AFC East: Jonathan Scott

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
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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.

AFC East observations on the Super Bowl

February, 6, 2011
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Some AFC East-oriented thoughts after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl:

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskySteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a mediocre game in Super Bowl XLV.
Ben Roethlisberger is not in Tom Brady's league yet. There had been some talk over the past two weeks that if Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl he would stand next to Brady and Peyton Manning in the pantheon of uber-elite NFL quarterbacks.

Roethlisberger has been sensational in the postseason, but not this postseason. Aside from a couple clutch throws, he was below average in beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. He had another pedestrian outing Sunday.

He threw two interceptions, one that Nick Collins returned for a touchdown. Roethlisberger overthrew Mike Wallace twice in key situations in the third quarter: a would-be touchdown after Wallace got behind the Packers secondary and a third-and-2 play right before the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger also failed to take advantage of a defensive backfield missing its best player, Charles Woodson, the entire second half.

Roethlisberger is 10-3 in the postseason and has been to three Super Bowls in his seven NFL seasons. Brady won his first three Super Bowls and his first 10 postseason games before a defeat. Plus, Brady has appeared in a fourth Super Bowl.

I understand Brady has lost three straight postseason games, but he still has more championship rings and conference titles.

The New England Patriots were the Packers' springboard. The Packers have won every game since losing 31-27 at Gillette Stadium in Week 15. Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers was hurt and couldn't play, but the Packers still gave the scalding-hot Patriots a scare with backup quarterback Matt Flynn.

"The New England game was a big game for us," Rodgers said on ESPN's Super Bowl set Sunday night. "We lost that game, a game we were double-digit underdogs. I was out. Matt played great, and our defense played pretty well also.

"That was the game where, I think, [we said] 'We got a good team. Let's not lose this opportunity.'"

Howard Green quietly made one of the game's biggest plays. The former Jets defensive lineman didn't register a tackle. But he bull rushed Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu and, in a great individual effort, harassed Roethlisberger into a bad throw that turned into Collins' pick six. Green started only six games in the regular season and playoffs.

It wasn't quite Thurman Thomas losing his helmet at the start of Super Bowl XXVI, but Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott -- not good enough to remain with the Buffalo Bills despite starting eight games in 2009 -- had to come off the field with the game on the line because his shoe came off.

Scott missed the Steelers' third-and-5 play with 62 seconds remaining and their fateful fourth-and-5 with 56 seconds left. Trai Essex replaced him as Roethlisberger's blindside protector and did OK while on his heels, but the switch was one more thing for Roethlisberger to worry about.

Roethlisberger threw incompletions on both plays.

A Lombardi Trophy would've completed a tremendous turnaround tale for Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler. He was dismissed from Buffalo's staff at the end of last season. The native of nearby Lockport, N.Y., was living a dream by coaching his hometown team. He was on Dick Jauron's staff and served under interim coach Perry Fewell through an ugly campaign. But new Bills general manager Buddy Nix cleared out the coaches' offices when he took over, and Kugler was snatched up by the Steelers.

Final Word: AFC Championship

January, 21, 2011
1/21/11
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Conference Championship Final Word: Jets-Steelers | Bears-Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets-Steelers AFC Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson
Michael Hickey/US PresswireJets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is on the verge of his first Super Bowl appearance in his 10-year career.
For LaDainian Tomlinson to reach the Super Bowl, he'll need to do more than most. Despite a surefire Hall of Fame career, Tomlinson never has reached the Super Bowl. The onus will be on the Jets' run game. As always, the Jets' ground attack with Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will be crucial to moving the offense and making the game as manageable as possible for quarterback Mark Sanchez in a difficult environment. The Steelers led the NFL in run defense during the regular season, allowing a paltry 63 yards a game. But in a Week 15 victory at Heinz Field, the Jets rushed for 106 yards. In the postseason, however, Tomlinson averages 3.7 yards a carry and has six touchdowns in nine career games, but only four in his seven with the San Diego Chargers.

The Jets can win the game on special teams. The Steelers' special teams are mediocre. Brad Smith set a tone for the Jets by returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in Week 15. In last week's divisional playoff game at Heinz Field, Baltimore Ravens punt returner Lardarius Webb had a 55-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty. Webb also had a 38-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' special teams were flagged three times. The Jets' venerable special-teams coordinator, Mike Westhoff, is as opportunistic as they come.

After two games of holding back, expect the Jets' pass rush to get aggressive. The Jets focused more on keeping defenders in coverage than sending extra pass-rushers after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Steelers, however, are vulnerable on the offensive line. Even when healthy, the Steelers' pass protection makes the game an adventure for Ben Roethlisberger, and tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott are hurt. The Steelers surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season. Only seven teams allowed more. The Ravens sacked Roethlisberger six times last week. Jets outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor and defensive end Shaun Ellis must be excited about the possibilities.

In addition to the return of Troy Polamalu, don't underestimate the presence of Heath Miller. Much attention has been dedicated to how the Steelers' defense will be different with Polamalu at safety. He didn't face the Jets in Week 15. Neither did Miller, a dangerous weapon in the Steelers' passing game. He caught 42 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can handle the Steelers' receivers, but Miller can pose a matchup problem. Here's a noteworthy stat: The Steelers are 8-1 in the postseason with Miller on the field.

The Jets have the best receiving corps left in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback. The Steelers have the most bling. But the Jets boast the best crew of receivers of the final four. That will be important if the Jets need to mount a late comeback and especially if the Steelers play prevent defense. The Steelers have a stellar duo with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward running routes. But Santonio Holmes is a former Super Bowl MVP and (mostly) has been a clutch receiver all season. Braylon Edwards has distanced himself from that butterfingers reputation. When Jerricho Cotchery is your third receiver, you know you're in good shape. Then there's tight end Dustin Keller, and Tomlinson makes catches out of the backfield. The Jets would prefer to have success on the ground, but with receiving options like those, they still have a shot to win through the air.

Video: Steelers vulnerable with injuries?

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
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ESPN's Adam Schefter takes a look at injuries while previewing Sunday's rematch between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The Steelers are banged up at offensive tackle and cornerback.

Dolphins recovery not definitive on replay

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
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MIAMI -- Ikaika Alama-Francis thought he'd made the play of his life.

With 2:37 left in the game and the Miami Dolphins clinging to a two-point lead Sunday afternoon, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for the end zone on third-and-goal from the 2.

Roethlisberger was met at the goal line by diving Dolphins safety Chris Clemons, who jarred the ball loose. Alama-Francis, the Dolphins' run-stopping outside linebacker, appeared to pounce on the ball to preserve a colossal victory.

"I know I had possession of the ball," Alama-Francis said. "I'm thinking 'I just made the play that won us the game.' "

That, however, is not what happened.

Officials ruled Roethlisberger had broken the plane and scored a touchdown. That call would be overturned by video replay after the Dolphins threw their red challenge flag.

But the recovery was not definitive enough to give the Dolphins the ball.

One play later, Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal. Pittsburgh won 23-22 in Sun Life Stadium.

"After review, it was confirmed in the replay the ball did come loose and it was a fumble prior to the ball breaking the goal line," referee Gene Steratore said. "That's where we go to the second aspect of that. In order to overturn this and give another team the football, I have to have clear video evidence of the team recovering the fumble. ... It is a pile of bodies in there, and you don't have a clear recovery."

Steratore went on to explain there was no need to make an on-the-field determination of which team recovered because the ruling on the field was a touchdown.

"When you have a challenge, naturally you are challenging the ruling on the field, which was a touchdown," Steratore said. "So when we go into replay, we find out, in fact, that it was, in fact, a fumble prior to the ball breaking the plane. But we have to continue with that aspect and find a clear recovery by the defense in order to reward them the ball."

Roethlisberger claimed he had the ball until the play was whistled dead. A pair of Steelers offensive linemen, Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott, also claimed to have recovered the ball.

I asked Miami coach Tony Sparano if Steratore imparted any other information on the sideline.

"He told me that even though our guy came up with the football in the end zone and handed him the ball that he doesn't know who recovered it," Sparano said. "It was a scrum, and he couldn't see evidence of who recovered."

Steelers at Dolphins halftime observations

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
2:39
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MIAMI -- Halftime thoughts from Sun Life Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins trail the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-16 on Sunday afternoon:
  • Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne has hung in there against the vaunted Steelers pass rush. The Steelers haven't recorded a sack. Henne has looked a little jumpy at times, but he's 12 of 20 for 153 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
  • Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen was victimized on a 53-yard Ben Roethlisberger strike to Mike Wallace in the second quarter. Allen gave Wallace a nice cushion, yet still got scorched by Wallace, who simply flashed past for a touchdown.
  • As you'd expect, the Dolphins are having trouble against the NFL's top-rated run defense. Ronnie Brown has five carries for 2 yards. Ricky Williams has six attempts for 20 yards.
  • There's been some bad tackling by both teams. Steelers receiver Hines Ward ducked and dodged his way into the end zone from 21 yards out, and Dolphins receiver Davone Bess juked past a couple Steelers defenders for a 26-yard score to pull the Dolphins within a point.
  • Here's a quirky stat: Thanks to the Steelers fumbling the opening kickoff and going three and out on their first possession, the Dolphins scored six points on 7 total yards in the first quarter. The Dolphins went three-and-out field goal, three-and-out field goal and then three-and-out punt.
  • That first-quarter punt was an impressive example of how to flip the field. With Miami on its 14-yard line, Brandon Fields crushed a 66-yarder. Antwaan Randle-El lost a yard on the return, plus a holding penalty put Pittsburgh on its 10-yard line.
  • Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams suffered an apparent left ankle or Achilles injury early in the second quarter and was replaced by former Buffalo Bills tackle Jonathan Scott.

Chan Gailey out to eliminate sloppy flags

August, 1, 2010
8/01/10
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey nearly recoiled when I brought up the subject.

Presnap penalties.

Every coach dislikes a yellow flag before the play begins. Gailey seems to have a more intense disdain for presnap penalties than most.

"Yes, I do," Gailey said, practically spitting out the words.

Gailey certainly has taken inventory of how undisciplined the Bills were last season. They committed 108 penalties last season for 855 yards, finishing eighth in both categories.

The Bills were the NFL's most-penalized team for much of the season under head coach Dick Jauron. They eliminated some sloppiness down the homestretch with interim coach Perry Fewell.

The Bills committed a league-high 32 false starts (18.8 percent more than the next-closest team) for 148 yards. They also had four illegal formations and three delay of games. On a positive note, they committed defensive offside just six times.

But Gailey is an offensive coach, and the last thing he wants to watch is his huddle moving farther away from the first-down marker.

"Don't accept it," Gailey said after Saturday's late training-camp session at St. John Fisher College. "We work on it every day. We talk about it every day. I make it a point every day.

"I don't have any magic wand. I don't have any pixie dust. We're going to work on it every day. We make it a point of emphasis. Guys generally will respond to things you make a point of emphasis of."

Left tackle Demetrius Bell made six false starts in eight games. His replacement, Jonathan Scott, committed five false starts in 10 games. Right tackle Kirk Chambers had four, and left guard Andy Levitre three.

"Lack of focus is the biggest reason," Gailey said. "They get distracted. The defense moves around. You can't let distractions get you on the football field. You've got to remain focused and do your job."

Gailey had to crack the whip similarly when he became Dallas Cowboys head coach in 1998. He replaced Barry Switzer, not known as a disciplinarian.

"I can understand when a facemask penalty or a hold happens," Sports Illustrated quoted Gailey as telling the Cowboys before a game against the Arizona Cardinals in November 1998. "But I will not accept any more presnap penalties. They show a lack of concentration."

The Cowboys won 35-28 to push their record to 7-3. They committed one presnap penalty.

"That's the way it should be," Gailey said after the game. "If you're a smart team -- and you have to be to win consistently -- you don't commit those penalties. I try not to make frivolous statements to the team. I want them to know that everything I do has a direct correlation to winning."

Clayton: Bills have NFL's worst offseason

May, 19, 2010
5/19/10
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Two weeks ago, ESPN.com's John Clayton appraised the NFL's best offseasons. AFC East clubs took the first three slots.

Clayton rated the New England Patriots first, followed by the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

The Buffalo Bills didn't make that list, but here they are, atop Clayton's followup analysis. He claims the Bills had the league's worst offseason.

Writes Clayton:
1. Buffalo Bills: No team had a greener offensive line last season than the Bills. ... All the Bills did to help the line was sign 33-year-old tackle Cornell Green.

The Bills averaged a horrible 16.1 points a game on offense and did nothing to upgrade a quarterback corps filled by Trent Edward sand Ryan Fitzpatrick. The receiving corps lost 82 catches by not re-signing Terrell Owens and Josh Reed. The only replacement was fourth-round choice Marcus Easley, leaving Lee Evans with little around him.

Owner Ralph Wilson was willing to pay a high salary for his new coach, and ended up with nice guy Chan Gailey, hardly a headliner. To make things even more challenging, the Bills switched to a 3-4 defense even though they didn't have a legitimate 3-4 outside linebacker or a nose tackle. They drafted nose tackle Torell Troup in the second round and hope that Broncos castoff Andra Davis and seldom-used Aaron Maybin can handle the tough outside linebacking jobs.

Making matters worse, the Bills' three division rivals -- the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins -- had three of the best five offseasons. With those odds against them, the Bills won't need luck to be in position to draft either Jake Locker or Andrew Luck next year.

AFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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Buffalo Bills

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.

Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.

Miami Dolphins

Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.

New England Patriots

Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.

Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.

Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.

What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.

New York Jets

Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.

Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.

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.

Calls and Effect: AFC East penalty tracker

December, 19, 2009
12/19/09
6:54
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For a considerable chunk of the season, the Buffalo Bills led the NFL in penalties.

They surrendered their status as the least-disciplined team in Week 9 only because they had a bye. When the Bills fired head coach Dick Jauron after Week 10, opponents had accepted 80 penalties, one behind the league-leading Green Bay Packers.

Amazing, then, what the Bills have done in their four weeks under interim coach Perry Fewell.

The Bills have become one of the best-behaved teams and have fallen way down the list to 13th.

The Bills committed 11 penalties in Jauron's final game. Since he was fired and Fewell was promoted, they've elicited six, three, one and three yellow flags.


Of course, Wednesday's addition of St. Louis Rams guard Richie Incognito off the waiver wire might shoot that trend all to hell over the last three games.

Incognito likely will start on the right side against the New England Patriots on Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills on Friday placed Kendall Simmons on injured reserve.

Incognito is volatile. He has been flagged seven times for 75 yards. He has been cited for unnecessary roughness three times and a personal foul. The Rams waived him because he committed a pair of 15-yarders and got into a heated confrontation with head coach Steve Spagnuolo last Sunday.

Calls and Effect: AFC East penalty tracker

November, 28, 2009
11/28/09
4:21
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Two penalty-related items caught my eye on Mike Reiss' blog at ESPNBoston.com.

Reiss noted the New England Patriots already had surpassed last season's total of accepted penalties, and quarterback Tom Brady had been cited for delay of game almost as many times in 2009 as his previous seven seasons combined.

I figured I would see how those numbers compare in a broader context.

The Patriots, who were the NFL's least-penalized team last year, aren't alone in already exceeding last year's penalty count.


Officials already have marched off 75 infractions against the Buffalo Bills. Their 71 accepted penalties last year were the NFL's second-fewest.

The New York Jets haven't been as disciplined under Rex Ryan as they were last year under Eric Mangini. Only five teams had fewer than their 77 accepted penalties last year. They have 61 accepted penalties this year, putting them on pace for 98.

The Miami Dolphins have been on the AFC East's best behavior with 51 accepted penalties, tying them for second-fewest in the league. But that puts them on pace for the same number of fouls as last year, when they finished 21st with 81.

As for delay-of-game calls, Brady has twice as many as all but five NFL quarterbacks and twice as many as the other AFC East quarterbacks put together.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer leads the NFL with seven delay penalties for 34 yards. Brady is second with six for 30 yards.

Because fans always want to know how Brady compares with the other elite quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have been charged with letting the play clock expire three times apiece.

New York Jets rookie Mark Sanchez (twice) and Miami Dolphins sophomore Chad Henne (once) represent the AFC East's other delay calls.

Buffalo Bills quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards haven't been flagged once. I guess that no-huddle offense was good for something.

Wrap-up: Jaguars 18, Bills 15

November, 22, 2009
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I think it's safe to say Buffalo Bills fans feel a lot better about their team than they did five days ago.

Bills interim coach Perry Fewell lost his debut, 18-15, when Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard tossed a touchdown to Mike Sims-Walker with 56 seconds to play Sunday.

The Bills are in disarray with head coach Dick Jauron getting canned five days earlier and mounting injuries that included Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and rookie guard Eric Wood during the game.

But the Bills played hard and probably deserved to win.

Buffalo bucked a few season-long trends. The NFL's worst run defense, despite playing without defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and linebacker Keith Ellison, contained Maurice Jones-Drew for most of the game. Jones-Drew finished with 25 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown.

The Bills, criticized all year for not throwing downfield, broke the club record for the longest pass play. Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Terrell Owens for a 98-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Owens finished with the types of numbers Bills fans hoped would happen occasionally: nine receptions, 197 yards.

Fitzpatrick, named the starter this week ahead of Trent Edwards, completed 18 of his 31 attempts for 297 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

One recurring problem did haunt the Bills: a penalty by an offensive lineman. Tackle Jonathan Scott was called for illegal use of the hands to erase a 53-yard Lee Evans catch and run for what would have been a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Bills punted four plays later.

There was no run game. Lynch had eight carries for 18 yards before he got hurt in the second quarter. Fred Jackson ran nine times for 35 yards.

Calls and Effect: AFC East penalty tracker

November, 21, 2009
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When it comes to false starts, the Buffalo Bills have been finger-choppin' bad.

At his first practice Wednesday, interim head coach Perry Fewell gave an indication of how much tolerance he'll have for false starts. The Bills lead the NFL by far with 23 false starts, about twice the league average.

When an unnamed offensive player jumped, Fewell flipped.

"I started to cut the guy's finger off when he jumped offsides, but [trainer] Bud [Carpenter] told me I shouldn't do that," Fewell joked. "So I kind of got up in their face a little bit and just made my presence felt and just told them, 'Hey men, now it's first-and-15. We've got 5 more yards to hold instead of being first-and-10.'

"It's not acceptable. We've got to focus and we have to concentrate. That's the way we're going to get better."

I wonder what Fewell would have done had he been within range of bird-flipping Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams on Sunday.

If Fewell actually did cut off a finger for every false start, Buffalo's offensive line wouldn't be able to get into a three-point stance.

The Bills are way ahead of the rest of the league. They have committed 44 percent more false starts than the next-worst offenders. The Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions are tied for second with 16 false starts apiece. The league average is 11.8.

Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell and San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis are tied for the NFL lead with six false starts each, but Bell has played in one fewer game because of an injury.

Right tackle Jonathan Scott and rookie right guard Andy Levitre are next on the Bills' list with three each, a total that would rank first for 17 other teams. Scott has played only four games.

Every member of the Bills' offensive line has jumped at least once. Center Geoff Hangartner and reserve Seth McKinney are the only ones who haven't done it multiple times.

Around the rest of the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins (counting Thursday's game) and New England Patriots have committed 12 false starts. The New York Jets have jumped 14 times.

Root of Buffalo's problem easy to tackle

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
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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.

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