New York Jets: Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
But now the Jets sit at 5-4 and are in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Bills are 3-7 and their playoff hopes could essentially be gone with a loss to the Jets. After Sunday, the Bills will play only once more at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, giving them greater urgency to avoid a four-game losing streak.
ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini discuss the matchup:
Rodak: Rich, the last time the Bills and Jets met, we discussed some of the similarities between these two teams. Each has a rookie quarterback, an offense that can grind out some yards running the football, and essentially the same defensive scheme. What have the Jets done well that has led to their 5-4 record?
Cimini: The Jets are 3-3 since the first meeting, with signature wins over the Patriots and Saints. They've evolved into more of a Rex Ryan-type team, meaning they rely on defense and a ball-control rushing attack. They're not airing it out as much as they did early in the season, and there are a couple of reasons for that: injuries at wide receiver (mainly Santonio Holmes) and turnovers by Geno Smith.
Smith is experiencing a serious case of rookie growing pains -- sounds familar, right? -- and the coaches decided to dial it back a little bit to ease some pressure on him. He has 16 turnovers -- way too many, obviously. Chris Ivory, a non-factor early in the season, has been carrying the running game. Get this: In the win over New Orleans, Smith threw for a total of one yard in the first and fourth quarters. I have a feeling they may open it up a little this week with Holmes finally healthy and Kellen Winslow back from suspension. They also could try to exploit the Bills' man-to-man coverage, as they did in the first meeting, but this isn't the same Buffalo secondary, is it?
Rodak: It certainly isn't the same secondary that was lit up that afternoon at MetLife Stadium. A few weeks after that meeting, the Bills got cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd back from injuries. Byrd was eased back into action and had his first interception of the season last Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Gilmore, on the other hand, is back to a full workload but having some issues. The Bills' first-round pick last season, Gilmore was picked on by the Chiefs two weeks ago and had his worst game yet against the Steelers. Doug Marrone said Gilmore played very well in the preseason and appeared to be on the rise, so it's a disappointment for Buffalo that he isn't playing better right now. He said Sunday that his wrist, which he fractured in the preseason, still isn't right, but his troubles have extended beyond that. He admitted that he was "lulled to sleep" on Jerricho Cotchery's 5-yard touchdown catch Sunday, and as you know, Mike Pettine's defense requires its top cornerback to play better man-to-man coverage than that.
Rich, there's a lot of talk around here about Kiko Alonso, who could be one of the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year. His toughest competition, though, might come from Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Why is he deserving of that award?
Cimini: I'm not ready to hand the award to Richardson, but he's definitely in the conversation. To me, the most impressive thing about him is that he has been starting from Day 1 and can play multiple spots along the defensive line. That allows him to play every down, which explains his 80 percent play time -- a high total for a rookie defensive lineman.
I criticized the pick (13th overall) because I didn't think Richardson would be able to play in a 3-4 front. As you know from covering Pettine, this defensive system is based on multiple fronts. But Richardson has blended in nicely, and it helps that he's a freakish athlete. For a 295-pound man, he can do some remarkable things. He also has a non-stop motor and makes hustle plays. He has leveled off in recent weeks (he's stuck on 2.5 sacks), but I still think we're looking at a future star.
Speaking of rookies, Mike, what the heck is going on with EJ Manuel? Is it injury rust or are there other things at play?
Rodak: It's more than just rust, Rich. The problems that we saw from Manuel on Sunday in Pittsburgh were there in his first five games, before the knee injury that sidelined him for a month. He appears hesitant to throw downfield, settling for check-down options more than an NFL quarterback should be. And even on some of those shorter throws, his accuracy has been inconsistent. One notable throw against the Steelers, intended for Fred Jackson over the short middle, hit Jackson in the feet.
We're not seeing wild, perilous throws from Manuel or streaks of interceptions and turnovers that will cause coaches to squirm. Manuel has always shown a calm, controlled demeanor on the field. It's just that, sometimes, it's too controlled. He's not trying to do too much. Instead, he's usually trying to do too little, even for a rookie, and that has hurt him.
Rich, are the Jets a serious playoff contender? How do you see them playing down the stretch, and can Geno Smith really take them anywhere in January, if they are still playing?
Cimini: The Jets are a contender, for sure. In the watered-down AFC, why not? They're crazy inconsistent -- they haven't won two in a row -- but that might be good enough to snag the second wild-card spot. I have them finishing 8-8 because, frankly, I think their lack of experience will bite them in the long run. By that, I mean Smith, mostly. He's hard to figure, Mike. There's no question he has the physical tools, but his decision-making is suspect. Quarterbacks coach David Lee said Smith tends to stray from the game plan, especially late in games. He's the opposite of Manuel; Geno tries to do too much.
The Jets are a feel-good story, and I think Rex Ryan is on his way to a contract extension, but there are too many holes to take them seriously in January. I think Sunday's game will be telling. There's every reason to believe they'll beat the Bills, a team they've owned in recent years, but something tells me they'll have one of those "Same Old Jets" days.
What kind of vibe do you get from Marrone? Is he the long-term answer?
Rodak: I still think he is, Rich. Despite their bad loss to the Steelers last weekend, the Bills still appear to be on the upswing. On Wednesday, during a radio interview, CEO Russ Brandon said communication "has never been better" at One Bills Drive, and from an outside perspective, there looks to be good chemistry between Brandon, Marrone, and general maager Doug Whaley.
Ultimately, though, the fate of the head coach is often tied to his quarterback, and Marrone knows Manuel needs to play a lot better. Marrone expressed a high level of confidence in Manuel on Monday, part of an impassioned speech where he told reporters he wasn't asking for patience or time in the rebuilding process. That approach could put some stress on the organization, but I think it's the right message at the right time.
It's the second divisional tilt in three games for the Bills, who were edged in their opener by the New England Patriots. If the Bills can improve to 2-1, they'll keep pace in the AFC East with the Dolphins and Patriots, who enter the weekend 2-0. If they drop to 1-2, then they will sit at the bottom of the division before heading home to meet the Baltimore Ravens.
This game features a matchup of the NFL's top two rookie quarterbacks this season -- EJ Manuel of the Bills and Geno Smith of the Jets -- as well as a reunion of two old friends. Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine coached 11 seasons under Jets coach Rex Ryan, and the two defensive-minded coaches will try to scheme against each other's offense Sunday.
Here's what to watch for:
1. Spiller's impact: Bills running back C.J. Spiller had 325 yards from scrimmage in two games against the Jets last season. After a slow start in the opener, Spiller came on strong last week against the Panthers, breaking open a pair of big runs while eclipsing the 100-yard mark rushing. The Jets boast the NFL's third-best rushing defense heading into Week 3, allowing an average of 59.5 yards through two games. The Bills have the NFL's fourth-most effective rushing offense. Something will have to give on Sunday, which could help decide the game's outcome.
2. How do rookies fare? On the surface, it may seem that Manuel and Smith will be in for a long day, playing against two defenses that have ranked in the top half of the NFL in points allowed through two games. But both quarterbacks have the advantage of seeing the general framework of the other team's defense in practice each week; Pettine and Ryan run essentially the same system. Practice and games are two different animals, so it will be worth monitoring how each quarterback responds to what could be blitz-heavy packages in game action, but you almost have to wonder if the Ryan-Pettine effect is overplayed. Both teams figure to be run-first on offense, but maybe this game will feature more passing than first anticipated.
3. Mario vs. Jets O-line: Jets outside linebacker Antwan Barnes said Wednesday that he expects his offensive line to hold up against Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who set personal and team records with 4.5 sacks last week. Barnes, of course, won't be out there having to block Williams: that duty will fall to Austin Howard, who handled Williams well last season. Williams played a big part in disrupting Cam Newton last Sunday, and if he can get to Geno Smith, you'll have to wonder if it leads to some chippiness after plays between the Bills and the Jets, who had a fracas with the Patriots late in their Week 2 game.
The quarterback situation in the AFC East can be described this way: Tom Brady and the young guns. Two of the young guns will face each other Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills -- both 1-1 -- will be battling to stay out of last place in the division.
The Bills had their choice of any quarterback in the draft, and they selected EJ Manuel with the 16th pick. The Jets, who had the ninth and 13th picks, rated Geno Smith over Manuel but waited until the 39th pick before taking him. So far, Manuel is off to a better start than Smith, at least from a statistical standpoint, but this rivalry could last years. Both teams are hoping for that, anyway.
This should be a competitive game, as both teams appear to be at similar stages of development. The Bills are rebuilding with a new coach, former Jets assistant Doug Marrone, and the Jets are rebuilding with the same old coach, Rex Ryan. They have other things in common: They both suffered close losses to the New England Patriots and they both beat a team from the NFC South -- the Bills the Carolina Panthers, the Jets the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak discuss the matchup:
Cimini: Mike, New York is a quarterback-obsessed town, so I think there will be a lot of interest in Smith versus Manuel. If Smith becomes a bust and Manuel a star, the Jets will be second-guessed for passing on Manuel. Hey, that's the way it goes. The old-timers are still ticked off the Jets picked Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino. Smith has played well in stretches, but the early trend is that he'll hit a funk. In Week 1, it was the second quarter. In Week 2, it was the fourth quarter -- three interceptions. What about Manuel? I know he missed some time in the preseason. What do you like (and not like) about his game?
Rodak: Rich, I've been impressed with Manuel's demeanor more than anything. He has the walk and talk of a franchise quarterback, and that sense has only grown for me since early in the preseason. The loss of Kevin Kolb was unfortunate for him and the Bills, but I think it was the best thing to happen to Manuel. The pressure is off and the job is his, and that's one of the reasons why I said in our ESPN.com preseason predictions that he will be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Here's the caveat for me, though: He needs to keep his bad mistakes in check. I think the most encouraging thing about his performance in the preseason and the regular-season opener was that he didn't commit costly turnovers. But Sunday, he was strip-sacked and threw a bad interception and was lucky to have his defense come up big both times and keep the game close. That might not happen against better opponents or on the road. Other than the quarterbacks, the biggest storyline coming out of this game is the return of Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to MetLife Stadium to face his old team. What's the feeling like between Ryan and his former assistant, and what sort of chess match can you see developing between these defensive minds?
Cimini: The Ryan-Pettine relationship is interesting. Basically, Ryan gave him his big break in the business, nurtured him for a decade, handed him the defense last season, and suddenly it was Splitsville. It was a curious departure, considering Pettine made a lateral move to the Bills. Deep down, I think they like and respect each other, but I think they both realized the relationship had run its course. As for the chess match, it will be fascinating. Let's put it this way: I wouldn't want to be a rookie quarterback, facing one of these guys. Ryan, the Jets' de facto coordinator, can confuse inexperienced quarterbacks with pressure and simulated pressure. Heck, he confused Brady last week. That Manuel faced a Ryan-like scheme all spring and summer will undoubtedly help him. Of course, the same could be said for Smith. I know this much: Ryan and Pettine are highly competitive, and there's more personal pride on the line than either one will admit. Ryan has a different challenge in that he'll have to face an up-tempo offense. Tell me more about the Bills' hurry-up.
Rodak: It's been evident that the Bills want to move fast, but I think they still want to speed things up some more. The problem in the first game was not converting third downs. Regardless of how fast they got plays off on first and second downs, they were 4-for-13 on third down, which often took the up-tempo offense off the field quickly. They improved to 6-for-14 on third down in Week 2, but more importantly jumped from 15 first downs to 24 first downs, evidence of a better showing on early downs. Marrone also said Monday that there were problems with the coach-to-quarterback communications system, another factor in the offense not reaching its desired efficiency. So while we've seen glimpses of the pace the Bills want to run, it hasn't always been there.
It’s also a reunion of Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine.
Pettine served as Ryan’s defensive coordinator in his first four seasons with the Jets, prior to taking the same job under new Bills head coach Doug Marrone this offseason. Ryan and Pettine also worked together with the Baltimore Ravens for seven years prior to that.
“It is gonna be interesting. I’ve never done it before,” Ryan said Monday, of coaching against Pettine. “He’s kind of a brother, but I’ve faced my twin brother [Rob] many times. So I think I’m ready for it.”
Pettine obviously knows Ryan’s defensive schemes as well as anybody, and will undoubtedly spill everything he knows to his new team this week. But Ryan did not sound too concerned about that Monday.
“There’s no question you’re gonna do that,” Ryan said. “But again, when that ball’s snapped, a lot of things happen. There could be something new, there could be something old, something old that looks new -- a lot of that type of stuff. If it was that easy -- I just don’t think it’s that easy.
“There’s a little bit of that gamesmanship involved,” Ryan added, “but it’s just gonna come down to execution.”
Both teams are 1-1, a game behind the 2-0 New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. The Bills are coming off a thrilling win over the Carolina Panthers, while the Jets are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Pats. But through two weeks, the Jets’ defense has far outplayed their Bills counterparts.
The Jets are currently ranked second in the NFL, giving up just 241 yards per game. The Bills, on the other hand, are tied for 18th overall (369.5 ypg), and third to last in rushing yards allowed (141.5 ypg).
1. Tim-sanity: Since the season ended, we've come to learn that the relationship between Tony Sparano and Tim Tebow was strained, and that Sparano's lack of faith in Tebow was a big reason why he didn't play much, according to sources. This raises a larger issue: Where was Rex Ryan in this? Ryan gave autonomy to Sparano, just as he did with Brian Schottenheimer, but he's the head coach and he should decide playing time. Ryan's expertise is defense -- we get it -- but he'll never be a complete head coach until he takes control of the entire team.
Former special-teams coach Mike Westhoff discussed this topic the other day on ESPN New York 98.7 FM, offering a candid (what else?) evaluation of Ryan in this area. "Maybe he has to be more forceful in getting his philosophy across," Westhoff said. "If he doesn't feel someone is doing it a particular way, he'd better step in there and say, 'This is what we have to do.' You can't keep going through coordinators."
It's an excellent point. Ryan has tried in recent years to become more involved in the offense, but he has to do more than show his face in meetings. He needs to take charge and do it his way; time is running out.
2. The shadow of Revis: You're a disgruntled Jets fan, preparing to watch the 44th consecutive Super Bowl that doesn't include your favorite team. That's no fun, so you're wondering how Ravens-49ers can impact the Jets. Here's how: If the 49ers lose the game and their secondary gets torched by Joe Flacco, it will create a groundswell of sentiment for them to trade for CB Darrelle Revis. He'd be the proverbial missing piece.
The 49ers are an aggressive team with the ammunition to pull off that kind of trade. They have a bargaining chip in backup QB Alex Smith, who, despite what owner Jed York said the other way, is done in San Francisco. They will try to trade him before April, when his $7.5 million salary becomes guaranteed. If they can't, they'll release him. The Jets surely would consider dealing Revis for Smith and a first-round pick (31st or 32nd). Unless they're willing to go heavy on QB salaries in 2013 -- remember, they're into Mark Sanchez for $8.25 million -- the Jets probably have to restructure Smith's contract. He has two years left on his deal. Keep this in mind if Flacco gets hot.
2a. Core of the Revis issue: Unless new GM John Idzik has a different philosophy than the previous administration, the Jets won't be willing to satisfy Revis' demand to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Their stance, shared by many teams, is that cornerbacks aren't worth as much as pass rushers. They'll make him the highest-paid corner (he's already close to it at $11.5 million per year), but it's hard to imagine them going into the $16 million-a-year neighborhood -- unless Idzik revamps the organization's value system.
3. Caponomics: Much has been said and written about the Jets' salary-cap plight. But are the problems really that bad? This year will be a struggle, no doubt, but they have only $5 million in guaranteed money committed to the 2014 cap, according to a source. That's when the Sanchez and Santonio Holmes guarantees will be off the books.
4. Mike-crophone Tannenbaum: Former GM Mike Tannenbaum spent the week in New Orleans, doing interview after interview on radio row. Clearly, he's angling for a job in the media. He gave scripted answers to all the tough questions, but there was a moment of candor in an interview with a Boston radio station. The hosts grilled about him the highly criticized Sanchez contract extension. "That's one of the reasons why I'm sitting here today," Tannenbaum cracked.
4a. Brad on the brain: I'm tired of hearing Tannenbaum drop Brad Smith's name every time he's asked about Tebow. The reason for the trade, he explains, is they wanted a replacement for Smith in the Wildcat. Wait a minute, when did Brad Smith become Emmitt Smith? In his final season with the Jets (2010), Smith carried the ball a grand total of 38 times. So what Tannenbaum is saying is, he was willing to live with the Tebow circus just to replace 38 carries. That's not what you call sound risk-reward management.
4b. Mad Mike: Tannenbaum also spent a lot of time defending the cap situation. In three weeks, he said, the entire world will see his space-clearing plan unfold. Plan? The Jets will clear $30 million by releasing Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Eric Smith and Jason Smith. That would put them about $10 million under the cap, but then what? With less than 40 veterans under contract, they'd still be in a tight situation.
5. LT speaks (again): I know people are tired of hearing LaDainian Tomlinson take shots at his former team -- he's become the new Joe Namath -- but the man doesn't sugar-coat his opinions. On ESPN New York 98.7 FM, he was asked if Sanchez can snap out of his funk and become a winning QB again. Tomlinson: "Can he do it? Man, I don't think so."
6. Deer, Ray -- go away: Ravens LB Ray Lewis is an iconic player, but his act is wearing thin. Has there ever been such a legendary team leader so absorbed with himself? He's such a contradiction. Lewis has the rare ability to galvanize a team, yet he morphs into the ultimate "me" guy with his pregame "Squirrel" dance. He seemed to relish the attention from AntlerGate -- his reported use of a deer-antler spray that naturally produces a banned substance connected to HGH. Lewis denied the report. Forget Pinnochio; if Lewis' nose turns red and it starts glowing, we'll know if he's lying about the deer-antler stuff.
7. Hatched from the Parcells nest: The man behind the 49ers' success is GM Trent Baalke, who began his career as a Jets scout. He was about to give up on his football dream when he received a call from former Jets personnel man Dick Haley, who interviewed him and offered him a job. Baalke worked three years with the Jets (1998-2000), catching the eye of then-coach Bill Parcells, who was selected Saturday night to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One thing about Parcells: He surrounded himself with talented people. Three members of scouting/personnel went on to become GMs and six assistant coaches became head coaches in the NFL and/or college.
8. Jet setters: Only eight players in Super Bowl XLVII have previous Super Bowl experience, and two of them are former Jets -- Ravens S James Ihedigbo and 49ers C Jonathan Goodwin (Saints).
9. Super Bowl on TV: Interesting nugget from "Sports on Television," a wonderfully informative book written by former ESPN producer and current Syracuse professor Dennis Deninger: Only 36 percent of American homes watched Jets-Colts in Super Bowl III -- the lowest-rated Super Bowl in history. Two days before the game, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, concerned the Super Bowl would lose its appeal because of the perceived disparity between the AFL and NFL, announced the league was considering a new postseason structure that would allow two NFL teams to meet in the Super Bowl. It was yet another insult directed toward the Jets and the AFL. Everything changed, of course, after Joe Namath got through with the Colts.
10. Enjoying the holiday: For the first time in 24 years, I'm not covering the Super Bowl. I intend to find out why America is so fascinated with Super Bowl Sunday. Pass the chicken wings, please.
Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Ryan's right-hand man for four seasons, was hired by the Bills for the same position, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Wednesday morning.
In Tuesday's news conference, Ryan acknowledged the obvious, that Pettine was moving on, but he didn't want him to land in Buffalo.
"I'm hoping he doesn't take that job," Ryan said, half-jokingly. "I'm hoping he goes somewhere else. We've had conversations, and right now Mike thinks it's best that he goes to a different team as a defensive coordinator, and I wish him all the best -- unless he goes to Buffalo."
Four quick thoughts on this move:
1. Let's be clear: Ryan is the mastermind of the Jets' defense, but this move isn't a good thing because his defensive playbook will now be in the hands of a division rival. Of course, it works both ways -- the Jets will have a great feel for the Bills' scheme -- but I think the Bills get the edge in that trade-off. Until the season finale, the Jets had been ripping through the Bills' defense for several years.
2. You could see a few Jets players surfacing in Buffalo. DT Mike DeVito, S Yeremiah Bell and S LaRon Landry will be unrestricted free agents. LBs Bart Scott and Calvin Pace and S Eric Smith will be salary-cap casualties, meaning they, too, will be available.
3. This is a great hire by new Bills coach Doug Marrone, who likes to play an attacking, blitz-heavy defense. He'll get that style from Pettine, and he stole a small piece of Ryan's brain in the process.
4. The Jets will make a seamless transition, promoting secondary coach Dennis Thurman to coordinator.
What it means: Prepare for a shake-up. Rex Ryan (34-30 in four seasons) appears safe, but owner Woody Johnson will make changes. Johnson's conspicuous absence at the game spoke volumes; he rarely misses a game. The biggest casualty could be GM Mike Tannenbaum, who has come under fire for putting together a suspect roster. The offense was brutal; the Jets were held under 10 points for the fifth time. They finished in a last-place tie with the Bills (6-10).
Same Ol' Sanchez: Because Greg McElroy's late-week head injury, QB Mark Sanchez received an unexpected start. It went as expected -- two turnovers. What did you think, he'd have a 300-yard passing day? The Jets are incapable of that. Sanchez torched the Bills in the season opener, but that was when the Jets actually had, you know, a receiving corps. Sanchez made a couple of decent throws, but he threw a killer interception -- returned 20 yards for a TD by LB Bryan Scott. He also lost a fumble on a strip sack.
This may have been Sanchez's last game as a Jet. His contract makes his return likely ($8.25 million guaranteed in 2013), but they could have a new person in charge of the football operation, so anything is possible. Sanchez finished with 26 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, wrecking any chance of team success. His turnover total over the past two seasons: 52.
Tebow's farewell: Tebow's strange and overhyped season ended in predictable fashion -- he was a nonfactor. As usual. With McElroy inactive, Tebow was the No. 2 quarterback, but he played only one offensive snap -- a handoff to Joe McKnight out of the Wildcat. Jeremy Kerley also was used on one Wildcat play. Tebow finished the season with only 32 rushes and eight pass attempts -- an unmitigated disaster. We all knew it had the potential to blow up on the Jets, but no one could've predicted it would turn out like this.
Even the Buffalo fans were disappointed. Evidently bored by the action on the field, the fans broke into a few "Te-bow!" chants.
See ya, Tony: Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano coached his last game for the Jets; he will be fired in the coming days, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Like the Tebow trade, this was another bad, one-and-done decision. Sunday's season finale was a microcosm of the Sparano experience: The Jets ran the ball well against a bad rush defense -- they opened with nine straight rushes -- but failed to convert decent drives into touchdowns. The offense was so inept that a field goal was considered a victory. The Jets went 0-for-3 in the red zone, undermined by bad play calling, bad quarterback play and bad everything.
A grand for Greene: Shonn Greene reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight year. It'll look good on Greene's resume -- he's a free agent -- but let's be honest: It was a quiet 1,000.
Defense shows up: Hardest job in the NFL? Playing defense for the Jets. You get no support from the offense and you have to play a perfect game for your team to win. The defense played with heart, but it made a couple of costly mistakes, including a 66-yard touchdown reception by C.J. Spiller. This was like the Jets' loss to the Titans: They lost to a bad team, but the bad team had a game-changing playmaker. For the Titans, it was Chris Johnson. The Jets need a guy like that.
What's ahead: The games are done, now comes the bloodshed.
The deck wasn’t stacked in Sanchez’s favor; Dustin Keller and Chaz Schilens didn’t travel to Buffalo.
The Jets were able to get a field goal on the first possession of the game, but it was the second possession that caused problems. Sanchez, who was 1-for-4 passing for three yards at that point, attempted to throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley only to have it picked off by Bills linebacker Bryan Scott and returned for a touchdown.
The pick-six gave the Bills a 7-3 lead. It was Sanchez’s 18th interception and 25th turnover of the season. At the half he was 8-for-15 for 85 yards.
SPILLED MILK: C.J. Spiller took advantage of Jets safety LaRon Landry getting held up in traffic and took a short pass the distance for a 66-yard touchdown and 14-9 lead with 3:21 to go in the first half. Spiller had 15 rushing yards on four carries.
GREENE DAY: Shonn Greene has gained over 1,000 yards in his second straight season for the Jets. With 23-yards rushing in the first drive alone, Greene was used extensively in the first half. At the half he had 79 yards on 17 carries. Fellow running back Bilal Powell caught a 40-yard pass on a field goal drive in the second quarter. The Bills have a weak rushing defense so the tactic made sense.
FAIR CATCH RECORD: Punt returner Jeremy Kerley had his 34th fair catch of the season with his first fair catch of the game. Kerley has a new NFL record in the category. Last week special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff took a shot at the defense when the record was brought up, saying the Jets defense had slacked enough to give the punt return unit poor field position, hence record fair catches.
TEBOW TIME: Backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who was subbed out of the wildcat in practice again this week in favor of Kerley, was only on the field for one play. It was first and goal at the 9 yard line with a chance for the Jets to score. Tebow came in, handed the ball off to Joe McKnight for two yards and then jogged back to the sideline. The Jets settled for a field goal. Not the kind of impactful “Wildcat” plays fans envisioned when the team held secret training camp practices in the summer.
FIELD DAY: Nick Folk made all three attempted field goals in the first half, even though the second was tipped before it completed the trip through the goal post. It still counted.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Woody Johnson didn’t make the trip to Buffalo with the team, as he did when the 2008 season ended in Miami. That year, he offered a blistering post-game speech and then fired Eric Mangini. Reports on Sunday have already said offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and general manager Mike Tannenbaum are about to lose their jobs. But without Johnson on site, word of those firings and the falling dominoes may take longer to come out.
1. Fall guy: We know how Woody Johnson operates. If his team has a bad year, someone's head has to roll. This time, it'll probably be GM Mike Tannenbaum. He has made some poor decisions (the Tim Tebow trade, to name one), but anyone who thinks he made these moves without seeking input from Rex Ryan is mistaken. Tannenbaum doesn't have a scouting background, so he leans heavily on Ryan. At times, people in the draft room -- the talent evaluators -- feel like their voices aren't heard, according to sources. Do you think it's a coincidence the past three No. 1 picks were defensive players? Ryan can be very persuasive. In the end, Tannenbaum has the final say, so the decisions are on him, but he had plenty of help with them.
2. Tony $parano: A lot has been made of Sparano's contract situation, and how it might be hard to buy him out. Remember this: He received a contract extension before his final season with the Dolphins, who signed him through 2013. That significantly reduces the Jets' financial obligation, because the Dolphins have to pay him for another year.
3. Last licks: The irascible Mike Westhoff ruffled some feathers Thursday at One Jets Drive. In what amounted to his farewell news conference, the retiring special-teams coordinator started off by mocking OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo's post-bye week rant at the media. He also tweaked the defense.
The latter came in response to a question about why PR Jeremy Kerley has so many fair catches. He has 33, tied with Brian Mitchell (Eagles, 2000) for the NFL record. Westhoff, defending his special teams, blamed the defense, in part, for yielding field position, forcing Kerley to make fair catches around the 10-yard line. One insider told me Westhoff's nickname in the building is "Teflon Don." Say this for Westhoff: He ticked off a lot of people in 30 years, but the man was damn good at what he did.
4. Special K: Dustin Keller is a talented, pass-catching tight end in the prime of his career, but the notion that the Jets will use the franchise tag on him is fairly ridiculous. The franchise number for tight ends is expected to be about $5.9 million, and there's no way they will devote that much cap space. If Keller signs elsewhere, it'll leave no players from the ill-fated 2008 draft. The first pick that year? Vernon Gholston. Sorry to bring up a sore subject. Speaking of Keller, he's tied for second on the team in receptions even though he has missed seven games. No explanation needed there.
5. For whom the Bell tolls: S Yeremiah Bell was dependable on and off the field. Remarkably, Bell has missed only one defensive snap in 15 games; he sat out a play in the Week 5 loss to the Texans. That's quite an accomplishment, considering the physical toll of his position. Bell also was voted by the media as the recipient of the annual "Good Guy" award -- a.k.a. the Gerald Eskenazi Award, named after the former longtime beat writer from The New York Times. Bell never turned down an interview and always provided insight. A class act.
6. Still excited, Tim?: Tim Tebow used the word "excited" 44 times in his first news conference, way back in March. That's pretty much one "excited" for every time he has touched the ball -- 32 rushes and eight pass attempts. Who'da thunk it?
7. Head games: The Greg McElroy head injury is a sobering reminder that players will do anything to play, even if it means hiding concussion-like symptoms. Who can blame McElroy for trying to give it a go? Who knows if he'll ever get a chance to start an NFL game? The league is trying to address the concussion problem, but it's hard to protect the players from themselves.
8. Heady stuff: Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck leads the NFL with seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter/OT. That's tied for the most in a season since the 1970 merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's pretty amazing.
9. Bad money: Ryan Fitzpatrick's run at the Bills' QB started to go south as soon as he signed a $60 million contract last season. Since then, his record is 7-18, with 35 TDs and 33 INTs. Before the new deal, he was 12-15, with 43 TDs and 29 INTs. Sunday will likely be his final game as a Bill.
10. On the money: I'm not very proficient when it comes to picking winners, but my record for the Jets games -- sans the point spread -- is 13-2. This tells me one thing: The Jets are a very predictable team. By the way, they will lose Sunday.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets opened the season with a 48-28 win over the Bills. Four months and a lot of bad football later, they close against the Bills.
There's no tangible motivation for the Jets (6-9), who were eliminated from playoff contention two weeks ago and blew their chance at .500 last week. Well, maybe there's one thing: They don't want to finish in the AFC East basement. The Bills are 5-11, having lost three straight. This is their fourth straight season of at least 10 losses.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here's what to watch for:
1. Sanchize is back: Mark Sanchez kept saying he'd get another starting shot; he just never thought it would happen this quickly. He got his old job back, much to Tim Tebow's chagrin, when Greg McElroy reported concussion symptoms Thursday.
We last saw Sanchez two weeks ago in Tennessee, where he committed five turnovers and got benched. A chance for redemption? Hold everything. Never base evaluations on meaningless games in December. Even if Sanchez lights up the Bills, which he did in the opener, it doesn't mean the QB problem is solved.
2. Tim's farewell: This will mark Tebow's final game in a Jets uniform. It's hard to get emotional because, well, he hasn't done much other than look good on the sideline. It'll be interesting to see if Rex Ryan lets Tebow out of the dog house, where he ended up last week after telling the coach he didn't want to be part of the Wildcat package. Does Ryan hold a grudge? Don't be surprised if Tebow doesn't get any action. WR Jeremy Kerley got practice reps in the Wildcat, so it looks like he'll be used in that role. Memo to Tebow: Dress warmly; it gets cold in Western New York when you're idle for three hours in the elements.
3. A Greene grand: Shonn Greene needs only 11 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight year. Something is wrong if it takes him more than two or three carries. Despite some talent on their defensive line, the Bills are allowing a league-high 3.7 yards per rush before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That means they're either getting blown off the ball or fooled -- or both. It's probably both.
Greene, an unrestricted free agent, could be playing his final game as a Jet. Other starters in that category are RG Brandon Moore, LG Matt Slauson, DT Mike DeVito, LB Bart Scott, LB Calvin Pace, S LaRon Landry and S Yeremiah Bell.
4. Super Mario's revenge: Bills DE Mario Williams, the $100 million free agent, was embarrassed in the season opener. He was shut out by neophyte RT Austin Howard, a former practice-squad player whose annual salary probably equals Williams' Christmas expenses. Afterward, Williams whined to reporters, claiming Howard kept grabbing his facemask. You have to figure Williams, up to 10.5 sacks after a horrible start, will be out for some payback. This is a man-up game for the Jets' offensive line, which was humiliated in last week's 11-sack debacle.
5. The C.J. jinx: Two weeks ago, the Jets were burned by Titans RB Chris Johnson, who scored on a 94-yard run. Now they get to face another C.J. -- C.J. Spiller, who has a chance to make history. He can set the NFL record for most yards per carry, based on a minimum of 150 attempts. He's averaging 6.48 yards per rush, a fraction ahead of some guy name Jim Brown, who had 6.40 in 1963.
The Jets are familiar with Spiller's home-run ability. In the opener, he ran for 169 yards on 14 carries -- a 12.0 average. The Jets started him on his way, and now he'll look to finish it off against them.
1. Peeking at QB Class of '13: This is a public service for those who don't believe Mark Sanchez is the answer. If the Jets come to the same conclusion, they will have a hard time finding the solution in the draft. Todd McShay, Mel Kiper and Scouts Inc. are in agreement that only two prospects are worthy of the first round -- Geno Smith (West Virginia) and Matt Barkley (USC). There are always late risers, but at this point, there are no Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III-type quarterbacks. The Jets need to make it work with Sanchez, which might explain why Rex Ryan is so hesitant to pull him.
2. Wishful thinking: This is what Tony Sparano, in his first interview after the Tim Tebow trade, said about the potential of the Wildcat: "If we decide to go down that road, the element of being able to throw the football out of that brings a complete different dimension into the picture here." So far, Tebow has attempted only two passes on offense. So much for that plan.
Now Ryan says he will look for ways to get Tebow more involved. Why should anybody believe him? The Jets have been giving lip service from the moment they announced the trade. Unless Tebow is named the starting QB, which could happen soon, it's hard to envision him suddenly becoming a factor on offense. It's not like he's been tearing it up when he runs the ball.
3. Tim the decoy: In last week's loss to the Dolphins, Tebow lined up four times as a receiver and didn't see a single pass thrown in his direction. What's the point? Ryan explained that the idea was to give them a personnel advantage. On one play, he said, it allowed them to isolate TE Dustin Keller on a linebacker. Actually, he's right. Tim the Decoy actually helped Sanchez, who was 4-for-4 for 43 yards on those four plays. That's what you would call a subtle contribution, too subtle to satisfy Tebow's competitiveness.
4. Tough stretch: In case anyone is wondering, the Jets have dropped eight of their last 11 games, with an average margin of defeat of 10 points. This season, the margin is 16.2 points, the fourth-highest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
5. Pricey hot sauce: Most players don't even blink when they're fined by the league for an illegal hit. Not so for undrafted rookie LB Marcus Dowtin, who lost nearly 70 percent of his salary last week. He was fined $15,750 for hitting Dolphins QB Matt Moore in the head. His weekly game check, based on his minimum salary of $390,000, is $22,941. After taxes, Dowtin probably lost money for the week. Lucky for him, he can appeal, claiming the fine was too excessive.
6. An extraordinary Joe: Speaking of the Dolphins, rookie coach Joe Philbin has done a terrific job. The Dolphins have chased some big-name coaches in recent years, but they found a keeper in the previously anonymous Philbin. The Dolphins kind of remind me of the '09 Jets -- rookie coach, rookie quarterback, strong defense and a team greater than the sum of its parts.
7. Romeo, where art thou?: This is a mind-blowing factoid, courtesy of Elias: The Chiefs are the first team to not hold a lead during a game in their first seven games of a season since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons, who folded at the end of that season. The Chiefs won't fold, but it'll be the end for coach Romeo Crennel. The new coach could have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
8. Here come the losers: What two things do the Rams, Cards and Jaguars have in common? They've all lost at least three in a row (four, in the case if the Cards and Jaguars) and they all face the Jets.
9. Not-so-Super Mario: You think the Bills are regretting the $100 million contract for DE Mario Williams? He hasn't helped their defense at all. In fact, the Bills have allowed at least 175 rushing yards in four straight games. The '81 Patriots were the last team to allow five straight, per ESPN Stats and Information. Williams has recorded a sack once every 64.6 dropbacks. His number with the Texans was 27.2. Can you say "buyer's remorse"?
10. Small-school sensation: I've seen the next Danny Woodhead. His name is Miguel Maysonet, a senior running back from Stony Brook, N.Y. He ran for 149 yards and three TDs Saturday night in a rout of VMI, continuing his domination at the FCS level -- 1,600-plus yards and an 8-yard per carry average. He has exceptional quickness and vision, deceptive strength and good-enough outside speed. He's attracting pro scouts to every game and there's talk of him getting drafted in the fourth or fifth round. Remember this name next spring.
1. Practice makes perfect: This isn't what you'd call reinventing X's and O's, but OC Tony Sparano has instituted a new approach to practice that already has paid off. Instead of practicing every play in the game plan only once, maybe twice during the course of a week, a la Brian Schottenheimer and most coordinators, he will identify certain plays he expects to call in the game and will rep them three or four times. Mind you, every rep is important because practice time is limited.
QB Mark Sanchez loves it because he gets a "live look" at how the opponent might defend a particular play -- sometimes multiple looks on the same play. "He wants us to take a picture in our mind of that specific look, store it and, when it comes up in the game, you have to be able to recall it," Sanchez told me.
He attributed the success of two third-down plays in last week's game to the extra reps in practice. Sparano is so meticulous, he said, that they ran a "just-in-case" rep for one of those plays in a walk-through. Sure enough, the play unfolded in the game exactly the way he saw it on the practice field. Said Sanchez: "I knew exactly where to go with the ball."
Clearly, the Sparano method has increased Sanchez's comfort level with the offense. When the QB is comfortable, everybody is comfortable.
2. Attacking the perimeter: One of the things that jumped out about Sanchez's performance last week was his success on passes outside the numbers. He completed 10 of 15 for three TDs (a career high on such throws), averaging 11.1 yards-per-attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2011, his completion percentage was only 49.8 and his YPA was just 5.5 on throws outside the numbers. It helps that he has more speed on the perimeter, with rookie Stephen Hill replacing Plaxico Burress.
3. Best vs. best: In training camp, Rex Ryan called himself "the best defensive coach in the league." If he had made that comment in Pittsburgh, it would've sparked a riot. Steelers DC Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Famer, is widely regarded as the best. It sets up a great matchup Sunday in Pittsburgh. I asked Ryan if this is a personal challenge. He downplayed that angle, but he didn't back down from his claim.
"I think, statistically, it's proven, and I do feel that way," he told me. "Maybe it's in my blood. You put my dad right there, obviously, as the best of all time. I came from pretty good stock. Dick LeBeau, whether he knows it or not, I look at him as kind of a mentor. I've studied what he does and I have the upmost respect for him." When Ryan coached at Morehead State in the early 1990s, he visited LeBeau (a Bengals assistant) to pick his brain.
4. Better to be lucky ...: It looks like the Jets made a smart move by signing S LaRon Landry, but it easily could've turned out differently. As it often does in the unpredictable world of free agency, timing played a huge role. Their safety wish list consisted of Landry, Reggie Nelson (Bengals) and Brandon Meriweather (Bears). Meriweather signed quickly with the Redskins. There was an immediate market for Nelson because the Bengals wanted him back, so the Jets had to act quickly. They got deep into negotiations before losing him. At that point, they ratcheted up talks with Landry, signing him to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. In retrospect, the Jets have to be happy they lost the recruiting battle with the Bengals.
5. Money ball: If the Jets implode Sunday without Darrelle Revis (concussion) in the secondary, you can bet they'll hear a lot about it in the offseason at the bargaining table. The cornerback's agents will use it as leverage, trying to show how much he means to the team.
6. Patriot games: Just what the Jets didn't need -- another weapon in Tom Brady's arsenal. As if Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker were enough of a headache, they also have to deal with second-year RB Stevan Ridley. In the opener, he rushed for 125 yards, including six carries of 10-plus yards, per ESPN Stats. The last Patriot to do that was Corey Dillon in 2004.
7. A Ryan shame: One of the great mysteries of the NFL is Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Since signing a seven-year, $62 million contract in the middle of last season, he has thrown a league-high 20 interceptions. Are the Bills having second thoughts? Please. They're already on third thoughts.
8. Perspective, please: In his first career start, he passed for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Are we talking about Robert Griffin III? Nope, it's Browning Nagle, who did it for the Jets in 1992. RG III posted similar numbers last Sunday. I'm not saying he'll be a flop like Nagle, just be careful not to anoint a player after one game.
9. Ball hogs: The 49ers have gone six straight regular-season games without committing a turnover, the second-longest streak in NFL history. You know what I have to say about that? It's meaningless. They didn't hold on to the ball when it mattered most -- Kyle Williams in the NFC Championship Game.
10. Mirror images: Andrew Luck's NFL debut for the Colts -- 23 completions, 309 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions. Peyton Manning's debut for the Colts in 1998 -- 21 completions, 302 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions. Both lost. Weird, huh?