AFC East: Eli Manning

AFC East links: Starks and the franchise tag

March, 4, 2013
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Buffalo Bills

Gary Horton and Field Yates break down the Bills and examine what the team needs to accomplish in free agency.

Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News offers his thoughts on the future of guard Andy Levitre. "I wouldn’t pay Levitre elite guard money. He’s not worth it. Levitre is a very good player. He hasn’t missed a game in his four-year career, or rarely a play. But he’s not great. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl. He doesn’t dominate. It’s good to keep the line together. Chemistry is vital for an O-line. But guards are replaceable. Teams reach the Super Bowl all the time with restructured lines. The Ravens did it this year. Games are decided by playmakers; the Bills don’t have enough of them on either side of the line of scrimmage."

Miami Dolphins

Defensive tackle Randy Starks remains the strongest candidate to receive the team's franchise tag, writes Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I want to be a Dolphin, [and] not just for one more year,” Starks tweeted out on Sunday. “Discount, yeah. Clearance rack, heck no! I want to be here and finish here!”

New England Patriots

It was reportedly on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles where team owner Robert Kraft first mentioned the idea of a contract extension to quarterback Tom Brady. "I was probably wearing my fan hat as much as anything else," Kraft told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "I just didn't want to ever see this become like Joe Montana leaving San Francisco, Emmitt Smith leaving Dallas, Brett Favre leaving Green Bay, Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis. If Tom Brady played out this current contract and left us, there was no doubt in my mind that someone out there would pay him top dollar, and they should, for his ability, his leadership and his unselfishness."

The Patriots have yet to decide how -- or if -- they will use the franchise tag.

New York Jets

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: "I am talking to an NFL general manager not long ago about the Jets, and the guy starts talking about the Giants, the move Ernie Accorsi made for Eli Manning in the 2004 draft, one of the biggest trades in the history of New York sports teams, one of the best, one of the most important. 'When you wait and wait and finally get your shot at the guy you want, you better be right,' the guy said. 'The Jets made their big move on [Mark] Sanchez and turned out to be wrong.'”

Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com says the Jets remain in contact with free-agent quarterback David Garrard, but a deal is not imminent.

Do Wonderlic scores matter?

February, 21, 2013
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The NFL combine is upon us. That means this is the one time of year people focus on the scores and merits of the Wonderlic test.

The Wonderlic is a timed test (12 minutes) that asks 50 questions aimed at measuring a players smarts or cognitive ability. With NFL prospects coming from so many different backgrounds, the merits of the test have been hotly debated.

Based on these results (at right), the only conclusion to be reached is that the Wonderlic doesn't mean much on the football field. The irony of Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is struggling in Buffalo, having the highest documented score for a quarterback and Jim Kelly, the best quarterback in Bills history, having one of the lowest is telling. Other low Wonderlic scores for non-quarterbacks includes Ray Lewis and Randy Moss, who are first-ballot Hall of Famers. A.J. Green, Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, Sebastian Janikowski and Patrick Peterson also have been to Pro Bowls.

Physical ability trumps the aptitude to take a 50-question test in the NFL. The Wonderlic also does not account for "football intelligence," which is an innate knowledge of the game that comes from playing experience and film study.

Expect there to be discussions from the combine this week of who scored high and who scored low on the Wonderlic test. But take most of it with a grain of salt.
Brandon Jacobs is right about this: The Jets have a looooong way to go to catch the Giants in the battle of New York.

Gotham City is Giants country and it will be that way for a while. The Giants have earned it with two recent championships and four Super Bowls since 1970. The Jets have zero titles in that same span.

The Jets currently are winning the media battle in New York, thanks to the acquisition of quarterback Tim Tebow. But that's all the Jets are winning.

Jacobs told CBSSports.com he's not sure what the Jets' problem is. So we offered some assistance.

Here are several reasons why the Jets continue to fall behind the Giants:
  • Quarterback gap: There's a big difference between Eli Manning of the Giants and Mark Sanchez of the Jets. Quarterback is the most important position on the field. The Giants have an elite player at the position, while the Jets are average and inconsistent. When things go wrong in other areas of the team or there are injuries, Manning can lift the Giants' level of play and continue to win games. Sanchez needs everything around him to go right, which makes it harder to win consistently and compete for a championship.
  • Crisis management: The Giants also handle distractions much better than the Jets. Both teams face the same intense media pressure in New York. But while the Giants thrive, the Jets can let it tear the team apart. Last year's implosion by the Jets was a perfect example, and they are still trying to recover from it. If the Jets want to own New York City, they need to know how to stay together.
  • Coaching matters: The Giants have Tom Coughlin, who has tons of experience and is a possible Hall of Fame coach with two championships. The Jets have Rex Ryan, who has just three years of experience and continues to learn on the job. Ryan started fast with two playoff runs but made his biggest gaffe as Jets coach last year. Ryan did not have a handle on the pulse of his locker room and things fell apart. This is a big fourth-year for Ryan to get it right.

Until these three things change, the Giants will continue to have a big advantage over the Jets. Championships matter in New York City and the Giants have figured out the right formula.

Maybe the Jets' chemistry improves, and Sanchez and Ryan are able to eventually catch up to Manning and Coughlin. But I don't see this happening anytime soon.
The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills will host their preseason openers Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins, respectively.

Here are four things to watch for in these exhibition games:

No. 1: Patriots' defense

Analysis: New England’s defense, ranked 31st last season, will take the field for the first time in 2012. The last time we saw this group, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was carving up the Patriots in the Super Bowl. New England invested a lot of draft picks and free-agent dollars into this defense. Expect to see several new faces, such as first-round picks Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, and free-agent signings Steve Gregory and Bobby Carpenter. The Patriots’ starting defense will get a good test against Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who performed well against New England during joint practices this week.

No. 2: Who will emerge at running back?

Analysis: Expect the Patriots to give a lot of carries to their young running backs Thursday night. Second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are competing for the starting job vacated by former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ridley and Vereen bring different skills to the table. So far, Ridley has looked the best in training camp. But this battle will be won in the preseason games. Therefore, one of these young tailbacks must perform well to separate himself.

No. 3: Debut of Buffalo's revamped defensive line

Analysis: Buffalo’s starters may only play a few series. But it will be a good chance to see how the Bills’ new-look and dynamic defensive line is coming along. Stud defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus were joined by big free-agent signings Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. This group has the potential to be one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. Washington will provide a good test in the debut of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. He is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league. So if Buffalo’s defense can pressure Griffin and keep him at bay, it can corral just about any quarterback.

No. 4: Who will step up as Buffalo's No. 2 receiver?

Analysis: If Buffalo has a legit No. 2 receiver, it’s time for that player to come forward. The Bills need someone to be a threat opposite Steve Johnson, who will face plenty of double teams this year. There have been mixed results in training camp. Different players have flashed but no receiver has shown enough consistency. Receivers such as Marcus Easley, Donald Jones and rookie T.J. Graham need to step up. Performing in the preseason is the quickest way to impress Buffalo’s coaching staff.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- David Carr has marveled at the incredible hype and attention surrounding Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.

"I don't envy their situation at all," Carr said.

Like Tebow, Carr is a backup with first-round pedigree. The former 2002 top overall pick, though, is firmly entrenched as Eli Manning's backup. The dynamic between Sanchez and Tebow could be a full-blown quarterback controversy in a matter of weeks.

David Carr
"I don't think it will be easy," Carr said when asked how it might impact Sanchez. "You can say what you want when you're in that position in front of the media, but when it comes down to it there's going to be a lot of pressure. The first time the guy throws an incomplete pass, people are going to be cheering for the other guy. It's just the nature of the business. That's why quarterback is so interesting because one guy plays.

"Wide receiver, you can have five or six guys who are good players and you're all going to find a spot," Carr continued. "But as soon as you take the starting quarterback off the field and you put in another guy for a certain situation, it causes a lot more drama. It's a tough situation to be in, but like I said, I'm glad it's not our situation."

Manning joked in an appearance on ESPN New York 98.7 that he tried to get Carr to do sprints on the field with his shirt off after seeing the buzz Tebow created when he jogged in the rain shirtless. Carr couldn't believe all the attention Tebow.

"Tebow has his shirt off and he is running and I am just like, 'Who cares?'" Carr said, laughing about the media hype. "The guy got hot. He took his shirt off. So what? It is pretty intense."

Don't expect Carr to go topless anytime soon.

"Yeah, he was feeling a little excited that day," Carr said of Manning egging him on to go shirtless one day after practice. "He wanted to take some shots. So I deflected, that's for sure."
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning isn't worried about being the third-most talked about quarterback in New York City.

In fact, Manning is having fun with it. He took turns jabbing at the New York Jets and their immense media coverage this week on The Michael Kay Show.

"Every time you turn on the TV, it's the Jets," Manning said. "'SportsCenter' is just camped out at the Jets’ complex, which I think they’re [ESPN] moving everything from Bristol right there to their complex over there. So that will be an interesting move."

Manning wasn't done. He was in full "Saturday Night Live" mode. Manning also took a playful jab at Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow.

"I told David Carr to take his shirt off while we're running sprints after practice to see if we get the same coverage," Manning said. "I'm not jealous. I'm not looking for extra attention. I'm not looking to do more interviews than I have to or be on TV more than I have to."

Manning and the defending champion Giants have the rings. But Tebow, Mark Sanchez and the Jets clearly have the advantage with summer headlines and media coverage.
It was bound to happen. I just didn't foresee it coming this soon.

Tim Tebow, the most hyped backup quarterback in recent memory, is getting heckled by some New York Jets fans. Saturday was the first training camp day open to the public and an opportunity to crown Tebow the people's champ. Instead, the reception was "lukewarm at best" for Tebow and a pro-Mark Sanchez crowd, according to my colleague Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

What does this sudden Tebow backlash mean?

This has more to do with Tebow the hype machine than Tebow the player. Jets fans -- at least some of them -- are tired of hearing every detail about a backup quarterback and special-teams player.

American sports culture can be relentless with celebrities. We build players up so much and so fast that it can build resentment. Tebow is a tremendous person with great character, yet there is a sector of people who cannot wait to see him struggle or fail. I get these responses all the time in the AFC East blog.

Besides, New Yorkers do not give anyone a free pass. They didn't do it for Sanchez or Eli Manning, and they certainly won't do it for Tebow.

The biggest lesson in Saturday's Tebow heckling is no amount of hype is enough. Ultimately, Tebow has to win over Jets fans with his performance on the field.
We had an interesting message in our AFC East inbox this week.
Eric Moss from North Providence, RI, writes: I am puzzled by Ray Rice's comments about Joe Flacco outplaying Tom Brady in the AFC title game. How can you compare the two when one went up against a top-two defense in the NFL verses the last-ranked Patriots’ defense? The same goes for Eli Manning. Give Brady the Ravens defense or the Giants defense in the big game and it's a 60 to nothing blowout just by trading defenses. Brady would torch his own defense.
James Walker: Interesting question, Eric. It really depends on how you look at it. From Rice's perspective, Flacco threw for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and Brady threw for 239 yards and two interceptions in the AFC title game. I understand why Rice chooses to view it that way. In its simplest form, Rice is correct. But I see your point as well, Eric, that Brady played against the No. 2 defense in the NFL and Flacco played against the No. 31 defense. It was second best versus second worse. The quarterbacks were not on a level playing field. But overall, I think this is much to do about nothing. Flacco had a solid game against a horrible defense and Brady struggled against an elite defense. New England won the game and advanced to the Super Bowl, and that’s really all that matters to both teams and quarterbacks. Flacco is not on Brady's level. But he did play well against a mediocre defense in a big game.
Mark Sanchez and Eli ManningAP Photo/Bill KostrounMark Sanchez had more success in his first three seasons than Eli Manning did in his first three.
What if I said your team has a quarterback who's been to the AFC Championship Game twice in his first three seasons?

What if I also said this player has playoff wins over Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- the two best quarterbacks of this generation?

What if I said this player is just 25 years old and about to enter the prime of his career?

What if I said the person I'm describing is New York Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez?

Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be.

Contrary to popular belief, Sanchez is not a lost cause. Some pundits have already pushed Sanchez out the door and claimed it's Tim Tebow's team. The Jets acquired the wildly popular quarterback in an offseason trade, but the move instead will bring out the best in Sanchez.

The Jets were wowed by Sanchez during the opening of organized team activities. He was stronger, accurate, more confident and clearly the best quarterback on the team. Sanchez looked like a player whose best years are still ahead of him.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireBy most accounts, Mark Sanchez, left, outperformed Tim Tebow during OTAs last month.
"He's stronger than he's ever been," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez. "He's in great shape. ... Obviously, he's going into his fourth year. He's seen a lot of different things, but that arm looks stronger to me. He's throwing the ball and really zipping it, throwing with touch and things. I really like the way he's throwing the football."

The media often harps on Sanchez's negatives. But let's take a look at the good things Sanchez brings to the table.

First and foremost, Sanchez is a winner. As I mentioned earlier, he's led the Jets to two AFC title games the past three seasons. That is something neither Brady nor Manning has accomplished in that same span. Sanchez is 4-2 in the playoffs and never had a losing season.

He also was 12-1 in his only full year as a starter at USC. Sanchez is used to winning and has done so at every level.

Sanchez is tough and durable. He's missed just one start in three years. Last season he took a pounding and was sacked a career-high 39 times without missing a game. Sanchez added extra muscle this offseason to withstand the pounding. With Tebow waiting for his shot, Sanchez does not want to get pulled due to injury.

Sanchez also is a gamer. He's the type of quarterback who can struggle early but save his best football for late in the game. It's hard to teach being clutch in the fourth quarter, but Sanchez has proven he can make big throws in big moments. He just needs to work on his consistency throughout the game.

That is where the Jets' coaching staff and front office come in. Much of this offseason was about giving Sanchez the tools he needs to be successful. The Jets brought in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, whose straightforward approach should be an upgrade over Brian Schottenheimer. Then, New York drafted talented deep threat Stephen Hill to go with fellow receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller. Tebow, as an option quarterback, should add to a running game that also includes 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene.

The goal for Sparano is to run a tighter offense that takes better care of the football and keeps the chains moving.

"There's no gray area. He lets you know exactly what he expects," Sanchez said of Sparano. "He lets you know the emphasis of the day. Whether it's third down, second down, pressures, first-and-10, two-minute drill, he lets you know and then once we get on the field, that’s your test. Each week, each Sunday is a test for us. He’ll give you all the answers, and once you get to Sunday you got to have the test."

Sanchez is currently going through the biggest test of his career, but it's not something that hasn't been done before.

Remember Eli Manning's first three seasons?

Many were trying to run Eli out of New York after a slow start to his career. In fact, Sanchez experienced more success than Eli in their first three years in the NFL. Sanchez has seven more victories (27 to 20) and eight more starts. Eli didn't win his first playoff game until his fourth year. Sanchez already has four.

It took Eli four years to truly develop into a franchise quarterback. That's when his career took off, and Eli won the first of two Super Bowls.

Why can't Sanchez get the same benefit of the doubt? Despite Sanchez's early success, it didn't buy him additional time in New York. Sanchez needs to win now.

In many ways Sanchez can learn from Eli's experience. Eli was in the doldrums worse than Sanchez his first three seasons with the Giants and still climbed out of it. Sanchez's best example to follow is right across town and plays in the same stadium.

"I look at that as kudos to him for doing a great job and thriving under that pressure," Sanchez said of Eli. "Look where he’s at today: Two Super Bowl rings and he’s on the top of the world and doing a great job and he deserves it. He’s put in a lot of hard work so you look at it and admire it."

Career makeovers do happen -- even in a tough city like New York. Sanchez has a chance to follow Eli's blueprint and become the next great turnaround story in the Big Apple.

The Jets have proven in the past they can win with Sanchez under center. With several upgrades by the team and self improvements made by Sanchez, the Jets also can win with him in the future.

Tim Tebow: King of New York?

March, 22, 2012
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New York is such a huge media market that it always needs royalty in place.

So who is the current sports king of New York? Can new Jets quarterback Tim Tebow fill that void?

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireWill New Yorkers embrace Tim Tebow like fans did in Denver?
The crown right now is on the head of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He’s won two Super Bowls in the past five seasons and went through the ringer with New York fans and media. Manning persevered and came out on the other side a stronger person and better quarterback. He showed the toughness it takes to be a professional athlete in New York, and he’s earned Gotham’s respect. That crown will be hard to take.

But every sports king needs a sports prince. That is where Tebow-mania has the potential to take over.

Tebow already comes to the media capital of the world with an immense fan base. The Gang Green No. 15 jersey sales will go through the roof. Tebow just needs to do his part on the field, which he did in Denver last year by leading the Broncos to the playoffs. Based on his character and work ethic, we already know no one is going to work harder. Those are admirable traits that the New York metropolitan area will respect.

The competition for New York’s No. 2 athlete has some contenders. I consider Derek Jeter, 37, in his own category. He's run New York for so long that he's in the "King of New York" Hall of Fame. He's more of the governor or mayor at this point. Leave the rotating crowns to the younger guys. Let's look at five who are in the running for the prince role behind Manning:

  • Jeremy Lin, PG, Knicks: For about a three-week period, there was nothing bigger in sports than Lin. His story of going undrafted out of Harvard to starring for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden captured the imagination of the sports world. But the Knicks have since fizzled out and so has Lin’s momentum. He’s still averaging a solid 14.9 points and 6.3 assists per game. But the Knicks are a game below .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs.
  • Carmelo Anthony, F, Knicks: He came to New York with a ton of fanfare, but there are already signs that Anthony is starting to wear out his welcome. The Knicks seemed to play better without him this year, which isn’t a good sign. Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but that hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from pointing that out as the Knicks currently stand with a losing record (23-24). Anthony is averaging 20.3 points per game and his star has fallen significantly in the King of New York race.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers: Now, here is a dark-horse competitor. He already has the nickname “King Henrik,” and the New York Rangers are in first place and one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Winning matters more than numbers, but Lundqvist is putting up both. He has a 1.87 goals against average and a stellar 34-15 record as of Wednesday. If the Rangers win the cup, look out.
  • Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Similar to Anthony, Sanchez had "King of New York" potential upon his arrival, but production and results have dipped of late. That basically kills his chances, especially now that Manning has that spot for the rival Giants. Sanchez helped lead the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games his first two years and was on his way to being New York royalty. But failing to get over that hump and crashing and burning last year has put him back in the pack. Having Tebow-mania waiting behind him also doesn’t help.
  • Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets: Revis Island gained a good following, but it’s hard for a cornerback to get that kind of recognition -- especially a quiet cornerback like Revis. Knowing Revis, he probably doesn’t want this kind of spotlight and publicity. He leads by working hard and being the best cornerback on the field. The Jets need to win, though, and go far for everyone in New York to truly appreciate what Revis can do.

Unless Tebow can win two Super Bowls in New York -- which isn't likely, the crown isn't leaving Manning's head any time soon. But Tebow has such a huge fan base that there is potential to capture the imagination of New Yorkers and challenge for the No. 2 spot.
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is a former teammate and close friend of quarterback Peyton Manning. That is why you have to take Faulk's opinion seriously when he says Manning will not go to the NFC and the Miami Dolphins are potential favorites.

Manning
Faulk seemed adamant Wednesday that you can pretty much cross off 16 NFC teams, including the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins, who are both considered strong contenders to sign Manning.

"If you're in the NFC, you're out. The Mannings (won't) play a regular-season game," said Faulk, also referring to quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants. "They're not gonna stop each other from going to the Super Bowl. Meeting in the Super Bowl? How great would that be for the family?"

Faulk continued by saying "There's no way, there's no way, there's no way" when NFC teams were mentioned. Faulk didn't seem as sure where Manning will land but mentioned Miami as a possibility.

"Matt Flynn just doesn't do it," Faulk said. "(He's) not Aaron Rodgers, let's be honest."

If Faulk is accurate about his good friend, Peyton Manning, this is an interesting development. Teams like the Dolphins and New York Jets would basically have their competition cut in half, especially with strong suitors like Arizona, Seattle and Washington out of the mix. We will see if Faulk's prediction holds true.

Ranking team needs: Patriots

February, 29, 2012
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The AFC East blog continues its series this week on ranking team needs in the division.

On Wednesday, we take a look at the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots, who finished 13-3 last season.

No. 1 need: Cornerback

Analysis: If you watched the Patriots all season, this shouldn't come as a surprise. New England's 31st-ranked pass defense was horrific last year. Even casual observers who only watched the Patriots in the Super Bowl saw New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning carve up New England and earn MVP honors. New England starting cornerback Devin McCourty took a big step back last season. Kyle Arrington had a lot of interceptions but also gave up plenty of big plays. McCourty is young and can still improve, but I don't think his ceiling is high enough to become a Darrelle Revis-type corner, who can shut down one side of the field. If New England feels it can get that caliber of corner free agency or the draft, the team should jump on it.

No. 2 need: Safety

Analysis: Many would argue safety is New England's biggest need, and it's certainly a valid debate. However, the reason I put cornerback over safety is because corner is more valuable in today's NFL. In my opinion, cornerback is the second-hardest position to play behind quarterback. You take the corner over the elite safety every time. But there's no avoiding New England's need at safety. Patrick Chung is a good, young player who needs someone next to him to take the pressure off on the back end. This is a great year for safeties in free agency. Therefore, New England could have this need filled before the draft.

No. 3 need: Pass-rusher

Analysis: This need could be helped if New England retains free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, or both. The Patriots' two best pass-rushers are set to hit the open market. Anderson most likely will generate more interest due to Carter’s season-ending quad injury. He had a great year with the Patriots and registered 10 sacks. But even if New England keeps Anderson, the team needs another threat on defense to get to the quarterback.

That is our list for the Patriots. Using our SportsNation poll, let us know if you agree or disagree on team needs for New England.

Why Miami is best for Peyton Manning

February, 23, 2012
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Manning BillboardAP Photo/Alan DiazOn the field and off, Peyton Manning seems like a good fit for the Miami Dolphins.
MIAMI -- Memo to Peyton Manning: If things don't work out in Indianapolis over the next several weeks -- and they probably won't -- it's time to take your talents to South Beach.

Yes, Manning should be the next superstar player to land in Miami. The Colts are expected to release Manning before his $28 million bonus is due in March. Indianapolis holds the No. 1 overall pick, which will kick off the Andrew Luck era while simultaneously ending the Manning era.

It's time for Manning, if he's healthy, to make another team a Super Bowl contender. The Dolphins can't make their pitch while Manning is still under contract. But there is nothing illegal about the AFC East blog doing some early legwork and making a pitch for the Dolphins instead.

Here are five reasons why Manning to Miami is the ideal fit:

Reason No. 1: The Dolphins have the right pieces in place

Pro Bowl receiver? Check. Pro Bowl left tackle? Check. A solid running game with a 1,000-yard rusher? Check and check.

Besides a franchise quarterback, Miami's offense doesn't need much. The Dolphins showed how dangerous they can be with a competent quarterback, Matt Moore. Miami made up for its 0-7 start by finishing 6-3 in its final nine games.

The Dolphins would be even better with Manning. He instantly would turn Miami into a contender and a serious threat to supplant the New England Patriots in the AFC East and the conference as a whole.

Brandon Marshall would look like the receiver we saw in the Pro Bowl, where he was the game's MVP. Tailback Reggie Bush would have even more running lanes in 2012. Jake Long, arguably the best left tackle in football, would protect Manning's blind side and his surgically repaired neck. Manning cannot get better blindside protection unless he goes to Cleveland, which has left tackle Joe Thomas. And that’s not happening.

The New York Jets are a mess offensively. The Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins have poor offensive lines. And what receivers would Manning throw to in San Francisco?

Miami has all the right pieces for Manning to step right in and thrive.

Reason No. 2: The defense is primed, ready

Unlike Indianapolis, in Miami not all the pressure would be on Manning to put up 30 points per game. Miami allowed just 19.6 points per game this past season.

Do not be fooled by Miami's final ranking. The Dolphins finished 15th in the NFL in total yards, but that number was skewed by their awful 0-7 start. Miami eventually regained its 2010 form and was a top-10 defense in the second half of the season. The Dolphins have talent at every level defensively, and there's no reason to believe they won't have another strong unit next season.

Miami's defense could help Manning just as much as he could help the defense. The Dolphins' defense and special teams -- led by punter Brandon Fields -- are good at winning the field-position battle. If Manning could put points on the board early, that would help make opposing offenses one-dimensional.

The Dolphins' defense would benefit greatly from the increased scoring and fewer turnovers that Manning would provide.

Reason No. 3: Miami's owner has deep pockets

I don't know if money is important to Manning at this stage of his career. But Miami owner Stephen Ross has deep pockets and is willing to pay whatever is necessary.

Whether searching for a coach or chasing top free agents, Ross has made it clear that money isn’t an issue. The Dolphins are not in bad shape with the salary cap. Unlike the Jets, Miami has some wiggle room to fit Manning in.

If Manning is released, health concerns about his neck will be the primary reason. Therefore, expect Manning to sign an incentive-laden contract that protects his next team if he is injured. But look for Ross and the Dolphins to be among the highest bidders.

Reason No. 4: Location, location, location

Miami provides advantages for Manning on and off the field.

For starters, any offense with Manning will be a pass-heavy scheme. Manning is used to playing indoors and wants to throw the football 30-40 times a game. He can do that in Miami, where the weather is warm all year.

Of Manning's suitors, only the Arizona Cardinals can compete with Miami's weather. The Cardinals also play in a dome, which Manning would prefer. Arizona gets the edge there.

But here is something the Cardinals can't match: Manning reportedly owns property in Miami. His family likes it in South Florida, and the entire transition to the Dolphins would be easier. You cannot underrate the importance of family when Manning makes his final decision.

Reason No. 5: The chance to beat Tom Brady

Let's be honest: There's some unfinished business between Manning and Brady.

The two best quarterbacks of this era have had classic battles over the past dozen years. But Manning sat out this past season while his little brother, Eli Manning, carried the torch in this rivalry and beat Brady for the second time in a Super Bowl.

Peyton hasn't had the same success against Brady. Peyton is 5-8 against him, which includes some big playoff defeats. When both are retired, there will be plenty of debate on which quarterback was better. Brady owns the head-to-head advantage now, a big argument in his favor.

But it’s not too late for Peyton to make up that margin, especially if he comes to the AFC East and plays Brady at least twice a season. The Dolphins can give Peyton the type of supporting cast on offense and defense that it takes to beat Brady.

Brady and Manning are down to their last years, and both desperately want at least one more ring before they retire. Manning should try to get that ring in Miami.
INDIANAPOLIS -- We are putting the finishing touchdowns on our weeklong journey to the capital of Indiana. The result was the New York Giants winning their second championship in four years over the New England Patriots, 21-17.

ESPN.com covered plenty of angles for both teams Sunday night. But Monday we want to hear from our AFC East community.

Here is our latest poll question: What's the biggest reason the Patriots lost in Super Bowl XLVI?

Was it the lack of points on offense? New England's high-powered offense, led by quarterback Tom Brady, only scored 17 points. Was that enough to win a Super Bowl? New England’s offense started slowly and finished slowly. There were some good moments in the middle quarters, but that wasn’t enough.

Speaking of the offense, what about receiver Wes Welker? The usually sure-handed Welker dropped a big pass down the seam that could have led to a first down and much-needed points in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were leading by two points. But Welker failed to make the play, which put the ball back in Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s hands.

That leads me to New England's defense. With 3:46 remaining, the Patriots' defense had a chance to close out the game but failed. New England allowed Manning and the Giants to drive 88 yards for the Super Bowl-winning touchdown. Is New England's much-maligned defense to blame?

Finally, New England overall was sloppy and had mental errors. There were 12 men on the field, missed assignments, a rare Super Bowl safety and miscues you're not used to seeing from the Patriots. Was lack of mental sharpness the reason New England lost?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the biggest reason New England came up short in Super Bowl XLVI. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It took a long time for Peyton Manning to topple New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But Peyton Manning's younger brother, Eli Manning, never had that problem.

Eli Manning continued his dominance over Brady, a future Hall of Famer, with another stellar performance in Super Bowl XLVI. Brady was solid. But according to the Total Quarterback Rating, Eli Manning was better in New York's 21-17 victory.

Brady posted a 71.9 QBR, which was highlighted by a tremendous run in the second and third quarters when he set a Super Bowl record with 16 straight completions. Brady finished with 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But Eli Manning was better in the first and most-important fourth quarter, leading to a 79.5 QBR. He threw for 296 yards, one touchdowns and had several clutch completions late in the fourth quarter. The performance earned Eli Manning this year's Super Bowl MVP.

Brady started slow and didn't finish strong, and that was a big reason the Patriots fell short. Here is Brady's QBR by quarters:
  • First: 0.3
  • Second: 97.7
  • Third: 86.7
  • Fourth: 24.1

Sunday's game was Eli Manning's third straight victory over Brady, which includes two Super Bowls.

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