AFC East: San Francisco 49ers

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson continues to push his somewhat confusing company line on star cornerback Darrelle Revis.

"If somebody wants to make an offer, for any of our players, we'd always listen. [But] we’re not actively beating the bushes," Johnson said Sunday at the NFL owners meetings.

Revis
What Johnson is really saying is he'd love to trade Revis for the right price. However, the Jets don't want to give the public impression that they’re actively shopping their best player.

This rhetoric from the Jets is getting old. They continue to try to play both sides of the fence with Revis. New York wants to generate enough trade interest in Revis to get good offers while not upsetting its best player.

But if the Jets want to trade Revis, the NFL owners meetings are the perfect time to shop the star cornerback. Every team is in Arizona this week. It’s one-stop shopping to discuss business face to face.

There are reports that the Jets have already been in trade talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. Those talks could continue this week and may even intensify.

New York will probably lose Revis to free agency next year because the team simply cannot afford him. It makes perfect sense to get something for Revis now, especially since the Jets are not contenders and are rebuilding under new general manager John Idzik.

This week the Jets would be wise to stop focusing on spin with Revis and work diligently on finding the best trade to help the franchise move forward.

Will Geno Smith fall to Bills or Jets?

February, 27, 2013
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The San Francisco 49ers dropped a huge domino Wednesday when they agreed to trade quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick and future pick in 2014. This takes the Chiefs, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, out of the quarterback market for April's NFL draft.

Kansas City was one of the teams often linked to West Virginia's Geno Smith. Now that is no longer the case, it opens the door for the top-rated quarterback prospect to fall down the draft board.

Could Smith fall to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8 or New York Jets at No. 9? Both AFC East teams are desperate for quarterbacks and would be intrigued with a chance to draft the West Virginia product.

No team in the top five has a strong need for a quarterback. The Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles and Lions all have starting options.

Once the draft gets to the sixth pick, that's when things get tricky. The Cleveland Browns could be in the market for a quarterback. Yes, Cleveland drafted Brandon Weeden in the first round last year. But Weeden, who turns 30 in October, had an uneven rookie season and was the pick of a previous regime. The Browns are under new leadership and may want to choose their own franchise quarterback.

The Arizona Cardinals are desperate for someone who can throw the football. Kevin Kolb was a often-injured disaster and the Cardinals need anyone who can get receiver Larry Fitzgerald the football.

If Smith makes it past Cleveland and Arizona, he could land in the AFC East. The Bills, at No. 8, need a long-term solution to replace the inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets hold the No. 9 pick and will add competition to embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez.

I'm not convinced any quarterback in this year's draft is worthy of a top-10 pick. But if Smith falls to the bottom of the top 10, the Bills and Jets should at least consider the possibility.
The New England Patriots were 0-3 this season against the two teams competing in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII. The Baltimore Ravens beat New England both the regular season and playoffs, and the San Francisco 49ers entered Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots in December.

Both teams taught the Patriots a valuable lesson: New England must improve its overall physicality in 2013.

The Patriots advanced to the AFC title game and was just one step away from making the Super Bowl. But New England got beaten up and pounded this season when facing top teams like San Francisco and Baltimore. The 49ers and Ravens accounted for three of the Patriots’ five losses, and the common theme was that New England lost to the more physical teams. Indeed, the Seattle Seahawks used the same blueprint of beating up the Patriots to win in Week 6.

The Patriots are not a soft team, but there are finesse elements in their schemes. For example, New England runs a spread offense that relies much more on tempo than physicality. Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd are good, finesse players upon whom San Francisco and Baltimore pounded for four quarters. On defense, New England could not consistently get to the quarterback, and receivers and tight ends had no fear making tough catches against its secondary.

New England doesn't need to tweak much to remain in the title hunt in 2013. But being more physical is one thing the Patriots should work on if they want to get past bruising teams like the Ravens and 49ers.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East:
  • ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggests the New York Jets should trade star cornerback Darrelle Revis to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round pick and backup quarterback Alex Smith.
Morning take: The trade certainly fills a need for the Jets. Smith could immediately start at quarterback ahead of Mark Sanchez, and the Jets would get a nice draft pick. It seems like good value all around.
Morning take: It all comes down to Bush's price tag. The Dolphins appear comfortable going with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas next season. Miami will offer a team-friendly contract but won't extend much further.
Morning take: Jones battled a bum ankle for much of the year and needs to focus on getting healthy. When the rookie was 100 percent, Jones brought a much-needed pass rush to New England's defense. I expect more of that from Jones in Year 2.
Morning take: Players don't like it, but it doesn't matter. This is a nice money grab for the Bills, even if Buffalo loses a home game for the next five seasons.

Dolphins pursued Jim Harbaugh

January, 29, 2013
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With Super Bowl media day underway, it's probably a bad time to provide a tough reminder for Miami Dolphins fans.

However, it is hard to ignore during Super Bowl week that Miami was once very close to landing San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Two years ago, the 49ers and Dolphins were both in serious talks with Harbaugh, who was then the head coach at Stanford. Harbaugh eventually chose San Francisco and took the 49ers to the NFC title game and now a Super Bowl in his first two seasons. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are 13-19 the past two seasons and missed the playoffs both times.

The Dolphins didn't take the best approach with their pursuit. Miami caused a major stir in NFL circles when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland courted Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was still under contract as the Dolphins' head coach. Essentially, Sparano only had the job if Harbaugh declined. When Harbaugh spurned Miami, many felt the Dolphins got what they deserved.

Miami retained Sparano in 2011 but everyone knew he was a lame-duck coach. The Dolphins didn't respond, started 0-7, and Sparano was eventually fired.

Now, Miami is left to wonder "what if" with Harbaugh in the Super Bowl spotlight.

The Dolphins have rookie head coach Joe Philbin, who appears to be a decent hire. But Philbin hasn't made the immediate impact in Miami that Harbaugh has made for the 49ers.
VereenAP Photo/Elise AmendolaTom Brady threw for 344 yards and three scores as New England beat Houston in the divisional round.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Joe Flacco. … Matt Ryan. … Colin Kaepernick.

Tom Brady.

If you're looking for a clear-cut favorite among the NFL's final four teams, look no further than the quarterbacks. The disparity between Brady and his counterparts makes the New England Patriots the hands-down favorite to win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Brady was once again masterful in the Patriots' 41-28 divisional playoff victory Sunday over the Houston Texans. Brady threw for 344 yards, three touchdowns and had a 115.0 passer rating.

Brady has a way of consistently making good defenses look ordinary. Houston's seventh-ranked group allowed 83 points in two games against Brady this season.

Sorry, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers, but there is only one elite quarterback left in the NFL playoffs -- and he resides in New England. No one is going to stop a focused and determined Brady from capturing his fourth Super Bowl title, which would tie an NFL record with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

The Ravens are up first for the Patriots in the conference title game, and Brady vividly remembers the controversial loss earlier this season.

Let’s just say Brady doesn't plan on going the Peyton Manning route next week.

“I think the two best teams are in the finals," Brady said. “Baltimore certainly deserves to be here, and so do we. It’s very fitting. We played them earlier in the year and they got us. We blew a pretty good lead there at the end, and we’re going to have to play our best game this week.”

Baltimore, Atlanta and San Francisco all deserve to be in the conference finals. But are Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick ready for this big stage? That is the bigger question.

Brady is one game away from his sixth Super Bowl appearance and fourth championship. Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick have zero combined Super Bowl appearances and zero combined championships. In a one-game scenario, you have to like Brady's chances. Brady’s 17 career playoff wins are nearly double the nine combined postseason wins for Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick.

Brady was winning Super Bowls when Flacco and Ryan were high school teenagers. Kaepernick was 14 when Brady won his first title in February 2002. Brady is the ultimate gatekeeper among these three green quarterbacks still trying to get over the hump and make a name for themselves. It's not going to happen on Brady's watch this year.

New England safety Steve Gregory has been on both sides of the Brady ledger. Gregory played against Brady several times as a member of the San Diego Chargers and became Brady’s teammate for the first time this season after signing as a free agent. Gregory learned quickly that it’s better to be with Brady than against him.

“His ability to get to the line, recognize defenses and get the offense in the right play is pretty amazing,” Gregory explained. “I love having him on my side now.”

The Patriots lost Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season after he broke his forearm for a second time, but it doesn’t matter. The Patriots proved they are adaptable. New England was 4-1 this year without Gronkowski and didn't miss a beat Sunday against Houston when Gronkowski missed more than three quarters. The high-scoring Patriots have more than enough offensive weapons at their disposal.

The only irreplaceable Patriot is Brady.

"He's our leader and we all follow him," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We all respect him and he led the team today. … There's no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady."

Brady began his day at Gillette Stadium when he came out the tunnel for pregame warm-ups. He jogged to one corner of the end zone and pumped up the home crowd. Brady was intense the entire game and stayed on his teammates, even as the Patriots led by as many as 25 points in the second half.

By the time Brady carved up the Texans and went to his postgame news conference, he was subdued. Brady, 35, gave the Patriots all he had. He is playing as though there is no tomorrow.

“I’m tired, man. All the emotional energy spent,” said Brady, who is the third player in NFL history with at least 40 postseason touchdowns. “The big buildup to the week with four days of practice. You’re up and you’re down, you’re up and you’re down. I’m tired and ready to go home.”

When Brady left the news conference, he ran into Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Brady embraced Kraft by putting one arm around New England's owner, and the two chatted on the way out the stadium.

Kraft had a smile on his face during his talk with Brady. Kraft knows he has the one player who separates the Patriots from the rest of the Super Bowl field.

Brady won his first title in New Orleans versus the St. Louis Rams 11 years ago to begin his storybook career. Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick simply aren’t good enough to stop Brady from winning his fourth championship in the same place where it all started.
While head coach Rex Ryan is vacationing in the Bahamas, the New York Jets reportedly will meet with San Francisco 49ers personnel director Tom Gamble for their open general manager position. The interview will take place this weekend, Matt Miaocco of CSNBayArea.com reports.

Gamble was one of the first people the Jets requested to interview after firing former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Gamble was a big part of San Francisco's turnaround the past two seasons with head coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Jets need a fresh pair of eyes to take an honest look at the team's old and overpaid roster. The Jets currently are over the salary cap. Someone must come in and make some major personnel changes after back-to-back non-winning seasons.

AccuScore: 49ers-Patriots preview

December, 13, 2012
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Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the San Francisco-New England matchup.

Examining the Rob Gronkowski dilemma

December, 12, 2012
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The New England Patriots (10-3) may have a surprise return Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1).

Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe reports Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm) will try to practice this week. Based on his progress, that could set the table for a possible Gronkowski return this weekend.

SportsNation

Would a return Sunday by TE Rob Gronkowski be too soon?

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    81%
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    14%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,893)

Gronkowski missed the past three games with a broken arm. He immediately had surgery and was projected to miss four to six weeks.

The Patriots and Gronkowski must be very careful with this decision. Gronkowski, like most young players, is eager to get on the field as soon as possible, and there is always a chance of coming back too soon. The Patriots need to weigh the long- and short-term risks. A possible reinjury could knock Gronkowski, their best pass-catcher, out for the season.

New England has kept its offense rolling despite Gronkowski's injury. The Patriots are averaging 38 points in the three games he missed, which included last Monday's 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans. New England's offense is in rhythm and perhaps could afford to rest Gronkowski for another game or two to make sure he's 100 percent. The big picture for the Patriots is to have all their weapons ready for the playoffs.

Would a Gronkowski return this week be too soon? Using our SportNation poll, cast your vote on the "Gronk" dilemma.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 7, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Protecting Brady: The New England Patriots' biggest key to success is protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and they will have a tall task blocking the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Houston is third in the NFL with 36 sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. New England’s pass protection has been up and down this season. Brady has been sacked in nine games, including last week when the Patriots allowed four sacks against the Miami Dolphins. Houston and Watt will be bringing the heat to disrupt Brady, and the Patriots have to do a better job of keeping Brady upright.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Texans could have trouble finding room to run against Vince Wilfork, right, and the Patriots.
Focus on Foster: The Texans can beat you in a variety of ways, but their first option is the running game. Houston runs the ball more than any other NFL team at 34.4 attempts per game. Texans running back Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 1,102 yards and first with 13 rushing touchdowns. He is the engine for the Texans. In Houston’s only defeat, Foster rushed for 29 yards on 17 carries in a 42-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots have a physical front seven and are ninth against the run. So expect a war of attrition in the trenches.

Sanchez’s time to respond: New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez returns under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting benched last week in the third quarter. This was a stern wake-up call for the four-year starter. Sanchez has a good chance to have a bounce-back game Sunday against the lowly Jaguars (2-10). The Jaguars are 28th against the pass and 31st against the run, which is tailor-made for the offensively inept Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan proved once that he’s not afraid to pull Sanchez if he’s playing poorly. Expect Sanchez to be on a short leash.

Martin vs. Smith: Miami rookie Jonathan Martin will make his first NFL start at left tackle Sunday at the San Francisco 49ers. Martin's reward: San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon SmithJake Long (triceps) for the season this week and put him on injured reserve. Long will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Martin has a four-game audition for the left tackle spot. If Martin does a good job, starting this week against Smith, the rookie could replace Long next season.

Buffalo's shift at center: The Buffalo Bills lost starting center Eric Wood for the next two to four weeks with a knee injury. If last season was any indication, this is awful news for the Bills. Wood is one of the top leaders on offense, but he has been injury prone. Wood missed seven games last season with an ACL tear, and the Bills were 1-6 without him. Buffalo has been working guard Kraig Urbik and rookie David Snow at center this week.

Video: Using Tim Tebow

September, 28, 2012
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Should Tim Tebow be used more against the San Francisco 49ers? Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate.

Can Jets survive four-game stretch?

September, 26, 2012
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The New York Jets are 2-1 and tied for first place in the AFC East.

But how long will it last?

Looking ahead, the Jets need to bring their "A" game or they won't be in first place for long. New York enters its toughest four-game stretch of the season -- with three of the four against teams that made the playoffs last season -- and will be without Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, out for the year with a knee injury.

Here are New York's next four games:
  • Sept. 30: vs. San Francisco (2-1)
  • Oct. 8: vs. Houston (3-0)
  • Oct. 14: vs. Indianapolis (1-2)
  • Oct. 21: at New England (1-2)

The 49ers, Texans and Patriots are all brutal games. The Colts are rebuilding, but the Jets can't afford to look past anyone.

The good news is New York's next three games are at home. If the Jets can split these four, they will come out of this stretch 4-3. That's considered a success near the midpoint of the season.

But a disastrous run over the next month could spell doom. It starts Sunday against a good San Francisco team.

Now it's your turn. What record will the Jets have one month from now?
Tim TebowAl Pereira/Getty ImagesTo say the spotlight will be on Tim Tebow this season is an understatement of great proportion.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is not a Tim Tebow supporter. In fact, Williamson is one of Tebow's harshest critics.

But he has no doubt that Tebow will eventually supplant starting quarterback Mark Sanchez this season and take over the New York Jets.

“My prediction is he will see immediate time as a backup, maybe 15-20 snaps a game from the start,” Williamson explained. “Then, I think [coach] Rex Ryan will look at it more and more like Tebow gives the Jets the better chance to win. The Jets' defense is so strong and they’re pretty good on special teams that they could play Tebow more and more, because it gives them the best chance to have a winning record this year. That may not be the right answer long term, but I don’t think Rex cares about that. He’s probably feeling a little heat there with the Jets. I think Tebow becomes the starter before midseason.”

Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesIf Mark Sanchez struggles to start the season, it might not be long until Tim Tebow sees time at starting quarterback.
Williamson is not alone in his assessment. Many pundits believe it is inevitable that Tebow takes over in New York.

But does Tebow give the Jets the best chance to win? Let's examine.

The numbers prove that both quarterbacks are winners. Tebow and Sanchez had success at the collegiate level and in the NFL early in their careers.

Tebow has an 8-6 (57 percent) record as starter in two seasons, including a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sanchez is 27-20 (57 percent) in three seasons and has four postseason wins. Tebow has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (17-to-9), while Sanchez has a higher completion percentage (55.3 to 47.3). Both quarterbacks are mobile, but Tebow is a much stronger runner (6.8 yards per carry).

"I think Sanchez is the better player right now, just because he’s the better passer," said Williamson when comparing the two. "But if I had to win one game, four games, maybe one season, I’m taking Tebow because he’s harder to prepare for, his physicality and he's so unique. But if I were to say, ‘Who will have the better career?’ I would pick Sanchez."

A case also can be made that Tebow improved last year and Sanchez did not. That is why there’s a feeling of momentum favoring Tebow.



Tebow is coming off a season in which he went 7-4 replacing Kyle Orton in Denver and led the Broncos an AFC West title. Sanchez was 8-8, missed the playoffs and threw seven interceptions in his final three starts -- all losses. Sanchez must play well early to hold off Tebow.

The Jets also have the kind of team Tebow needs. New York has a top-five defense, a physical offensive line and a coach whose priority is running the football. Tebow's skills make it much easier for Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to manage the game. It makes more sense to tell Tebow to throw 15 times per game than to tell Sanchez, a passing quarterback, to do the same.

Tebow also has more talent in New York than he had in Denver, including receivers Santonio Holmes and rookie Stephen Hill, tight end Dustin Keller and 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene.

“The best-case scenario is I think Tebow can take that team to 11-5 if he became the starter early in the season and win a lot of low-scoring type games,” Williamson said. “I think that’s the best he can do, but that’s really being optimistic.”

Keep an eye on New York’s early season schedule. This could mean a lot for Tebow and Sanchez. New York’s first five games are against the upstart Buffalo Bills, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Miami Dolphins, then home against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans. Three of those teams (Steelers, 49ers, Texans) made the playoffs last season, and the Bills have playoff expectations this year.

Sanchez will have a short leash, so if New York starts the season slowly against this tough schedule, Tebow's number will be called early.

Tebow says all the right things, but rest assured he will compete and wants to play. He is a former first-round pick entering his third year, which is big in the NFL. Tebow has been a winner at every stop. It also doesn’t hurt that Tebow has a huge following behind him. As a competitor, it has to be eating at Tebow inside to go from a playoff-winning quarterback to a backup and potential special teams player.

New York is a veteran team that needs to win now. Six key starters are over 30, including defensive tackle Sione Pouha, guard Brandon Moore, offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, safety Yeremiah Bell and linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. Stars such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson also are in their prime.

Sanchez deserves to start the year as the incumbent. But the Jets don’t have four years to wait on Sanchez to come around.

“What [Tebow] does, he does well. If he gets on the field, he can spark and team and help you win immediately,” Williamson said. “I don’t think his skills are going away, but I also don’t think they will change much. But he’s always going to be a good runner, he’s always going to be tough and make good decisions.”

Because the Jets have a stout defense and good coaching, Tebow may be enough for the Jets to have success in 2012.
I don't know if Matt Moore likes to eat chopped liver. But he must certainly feel like chopped liver.

It's one thing for the Miami Dolphins to go after future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to replace Moore. That's understandable.

Moore might even identify with Miami chasing former Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who has a strong connection with new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.

But Alex Smith? The same quarterback who threw 53 interceptions compared to 51 touchdowns his first six seasons? That's enough to make Moore ask Miami's brass, "What's wrong with me?"

This isn't about debating who is better between Smith and Moore. This is more about the Dolphins showing so little faith in Moore that they're entertaining spending millions of salary-cap room on Smith to replace Moore next fall. Smith is in Miami today for a visit. It could also be a negotiating ploy against Flynn.

Like Smith, Moore had a career year in 2011. Moore went 6-3 as a starter for Miami in his last nine games and threw for 2,497 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also had an 87.1 passer rating.


But Moore is not the long-term solution in Miami and neither is Smith. That's why it would be baffling to pay Smith starting quarterback money when both quarterbacks are probably in the same ballpark in terms of ability.

I think Flynn remains the favorite for Miami. He's an unknown commodity, but at least he provides hope and potential for the struggling Dolphins.

But if Miami goes in another direction, it would be silly to waste cap room on Smith. He's not significantly better than the quarterback you already have, and there are still prospects available next month in the NFL draft.

Miami's free-agent dollars would be better used adding some starting-caliber wide receivers or filling the right side of the offensive line.
The Miami Dolphins pulled one of the more interesting twists in free agency by hosting free-agent quarterback Alex Smith Sunday.

ESPN's Adam Schefter talks about the potential domino effect that would take place if Smith joined the Dolphins, and what it would mean for Miami, San Francisco and Peyton Manning.

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