AFC East: Chicago Bears

Triple Coverage: Bills sign Chris Williams

March, 12, 2014
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Chris WilliamsAP Photo/David SeeligWill newly acquired Chris Williams garner success on the Bills' offensive line in 2014?
The Buffalo Bills addressed a need along their offensive line Wednesday, signing former St. Louis Rams guard Chris Williams to a four-year, $13.5 million deal.

Williams, a former first-round pick, never panned out with the Chicago Bears. He started 16 games at left guard last season and now will have a chance to step into that same role with the Bills.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, and ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson discuss the signing:

Rodak: Nick, how did the Rams' line as a whole perform last season? Did Williams make it better or worse?

Wagoner: As expected, the Rams had their share of injury issues on a line full of veterans. They were mostly solid, especially after the team refocused on the run game. But they also had their share of struggles, especially when they faced the dominant front sevens in the NFC West. Williams was the weakest link of the group, though he provided more durability than any of his linemates. He held up OK, but those division foes especially had a knack for getting the better of him.

Jeff, you saw Williams early in his career and when the Bears first tried to make him a guard. Did you ever envision he'd land a contract like the one he got from Buffalo?

Dickerson: Not a chance. The Bears touted Williams as their franchise left tackle of the future when the team selected him in the first round (No. 14 overall) of the 2008 NFL draft, but he hardly lived up to expectations and is considered one of the Bears' biggest draft busts, along with Gabe Carimi, in the last seven or eight years. His chronic injuries and uneven play ultimately led to his release. To be fair, Williams turned out to be much better suited to play inside at guard, however, he was never viewed as one of the elite guards in the NFL, except by the Bills, apparently.

Rodak: Jeff, Doug Marrone is a former offensive line coach and has valued size among offensive linemen early in his tenure with the Bills. Williams (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) is a load, but how effectively did he use his size with the Bears?

Dickerson: Again, I don't want to make it sound as if Williams was a terrible guard, but he never had the reputation of being an ultra-athletic or ultra-aggressive offensive lineman. Maybe that changed when Williams went to St. Louis. Obviously, he has the requisite size to play inside. Marrone is a terrific coach. Hopefully it's a good pairing. But his size was never viewed as a negative or a positive when Williams played in Chicago.

Rodak: Nick, what was your sense on how the Rams valued Williams? Do you think they wanted to bring him back as a starter?

Wagoner: They had interest in bringing him back, though I think it's likely if he'd come back he would have either been a backup or, more likely, in a competition for the starting job like he was in 2013. To me, it made sense if they could get him back to serve as a swing man simply because he could play anywhere on the line except center. Having a player like that at a cheap price is pretty much ideal for a backup. But I don't think they were going to extend themselves too far to bring him back. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has a great reputation for taking reclamation projects and getting something out of them. Although this is another starter subtracted from the line, I believe the Rams feel they can upgrade the starter at this spot and develop someone else to fill a backup swing role he could have had.

Jeff, something that applies to the Rams and Bills, but you saw up close. The Rams look like they're going to have to do some quick work to improve the line this offseason and they may have to use the draft to do so. It seems the Bears were able to do that last year, what did you see in how they were able to turn it around so quickly?

Dickerson: General manager Phil Emery double-dipped in free agency and the draft. He spent big bucks to land left tackle Jermon Bush and reunite him with his old New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and followed that up by signing guard Matt Slauson. Both turned out to be major upgrades over what the Bears had in 2012. Then Emery drafted right guard Kyle Long in the first round and right tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth round to complement veteran center Roberto Garza. It was a stroke of pure genius.

Wagoner: The Rams might need some of that genius in the next couple of months here though when they lean on Boudreau to be their offensive line whisperer of sorts.

Mike, obviously this is a move that has Jeff and I scratching our heads, and I know you feel that way, too. What was the need for Buffalo on the offensive line, how do you see Williams fitting in and what do the Bills hope to get from him?

Rodak: Nick, the Bills have told Williams that they want him to be their left guard. That was a problem area for the Bills last season, as they never found someone reliable to step in for Andy Levitre. The Bills are big on Williams' size and if it works out, then he'll be an upgrade over Doug Legursky, who should ideally be their backup center. With the contract the Bills gave Williams, he should be starting at left guard on Day 1. If he's not, that's a problem. They're not paying him to be a backup, although with his versatility, he could help as a swing player at several positions. It's a signing that addresses an area of need but also comes with an element of financial risk.

NFLN says: 3-0 Super Bowl contenders?

September, 25, 2013
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Smith, Cutler & BreesGetty ImagesAlex Smith, Jay Cutler and Drew Brees have led their teams to a 3-0 start.
The danger in getting excited about a 3-0 start is that pesky little thing known as "The Other Thirteen Games." Victories in the first three weeks can lead to a 15-1 season, as they did for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Or they could mean a 2-11 finish and a fired coaching staff, as the Arizona Cardinals found out last year.

So let's keep our wits as we analyze the seven teams that have started this season 3-0. It has been four years since that many teams were still perfect after three weeks. The 2009 season offers another lesson in early conclusions: One of the seven (the New Orleans Saints) won the Super Bowl but two finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs altogether (the New York Giants and Denver Broncos).

So who is this year's version of the 2009 Saints? Are there any candidates to emulate the 2012 Cardinals? NFL Nation has some thoughts.

If there is anything to glean from the first three weeks of this season, it's the emergence of two early powerhouses. The Seattle Seahawks and the Broncos have outscored opponents by a combined 213-98, and their individual point differentials of 59 and 56, respectively, are by far the best in the NFL. (The next best is the Kansas City Chiefs at 37).

The Seahawks' path to Super Bowl XLVIII seems clear: Clinch home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field, where they have won 10 consecutive games, and book their ticket to New York. The Broncos, meanwhile, have scored the second-most points through three games in NFL history and only figure to improve as defensive stalwarts Von Miller (suspension) and Champ Bailey (injury) return to the lineup.

What about the rest?

Has Andy Reid built an instant Super Bowl contender in Kansas City, or will his Chiefs level off? Has Ryan Tannehill really developed into a championship-caliber quarterback for the Miami Dolphins?

Are the Chicago Bears for real after two fourth-quarterback comebacks followed by two defensive touchdowns in their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers? The New England Patriots are fortunate to be 3-0, right? And has Sean Payton restored the Saints' magic? Let's take the pulse of NFL Nation.

Which 3-0 teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

The Saints should definitely be considered as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, based on their offensive track record under coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Not only did they win the Super Bowl in 2009, but their offense was even better in 2011, when they finished 13-3 and set the NFL record for yards gained in a season (7,474). I don't expect an exact repeat this year, but I think that's closer to the norm than last year's 7-9 season.

Especially with tight end Jimmy Graham healthy again and back to being one of the most difficult matchups in the league. Clearly, however, the Saints need to improve a run game that has been practically non-existent to keep defenses honest and keep Brees upright.

Meanwhile, the Saints' young defense has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year under new coordinator Rob Ryan. I still expect a few growing pains before the season is over. But they don't need to be dominant for the Saints to succeed. And I think they can continue to come up big in some big moments. Players are clearly responding to Ryan's energetic approach and versatile schemes. And they have some bona fide talent to work with in every unit -- including emerging young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season. If the defense can keep playing anywhere near this level, the Saints could run away with the NFC South title.

The undefeated Miami Dolphins are arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL.

But can the Dolphins be serious Super Bowl contenders? Let's temper those expectations. The Dolphins absolutely have playoff potential. This is a franchise that hasn't made the postseason since 2008. Ending that streak and having a winning season should be Miami's primary goals.

A 3-0 start is terrific, especially after beating the talented Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back weeks. But the Dolphins certainly have holes.

Depth is an issue in several areas and will be tested. Miami could be without several defensive starters -- defensive end Cameron Wake (knee), defensive tackle Paul Soliai (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) -- against the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." The Dolphins also face issues such as pass protection (14 sacks allowed) and having the 28th-ranked rushing attack.

In addition to the undefeated Saints, Miami has tough games against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens (2-1), New England Patriots (3-0) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) before the end of October. The Dolphins cannot rest on their early success. They must continue to improve.

The health and production of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the biggest key. However, the Dolphins have a lot to prove over the course of 16 games.

Miami has a perfect record, but it's far from perfect.

Judging strictly from the numbers, the Kansas City Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They are No. 1 in the AFC in scoring defense, No. 2 in the conference in scoring differential and, most importantly, tied for first place with a 3-0 record.

But it's another number, one that will be impossible to sustain, that's feeding the Chiefs' success and threatens to reveal them as pretenders once it begins its inevitable correction.

The Chiefs are leading the league in turnover differential at plus-9. They are one of two NFL teams yet to commit a turnover. That's a statistic capable of making a good team look great as long as it lasts. The trouble is, it never does last, at least not at this rate. Once their turnover differential starts to balance out, here is the advantage the Chiefs will lose:

The Chiefs have started 10 possessions on their opponents' end of the field. Their opponents have started one in Kansas City's territory, and even that drive began at the Chiefs' 49.

Such consistently favorable field position can make life easy for a team, and credit to the Chiefs for enjoying the ride while it lasts.

It won't forever. When it ends, the Chiefs will have to make their own way.

Their defense looks capable of doing that, but their offense needs a boost. When it doesn't get one, the Chiefs will suddenly look mortal.

This 3-0 team is better than the Bears squad from 2012, which started 7-1, and is a legitimate Super Bowl contender for a variety of reasons. The Bears have already scored three defensive touchdowns, but the major difference is the club is getting contributions from both sides of the ball and special teams.

Chicago provided evidence of that with quarterback Jay Cutler engineering back-to-back, come-from-behind victories over Cincinnati and Minnesota to start the season, before coming through in the clutch on the road Sunday, bailing out a struggling defense to clinch a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bears racked up nine defensive touchdowns last season, which tied for the second most in NFL history. But at this juncture last year, the unit had only one score, yet basically carried the entire team through its impressive first half.

Through the 7-1 start in 2012, skepticism existed because the Bears simply hadn't played good teams. This year, the combined record of the teams first three opponents is 2-7. But don't be fooled, this is a better Bears team.

Cutler is one of the main reasons for that. He's matured. He's accepted the coaching. He's putting in more time to sharpen his craft, while shedding the enigmatic gunslinger persona for a more controlled approach. His protection is better. The front office has surrounded him with more weapons and an offensive-minded coach in Marc Trestman, who is the architect of a system Cutler believes in.

If there has been one constant of Bill Belichick-coached Patriots teams since 2000, it's that they usually get better as the season progresses. Surely, there have been exceptions (2009 comes to mind), but there are no indications this year's team is headed down that path at this point.

The defense has exceeded expectations through three games, although a lingering question is how much of the unit's success is a result of playing weaker competition. Sunday night's game on the road, against the fast-starting Atlanta Falcons, should tell us more about the unit. And while the offense has struggled to find its groove, the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski should provide a boost and with Danny Amendola saying he envisions being 100 percent shortly, big-time reinforcements are on the way.

So if you're judging on the present picture, it's understandable that one would say this team isn't a Super Bowl contender. In a game against the Denver Broncos, right now, you would have to pick the Broncos. But this is about projecting what the Patriots could be, and at this point, there's no reason to think they won't evolve as past Belichick teams have. Many of those clubs have been Super Bowl contenders. 
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC East:
  • Should the Buffalo Bills consider USC quarterback Matt Barkley at No. 8 overall in April's draft
Morning take: Barkley completed his pro day on Wednesday to try to answer questions. However, I still wouldn't take Barkley with a top-10 pick. I'm not fully sure he fits what Buffalo wants to do offensively.
Morning take: The Jets just lost brother LaRon Landry for a lot more money. Dawan Landry is a cheaper alternative who could fill a big need in New York.
Morning take: Louis has 28 career starts with the Chicago Bears. He’s versatile enough to play both guard and tackle, which is valuable for Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.
  • New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will face Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson in the “Madden NFL 25” cover vote.
Morning take: Gronkowski is a great player who is very popular. However, considering his injury history, Patriots fans might not want Gronkowski to be at risk for the Madden curse.
There has been a long silence from the Miami Dolphins regarding four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Miami apparently has no interest in paying top dollar to retain Long, who was the team's No. 1 overall pick in 2008.

Long
But there are at least two teams reportedly in the hunt for Long's services. USA Today reports the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams are most interested in the soon-to-be former Miami offensive tackle. Both Chicago and St. Louis have a need at offensive tackle to protect their starting quarterbacks: Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford.

As free agency nears, it is more and more evident that we've probably seen the last of Long in a Miami uniform. The Dolphins have the cap room to spend but haven’t shown any indication they will use it on the veteran left tackle.

The only chance of Long returning to Miami is if he doesn't get much interest elsewhere in free agency and is willing to take a team-friendly contract. But those chances appear slim.

Morning take: Kraft wants Wes Welker

February, 2, 2013
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Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC East:
  • New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft wants Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker back on the team.
Morning take: This is good news for Welker. Last year, the team refused to give Welker a big-money extension and opted instead for the franchise tag. This year, the franchise tag could be off the table if the Patriots don’t want to pay $11.4 million. Maybe an extension gets done.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt to run their special teams.
Morning take: I don’t think many Bills fans are sad about this. Wannstedt wasn't very good as Buffalo's defensive coordinator, despite having some talent to work with.
Morning take: That would certainly make things interesting for Miami. The Dolphins are trying not to overpay to keep any of their players. But if Hartline gets a nice offer elsewhere, that could force Miami to pay more than it wanted or let Hartline walk.
Morning take: It’s a pretty deep class this year. Parcells could be one of the people fighting for the final spot or two. We will have more Hall of Fame coverage Saturday evening when the names are announced.
Last week in the AFC East blog we questioned Tim Tebow's NFL future. The New York Jets cannot wait to get rid of the polarizing quarterback and the hometown Jacksonville Jaguars want nothing to do with him.

But this week things are suddenly looking up for Tebow. Two recent head-coaching hires could provide two more possibilities.

Marc Trestman, the new coach of the Chicago Bears, has ties with Tebow. The former CFL coach and quarterback guru worked with Tebow before the 2010 NFL draft. Trestman has always had high praise for Tebow. If Trestman still believes in Tebow, he can have the quarterback on the cheap this offseason to backup starter Jay Cutler.

Chip Kelly, the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, has no official tie to Tebow. But it is no secret that Kelly likes mobile quarterbacks to run his up-tempo style of offense. Tebow also can be acquired for virtually little, which may attract some teams. But Tebow's throwing issues and poor mechanics make this less of a possibility, even as a backup.

For now, add Chicago to the list of potential landing spots in the 2013 "Tebow Sweepstakes." Philadelphia? Not so much.
The Miami Dolphins have five draft picks in the first three rounds and more than $40 million of salary-cap room this offseason. If this were a poker game, Miami would hold the most chips at the NFL table.

But the person holding all the cards in Miami often makes Dolphins fans nervous. Embattled general manager Jeff Ireland will be calling the shots for the Dolphins during their most important offseason in recent memory. For better or worse, Ireland's decisions over the next few months will significantly impact Miami's franchise for the next three to five years.

[+] EnlargeJeff Ireland
Steve Mitchell/USA Today SportsGeneral manager Jeff Ireland has the resources this offseason to help make Miami a playoff contender in the near future.
Ireland is a polarizing figure in Miami. He is 20-28 since taking over full time for former Dolphins president Bill Parcells in 2010. Ireland's track record the past three years has been inconsistent, and many Miami fans wanted him out before the start of the 2012 season.

Ireland's free-agent signings have been littered with misses. Last year alone, quarterback David Garrard, cornerback Richard Marshall and receiver Chad Johnson were all free-agent busts. Ireland also has been hit-and-miss in the draft. Some of his good picks include rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and center Mike Pouncey. But Ireland's misses also include tailback Daniel Thomas, receiver Clyde Gates and rookie tight end Michael Egnew. The Koa Misi pick over New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010 also is hard to forget. That poor decision by Ireland only furthered the gap between Miami and its biggest rival.

So is Ireland the right person to manage more than $40 million and 10 total draft picks? His track record proves the Dolphins are taking a risk.

This is a make-or-break year for Ireland, who still has a lot to prove as Miami's general manager. The good news is Ireland is coming off his best draft in Miami. His 2012 picks included Tannehill, starting offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and contributing reserves Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller. This group helped lead Miami to a respectable 7-9 record and provided optimism for the future.

"I was impressed with Ireland this past offseason and they are loaded with picks going forward," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "I would target 2014 to be highly competitive for Miami. It's very achievable."

Of course, all of that is contingent on Ireland making the right calls in 2013.

Ireland's first order of business is taking care of his in-house free agents. The Dolphins have plenty of cap room because many key players are coming off the books. Starters like left tackle Jake Long, leading rusher Reggie Bush, leading receiver Brian Hartline, No. 1 corner Sean Smith and defensive tackle Randy Starks will look to cash in this offseason. These are all tough calls. Miami cannot pay all of them.

It will be up to Ireland, with some input from rookie head coach Joe Philbin, to determine who stays and who goes. Ireland must walk a fine line of paying enough money to keep his own key contributors but still leave enough cap room to chase outside free agents. It will take some shrewd decisions and masterful self-scouting by Ireland. He cannot overrate or overpay his own players, which is a mistake general managers often make.

One of the most important things Ireland must accomplish is getting the right skill players around Tannehill. The rookie quarterback showed a lot of potential in his first year but was hamstrung by limited receivers and tight ends. Tannehill still managed to throw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his first season.

The good news is the wide receiver position is very strong in free agency this year. Free-agent receivers Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace are possibilities for the Dolphins, who have the money to spend. Jennings played under Philbin for several years in Green Bay and knows the West Coast offense. Bowe is a Miami native who could return home, and Wallace has the deep speed Miami needs. Each player has the potential to fit well in Miami's offense and provide a boost for Tannehill.

"Wallace's speed would be ideal for Miami, but I trust him the least," Williamson said of this year's free-agent receivers. "Jennings is the most familiar but I worry that he might be on a slight decline. Bowe is really solid and from Miami. I would sign one and still draft a receiver high."

Tannehill also needs a better receiving tight end. This was a staple in Philbin's offenses in Green Bay, but Miami was limited with that position last year. Aging tight end Anthony Fasano could not stretch the field and is a free agent who may not return.

Following free agency, the Dolphins will enter the draft with a first-round pick (No. 12 overall), two second-round picks and two third-round picks. Miami picked up an additional second-rounder last summer from the Indianapolis Colts via the Vontae Davis trade. The Dolphins also got an extra third-rounder from the Chicago Bears for trading receiver Brandon Marshall. These key picks will be used to plug additional holes on the roster.

These are exciting and promising times for Miami. The Dolphins are in prime position to close the gap with the Patriots in the AFC East and perhaps make a playoff run in 2013. But it will be up to Ireland to wisely spend Miami's immense offseason resources.
The Buffalo Bills are interested in former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and the feeling is mutual. Both sides reportedly will meet this weekend, as Smith will become the most accomplished NFL coach on Buffalo's interview list so far.

Smith
Whether Smith is at the top of Buffalo's wish list remains to be seen. But for Bills fans, the idea of hiring Smith may open up old wounds left by previous head coaches Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron.

Buffalo's last two coaches were NFL "retreads" -- coaches who were fired by one NFL team but given a second chance in Buffalo. Gailey's failed stint with the Dallas Cowboys and Jauron's failed stint with Chicago were warning signs that neither was a good head coach. The Bills took that chance anyway and ruined the past seven seasons for the franchise.

Smith now has that infamous "retread" label after getting fired this week by Chicago. But if you look more deeply at the numbers, Smith is as intriguing a candidate as he is polarizing.

There are plenty of reasons to believe in Smith, such as his 81-63 record, his 6-3 mark in the playoffs, and one Super Bowl appearance. There also are reasons not to believe in Smith, such as his six non-playoff seasons in nine years and his consistently horrendous offenses in Chicago.

How polarizing was Smith in Chicago? Look no further than the fact that he was just fired after a 10-6 season. That rarely happens. But the spectrum of opinions was so wide with Smith that the Bears decided it was best to start over.

There are good NFL retreads and bad NFL retreads. The Bills had a pair of misses recently with Gailey and Jauron. But if Buffalo goes the same retread route this year with a coach like Smith or former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Bills better get this call correct.

Lovie Smith to interview with Bills

January, 3, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills are moving fast and furious with their 2013 coaching search.

Howard Simon of WGR in Buffalo reports the Bills have scheduled an interview this weekend with former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith. Smith was fired after leading Chicago to a 10-6 record but just missed the playoffs. He holds a solid 81-63 overall record in nine seasons. He also is 6-3 in the playoffs with one Super Bowl appearance.

The AFC East blog ran a poll this week of the early candidates, and Smith was the runaway leader among Bills fans. Also, here is a look at the pros and cons of each candidate the Bills have interest in so far, including Smith.
The Buffalo Bills began their coaching search this week. Several early names have already surfaced, some of which were outlined Wednesday in the AFC East blog.

Although more names will surely come up, here are some early thoughts on Buffalo's first round of candidates.

Ken Whisenhunt, former Arizona Cardinals head coach

Whisenhunt
The good: Whisenhunt comes with good head-coaching experience and Super Bowl experience with the Arizona Cardinals. Whisenhunt also worked with Bills assistant general manager Doug Whaley in Pittsburgh; that familiarity helps. Whisenhunt is a good offensive mind when he has a quality quarterback, such as Kurt Warner or Ben Roethlisberger.

The bad: Whisenhunt is another retread -- a head coach who was fired for failing somewhere else and then given a second chance by Buffalo. That trend hasn't worked well for the Bills, who hired the wrong retreads in Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron. Whisenhunt's career record is 45-51 and he led Arizona to the playoffs in only two of his six seasons there.

Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator

Horton
The good: Horton is an up-and-coming assistant who could infuse energy into the Bills. Like Whisenhunt, Horton also has Pittsburgh ties to Whaley -- both came up in the successful Steelers' organization. Horton could be the next assistant ready to become a quality head coach. He is getting plenty of interest from several teams.

The bad: Horton is somewhat of an unknown with zero head-coaching experience. Is he the next Mike Tomlin or the next Jauron? You never know for sure. Horton has only been defensive coordinator for two seasons. Horton is very much a defensive coach and would require a strong offensive coordinator to call the shots on the other side of the football.

Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears head coach

Smith
The good: Smith was head coach of the Bears for nine years and holds a solid 81-63 record. He is 3-3 in the playoffs with one Super Bowl appearance. That is proof that Smith knows how to win in the postseason. Smith has an even-keeled demeanor that worked well in a large, pressure-packed city like Chicago. Buffalo pales in comparison and is a much smaller market.

The bad: Smith, another retread, only led Chicago to the playoffs in three of his nine seasons. That's not a good ratio. Smith didn't have many awful years, but he didn't have many tremendous years, either. The Bears were about average and finished with seven to nine wins in four of Smith's nine seasons. Smith is a good defensive coach, but his offenses have been terrible. The Bears were 23rd or worse in total offense in all but one of Smith's nine seasons.

Mike McCoy, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator

McCoy
The good: McCoy's star continues to rise after the stellar job he's done the past two years with quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning -- two very different signal-callers in terms of experience level and talents. Yet, McCoy thrived and made it to at least the divisional round with both players. Buffalo is unsure of its quarterback situation. But whoever next year's quarterback is, he'll most likely would benefit if taught by McCoy.

The bad: The Bills, or any other team, must wait for McCoy to finish his season. The Broncos are expected to make a deep playoff run. Some predict Denver will make it the Super Bowl. That would significantly push back any timeline for the Bills to get started with McCoy -- and time is of the essence.

Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach

Kelly
The good: Kelly is an innovative coach whose fast-paced, up-tempo offense is redefining the sport. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick credits Kelly for helping the Patriots improve their tempo on offense this season. Kelly has produced plenty of NFL players during his tenure at Oregon.

The bad: The pro level isn't for every college coach. Even top college coaches such as Nick Saban failed in the NFL. Can Kelly make it in the pros? That's the big unknown. But Kelly has a cushy job at Oregon and tons of interest from other NFL teams. The Bills might have to pay top dollar and perhaps get into a bidding war to convince Kelly to leave the college ranks and choose Buffalo over other NFL teams.

This is a good list to start for Buffalo. The Bills are doing a good job of getting right to work and lining up as many coaching candidates as possible.

Which coach out of this group would be the best fit for Buffalo?
SportsNation

Which NFL team has the best defensive line?

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    7%
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    59%
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    1%
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    22%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,219)

The AFC East spent time with the Buffalo Bills in training camp this week. It was impressive watching Bills defensive linemen Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mark Anderson work as a starting unit.

That prompted this "Poll Friday" question: Which team has the best defensive line in the NFL? The Bills have to be in the mix after spending more than $100 million on defensive ends in free agency.

Buffalo is in the mix with teams like the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the always stout Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears. If we missed a team with a better defensive line, click other.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote for the best defensive line in 2012. You can also share your thoughts in the comments second below.

Show and prove: Brian Hartline

June, 8, 2012
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We continue our series on players in the AFC East who have a lot to prove in 2012. Next we take a look at the Miami Dolphins' No. 1 receiver.

Brian Hartline, Dolphins

2011 stats: 35 receptions, 549 yards, one touchdown

What he must prove: Hartline, by default, must prove he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Miami traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for two third-round picks this offseason. The Dolphins didn't take a receiver high in the draft or make any significant additions in free agency. That leaves Hartline trying to make the jump from a complementary receiver to a No. 1 threat. Hartline is sneaky athletic and is able to get behind a defense when he's not the primary focus. He played off Marshall well. But can Hartline be the guy when he's facing an opponent's No. 1 cornerback and possibly double teams week in and week out?

Walker's 2012 outlook: I'm not optimistic about this one. Hartline is a nice player and someone you want on your team. But asking him to be the first option in Miami's new West Coast offense is asking a lot. Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin says you don't need star receivers to run his system. But the weapons Philbin had in Green Bay (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, tight end Jermichael Finley) are not slouches. Hartline caught 31, 43 and 35 passes his first three seasons. Maybe those numbers go up some. But I would be surprised if Hartline suddenly explodes for 80 receptions and 1,200 yards -- the type of production Miami lost with Marshall.

Are Dolphins set at receiver?

April, 29, 2012
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The first-round pick was obvious. Everyone knew the Miami Dolphins loved former Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick, which went according to form.

But after that, I was curious when Miami was going to take a wide receiver in the draft. It didn’t happen in the second round. It didn’t happen in the third, fourth or fifth rounds.

Miami finally drafted a pair of receivers in the sixth and seventh rounds. The Dolphins selected B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State and Rishard Matthews of Nevada.

"I think we drafted a couple good players that we think could ascend," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said. "But we weren’t going to reach. That’s not my philosophy."

Does Miami have enough to be effective at wide receiver next season? Here is a look at the players currently on the roster.

According to rookie head coach Joe Philbin, the West Coast offense doesn’t need a star, No. 1 target. But projected starters Brian Hartline and Devone Bess and possibly Legadu Naanee could be put in roles bigger than what they are used to.

Miami traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears in the offseason. The Dolphins expect to throw the ball a lot with a new West Coast offense, probably more than last year, despite a group with a lot to prove.

"The more guys you can get into different spots to create mismatches for the defense, the better you’re going to be,” Philbin said. "I don’t think we lock in."

With the draft complete and free agency all but done, this is probably the receiver group Miami rolls with next season. Is this group good enough to produce in 2012?
The Miami Dolphins traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall Tuesday to the Chicago Bears. Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem and Pierre Garcon were all taken off the market quickly on the first day of free agency.

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Who will be Miami's No. 1 receiver next season?

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    16%
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    44%
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    16%
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    24%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,289)

So who, exactly, will be the No. 1 receiver for Miami next season?

The Dolphins had two months to craft their offseason plan to build a title contender in 2012. But after one day of free agency, their plan looks confusing, particularly at wide receiver.

Miami is reportedly interested in Dallas Cowboys free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson. He had a career year replacing Miles Austin last season. Can Robinson be the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins?

Or will Miami look to the draft? Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon is a top-10 pick. The Dolphins hold the No. 8 pick and now have a huge need at receiver. Should this be Miami’s next target.

What about Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline? He’s been decent opposite Marshall in the starting lineup. Is Hartline ready to take his game to the next level in Miami’s new West Coast offense?

Using our SportsNation poll, predict who will be Miami’s No. 1 receiver next season. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Former Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall was caught in the middle of yet another controversy early Sunday morning. The enigmatic receiver was traded to the Chicago Bears two days later for two third-round picks.

The initial reaction was the compensation Miami received was lower than market value. Marshall is a player in his prime coming off a Pro Bowl season. The Dolphins traded two second-round picks to get Marshall just two years ago.

But there is a chance Marshall's alleged incident could have lowered his trade value. There are conflicting reports on what happened during an alleged altercation at a New York nightclub. A woman claims Marshall hit her during a melee, while Marshall's reps deny it.

The Bears released a statement Wednesday saying Chicago and Miami were aware of the alleged incident but still went forward with the trade. Marshall is no stranger to trouble. He's had off-the-field incidents in both Denver and Miami.

It's unknown if Marshall is innocent or guilty in this latest case. That will be determined later. But what Marshall hasn't learned is how to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is something Chicago now has to handle, not Miami.

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