AFC East: Terrell Suggs



It's no secret Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't like the New England Patriots. I stood in the tunnel of Gillette Stadium after January's AFC title game when Suggs yelled "have fun in the Pro Bowl" loud enough for everyone around the Patriots' locker room to hear.

But Suggs took his feelings a step further in a radio interview with WEEI in Boston on Wednesday. According to Suggs, "31 other teams hate the New England Patriots." That's a bold statement that would literally make New England the most hated team in the NFL.

Is Suggs correct in his assessment?

SportsNation

Are the Patriots the most hated team in the NFL?

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    55%
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    30%
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    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 20,479)

It's hard to accurately gauge Suggs' statement. However, New England does have some degree of an "evil empire" feel around the NFL. The anti-Patriots sentiment stems mostly from jealousy of New England's success and the no-nonsense personality of coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick is well-respected for being arguably the best coach in the NFL. But there are some things that draw ire among his peers. Too often Belichick runs up the score on opponents and keeps his starters in longer than necessary during blowouts. Belichick infamously ran up the score during the 2007 season after the Spygate scandal broke. Many saw it as Belichick’s way of firing back at the rest of the league.

Belichick also is tough on the media. Belichick does things his way regardless of what others think. When Belichick didn't do a postgame interview with CBS after losing to Baltimore in the AFC title game, CBS NFL analyst and Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe ripped Belichick.

"Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots," Sharpe said. "You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It is unacceptable."

There's also a sentiment that New England gets more than its share of calls due to things such as the "Tuck Rule" and the "Brady Rule," which Suggs mentioned on Wednesday.

“There was the whole invention of the Brady rule," Suggs explained. "Years before, I hit Drew Brees and I accidentally tore his knee up. No rule was made. Of all the quarterbacks in the NFL who got their knees blown out when they got hit -- Carson Palmer got his knee blown out -- but then one guy got hit and changed the whole rule for the NFL?"

The Patriots might be one of the most disliked teams in the NFL, but they're also one of the most successful. Suggs' comments should only add more motivation for New England to challenge Baltimore for the top spot in the AFC next season.

More thoughts on Patriots going 16-0

August, 15, 2012
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Last month we pointed out a thought-provoking story from our friend Pete Prisco of CBS Sports. Prisco had the guts to predict the results of all 16 games for each NFL team and came to the conclusion that the New England Patriots will finish the regular season undefeated.

This week I ran into Prisco at Miami Dolphins practice and followed up on his bold prediction. Prisco then brought up a good point.

"Point out a game they're expected to lose,” Prisco told me.

It was a valid response, because as I went down the schedule in my head, New England was the favorite in just about every game.

But here are a few potential pitfalls:

Sept. 23 at Baltimore Ravens

Thoughts: This is a rematch from last season's classic AFC title game. Yes, the Ravens won’t have reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who is out with an Achilles injury. But I can tell you from experience that Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium is one of the NFL’s toughest venues for road teams. The Patriots will need their “A” game to beat the Ravens in their home stadium. This may end up being the toughest game on New England’s schedule.

Chances of losing: 60 percent

Sept. 30 at Buffalo Bills

Thoughts: The Bills finally got over the hump last year by beating the Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo was the only AFC East team to beat New England and certainly won’t be intimidated. It also hurts that this game is coming just one week after a physical, high-profile showdown with Baltimore.

Chances of losing: 40 percent

Oct. 7 vs. Denver Broncos

Thoughts: The Patriots obviously will be the favorites at Gillette Stadium. But the opponent always is a threat when Peyton Manning is the quarterback. Manning and Tom Brady have had some classic battles in the past with a lot on the line. This will be another big game of two AFC contenders.

Chances of losing: 30 percent

Nov. 22 at New York Jets

Thoughts: Say what you want about the Jets, but they have given the Patriots a tough time since hiring head coach Rex Ryan. Up until last year’s sweep, New York was a thorn in the Patriots’ side. These two teams have developed a nice rivalry the past few years. So any time the Jets host the Patriots, you know New York is going to be up for this game. Still, the Jets most likely don’t have enough firepower to keep up with New England this season.

Chances of losing: 30 percent

Dec. 10 vs. Houston Texans

Thoughts: I really like this Houston team. I think the Texans are one of New England’s biggest competitors in the AFC, along with the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Houston has the offense to keep up with the Patriots and a better defense. Even at home, this won’t be an easy game.

Chances of losing: 40 percent

Dec. 16 vs. San Francisco 49ers

Thoughts: The 49ers are another team that is a contender. They have a tough defense, solid running game and an improving group of receivers after adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency. However, the 49ers are on the road and I still don't have a lot of confidence in Alex Smith. I have a hard time seeing Smith outdueling Brady at Gillette Stadium.

Chances of losing: 30 percent

Barring significant injuries, the Patriots will probably be favored in all but one game this year, the one at Baltimore. But I still don’t see the Patriots going undefeated. That’s a very hard thing to do and requires focus, consistency and a little luck for 16 consecutive weeks. I think the Patriots will slip up and lose at least two or three games this regular season.
There are several similarities between the recent injuries to Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. Now, both are coming off Achilles injuries heading into next season.

Here are some thoughts on the two pass-rushers:
  • Merriman
    Suggs
    If Merriman's injury is an indication, Suggs should be concerned. Merriman used to be a dominant pass-rusher. But Merriman has clearly lost a step or two after his Achilles troubles, and a quick first step is vital for any pass-rusher. Merriman went from an explosive edge rusher with a burst to just an effort pass-rusher who was much easier to block. Suggs has a great burst with a variety of nimble moves, and he needs to rehab vigorously to maintain it.
  • Merriman is two years younger than Suggs, which also can be a concern for the Baltimore star. Merriman, 27, has been unable to get back to form despite being in his prime years. Suggs, 29, suffered his Achilles injuries two years older, which is significant in football years. Suggs is a great player in his prime. He's also the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But Suggs will be 30 in October.
  • One difference that is clear is Suggs will have his surgery right away. Merriman struggled with his Achilles and tried to play through it. The injury put Merriman on injured reserve in back-to-back seasons before he finally decided to have corrective surgery this year. Suggs wisely is getting his surgery immediately and can start a full rehab process. He hopes to return in the second half of the 2012 season at 100 percent.
  • I covered Suggs for several years in the AFC North, and he is a flat out beast. He was one of the most dominant and all-around stout defensive players I've ever covered. It's hard to imagine a physical freak like Suggs not being a great player when he returns. But this is a worrisome injury for an elite pass-rusher, and one he needs to be careful not to rush.
The New England Patriots have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL -- and it got a little easier on Thursday.

Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon and will be out for a significant portion of this season. There are reports Suggs will miss the entire year, but Suggs says he will be back by late October or early December at the latest.

Either way, the Patriots won't have to face Suggs in Week 3 when they travel to Baltimore in a prime-time game on Sept. 23. This is the much-anticipated rematch of January's AFC Championship Game, in which a shanked field goal by Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime. Instead, the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl and lost to the New York Giants.

Suggs is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a huge difference-maker for Baltimore. His absence should make the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady feel more at ease going into this rematch.

Any game involving New England and Baltimore is going to be a slugfest, no matter who is injured. But the Ravens are arguably the toughest opponent on an otherwise easy schedule for the Patriots. There's no denying Suggs' injury makes this game more winnable for New England.

Unlike the NFC, the AFC playoff bracket went according to form and has the top two seeds meeting in the conference title game Sunday. The New England Patriots (14-3) and Baltimore Ravens (13-4) have been the best two teams in the conference from start to finish.

But only one team can advance to Indianapolis to play in Super Bowl XLVI. That is where AFC East blogger James Walker and AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley come in to examine the matchups and pressing issues with the Patriots and Ravens.

James Walker: Let’s start with the quarterbacks, Jamison, because I think this is where the Patriots have the biggest advantage. Tom Brady is playing at an unbelievable level. He tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes against a pretty good Denver Broncos defense. I’m not sure Baltimore -- or any defense -- has an answer for the Patriots’ passing game right now. Behind Brady, the Patriots are averaging 40.5 points in their past four games. New England’s offense is peaking at the right time. If New England scores early, that puts an enormous amount of pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to respond. I doubt a Brady versus Flacco shootout is a game Baltimore wants to play.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Michael Ivins/US PresswireTom Brady was masterful in the Patriots' playoff rout of Denver.
Jamison Hensley: You’re definitely right about that, James. Flacco has thrown for fewer than 175 yards in his past three games. That’s like one half for Brady. Flacco gets a lot of criticism because he isn’t consistent -- and that’s true. He has flashes when he looks like he’s a top-10 quarterback, guiding a last-minute touchdown drive at Pittsburgh and leading the Ravens back from a 21-point deficit against Arizona. Then, there are times when he looks like he is among the league’s worst, like when he doesn’t complete a pass in two quarters against the Jets. But the Ravens have never had to rely on Flacco in the playoffs. That’s the time of the season when the Baltimore defense thrives. There’s a huge disparity between Brady and Flacco. But there is an even bigger one between the defenses of the Patriots and Ravens, who are ranked No. 3 in the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed.

James Walker: We’ve both watched Baltimore’s defense up close for years, and I’ve always marveled at its consistency. The biggest thing is you know what you’re going to get from Baltimore’s defense on Sunday. I really have no idea what to expect from the Patriots’ defense. I did see with my own eyes last week a group that is capable of playing well. The Patriots actually have the top-rated defense in the playoffs, although it’s just for one game. I won’t go overboard with the Patriots stopping Tim Tebow. Any playoff team not named the Pittsburgh Steelers could do that. (I had to jab your AFC North brethren.) But I’ve seen too many weeks in which New England looked awful defensively and gave up tons of yards. The Ravens’ offense should have the advantage as long as they stick with tailback Ray Rice, who has killed New England in the past. Speaking of the past, Jamison, how much stock do you put in Baltimore’s previous playoff victory against the Patriots in January 2010?

Jamison Hensley: Just like you can’t go overboard on one game for the New England defense, you can’t go overboard with that playoff game. Both teams are different from that game two years ago. The Patriots didn’t even have Wes Welker for that one. The biggest lingering effect is that the Ravens have confidence that they can win in New England. Few teams have ever beaten Brady on his home turf in the playoffs, and Ray Lewis and the gang know they can do it, because they did it before. Of course, that game turned on the first offensive play from scrimmage when Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown. And that’s something that hasn’t changed for the Ravens. Rice is key to the Ravens winning. Baltimore is 9-0 when Rice carries the ball at least 20 times. He has to be on the mind of every New England defender.

James Walker: There’s no denying Rice is to Baltimore what Brady is to New England. The performance of both players will probably determine the outcome of this game. You astutely pointed out Welker’s absence from the January 2010 playoff game. Two additional players not in that game were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who were drafted the following April. Two seasons later, the pair completely change the dynamics of New England’s offense. The Ravens’ defense is great. But I’m looking down their roster and I’m having a lot of trouble finding linebackers who are fast enough and defensive backs who are strong enough to stop New England’s star tight ends. The Ravens might opt to double one -- usually Gronkowski -- but I don’t think they have an answer for both. After watching the Ravens' defense all season, Jamison, what strategy do you think they will employ?

Jamison Hensley: The Ravens played mostly zone against Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, but they can’t do that against Brady. He would pick them apart. Baltimore has to go to man coverage to be successful. The defender to watch is linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. He’s known as the team’s special-teams ace, but he plays an important role in the nickel defense. The Ravens have contained some of the top tight ends they’ve gone against in San Diego’s Antonio Gates (two catches for 31 yards) and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (four for 38 yards). The problem is, the Ravens haven’t faced a team with two quality tight ends like Gronkowski and Hernandez. Baltimore’s best bet is to get pressure on Brady. That starts with Terrell Suggs, who will test both of the Patriots’ offensive tackles.

James Walker: Suggs has been a monster this season. I also think Brady might be Suggs’ least-favorite quarterback, so there won’t be any lack of motivation there. But I noticed something important in both AFC divisional games that should be mentioned. Baltimore didn’t get a single sack against Yates and Houston, and New England held Denver without a sack, despite facing a defense with two of the league’s top pass-rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Maybe that was more scheme last week on Baltimore’s part, because defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano usually gets after it. But New England legitimately stuffed Denver’s pass rush for four quarters with an up-tempo offense that used a lot of half-huddle/no-huddle and quick throws to Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker. I think you’re going to see the Patriots speed up the tempo again against Baltimore, especially at home where the crowd is quiet and communication on offense is easier.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Suggs
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireKeeping Terrell Suggs away from QB Tom Brady will be a priority for New England on Sunday.
Jamison Hensley: As we’ve seen so far in the playoffs, home field has really been an advantage. Only one home team (Green Bay) has lost so far this postseason. The Ravens have had their trouble on the road this season, losing at Seattle and Jacksonville -- teams they should’ve beaten. But Baltimore has a great track record of winning on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens have won at Miami, Tennessee, Kansas City and, of course, New England under coach John Harbaugh in the postseason. How the Ravens handle the atmosphere on the road will be one of many keys in this matchup.

James Walker: The Patriots and Ravens played all season for this gigantic opportunity. New England just won one more game to force the road to Indianapolis to go through Gillette Stadium. But I think either club would represent the conference well and has a great chance to win the Super Bowl. Either way, Jamison, just make sure one of us brings that Lombardi Trophy back to the AFC side, where it belongs. I was kind of tired of that "Discount Double-check" thing NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert kept doing in front of us for the past year.

Jamison Hensley: I hear you. We’ll just have to wait until Sunday to see whether Bill Belichick’s hoodie or Flacco’s Fu Manchu mustache will be advancing. History says this will be a close game. Three of the past four meetings between the Ravens and Patriots have been decided by six points or fewer. For coverage leading up to the AFC Championship Game, everyone can check back to the AFC East and AFC North blogs all week. And, James, it will be just a little colder in New England than Miami, so remember to pack a jacket.

Not all linebackers created equal

April, 12, 2011
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This was a futile endeavor.

The latest edition of ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings took a look at linebackers.

Sam, will, mike, jack, bandit, outside, 3-4, 4-3, Tampa 2, whatever ... All were thrown into a hopper to be sorted out. Much to my affliction.

All linebackers don't play the same position just because that's how they're listed on their football cards.

Take an outside linebacker such as Miami Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake and plug him into a 4-3 defense, and all of a sudden you don't have a linebacker anymore. You have a hand-on-the-ground defensive end. That's what the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts had in mind when they tried to sign Wake.

The concept of ranking inside linebackers and outside linebackers is tantamount to comparing a cover cornerback to a strong safety because they're both defensive backs.

But I had to come up with something. So here's my list with an explanation to follow:
  1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
  2. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
  3. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
  4. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
  5. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
  7. David Harris, New York Jets
  8. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
  9. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
  10. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

At the top of the order I went with players who would be elite linebackers in any system. I favored linebackers with all-around impact, especially since we already ranked pass-rushers.

At some point I felt compelled to give credit for awesome quarterback-chasing skills -- even if the "linebacker" might not be adept in coverage or provide as much value on first downs or what have you.

I ranked Ware first in our pass-rusher Power Rankings, but ninth here. That was much lower than any of the other panelists.

I very easily could be wrong. But would Ware be a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings or Bears? Maybe so. Maybe a defensive end.

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs plays in a 3-4 scheme, but Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson considers him more like a defensive end.

So go ahead and throw your list together.

Feel free to mix in a few fullbacks.

Cameron Wake apparently still a sleeper

March, 22, 2011
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Seven weeks ago, I disagreed with the notion some readers supported, that Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake deserved to be considered a legitimate candidate for the Associated Press 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

I don't believe he was a complete enough defender for that prestigious accolade. But the one thing Wake does supremely well is rush the passer.

Even so, Wake barely cracked this week's ESPN.com positional power rankings -- for pass-rushers. We didn't rank players based on run-stuffing or pass-coverage. Just pass-rushing.

Wake didn't get as much respect as I thought he should've.

Wake came in 10th in our power rankings because I rated him fourth. Three panelists didn't put him on their ballots at all. One ranked him ninth. Three ranked him 10th.

For the record, this was my ballot:
  1. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker
  2. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker
  3. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker
  4. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins outside linebacker
  5. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings defensive end
  6. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons defensive end
  7. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears defensive end
  8. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts defensive end
  9. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker
  10. Chris Long, St. Louis Rams defensive end

Wake finished third in the NFL with 14 sacks. He was the most dangerous edge rusher in the AFC East by a big margin. Opponents had to game plan to stop him.

While I don't lean too heavily on stats while putting together my weekly positional power rankings, there are a handful of numbers you want to look for when it comes to pass-rushers. Sacks are the NFL's only official stats that are applicable. Other figures such as quarterback hits and hurries must be tracked by analytical outfits such as Football Outsiders.

Football Outsiders charted Wake third in the NFL with 15 quarterback hits (not counting sacks) and fourth with 38 hurries.

What more can you say?

Other divergences on my ballot included rating Freeney lower than any other panelist, omitting both Steelers outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and being the lone voter to include Long.

The reason Long made my list was because he was always around the quarterback last year. He had a respectable 10 sacks, but he led the NFL with 41.5 hurries and was tied for sixth with 14 QB hits in the Football Outsiders data.

Dilfer: Jets' defense is 'smoke and mirrors'

March, 16, 2011
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New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan's pride and joy has been -- and probably always will be -- his defense.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer hasn't been too impressed lately.

For an installment of a "SportsCenter" series on team-by-team draft needs, Dilfer stressed the Jets have too many holes to warrant Ryan shooting off his mouth with Super Bowl guarantees.

"It's smoke and mirrors," Dilfer said. "It is bells and whistles. They will not be a great defense until they get some dynamic play out of their front three in that 3-4 defense. They must, must identify their bigs on the defensive front before they become great and before they can fulfill this promise of winning the Super Bowl."

The roundtable discussion also included ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen and draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Mortensen noted Ryan is desperately missing a Terrell Suggs-type outside linebacker like he had with the Baltimore Ravens and claimed the Jets are "tricking [the defense] up so much it catches up to them at some point."

Kiper suggested the Jets draft UCLA safety Rahim Moore because they need a free safety. Kiper considers Moore the best safety in this year's draft class, with a big drop in quality to the next prospect.

Suggs suggests Brady's titles are fraudulent

January, 13, 2011
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There's such a surplus of trash talk lately that shots are being delivered at players in other games.

Brady
Brady
Suggs
Suggs
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady continues to be a verbal target, but the latest salvos come from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who'll play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

It's cross-game trash talk.

Thursday on Sirius radio show "Gary & Phillips on the Morning," Suggs was asked how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger compares to Brady and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

"Well, if you ask me, he's definitely up there with them," Suggs said in a transcript posted by Yahoo! Sports blog editor Matthew J. Darnell, "because he has the hardware to prove it, and that's all that matters in this league is Super Bowls. And he's won two of them.

"If I'm correct Manning's only won one -- both Mannings that is -- and Phillip Rivers doesn't have any, and Tom Brady has three, I think, a questionable three. This guy [Roethlisberger] won the Super Bowl, I believe, in his second year in the league, and I'm not sure if that's ever been done before. If it has, it's been very rare."

Suggs was asked to elaborate on what he meant by Brady's "questionable" championships.

"Oh, you know, you've got the Tuck Rule incident, and then you've got the videotaping of the other team's practices," Suggs said. "It's just like, OK, what's going on here? You know?"

The Patriots infamously benefited from the Tuck Rule against the Oakland Raiders in the 2001 postseason. A Brady fumble was changed to an incomplete pass in the final two minutes, eventually allowing the Patriots to kick a field goal that forced overtime. Adam Vinatieri kicked another one in sudden death.

Mike Pereira, the NFL's former director of officiating, recently wrote in a Fox Sports column the Tuck Rule needed to be changed. Pereira said those loose balls should be fumbles.

The Tuck Rule helped the Patriots win the first of three Super Bowls, all of which have been clouded by the Spygate controversy. The scandal cost the Patriots their 2008 first-round draft choice and a $250,000 fine. The NFL also fined Patriots head coach Bill Belichick $500,000.

"But, hey, it is what it is," Suggs said. "They won the games no matter how you did it. But, um, it's whatever."

Tom Brady wins fan vote for Pro Bowl

December, 22, 2010
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I doubt Tom Brady will need Terrell Suggs' vote to make the Pro Bowl.

Suggs, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker who has a long-standing personal disdain for Brady, told Yahoo! Sports columnist Michael Silver he didn't list Brady on his ballot for the Pro Bowl.

Suggs instead listed Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick as the three quarterbacks he'd like to represent the AFC.

Very well. It's a meaningless jab.

Brady likely is the NFL's most valuable player this season, having guided the New England Patriots to a league-best 12-2 record. He leads the league with a 109.9 passer rating. His 31 touchdowns are tied with Drew Brees for the league lead. Brady has thrown only four interceptions. He's tied for fourth in completion percentage and ranks sixth in passing yardage.

Appropriately, Brady received more votes than any other player in Pro Bowl fan balloting. He finished with over 1.877 million votes. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was second with about 1.522 million.

Fans count for one-third of the Pro Bowl selection process. Players and coaches must submit their ballots this week to determine the 43-man roster. Teams will be announced at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the NFL Network.

No other AFC East player finished among the top 10 in total fan votes or had the most at his position.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 17, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
Al Bello/Getty ImagesReceiver Santonio Holmes will be facing his former team, the Steelers, for the first time as a New York Jet.
Santonio Holmes can wipe out his droptastic game with a successful homecoming. Holmes committed one of the worst gaffes of the season when he wasted a perfectly thrown Mark Sanchez pass in the left corner of the end zone against the Dolphins last week. Holmes can erase that memory and help the Jets move on from two weeks of turmoil with a big game Sunday against his old team. The Steelers traded the Super Bowl MVP for a fifth-round draft pick because they were tired of dealing with him at a time when Ben Roethlisberger was embarrassing the organization, too. Holmes had been suspended four games for violating the NFL's drug policy. But he still felt betrayed to be dumped. "It's been on my mind for quite some time, and I just never let it play a factor until now," Holmes said. "Now is the time to get a chance to play against these guys. I spent four years there. It's definitely time to show these guys 'Why let me go?' "

Brains are working overtime to find a formula to beat the Patriots. In this week's "Hot Read" feature, ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber explores how the seemingly invincible Patriots can be beaten. The formula looks simple:

  • Harass or confuse Tom Brady into making mistakes.
  • Win the turnover battle.
  • Run the ball effectively to limit Patriots possessions.
  • Score enough points against a middling defense.

"That's the magic formula," ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi told Garber with a laugh. "Easier said than done." ESPN Insider contributor KC Joyner also tried to crack the Patriots' offensive code with some suggestions for the Packers on Sunday. He advises them to get Wes Welker into traffic, put cover corner Tramon Williams on Deion Branch and defend rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez like a receiver.

Don't worry about Cameron Wake not being higher in the Pro Bowl voting. I've noticed some resentment from South Florida regarding Wake's lack of Pro Bowl votes among outside linebackers. He entered the week fifth behind James Harrison, Terrell Suggs, LaMarr Woodley and Shaun Phillips. Fret not, Dolfans. Wake not only will make the roster, but he will generate attention for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Wake leads the league with 14 sacks and should add to his total Sunday against the Bills. There's no denying his impact.

Thanks to Sal Alosi's bad trip, Brian Schottenheimer has avoided the spotlight this week. The controversy Alosi kicked up with his trip of Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll eclipsed the aggravation Jets fans have developed with Schottenheimer. Jets head coach Rex Ryan was subjected to chants to fire Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator after losing back-to-back games without a touchdown. Not only has Sanchez crumbled, but the run game also has disappeared. Schottenheimer owned up Thursday at a news conference. "Overall I'm in charge of the offense," Schottenheimer said. "I take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in my job. I take a lot of pride in our unit, and we're not playing very well. It's my job to put the players in position to make plays. It's my job along with the staff to get them to do the fundamentals right."

If Ryan Fitzpatrick can remain upright Sunday, then the Bills will have a chance. The Bills' offensive line is in rough shape and is about to face one of the NFL's stingiest teams. The Dolphins rank fifth in total defense, seventh in run defense and sixth in pass defense. Fitzpatrick has shown he can make good decisions. Despite the Bills' record and the fact they're often playing from behind, Fitzpatrick has thrown 21 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. But he won't have receiver Lee Evans to loosen up coverages, and will face a pass rush that registered six sacks against of the Jets, who own one of the NFL's better offensive lines. Wake will be matched up against Mansfield Wrotto, a third-year pro who was out of work until October.

Minus Moss, Brady still wears down Ravens

October, 17, 2010
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Tom BradyJim Rogash/Getty ImagesAfter a slow start, New England's Tom Brady threw for 292 yards against the Ravens.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski is a former prizefighter and looked like he'd just climbed into a ring. A black, hooded sweatshirt obscured his face while he meandered aimlessly in a corner of the Gillette Stadium visitors locker room, talking out loud to nobody after playing the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Zbikowski muttered a run-on sentence about the Patriots having two weeks to prepare with a bye week and still barely beat the Ravens at home and needed their best performance to do it and just wait until the playoffs, when the Ravens will roll them again, just like they did last year in the same building and ...

That's what Tom Brady can do to his opponents, leave them talking to themselves after a game they thought they should've won but didn't.

In boxing parlance, the Patriots outslugged the Ravens to eke out a 23-20 majority decision in overtime. The Ravens outfoxed the Patriots for much of the afternoon, but a late flurry from Brady and his menagerie of receivers put them over the top.

Zbikowski has a point about the Patriots benefiting from an extra week of prep for the Ravens, a team many considered the NFL's most complete.

But Brady went into Sunday without his haymaker for the first time in four seasons. Randy Moss, the powerhouse deep threat, was running fly patterns in the Metrodome instead.

Brady conceded in an interview that aired on the NFL Network before the game "It'd be foolish to think" the Patriots would be better without Moss, and early in the game it appeared they would miss him dearly.

The Patriots' offense couldn't find a rhythm. Through three quarters, Brady was 11-of-20 for 136 yards and no touchdowns with an interception for a 55.4 passer rating. The Ravens sacked him twice and drilled him on a couple plays and the Patriots found themselves down by 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis claimed a team should win 80 percent of the time when it plays as well as the Ravens did Sunday.

The problem was, a 20 percent chance for Brady might not be a bad bet.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, Brady strafed the Ravens. The Patriots went no huddle. In the fourth quarter and overtime Brady completed 16-of-24 for 156 yards and one touchdown with one interception on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation time. The Ravens sacked him once.

"We did a good job of frenzying him," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, "but eventually he's going to make some plays."

In the first game since the Patriots reacquired Deion Branch in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, he had nine receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown. Brady spread the ball around to slot receiver Wes Welker (seven catches, 53 yards), running back Danny Woodhead (five catches, 52 yards) and rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez (four catches, 61 yards).

Welker, Woodhead and Julian Edelman are among the interchangeable parts. The Patriots have gathered them like collectibles. Maybe that's because they're the size of action figures. No matter, they get the job done.

"You have those tight ends and those itty, bitty receivers running all over the place," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

Ravens safety Dawan Landry chuckled when asked if the Patriots were any easier to defend without Moss on the field.

"They're still the Patriots," Landry said. "They got rid of [Moss] for a reason. They feel like the guys they have can get the job done. I think they can. They'll be OK."

New England couldn't blow the top off Baltimore's defense without Moss. Brady went deep just twice, a long incompletion to Brandon Tate and the 44-yard jump ball before overtime.

New England's game plan, however, wasn't much different.

[+] EnlargeDeion Branch
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDeion Branch had a huge day in his return to the Patriots.
Receivers worked the sidelines, underneath crosses, screens. They're finely tuned that way, and even though Baltimore could stick an extra defender nearer the line of scrimmage without Moss to worry about (Welker didn't have a single third-down catch for the first time since opening night 2009), versatile receivers running precision routes with a quarterback who can throw darts will keep any offense dangerous.

Moss "is one of the greatest vertical guys in the game, but they're not going to adjust their game plan to one guy," Johnson said. "You'd have to account for him because he's so good, but they're just going to plug another guy in.

"When you got that scheme and Tom Brady, you're going to be good. They're a heady team. ... I'm not going to sit here and give some epic speech about how great he is, but it's easy. They're going to attack where you're vulnerable, and that's what they did."

The Patriots have been doing that since Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe nine years ago. Brady has been the common denominator, not Moss.

Defenses might have less to fear without Moss streaking up the field, leaping over a defender for a grab or making a one-handed stab in the end zone.

But if they don't stop Brady, then there's a good chance they'll be muttering to themselves about what they'll do next time in a rematch.

A peek inside Revis-Jets negotiations

August, 20, 2010
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National Football Post president Andrew Brandt wrapped up his two-part analysis on the Darrelle Revis holdout.

In his first column, Brandt broke down all the particulars that have gotten us to where we are now in this soap opera. He provided background on Revis' current contract, a six-year deal signed as a rookie and on the relationship between New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Revis' agents.

In the last installment, Brandt uses his expertise to provide insight on negotiations. Brandt has experienced his share. He handled contracts and the salary cap for the Green Bay Packers from 1999 to 2008 and has been a contract consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brandt provides insight on what constitutes fair-market value for NFL cornerbacks.

The Revis camp, of course, is pointing to the outrageous three-year, $45.3 million contract the Oakland Raiders gave Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets view that deal, which includes a clause that forces the Raiders to pay him the franchise-tag figure for a quarterback if they want to keep him next season, as a deviation.

Brandt explains Revis' agents, Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, regard Revis among the best players in the NFL at any position and believe he should be valued alongside all elite players, including quarterbacks.

Brandt writes:
Some of the recent three-year values for top non-quarterback deals have been the following: Nnamdi Asomugha ($45.3 million), DeMarcus Ware ($45 million), Terrell Suggs ($43.4 million), Julius Peppers ($42.3 million) and old friend Albert Haynesworth ($41 million).

Revis thinks he is deserving of more than any of these numbers, looking in the range of over $65 million guaranteed over the next four years. Although he and his agents may believe he is worth it, that will not happen, especially for a player three years from free agency.

Brandt predicts there won't be any significant movement until the regular season is about to start and foresees Revis back in uniform by Week 3 with a short-term deal that allows Revis to take a shot at free agency relatively soon while allowing the Asomugha contract to expire and, therefore, clarifying true fair-market value for the Jets.

Taylor's agent delighted with Rex Ryan

April, 13, 2010
4/13/10
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Jason Taylor's agent is certain the longtime Miami Dolphins defender would thrive under New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Gary Wichard was a guest on Sirius NFL Radio on Monday. He didn't drop any significant hints about which way Taylor was leaning. But Wichard sounded thrilled with the idea of Taylor joining Ryan's defense. Ryan coached one of Wichard's other clients, Terrell Suggs, with the Baltimore Ravens.
"Terrell Suggs told me once that every defensive player should be able to play one year with Rex Ryan," Wichard told hosts Pat Kirwan and Howard David. "So that's kind of what I said to Jason, I think, when I finally convinced him to go up there [for a visit].

"He's just got an unbelievable way of motivating guys, and I know sometimes he speaks kind of unfiltered and gets himself in trouble. But he embraces his guys, and his guys embrace him. I watched him all through [his] Baltimore days, and, boy, he's just dynamic when it comes to getting these guys to play."

Taylor spent two days with the Jets last week and could either sign with them or wait until after the draft to see if the Dolphins have any use for him.

Wichard said they expected to talk to the Jets again "a bit later in the week," but he also indicated the Dolphins remain very much in play, saying if Taylor is still unsigned after the draft "that's probably where he'll end up."

Gholston running out of time with Jets

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Jets are giving Vernon Gholston one more season to prove he was worth the sixth overall pick they used on him 2008.

[+] EnlargeVernon Gholston
AP Photo/Michael ConroyVernon Gholston had an impressive combine in 2008, but his time with the Jets may be running out.
Two years after Gholston dazzled scouts here at the NFL scouting combine and soared up the Jets' draft board, head coach Rex Ryan agreed that this would be a make-or-break season for the invisible outside linebacker.

A reporter asked Ryan if 2010 would be a "make or break for [Gholston]. The third year, if he's not doing then, you pretty much have to move on?"

"That's an accurate statement," Ryan said. "Generally, by the third year, you've got to see a guy really making strides. I expect Vernon to really make strides this year."

Then again, Ryan made similar statements from the same podium last year in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ryan, new to the job, declared he would make Gholston his pet project.

Of the 23 Jets to record a tackle in Gholston's rookie season, he had the fewest with six total and one solo. He didn't record a sack.

Under Ryan's command, Gholston improved nominally despite starting three games. Gholston made 14 tackles, nine of them solos. He has yet to record his first NFL sack despite his reputation as a pass-rush specialist at Ohio State.

"That's still a work in progress," Ryan said. "But I will say this: When we're going back and looking at our [film], this young man deserves a better chance than we're giving him. We need to give him more playing time. ... We've got to get him in a rotation, playing more in our nickel packages and things like that."

Last year, Ryan compared Gholston to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. Ryan mentioned another former Raven's name Saturday.

"You're waiting to see him come around," Ryan said. "I have Aubrayo Franklin ... I've had players that take a little time. You know he's got it in him. You've got to be patient.

"He is entering his third year right now, so I think it's more incomplete right now. I can't say that I was right about thinking that he'd make an impact [in 2009] because the impact wasn't there last year. But I think it's a matter of time before we start seeing this young man do some things for us."

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