AFC East: Jamon Meredith

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:39
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

Where would you like to start?

Offense? How about left tackle, right tackle, tight end and -- if there's a great one still on the draft board -- quarterback?

Defense? How about the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety?

Special teams? OK, the Bills are fine there.

But kicker, punter and running back are about the only positions the Bills can draft third overall and not help themselves.

The most pressing needs, however, are tackle and outside linebacker. The Bills haven't drafted an offensive tackle earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first round in 2002, and their line play shows that. They have tried to coach up late draft picks (Demetrius Bell, Ed Wang) and rummaged through free agency (Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith) rather than acquire that prized blindside protector.

The Bills were so desperate at outside linebacker they plucked the injury-ravaged Shawne Merriman off waivers last year and then, even though he got hurt again minutes into his first workout, gave him a contract extension.

They can't bank on Merriman to anchor their pass rush. Yet even if he can contribute, they'll need more help. The Bills recorded 27 sacks last year. Only three teams had fewer.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins probably will need a running back. They could stand to upgrade at quarterback if they can.

But they definitely need interior offensive linemen.

They recently re-signed left guard Richie Incognito to an extension, but they still have problems at center and right guard. Although they have two solid book-end tackles in Pro perennial Bowl left tackle Jake Long and veteran Vernon Carey, they've been a mess in between for the past three years.

The Dolphins need to upgrade their power running game. Despite having a capable and healthy backfield tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per carry and 29th in rushing touchdowns.

A stud running back certainly can help, and the Dolphins might have little choice but to take one with their 15th selection. Brown's and Williams' contracts are up. That's why so many draft analysts project the Dolphins will take Alabama running back Mark Ingram and then address the O-line later.

New England Patriots

Funny how things work for the Patriots when it comes to draft picks. The reigning AFC East champs might have the fewest needs but have the most draft picks at their disposal.

The Patriots went 14-2 last season and own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds. So the Patriots have the flexibility to go any number of directions.

The most obvious need is outside linebacker. The Patriots' entire outside linebacking corps mustered 13.5 sacks last year. Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake generated 14 sacks all by himself.

Offensive line is another concern because there are so many question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Left guard Logan Mankins is upset. Left tackle Matt Light isn't signed. Nick Kaczur is coming off serious back surgery. The timing is right to bring in some fresh O-line blood.

The Patriots had one of the NFL's most entertaining backfields last year, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for over 1,000 yards and Danny Woodhead making the Jets look foolish for cutting him. But each running back has his limitations, and the Patriots could be on the lookout for an all-purpose back adept at catching a pass and converting a third-and-short.

New York Jets

The Jets are in a weird spot. They finished the season as a team with talent at virtually every position.

But they have a crowded group of free agents and couldn't bring themselves to sign any (aside from giving inside linebacker David Harris the franchise tag) until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The Jets want to know what the new salary cap is before moving forward.

That leaves a lot of loose ends for the Jets heading into the draft. Will they need a receiver to replace Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? A cornerback to replace Antonio Cromartie?

The needs we can bank on are outside linebacker and safety.

The Jets must generate a better pass rush and still need to recover from the Vernon Gholston pick that set them back. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is competent, but no star. He led the Jets with just six sacks. Calvin Pace had 5.5 sacks. The recently released Jason Taylor added five.

Safety is an area of emphasis because they could have stood to upgrade even before Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo became free agents. Jim Leonhard is a Rex Ryan favorite but recovering from a broken shin.

Jets at Bills inactives

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
11:57
AM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills will be missing some notable starters for Sunday's game in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Each will be without their best defensive lineman, top cornerback and a quality linebacker.

Here are the inactives (the Jets' D-lineman I referred to is nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who's on injured reserve):

Buffalo Bills
New York Jets

Bills at Patriots inactives

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
12:09
PM ET
Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium:

Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
10:51
AM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

'Madden 11' ratings revealed for AFC East

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
9:43
AM ET
EA Sports has given ESPN.com exclusive rights to reveal complete "Madden NFL 11" player ratings, from agility to trucking to run blocking to pursuit. The numbers started rolling out Monday, two teams at a time.

Lucky for us, the AFC East was first up. That allows us to see how all of the scores within the division compare.

Team scores came out a few weeks ago, but individual scores are the ones the players will be bragging about and talking trash over.

The game will be released in August, but for those who can't wait to see what the game will look like -- and to catch a glimpse at some notable players such as Karlos Dansby and Santonio Holmes in their new uniforms -- EA Sports has provided a photo gallery of AFC East images to sort through.

Here are some highlights from the division.

Buffalo Bills

CJ Spiller
EA Sports C.J. Spiller's on-field speed will also be apparent in "Madden NFL 11."
Top five overall scores: Punter Brian Moorman (90), S Jairus Byrd (87), ILB Paul Posluszny (86), WR Lee Evans (84), RB Fred Jackson (83), CB Terrence McGee (83), S Donte Whitner (83).

Quick take: No wonder Marshawn Lynch wants to play the game as the Jets when it comes out. The Bills' top player is their punter, and they have a dearth of skill players in the 80s. But rookie running back C.J. Spiller is joystick-friendly with 95 speed, 97 acceleration and 95 agility.

Quarterback analysis: Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick each scored a 70, while Brian Brohm is a lowly 65, just two points higher than seventh-round draft pick Levi Brown. Edwards has a 62 in the swagger category, whereas Brohm and Brown are 70s.

Surprise score: Unproven left tackle Demetrius Bell scored a 74, the same number as veteran center Geoff Hangartner and one point higher than veteran tackle Cornell Green.

No respect: As ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi noted recently on "NFL Live," a Madden awareness rating of 65 or lower was the source of ridicule in the Patriots' locker room. Bills tackle Jamon Meredith received a miniscule 35.

Miami Dolphins

Top five overall scores: T Jake Long (96), WR Brandon Marshall (96), FB Lousaka Polite (91), ILB Karlos Dansby (90), RB Ronnie Brown (89), NT Randy Starks (89).

Quick take: If you love to run the ball when you play "Madden," then Miami is the team for you. In addition to Brown and Ricky Williams, it might be fun to mix in Kory Sheets, who has a 93 speed and a 95 acceleration. The average run-blocking score of their top five offensive linemen is 89.4.

Quarterback analysis: Chad Henne's overall rating of 79 is only a point higher than Chad Pennington, but Henne's throwing power is a 94 compared to Pennington's 69. But Pennington's accuracy is a 90, and his awareness is 88. Henne's 79 accuracy beats out only Brohm's 77 and Kellen Clemens' 75 among the eight AFC East quarterbacks who started a game last year.

Stud alert: When you need a big play, just hang the ball up to Marshall. His 99 score for catching in traffic is the game's highest. Maybe using Pennington to throw intermediate routes to Marshall is the way to go when you need a decent gain.

No respect: Miami's defensive backs are the lowest-rated in the division. Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Yeremiah Bell lead the way with 82s.

New England Patriots

Top five overall scores: QB Tom Brady (95), G Logan Mankins (95), WR Randy Moss (95), NT Vince Wilfork (95), K Stephen Gostkowski (91), WR Wes Welker (91).

Quick take: The Patriots have a lot of star power at the skill positions. But their starting lineup, especially on defense, is littered with players rated in the 70s.

Quarterback analysis: Brady has the third-best overall score of any quarterback in the game. His 96 swagger rating is second. There's a big drop-off if Brady gets hurt. Backup Brian Hoyer has a 63 overall rating.

Stud alert: Moss tied for the game's top score in several categories -- 97 awareness, 99 jumping, 99 spectacular catch, 95 swagger.

No respect: The backfield is led by ... Sammy Morris? His 80 is the highest overall score among New England's running backs. Laurence Maroney is a 78.

Mark Sanchez
EA SportsMark Sanchez's overall rating is second among AFC East quarterbacks.
New York Jets

Top five overall scores: CB Darrelle Revis (99), C Nick Mangold (97), NT Kris Jenkins (94), FB Tony Richardson (94), ILB David Harris (91), T D'Brickashaw Ferguson (91).

Quick take: For context, an 83 ranks among the Bills' top scores at any position. The Jets have four offensive linemen, three receivers and eight players on their defense with that score or higher.

Quarterback analysis: Mark Sanchez has an overall score of 82. His awareness came in at 74, but you otherwise won't find numbers that indicate he throws too many interceptions. His throwing accuracy is an 83.

Surprise score: Running back Shonn Greene didn't do enough in the playoffs to impress "Madden" evaluators. He has an overall score of 80, three points lower than his supposed backup, LaDainian Tomlinson, who plummeted from a 94 last year.

Stud alert: Don't test Revis. He's the best cornerback in the game, is tied for first with a 98 in man coverage and has a 97 swagger. But his toughness rating is 65, fifth-worst on the team.

TMQing the AFC East draft

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
2:45
PM ET
Page 2 columnist Greg Easterbrook shared plenty of thoughts on the draft in his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column.

Here are the AFC East highlights from his review:

Buffalo Bills
In April 2009, the Bills entered the draft with an emergency situation at left tackle, and chose no left tackle, but did use their first selection on a nickel linebacker who, even if all went well, would play only on passing downs. The Bills' 2009 offense proceeded to be awful as Buffalo started five different players at left tackle. This April, the Bills entered the draft with an emergency situation at left tackle, and did not choose an offensive lineman until the fifth round.
For a decade, Buffalo has failed to reach the playoffs -- the worst such streak in the AFC -- and in that period drafted horribly, making repeated luxury picks (three first-round running backs in a single decade, for instance) rather than fixing its offensive line. Offensive tackles on the Buffalo roster: Demetrius Bell, eight career starts, coming off an ACL tear; Jamon Meredith, four career starts; Edward Wang, fifth-round draft selection; Kirk Chambers, waived four times by the Bills over the last three seasons; Cornell Green, who will be 34 years old on opening day; Nick Hennessey, no career starts, though he surely got a great education at Phillips Andover Academy and then Colgate; Andre Ramsey and Jason Watkins, no career starts. Presumably, the quarterback-needy Bills passed on multiple chances to select Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy because they know the blocking is so bad, anyone under center for Buffalo next season will just get killed anyway. It's the year 2010. How can a professional football team totally ignore the need to be solid at offensive tackle?

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins traded down from 12th to 28th to recover one of the second-round choices given in the Brandon Marshall trade, then were able to obtain a decent defensive tackle, their leading need, at 28. Factor in the addition of Marshall, and Miami had a solid draft. Hmm ... this is a straightforward sports comment; what's it doing in TMQ?

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick loves him some tight ends. Since becoming the Patriots' coach, Belichick has invested 11 choices in tight ends, including two last week. And Belichick loves draft-day trades, this year making six, involving a total of 18 choices at various points. Example: Through a sequence of transactions New England swapped the 47th choice, midway through the second round, for a late-second-round choice, a fifth-round pick and Carolina's second selection in 2011. This is skilled trading -- but when is New England actually going to use all its banked choices?
In 2009, New England banked a lot of choices via trades, going into 2010 holding three second-round picks. Since 2010 was viewed as a strong draft, it seemed Belichick's strategy would be to transfer picks into a strong year. Now the strong year has arrived and rather than fire all his ammo, Belichick traded down several times then concluded the draft having banked two first-round and two second-round choices for 2011. Even the squirrel who hides nuts for the winter eventually digs them up and eats them. When is Belichick going to use all these extra picks? Is he exhibiting some hoarding syndrome that should get him on Oprah?

New York Jets

The Jets spent their second-round choice on Vladimir Ducasse -- you don't run into a lot of NFL players named Vladimir. Though, this does seem an ideal name for the Rex Ryan mindset. I find it easy to imagine Ryan meeting Vladimir in some ancient castle to discuss plans for world domination.
The Jets also signed Jason Taylor. All his recent team-switching -- Miami, then Washington, then back to Miami, now Jersey/B -- makes Taylor seem mercenary. Of course the NFL is fundamentally a business; the owners always think first about the business angle. But TMQ fears Taylor's changing teams three times in three seasons will torpedo any chance he had to don that garish yellow jacket in Canton. Hall of Fame electors favor players who spent their entire careers in one place, toughing out the down years, because the Hall of Fame is, in part, about sustaining the romantic belief that NFL players are motivated by sportsmanship and loyalty. Taylor has made it clear he is motivated by his stats and his payday. That's very current, but Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks it will keep him out of Canton.

AFC East Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
2:30
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

New England Patriots

Final Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: Tully Banta-Cain largely was considered an afterthought to the Patriots' defense when the season began. Players such as Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather were the projected stars. But Banta-Cain, back after two years with the 49ers, led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks, four more than his previous career-high. He also had a pair of forced fumbles.

Biggest disappointment: Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas probably won't be back next year. Thomas has two years remaining on a free-agent contract that pays him an average of $7 million, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from benching him twice. Thomas notched 11 sacks for the Ravens the year before the Patriots signed him. He finished with three this year, tying his worst output since he became a starter in 2001.

Biggest need: Despite unexpected seasons from Banta-Cain and defensive tackle Mike Wright, the Patriots must improve their pass rush. Wright had five sacks. So did Derrick Burgess, acquired with high expectations in a trade with the Raiders in training camp. The Patriots notched a mere 31 sacks, tying them for 23rd in the league. They ranked 12th in pass defense.

Team MVP: Wes Welker won't be around for the playoffs, but he certainly helped the Patriots get there. He led the NFL with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards.

Turning point: On opening night, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled with about minute left in the game to set up Tom Brady's second touchdown pass in the final 2:06 of a stunning victory. Had the Patriots lost that game, the whole trajectory of their season might've changed.


New York Jets

Final Power Ranking: 12

Biggest surprise: When star nose tackle Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, everyone figured the Jets' 3-4 defense was doomed. But rookie coach Rex Ryan continued to mold his defense into the NFL's best unit. The Jets ranked No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense, and gave up the fewest first downs.

Biggest disappointment: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's lack of progression from the start of the season has been frustrating. He began his career remarkably well, playing beyond his years in helping the Jets open 3-0. But his penchant for giveaways and a failure to grasp team concepts forced the Jets to curb their offense rather than open it up as the season wore on. The best solution has been to marginalize Sanchez. In his past five victories, his attempts were in the teens, and his yardage never surpassed 154.

Biggest need: Aside from accelerated experience at quarterback? Despite the trade for downfield threat Braylon Edwards, the Jets really could use help at receiver. Sanchez would benefit from a reliable slot receiver. The Jets' fourth-leading target was running back Leon Washington, who didn't play the final nine games. You'd have to look even lower on the stat sheet to find their third receiver. David Clowney finished with 14 catches for 191 yards.

Team MVP: Lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was the best player on the NFL's best defense. His six interceptions tied him for fifth in the league, and his 37 passes defensed were best by a comfortable margin.

Turning point: The Jets had a miraculous Week 16. All of the teams they needed to lose fell flat, and the undefeated Colts pulled their starters with almost six minutes left in the third quarter to usher the Jets onto the postseason threshold.


Miami Dolphins

Final Power Ranking: 21

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins couldn't have appear more condemned than when they started 0-3 and lost quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury. In came sophomore Chad Henne, who had been lackluster in the preseason. The Dolphins preferred to let Henne marinate for another season, but he won seven of his first 10 starts and showed enough to give Dolfans reason to believe they've found a franchise quarterback.

Biggest disappointment: The best compliment head coach Tony Sparano could pay outside linebacker Joey Porter recently was that he had gotten better at stopping the run as the season progressed. Porter led the AFC in sacks last season with 17. He recorded only nine this season, with half coming in two games. A hamstring problem bothered him, and Sparano benched him one game for disciplinary reasons.

Biggest need: The Dolphins need receiving help more than ever. Pennington thrived with their collection of possession receivers because he's a precision passer. But Henne has downfield capabilities that require a reliable deep threat. Ted Ginn certainly has the speed but little else to qualify him as a No. 1 wideout.

Team MVP: Ricky Williams is 32 years old, but he turned back the calendar with his best campaign since 2003, the longest spread between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He became the workhorse, rushing for at least 102 yards in four out of the five games after Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending broken foot in Week 10.

Turning point: The Dolphins were in control when they were 7-6. Then they lost their last three games to finish out of the playoffs.


Buffalo Bills

Final Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: When it came to this year's draft class, all of the attention was focused on defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th overall) and offensive linemen Eric Wood (28th) and Andy Levitre (51st). But safety Jairus Byrd (42nd) stole the show for much of the season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Byrd started only 11 games, but his nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead.

Biggest disappointment: Marshawn Lynch appeared ready to break out as an elite running back. He was entering his third season and was a Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. But he opened the season with a three-game suspension for repeated bad behavior. He lost his job as the featured back by Week 11 and finished with 450 yards. He completed four games with 6 or fewer yards.

Biggest need: The Bills are practically naked at both offensive tackle spots. They traded Pro Bowler Jason Peters before the draft and chose not to replace him -- even though they had a crack at young star Michael Oher. The Bills went through a series of unimpressive names, including Demetrius Bell, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers.

Team MVP: Fred Jackson took over as lead back by thoroughly outperforming Lynch. Jackson rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 46 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also was Buffalo's top kick returner with 1,014 yards.

Turning point: Had McKelvin not coughed up the ball on that fateful kickoff return on opening night, the Bills would have ended a wicked losing skid against the Patriots and probably would have changed the course of their season.

Greetings from The Ralph

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
12:07
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium are cold and gray for Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

But at least the snow that has socked in the rest of the Northeast has stayed away.

In watching the doppler Saturday night, I found it amusing how this gargantuan white sheet was covering five states, but as it approached Buffalo, some mystical force field on the eastern rim of Lake Erie seemed to be batting it away with ease.

So no snow here, folks. Based on the flags atop the stadium and the streamers on the goal posts, the wind seems tolerable for now.

The Patriots already announced all the surprises from their inactive list Saturday night.

Particularly noteworthy about the Bills' inactive list is that receiver Terrell Owens isn't on it. Owens missed practice Thursday and Friday with an illness.

The complete rundown of scratches reads thusly:

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Jauron a vanishing act in team photo(shop)

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
7:49
AM ET
Even at first glance, the Buffalo Bills team photo simply didn't look right. Without serious examination, something is out of kilter.

Upon closer inspection, several items are amiss -- and one notable person is a-missing.

Before Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, the Bills gave away team photos as fans passed through the turnstiles at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Former head coach Dick Jauron, fired two weeks ago, was removed from the team photo as though he never existed.

Jauron evidently was seated to owner Ralph Wilson's right when the photo was snapped in mid-September, but Jauron was erased and the rest of the row altered to fill in the vacancy. Interim head coach Perry Fewell is stationed on a back row with the rest of the assistants.

Bills fan Matt Irving grabbed a few of the freebies Sunday. Friend and fellow Bills loyalist Joshua Fitzgerald scanned a copy and posted it on the fan message board at TwoBillsDrive.com.

The Bills' team photo was taken between Weeks 1 and 2. Terrell Owens posted personal pictures from the shoot on his Twitter page Sept. 19.

Besides, there are several lapses of logic to indicate the rubout.

Players acquired before Jauron was fired (tackle Jamon Meredith, linebacker Chris Draft, defensive back Todd Johnson) aren't in the photo. Players cut before Jauron was fired (running back Xavier Omon, linebacker Alvin Bowen) are present.

More telling is the visual evidence Jauron was erased like he was Leon Trotsky.

Other players seemingly were jockeyed around to keep the numerical-order motif, with the player on the left in the first row wearing the lowest uniform number and running through the highest number to the right of the fifth row.

The sequence was interrupted only by Wilson in the center and chief operating officer Russ Brandon to his left in the second row.

So who was depicted in the prominent spot to Wilson's right? Rookie cornerback Jairus Byrd, a fine player. He's tied for the NFL interceptions lead and could be defensive rookie of the year. But he didn't start a game until Week 3.

Furthermore, there's a phantom khaki pant and sneaker underneath Byrd in the team photo. The players are in jerseys and game pants. Coaches are in khakis.

And there's more. Defensive backs Terrence McGee and Ellis Lankster, on the left of the second row, have the same torso. The shadows and wrinkles on their jerseys are identical. The only difference is a doctored digit.

At the right end of the second row is defensive back Cary Harris, who looks like he has been amputated from the left knee down. It appears McGee was sitting in front of him, but was moved up to the second row so everyone could slide toward center and fill in the big blank.

Various body parts have been copied and pasted to fill in spaces that had been covered. Cornerbacks Ashton Youboty and Leodis McKelvin have the same left arm, noticeable by the six-fingered hand dangling from it. Their hands are resting on imaginary legs.

The Bills declined to comment on the photo.

If only Bills fans could wipe Jauron from their brains as easily as he was removed from the picture.

Root of Buffalo's problem easy to tackle

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
7:58
AM ET
There was one specific problem that doomed Dick Jauron with the Buffalo Bills.

It wasn't installing the no-huddle offense. It wasn't signing Terrell Owens. It wasn't firing the offensive coordinator 10 days before the regular-season opener. It wasn't Leodis McKelvin's fumble or Roscoe Parrish's bobble.

[+] EnlargeDick Jauron
David Butler II/US PresswireProblems at offensive tackle helped lead to Dick Jauron's demise in Buffalo.
What sunk Jauron and led to his dismissal Tuesday can be directly attributed to the Bills' organizational approach at offensive tackle. Jauron certainly had a voice in how they handled it, but vice president of pro personnel John Guy had input and chief operating officer Russ Brandon signed off on it.

Fitting that Jauron was fired the same week "The Blind Side," a major motion picture about the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, will hit theaters.

The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball." Oher was the central character in Lewis' book, but the real subject of "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" was about how left tackle had evolved into the second most important position in football.

The problem in Buffalo is that they don't have a tackle. Or they've had too many. Either way, it has been a disaster.

What follows is a timeline of how the Bills went from having a respectable pair of tackles to the most abominable group in the NFL.

April 17: Unable or unwilling to negotiate a contract extension, the Bills trade two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles for draft picks.

April 25 and 26: Bills decline to select a tackle in the 2009 draft.

April 26: I asked Jauron what the Bills intend to do at tackle.

"We went into the draft having discussed that after the trade of Jason, saying 'Do we feel like we have to have a tackle?' And I think we all agreed ... we're not going to stray far from our grades just to take a tackle," Jauron said.

"We felt like we have guys that can play there. So there's no sense in passing up a guy we think is significantly better at another position just to feel like we've plugged a number in. We weren't going to do that."

Shortly after the draft: Jauron informs right tackle Langston Walker they are moving him to left tackle and right guard Brad Butler they are switching him to right tackle.

May 14: Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson observes "Buffalo might have the worst offensive tackles in the NFL."

Aug. 28: A team source tells me Demetrius Bell, despite a back injury, has overtaken Walker as the Bills' left tackle of choice. Bell is entering his second year and hasn't played in an NFL game.

Sept. 5: Bills cut tackle Kirk Chambers, who started four games in 2008.

Sept. 8: Bills cut Walker, re-sign Chambers. Jauron is asked if he overestimated Walker's ability.

"Probably," Jauron replies. "We clearly felt we could move him in, and he'd do the job. He just wasn't playing up to our expectations. So we felt like it was time to make that move."

Sept. 14: Bills start the season with Bell at left tackle and Butler at right tackle. Their entire opening-night offensive line has 47 career starts among them.

Sept. 20: Butler suffers a season-ending knee injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sept. 22: Rather than pursue veteran help such as Jon Runyan or Damion McIntosh, the Bills pluck rookie tackle Jamon Meredith off Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

Sept. 27: Jonathan Scott starts for Butler at right tackle against the New Orleans Saints. It's Scott's seventh career start in four seasons. ... Bell suffers a groin injury.

Oct. 4: Chambers, inactive the two previous games, starts at right tackle against the Miami Dolphins and gives up 2.5 sacks to first-year outside linebacker Cameron Wake. ... Scott starts at left tackle for Bell.

Oct. 18: Meredith makes his first NFL start at right tackle against the New York Jets.

Nov. 1: Meredith suffers a knee injury against the Houston Texans.

Nov. 15: Bell suffers a right knee injury against the Tennessee Titans. Rookie guard Andy Levitre finishes the game at left tackle.

Nov. 16: Through Week 10, Bell is the NFL's most penalized player regardless of position.

Nov. 17: Bills fire Jauron, name defensive coordinator Perry Fewell interim head coach.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
11:30
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling
Belichick
Belichick

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach: No need to go over this one in great detail. He gambled. He failed. His controversial decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line might have cost the Patriots a shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.

2. Buffalo Bills offensive tackles: Left tackle Demetrius Bell is the latest to go down. He will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and could join original right tackle Brad Butler on injured reserve.

Other tackles who have started this year and are hurt or have missed games: Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith and Kirk Chambers.

3. New York Jets at home: They won their first two games at the Meadowlands but have dropped their past three -- all of them heartbreakers. Maurice Jones-Drew knelt them out Sunday. They held the Miami Dolphins to 104 yards from scrimmage but lost because of three return touchdowns. The Buffalo Bills stunned them in overtime.
Brady
Brady
Moss
Moss

Rising

1. Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss combo: Sunday night looked like 2007 all over again. Brady completed 29 of 42 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Moss had nine receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

In the past two games, Brady has connected with Moss 15 times for 226 yards and three scores.
Williams
Williams

2. Ricky Williams, Dolphins running back: His responsibilities will increase with Ronnie Brown hobbled by an ankle injury. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Monday that Williams is capable of taking the Wildcat direct snaps.

With Brown gone in the fourth quarter Sunday, Williams ran nine times for 53 yards to nail down a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

3. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker: Wake continues to make his presence felt on a defense crowded with experienced outside linebackers.

Wake
Wake
Joey Porter didn't play Sunday because of an organizational decision, but Wake picked up some of the slack by recording a sack in his second straight game. He has 4.5 sacks, one behind Jason Taylor for the team lead.

Bills' O-line has just 47 NFL starts among them

October, 18, 2009
10/18/09
1:34
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the Buffalo Bills started their season, the five starters on their offensive line had a combined 56 NFL starts, the fewest on opening weekend in since the 2002 New York Giants.

The Bills were supposed to build from there.

The total of career starts, of course, should go up by increments of five after each game as the youngsters gained their footing. Or at least that would be the hope.

As Bills enter their Week 6 game against the New York Jets in the Meadowlands, they've managed to get about 16 percent less experienced on their offensive line.

The Bills' projected Sunday lineup will have a total of 47 career NFL starts and feature four players who made their NFL debuts this year.

Center Geoff Hangartner has 32 career NFL starts. Nobody else has more than five.

Rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have five starts apiece. Second-year left tackle Demetrius Bell also made his first appearance on opening night but missed a game because of a groin injury, giving him four starts.

Rookie Jamon Meredith, plucked off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad, is expected to make his NFL debut and be Buffalo's fourth right tackle this season. Meredith wasn't good enough to make the Packers' roster. The Packers have allowed the most sacks.

Original starter Brad Butler (31 starts) is on injured reserve. His replacement, Jonathan Scott (nine starts), is out with a groin injury. Kirk Chambers (six starts), who got the nod at right tackle in Week 4, didn't make the team out of training camp.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 16, 2009
10/16/09
4:00
PM ET

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

 
 AP Photo/Jim Prisching
 Rookie Jamon Meredith, who was cut earlier this year by the Packers, might make his first NFL start for the Bills on Sunday.
If the New York Jets' defense doesn't feast on the Buffalo Bills, then Rex Ryan needs to re-examine his troops. The Jets are coming off two straight losses. The Miami Dolphins embarrassed them defensively on "Monday Night Football." Ryan's pride and joy has something to prove. The Bills are on their way to the Meadowlands to help them out.

The Bills have a chance, albeit a slight one. The aggressive Jets defense is tied for last in sacks with four, but the Bills rank 30th in sacks per pass play. Their offensive line will be even weaker Sunday. Their second starting right tackle, Jonathan Scott, is out with an ankle injury. That means rookie Jamon Meredith, who wasn't good enough to make the Green Bay Packers roster, might get his first NFL start. The Packers lead the NFL in sacks allowed.

I don't know what's harder to fathom: the New England Patriots losing two games in a row or the Tennessee Titans being 0-6. The Patriots haven't dropped consecutive games since 2006 and have won 18 straight at home with Tom Brady on the field. While the Patriots' offense still is searching for its identity and Brady is trying to locate his 2007 mojo with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, the Titans might be the perfect opponent. The Titans are great against the run, but they have the NFL's second-worst pass defense.

The Miami Dolphins probably would rather be playing this weekend, but a bye won't hurt them either. The Dolphins are full of life after winning back-to-back divisional games and climbing within one game (for now) of first place in the AFC East. They're also the only AFC East club without a division loss. But an extra week for second-year quarterback Chad Henne to take first-team reps will help him make the transition from understudy to NFL leading man. He's 2-0 as a starter, but the Dolphins didn't plan on Henne assuming the leading role so soon. Henne could use all the snaps he can get.

Buffalo's defense should be noticeably better with linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Donte Whitner back. Buffalo's defense didn't tank last Sunday's game against Cleveland. The Bills gave up only six points and have been decent in some areas. For instance, they rank ninth in average yards allowed per play.

Of course, they've been atrocious against the run. Having Posluszny and Whitner on the field again will help. Opponents have shredded the Bills on the ground. All they needed to do was get into the second level, and a large gain was all but guaranteed. Posluszny, out since breaking his forearm in the season opener, was Buffalo's leading tackler last year.

That said, Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez could have a quiet day. With new toy Braylon Edwards, the Jets opened up their passing game on Monday night. But the Jets' preferred method of moving forward remains the run. They rank seventh in rushing yards per game and 24th in passing yards. The Bills' defense ranks 29th in rushing yards allowed and sixth in passing yards allowed.

What should further deter Sanchez from throwing will be Jerricho Cotchery's absence because of a hamstring injury. That will allow defenses to double tight end Dustin Keller, who had one ball thrown his way and zero receptions against the Dolphins.

Salutations from Orchard Park, N.Y.

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
3:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The flags are flapping at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the rain has held off since the grounds crew peeled tarps off the field around noon.

Conditions shouldn't hamper New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees much at all for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. Skies are overcast, and temperatures will be in the low 70s.

The locals were hoping the steady rain that fell Saturday night and early Sunday morning might bog down the Saints' aerial assault, but the only detriment appears on the inactive list. Out are receiver Lance Moore and running back Mike Bell.

No major surprises on the Bills' inactive list.

New Orleans Saints
Buffalo Bills

Bills opt for project over O-line veteran

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
8:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Injuries forced the Buffalo Bills to execute three roster moves that make them younger and underscore a rebuilding effort.

Rather than sign some veteran help to replace injured right tackle Brad Butler, the Bills cherry-picked rookie Jamon Meredith off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

The Bills worked out veteran right tackle Jon Runyan before their season opener. Their starter the previous two seasons, Langston Walker, hasn't found work since they cut him three weeks ago. Eight-year starter Damion McIntosh, who didn't make the Kansas City Chiefs' final roster, also is available.

Meredith, despite being a fifth-round draft choice, wasn't good enough to make a very thin roster. The Packers selected him with the 162nd overall pick acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots along with the 26th overall pick for the Packers' 41st, 73rd and 83rd picks.

Meredith mostly played tackle at South Carolina but finished as a guard. Half of his 38 collegiate starts were at left tackle. He also started eight games at left guard his senior season.

The Bills also placed starting tight end Derek Schouman on injured reserve, rendering his season over.

Schouman is Buffalo's leading receiver after running back Fred Jackson. Schouman made nine catches for 103 yards in the first two games.

The Bills promoted Johnathan Stupar from their practice squad. In the preseason, he led the NFL with 19 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown. But the Bills elected to keep Schouman, Derek Fine and fourth-round draft pick Shawn Nelson.

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