NFL Nation: AFC East

Miami Dolphins' projected roster

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Examining the Miami Dolphins' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

It remains to be seen if Miami keeps three quarterbacks. But the addition of Quinn, a former first-round pick, makes this an interesting decision.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

Williams returned from injury and showed toughness. Health permitting, he could steal a roster spot the next few weeks from veteran tailback Daniel Thomas.

RECEIVERS (6)

All these receivers have a chance to be productive. Should the Dolphins consider a trade here to help another position?

TIGHT ENDS (3)

The third tight end spot remains in the air. Brackett, Arthur Lynch and Michael Egnew are all close.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

The Dolphins still haven't decided on their starting five, particularly at right guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Fede and Johnson have both made their presence felt and should make the 53-man roster.

LINEBACKERS (7)

I still don't have a ton of confidence in this group. This could be a weakness on the team.

CORNERBACKS (4)

The Dolphins must stay healthy here. But they also have some safeties with position flexibility.

SAFETIES (5)

It's Wilson's time to shine in the starting lineup with Reshad Jones' four-game suspension looming.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Sturgis' groin injury is making things interesting. Free-agent pickup John Potter kicked well against Tampa Bay.
One of the lowest points last season for the New York Jets was their 49-9 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals, a start-to-finish beat down that dropped them to 4-4. They return to Cincinnati on Saturday night, and at least one player is looking for payback.

 "We owe them one," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told the Jets' website. "We owe them one big time." He also said, "That was pretty much the only team that dog-walked this defense like that."

Whoa, big fella, it's only the preseason. If the Jets win, they won't be flaunting the revenge card. If anyone does, they will look silly. It's only the second preseason game, a time for evaluating players and building chemistry. Few will remember the result by the end of the summer.

Rex Ryan downplayed the redemption angle, but he admitted he'd like to play well. Call it pride.

"You know, did we get our tails kicked last time we were up there? We absolutely did," he said. "I think the competitor in you -- from a coach, from a player -- you don’t like that. The fact that we have a lot of guys, however many guys are playing, it’s a little different feel. Obviously, preseason guys are trying to win jobs. It’s not just about the team or whatever. I mean, I don’t know if it is more motivation, but you certainly want to account for yourself better than we did the last time."

There's an interesting back story to Jets-Bengals: Ryan confirmed there were serious discussions before training camp about holding joint practices in Cincinnati during the run-up to the game. Joint practices are becoming popular around the league. The concern, of course, is that practicing for a few days against another team will lead to fights.

Ryan doesn't think it would've been an issue, saying the mutual respect between him and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis would've set an upbeat tone on the practice field. Then again, if the Jets have a chip on their shoulder because of last season's blowout, as Richardson's quote suggests, the temperature would've been higher than usual. From what I hear, some of the Jets' veteran leaders lobbied Ryan to pass on the invitation, citing that very reason.

Ryan didn't rule out a joint practice in the future.

"As long as it’s not just Fight Night," he said. "I remember my dad went down in some epic Eagles versus Falcons [practices]. In between all of the fights, they snapped the ball a few times. Those are things you don’t want. "
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Referee John Parry and members of his crew are in town to work with the Patriots, and he's received a message from coach Bill Belichick.

This is what Belichick told Parry: "Throw flags -- put the flag on the ground, so when we put the film on, we can see exactly what the action was. [Then] when the flag is on the ground, communicate with the player -- what did he do wrong? How does he potentially eliminate that action? Communicate with the coaching staff to make sure they know."

 This is a big part of the next two days for the Patriots, and it involves teaching and becoming familiar with some of the NFL's rule changes and points of emphasis.

"You'll see flags on the ground," Parry promised.

Two soundbites from Parry's briefing with media members:

On a point of emphasis about illegal contact. "It's not an easy call to make. The rule hasn't changed. We've been through this before. Points of emphasis are made annually from the competition committee ... and this is the second time in 14 years that defensive holding and illegal contact have been a point of emphasis. It's an offensive game and we want receivers to be able to run a free route. We do not want receivers to initiate contact with defenders to eliminate their opportunity to defend that route. ... But I think what you'll see, last week in the New England game there was maybe 23 penalties. I think we'll see 23, 24, 20 for Weeks 2, 3, 4 [in the preseason]. And the message will be sent that this is a point of emphasis and the players will adapt, the coaches will adapt and the officials will adapt, get on the same page, and Week 1, I don't think you'll see a big difference in the football game."

Working towards consistency between crews. "New York is getting aggressive with new technology. Now referees, every week, we will get every call that was made or not made by a referee. So at least if I'm calling two or three holds, and I can view other holds that were incorrect or 'am I on the borderline?' so we can gap the human side of this. Every game is different. Every player is different. Every coach is different on any given day. We are trying to bridge that gap. We now have coaches [who] are coming to our clinics and teaching us what the teaching technique is to a player. ... We're trying any and all avenues to bridge the gap on consistency. It's a big point for our game."

Vick, Geno discuss Wildcat potential

August, 10, 2014
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan hasn’t ruled out the possibility of using quarterback Michael Vick in a situational role, perhaps in the Wildcat.

 Vick got a taste of it with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, replacing Donovan McNabb, and he didn't mince words when asked how it worked. “It didn’t last long,” he said Sunday, not sounding particular enthused about the prospect of doing it again.

Vick believes that using a second quarterback requires a delicate balance, as to not disrupt the rhythm of the game.

"Guys get into rhythms, and you want to continue that rhythm,” Vick said after practice. “There’s a time and place for it -- whether it’s third down, whether it’s short yardage, whether it’s the red zone. There’s a time when you can do it and be effective."

Geno Smith sounded more optimistic about using Vick situationally, claiming his rhythm wasn’t disrupted by the use of the Wildcat last season.

"I don’t think so. I never even thought about it to tell you the truth,” Smith said. “I think it helped us. It kept us on schedule many times, and it’s something that we used quite frequently, if I can remember, and I think it was pretty successful.”

Smith said Vick offers a lot as a change-of-pace quarterback.

“That’s the reason why the coaches like these dual-threat quarterbacks and guys who can run and can pass because you give the defense a lot to look at and you can’t just play the run or pass on a certain down and distance,” he said. “You’ve got to play both, and it’s very hard to do that.”

The Jets ran the most Wildcat plays in the NFL last season, using the formation on 38 snaps, per ESPN Stats and Info. However, this could all be a ploy on Ryan’s part, forcing opposing teams to game-plan for the Wildcat.
Cornerback Dee Milliner, one of the keys to the New York Jets' season, was helped off the field on Sunday after suffering an apparent injury to his left ankle.

 Milliner went down hard after getting beat deep by rookie Quincy Enunwa. Milliner was in obvious pain, clutching his ankle. Two trainers helped him off the field, and Milliner put no weight on the ankle.

Milliner, who recently boasted that he's the best cornerback in the NFL, is having an excellent camp. Rookie corner Dexter McDougle also left practice with an undisclosed injury. Dimitri Patterson sat out again with calf and ankle injuries, meaning three of the team's top four corners are hurt.

New York Jets' projected roster

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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Examining the New York Jets' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Geno Smith was only mediocre in Saturday night's intrasquad scrimmage, but that won't change anything. He still will get the vast majority of the first-team reps, and he's expected to start the preseason opener Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie Tajh Boyd still is on the outside, looking in.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Richardson is a new addition. With Powell (hamstring) on the sideline, Richardson has capitalized on an increased workload, demonstrating change-of-pace skills. He's the only change-of-pace back among the top five, enhancing his chances of sticking.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The toughest roster decisions will come from this position. We pared it to six spots, dropping Jacoby Ford -- and essentially handing that spot to running back. Slot receiver Greg Salas, terrific in the scrimmage, is making a strong bid. He has outplayed Saunders and Evans (shoulder), but it's hard to imagine them cutting a fourth-round pick or two. Saunders is getting a chance to return punts and kickoffs.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Sudfeld has been one of the surprises of camp, but the book on him is that he fades when the games begin. The coaches expect Amaro to emerge from his rookie funk in the coming days. He's struggling with Marty Mornhinweg's offense.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

They have a three-guard rotation, with Colon, Winters and Aboushi. Colon and Winters, the incumbents, are the favorites, but the coaches are intrigued by Aboushi's athleticism. He has the ability to block in space, which can help the perimeter running game.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)

These five are no-brainers. Rookie Kerry Hyder, an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech, is trying to crack the small fraternity. Hyder is a "bad-bodied" tweener (Rex Ryan's word), but he's one of the surprises in camp.

LINEBACKERS (9)

We have a change here, adding Edds in favor of Antwan Barnes (knee), who remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list. It wouldn't be a surprise if Barnes, with his surgically repaired knee healing slowly, begins the season on the PUP list. Edds is a smart, versatile player with NFL experience. George, a fifth-round pick, is hanging by a thread. Jermaine Cunningham was pushing for a spot, but it looks like he's lost for the season with an Achilles' tendon tear.

CORNERBACKS (6)

There are concerns across the board. No one is having a lights-out camp, providing fodder for those who criticized the Jets for passing on big-name corners in free agency. McDougle, slowed by a groin injury, has crashed to reality after a promising spring. Ditto, Ras-I Dowling.

SAFETIES (4)

The competition is getting tighter, especially with Pryor (concussion) having missed a week, creating reps for others. Jarrett has been one of the stars of camp, according to Ryan. Former practice-squad player Rontez Miles blew up the scrimmage. Josh Bush is lurking, too. Tough decisions ahead.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Memo to Mr. Quigley: Don't take anything for granted.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The potential for Jon Bon Jovi to be part of a group owning the Buffalo Bills continues to be a sore subject for the team’s fans.

Count former wide receiver Andre Reed, who will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday, among those irked by Bon Jovi's likely bidding on the franchise.

In a feature piece published Tuesday by New York Magazine, Reed offered a strong opinion on the rock star who is part of a Toronto-based group that also includes Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum.

"Man, f--- Bon Jovi!” Reed said. "You might as well just take this city, throw it in the river, and let it go down Niagara Falls."

Since Bon Jovi's group has close Toronto ties, there is a fear among Bills fans that it would try to relocate the team to Canada.

Reed's comments were apparently part of a conversation with the co-founders of the "Buffalo Fan Alliance," a fan group with the aim of keeping the Bills in the region. The magazine later provided more details from the conversation.

“Now, I ain't gonna lie to you,” Reed said. “One year I went up to Toronto, and man, I had a good-ass time up there.”

“Off the record,” [Buffalo Fan Alliance co-chairman Matt] Sabuda said.

“Off the record -- I had a great time,” Reed said.

A representative for Reed told ESPN that Reed had no further comment on the subject.

While the Toronto Sun reported recently that the Bon Jovi-fronted group wouldn't relocate the Bills to Toronto, the Associated Press reported last week that the group had commissioned a study of possible stadium sites in the Toronto area.

Dolphins Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
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DAVIE, Fla. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:
  • It was the first day in pads, and I really liked what I saw from Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who had his best practice of training camp thus far. Landry, Miami’s second-round pick, had a plethora of quality catches in team drills. His two most impressive were a long touchdown down the seam from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and an impressive snag over the middle for a first down on a tough throw by backup quarterback Matt Moore. Landry isn’t the fastest receiver or the best athlete. But he is reliable, runs good routes and has great hands.
  • The play of the day goes to former first-round pick and backup defensive end Dion Jordan. He made a very athletic play Saturday during team drills to intercept a screen attempt from Tannehill and take it to the house. It was the type of flash the Dolphins hope to see more of from their 2013 No. 3 overall pick. But Miami will have to wait as Jordan was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
  • In fact, it was another so-so day for Tannehill, who continues to experience growing pains learning a new offense. Tannehill made some nice throws, such as his touchdown pass to Landry and a connection over the middle to receiver Mike Wallace for a 25-plus yard gain. But Tannehill also made some questionable decisions in team drills that would look bad in a game situation. Tannehill’s errant screen pass to Jordan was his worst play, but the quarterback also nearly threw another interception to cornerback Jamar Taylor and suffered at least two would-be sacks. At some point, things need to click for Tannehill, who enters an important third season.
  • On the injury front, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip) and running back Knowshon Moreno (knee) worked on the side with trainers, as expected. Slot receiver Brandon Gibson took part in his first padded practice since last year’s knee surgery but he didn’t finish the session. His status will be monitored throughout camp.
  • Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller had a good day with several nice runs. Miller looks like a decent fit for Miami’s new offense and has taken advantage of spread situations. The Dolphins asked Miller to get a little bigger in the offseason to help with durability and pass protection. “I want to say he weighed in at 221 or something like that,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin explained. “He looks good, he looks stronger than he’s ever been, and I don’t think he’s sacrificed any speed whatsoever.”

Up next, the Dolphins will have their first day off of training camp on Monday. Miami will next take the field on Tuesday.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- With several potential buyers lining up to bid on the Buffalo Bills, the price tag for the NFL's latest team to hit the market is coming into focus.

A league source tells ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that the sale is expected to fetch at least $1.1 billion when it is completed, which should be later this year.

Forbes valued the franchise at $870 million last year. That ranks 30th of 32 NFL teams, according to the publication.

As for whether a new ownership would consider relocating the team, Paolantonio was firm that would not happen.

"I don't think the team's moving," he told WGR 550 on Monday. "I would stake my professional reputation on it. I think people in ownership want to see the team stay here. I think they want to continue the legacy of Ralph Wilson. I think Roger Goodell is convinced."

Camp preview: Buffalo Bills

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


NFL Nation's Mike Rodak examines the three biggest issues facing the Buffalo Bills heading into training camp.

Spotlight shines bright: The Bills essentially spent three first-round picks to acquire quarterback EJ Manuel and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. In fact, general manager Doug Whaley said immediately after drafting Watkins that "we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs." Naturally, that directs a bright light on the fourth overall pick, and on the quarterback throwing him passes. Manuel and Watkins had a chance to get acclimated during OTAs and minicamp, but now the two young players' every move will be dissected by fans and reporters at open training camp practices. How will they perform? How will they handle the pressure? Those easily are the biggest questions facing the Bills.

Recouping defensive losses: Much attention has been paid in recent weeks to the ACL injury of linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is likely lost for the entire season. Yet another loss -- the departure of safety Jairus Byrd in free agency -- has flown under the radar as the Bills have been evaluated heading into training camp. Byrd steadied the back end of the defense when he returned from a foot injury last season, while Alonso was a rock in the middle of the field. What will be the impact of not having those two players? It's not something that can be deduced easily from watching training camp practices, but we'll start to see how offenses attack any potential holes in the Bills' defense when preseason games begin.

Scheme shifts in second year: All offseason the Bills have talked about the value of Manuel being in the system a full year as he enters his second season in the league. That also holds true for Doug Marrone, who was adjusting to life as a first-year NFL head coach last training camp. He has dealt with a change at defensive coordinator, with Jim Schwartz replacing Mike Pettine, but how much will continuity help his offensive staff? The Bills need a big jump in their passing game, and much of that responsibility falls on offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Training camp will be a chance to see how the Bills have tweaked their playbook. How are they aiming to improve in the red zone? Are they incorporating Watkins into the deep game or targeting him mainly on shorter passes and allowing him to use his abilities after the catch? How much will the Bills lean on Manuel's legs and the option game? These are some of the burning questions from a coaching and scheme standpoint.
Adam VinatieriAP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Score: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
Date: Jan. 19, 2002 Site: Foxboro Stadium

The voting is complete for the top play in Patriots history, and I'm in agreement with the majority. My vote is also for Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick.

Here are a few thoughts from this viewpoint:

I kept coming back to the 2001 season throughout the process of this "top play/memorable moment" project and felt that my choice would come from that year because of what it meant to the franchise.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Patriots' history?

  •  
    43%
  •  
    46%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 47,087)

Would it be Drew Bledsoe getting knocked out by Mo Lewis, opening the door for Tom Brady? Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick? The tuck rule play in which Patriots followers will always thank referee Walt Coleman for his knowledge of the rule book? Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law's interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

I even considered the Patriots coming out for Super Bowl XXXVI as a team, passing on individual introductions, as a possible "top play/memorable moment" because it was such a powerful statement and captured a big part of the franchise's unexpected run to its first title.

There are many other top plays from other years -- a personal favorite was the record-setting long touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss in the 2007 regular-season finale to cap an undefeated regular season -- but '01 trumped them all to me.

Vinatieri's kick just might be the best, most clutch, toughest field goal in the history of this great game.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC East

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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video
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.

First Down

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 Reiss: Is it possible for someone to go from a Coach of the Year candidate last December to the hot seat in late July? It shouldn't be, but that is the situation in which Dolphins coach Joe Philbin finds himself. I thought Philbin deserved a lot of credit for keeping things together last season, and after the Dolphins beat the Patriots in mid-December many were singing his praises. But the team sputtered the final two weeks of the season and now Philbin, entering his third season, could be viewed as having the hottest seat among AFC East coaches. Crazy business, this NFL.

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.


Second Down

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.


Third Down

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.


Fourth Down

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.

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Former New England Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson agreed to join the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff Friday, a source confirmed to ESPN's Mike Reiss.

It's not immediately known what role Johnson will fill on the Bills' staff, but he is expected to work under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who was hired last week.

The Bills are without both of their linebackers coaches from last season. Outside linebackers coach Jim O'Neil became the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, while inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach was fired. The Bills have also granted the Browns permission to interview defensive line coach Anthony Weaver.

Johnson, 49, spent the past 14 seasons as an assistant coach for the Patriots, serving as an assistant linebackers coach (2000), inside linebackers coach (2001-2003), defensive line coach (2004-2011), and linebackers coach (2012-2013). He decided to leave the team earlier this month.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement that he was "proud and honored to have spent more years of my career with Pepper Johnson than any other player or coach." Johnson played under Belichick as a linebacker with the New York Giants (1986-92), Cleveland Browns (1993-95) and New York Jets (1997-98).

Schwartz served as a personnel scout for the Browns from 1993-95.

It is believed that Johnson departed the Patriots to seek opportunities for advancement. Schwartz, a veteran coach who was fired after five seasons with the Detroit Lions, could be in line for another head coaching job as soon as the 2015 season. That could potentially open the door for Johnson to become the Bills' defensive coordinator.

W2W4: Five things for Patriots-Broncos

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
6:00
PM ET
It was a safe bet that the buildup to this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game was going to include substantial talk about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, the two quarterbacks involved.

But this week has involved so much more, as the two best teams in the AFC have provided no shortage of storylines this season in distancing themselves from the rest of the conference.

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Talk has ensued about how the previous matchup between the teams will play into Sunday, how the game will impact the legacy of Brady and Manning, and how much of a factor familiarity between the two teams will be.

In the end, however, Sunday will dictate only one thing for sure, and that is which team will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII.

A win would make Brady the first quarterback in NFL history to start six Super Bowls, and would also tie Bill Belichick for the most postseason victories of all-time.

The Denver Broncos enter the game as a favorite according to the point spread, but the New England Patriots are looking to carry their strong play over the past three games into a triumphant effort on Sunday.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

1. Patriots' offensive approach: If the Patriots want to stick with what has worked over the past three games, then hammering the Broncos on the ground seems like a strong bet. LeGarrette Blount and the stable of backs have been dominant behind an overwhelming offensive line. The Patriots are a game plan offense, however, always aiming to attack a defense’s weakness, and with recent injuries factored in, the Broncos are a better defense against the run than the pass. Will the Patriots try to pick apart a secondary playing without its best cornerback? Or, perhaps, will the ground game set the tone?

2. Slowing Denver's passing attack: Back in Week 12, the Patriots' defense was able to limit Manning to a mortal effort, holding him to 150 passing yards on 19-of-36 attempts. Some of that might be attributed to the wind, but the secondary also showed it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best offense in football. A key player who was not on the field during that matchup, tight end Julius Thomas, will be available this Sunday, giving the Patriots one more player to account for. He joins the trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and, of course, Wes Welker to form a unique set of weapons for Manning.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKnowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards this season.
3. Building the run D wall: In the last meeting, Denver rushed for 280 yards, with Knowshon Moreno accounting for 224 of those yards. The Patriots were likely happy with keeping the Broncos' passing offense under wraps in Week 12, but they have repeatedly said this week that they can't afford to let Denver run the ball the same way again. From a personnel standpoint, the insertion of Sealver Siliga as a starter at defensive tackle has appeared to pay off, as the Patriots have held two of their past five opponents under 100 yards rushing.

4. Allen and Dobson’s health and status: They have flown under the radar a bit after Brady missed Wednesday’s practice, but both punter Ryan Allen and wide receive Aaron Dobson have practiced on a limited basis this week. Allen left last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, and while that won’t likely impact his punting, it could be a factor in him handling snaps, both as the holder and punter, as we saw what a high snap can do on a given play last week. For Dobson, who hasn’t played since Week 17, a return would give the Patriots their biggest receiver in the lineup and a potential red-zone target. Should the Patriots aim to test a beaten up Denver secondary, Dobson could give them a vertical presence on the perimeter.

5. Altitude, crowd noise, “Omaha!”, etc. It’s hard to gauge just how much the thin air of Denver impacts players’ stamina on the field, but one area where it does often have an impact is in the kicking game. Don’t expect many kickoff returns on Sunday, though it does shorten the field for offenses, who can attempt field goals from greater distances. Denver is a loud venue, and the Patriots' offense will be tested by the crowd noise. As we saw in the Broncos-Chargers game, Manning is a master at drawing opponents offside (he used the cadence “Omaha!” 44 times during the game), and the Patriots must be disciplined in their pre-snap movement. Especially against this offense, giving away free yards (which can potentially extend a drive) is something a defense must avoid.

Pro Bowl selections: New York Jets

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
10:00
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A few takeaways on Friday night's Pro Bowl announcement:

Who's In: No one. No players were selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in the Rex Ryan era.

1. It's a personnel problem, not a coaching problem: This underscores what we've known all season: The Jets don't have enough talent, and yet Ryan could pay the price with his job. This was a resounding message from the rest of the league. What made this is a real kick in the stomach was that Darrelle Revis -- remember him? -- was selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2. Mo wuz robbed: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (career-high 10.5 sacks) was the Jets' best candidate and deserved to make it. Six defensive ends were selected: Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints), Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills). Wake and Williams? Wake (8.5 sacks) is having an off year; Williams has 13 sacks, but he's an accumulator, not a truly dominant player. Wilkerson probably was hurt by a late-season dip in his sack production. He was named a first alternate, small consolation.

3. Other alternates: Center Nick Mangold was named a first alternate, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie a second alternate. How Cromartie made alternate status is beyond comprehension. If he gets to play in the game, he should have to pay for his own flight. Kicker Nick Folk got no recognition whatsoever, which is too bad. He's having a career season, but his timing stinks because this has been a great year for kickers. Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens) and Nick Prater (Denver Broncos) were deservedly named to the two kicking spots.

4. A look at the AFC East: The New England Patriots and Dolphins placed four players apiece in the Pro Bowl. The Bills had three.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

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