At that point, Qerim said, "I know the chances are slim, but you can never count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There's always a chance."
"How are we doing here?" he asked the media crowd that included five cameras (one live-streaming the breakfast online) and at least 20 reporters crowded around. "A lot more [sun] here than we have in Boston."
On the cost issue of the NFL potentially installing cameras at all boundary lines to aid instant replay: "We just spent however many millions of dollars on the replay system. I mean, there are 1,000 cameras in every stadium, so if somebody spills a beer on somebody, we have it on record, right? Maybe we could have a bake sale to raise some money for the cameras. We could do a car wash."
On supporting the Florida Gators basketball team: "Shout out to Billy [Donovan] here. Going to the Sweet 16."
On why he was the only coach not present for Monday's traditional photo: "I missed it. Maybe they can photoshop me in there."
While Belichick had a few witty one-liners ready, there was one point where he trended in the other direction. Asked if there was a timetable for tight end Rob Gronkowski's return, Belichick said, "Are you seriously asking that question?"
He wasn't smiling at that point.