NFL Nation: Derrick Burgess

Jets start season more sloppy than super

September, 14, 2010
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Mark SanchezWilliam Perlman/US PresswireJets quarterback Mark Sanchez mustered just 74 passing yards against the Baltimore Ravens.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So many yellow flags. They were strewn all over. They doomed the New York Jets in a 10-9 loss on Monday night.

There have been red flags with the Jets, too.

Not of the challenge variety, mind you. But maybe that's what they need, to be challenged a little more when it comes to discipline.

In the preseason, head coach Rex Ryan made a fiery speech to his players for exhibiting a lack of leadership and what he called "jackass" behavior. The scene was one of the most memorable from the "Hard Knocks" series, with Ryan's final words "now let's go eat a goddamn snack!"

Ryan was incensed partly because his players were eating McDonald's cheeseburgers during warmups for a public practice at Hofstra University.

Ryan addressed his team again Monday night. The Baltimore Ravens had eaten their lunch and wiped their mouths with the many yellow handkerchiefs lying around. The Ravens won by only a point, but the reason they won was troubling.

"That's not who we are," Ryan said. "That's not how we play. We pride ourselves on being one of the least penalized defenses in the league. Today was a joke."

Focus was a problem beyond penalties. Running back Shonn Greene fumbled twice, losing one. On their final offensive play -- fourth-and-10 from their own 31-yard line and with 41 seconds left -- tight end Dustin Keller made a catch near the sideline, no defender near him. With a clear look at the marker, he went out of bounds obviously short of the first down.

"That was Ripley's," Ryan said.

The Jets committed 15 penalties, 14 of which the Ravens accepted for 125 yards. They had nine penalties in the second quarter alone.

The Jets helped the Ravens set a franchise record with six first downs via penalty. The record was tied by halftime.

"It cost us the game really," Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "We played pretty darn well in a lot of situations. Maybe you can attribute it to a lack of discipline, but penalties that give up first downs are bad. We need to clean it up for sure."

The sheer number of penalties was bad enough. The situations were even more wretched.

Penalties gave the Ravens first downs on four plays that were third-and-9 or longer. A defensive holding call on rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson turned an incomplete pass on third-and-28 into a Ravens first down.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was flagged four times for 43 yards, including a 28-yard pass interference on a third-and-9 incompletion.

"It's just inexcusable," said Taylor, who jumped offsides to turn a third-and-3 into a second-and-1. "We did more to give it away than we did to get beat. You can't blame anybody but yourselves. You have to look in the mirror and say: 'We did it to ourselves.' We lost the game 10-9 and had plenty of chances to win and shot ourselves in the foot."

Receiver Braylon Edwards wiped out a pair of plays that would have done the Jets a world of good. He was called for an illegal shift on a beautiful 33-yard strike from Mark Sanchez to Keller down the right sideline in the second quarter.

On a nifty up-the-middle maneuver to block a field goal, Edwards ran into Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff. The penalty gave the Ravens a first down on a drive that eventually ended with the game's only touchdown.

Another third-down penalty, of course, helped. On third-and-10, Wilson was charged with pass interference in the end zone to set up Willis McGahee's 1-yard touchdown run.

I asked linebacker Bart Scott what all the penalties said about the Jets.

"I don't know," Scott said. "You tell me."

Undisciplined? Unprepared?

"If that's what you want to say," he said. "Whatever you want to say."

That was the first impression the Jets made for 2010.

You have to wonder if the happy-funtime atmosphere Ryan condones is negatively impacting them. Ryan already has had to talk to his players at least twice about unprofessionalism and sloppiness.

[+] EnlargeKris Jenkins
John Munson/US PresswireNew York Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury.
The Jets have made several offseason moves that reduced their leadership presence in the locker room, parting with running back Thomas Jones, guard Alan Faneca and kicker Jay Feely, all character veterans. They also jerked fullback Tony Richardson around, cutting him and then re-signing him a week before the season.

More questions were raised this week about how the Jets conduct themselves. They created a stir Saturday with the way they treated Ines Sainz at practice and in the locker room.

Sainz wasn't taken seriously partly because she doesn't take her job seriously. She's promoted on the TV Azteca website as a reporter and a model and is known for showing up to events such as the Super Bowl media day and convincing players to do things like let her measure their muscles or give her a ride on their shoulder pads.

Nevertheless, the club was embarrassed. Jets owner Woody Johnson apologized to Sainz for the team's misbehavior and vowed his team would act with more class henceforth. The Association for Women in Sports Media has gotten involved. The NFL is investigating.

From an outsider's perspective, my own included, it would appear the Jets are running a loose ship.

Taylor scoffed at that idea.

"Hell, no," Taylor said. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, I guess. But they're not on the ship."

In the same episode of Ryan's "goddamn snack" speech, Taylor showed up late for two practices. Each time, Taylor's coaches laughed off his tardiness.

Last year at Gillette Stadium, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick kicked four players off the premises for showing up a few minutes late to a team meeting on a wintry day when the roads were treacherous. Three of them were Pro Bowlers: Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess.

The Jets have a short week to get ready for the Patriots this Sunday.

We'll see who has the most fun.

Kansas City Chiefs cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
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Check here for a full list of Kansas City’s roster moves.

Biggest surprise: There were some eye-openers on Kansas City’s cut list. Perhaps the biggest surprise was cutting defensive tackle/fullback Derek Lokey. He had a fine training camp and preseason. He appeared to have found a niche for himself as a fullback in short-yardage downs. Fullback Mike Cox was kept. Second-year player Alex Magee was kept ahead of him. Magee, a third-round pick, appeared to be on the bubble. The team cut third-year safety DaJuan Morgan, who was highly valued by the previous regime, but never caught the imagination of the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley regime.

No-brainers: The entire draft class was kept. Haley has lauded this group and he thinks it can be special. Undrafted rookie receiver Jeremy Horne made the team. He was a training camp star, who played well with the first team during the preseason. With Jerheme Urban being put on the injured reserve, Horne could have a role as a rookie.

What’s next: Perhaps Kansas City will pursue a third quarterback. Tyler Palko was cut. Matt Leinart is available. He played for Haley in Arizona and with Matt Cassel at USC. Still, as of Saturday evening, there were no indications that the Chiefs were pursuing Leinart. The team could also look for experience at receiver, the offensive line and on the front seven. Perhaps the team would be interested in a veteran pass rusher such as Derrick Burgess, who was cut by New England.

New England Patriots cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Outside linebacker Derrick Burgess kept the Patriots waiting while he contemplated retirement at the start of training camp. The Patriots probably helped push him back toward a pensive mood when they dropped the two-time Pro Bowler. The Patriots have pass-rush concerns, and Burgess tied for second with five sacks last year. The development of second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham certainly played a role in New England's decision. Also notable that second-year offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger was dropped despite the Patriots' interior issues and the fact they aggressively drafted him from Penn State in the fourth round last year. The Patriots traded cornerback Ellis Hobbs for a pair of fifth-round picks and then turned those assets into the fourth-round pick they used on Ohrnberger. He dressed for only three games last year.

No-brainers: The Patriots chose to keep five running backs, which is what they did last year. Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With safety Brandon McGowan placed on injured reserve with a chest injury, they made a nice trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and old friend Scott Pioli for safety Jarrad Page.

What's next: Bill Belichick never stops tweaking, particularly at the bottom of the roster. So this list of 53 probably will change before opening day. The Patriots, in need of support at defensive end, could bring back Jarvis Green, cut by the Denver Broncos on Saturday. Green played all eight of his NFL seasons with the Patriots and started 13 games at left end before signing with the Broncos as a free agent. Right defensive end Ty Warren is out for the year with a hip injury. The Patriots also released veteran defensive end Damione Lewis on Friday.

Were big AFC East offseason needs filled?

August, 31, 2010
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On the day the New Orleans Saints held their Super Bowl parade, long before the free-agency period opened and the draft took place, Scouts Inc. analyst Gary Horton examined the top three needs of every NFL team heading into the offseason.

Now that we've gone through offseason workouts, minicamps, training camps and three preseason games, let's take a look at each AFC East need and determine whether it was addressed.

Buffalo Bills

1. Outside linebacker: At the time of Horton's analysis, he didn't know Aaron Schobel would retire. Schobel would have been Buffalo's best pass-rusher in its new 3-4 defense. The Bills signed free agent Reggie Torbor and are hoping a group that also includes Chris Kelsay, Chris Ellis and Aaron Maybin will suffice. Need addressed? No.

2. Left tackle: The Bills chose to stick with Demetrius Bell. The Bills still haven't drafted a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002. Of the two they did draft, fifth-rounder Ed Wang is hurt and seventh-rounder Kyle Calloway already has been released. The Bills did sign Oakland Raiders free agent Cornell Green to play right tackle. Need addressed? No.

3. Quarterback: The Bills did next to nothing at quarterback, drafting long-term project Levi Brown in the seventh round and letting Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm shoot it out. Edwards won a not-so-open competition. Need addressed? No.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireThe acquisition of Brandon Marshall filled a huge void in the Dolphins' passing game.
Miami Dolphins

1. Wide receiver: Did the Dolphins address this need? Hmmm ... Let's see ... Oh, wait. That's right. They traded for Brandon Marshall, who has recorded triple-digit receptions in three straight seasons. Marshall was one of the most enormous transactions of the offseason. Need addressed? Yes.

2. Free safety: The Dolphins drafted Reshad Jones in the fifth round, but sophomore Chris Clemons has held down the position admirably. It won't be tough to outplay last year's starter, Gibril Wilson. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Nose tackle: The situation actually got worse and worse after Horton formed his analysis. Jason Ferguson was suspended eight games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Dolphins re-signed Ferguson, but then he retired. The Dolphins didn't draft a nose tackle, choosing to convert defensive end Randy Starks instead. Starks is undersized for a traditional 3-4 nose tackle, but Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has claimed Starks' speed has upgraded the position. Need addressed? Yes.

New England Patriots

1. Outside linebacker: Horton wrote "This defense must generate pass-rush pressure from its outside linebackers, but the Pats are devoid of playmakers and have virtually no depth at this position." They've gotten shallower with the release of Adalius Thomas, who started their playoff game. Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess are back and penciled in as the starters. The Patriots drafted pass-rusher Jermaine Cunningham 53rd overall, but he has been too hurt to get on the practice field. Need addressed? No.

2. Wide receiver: Wes Welker was looking at a potentially long rehab at the time Horton wrote his offseason preview. Randy Moss' age also was a concern. But Welker's recovery has been quick. Moss has looked phenomenal. Emerging youngsters Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and third-round draft pick Taylor Price should be more than enough. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Defensive end: Little did Horton know how badly the Patriots would need help here. Left end Ty Warren is done for the year because of a hip injury. Right end Jarvis Green split for the Denver Broncos. The Patriots signed free agent Gerard Warren and have moved last year's super reserve, Mike Wright, into the starting lineup. Need addressed? No.

New York Jets

1. Defensive end: Horton's concern was with the age of incumbents Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas. Ellis is back. Douglas was a free agent who departed for the Dolphins. The Jets didn't draft any defensive linemen and didn't sign any notable free agents there. They did move Vernon Gholston from outside linebacker to defensive end. Need addressed? No.

2. Safety: Compared to the Jets' banner acquisitions, Brodney Pool was a blip. The Cleveland Browns gave up on him because of recurring concussions, but the Jets' medical staff found his problem was related to migraine headaches. He's a multifaceted safety with a nose for the ball, interception four passes in 10 games last year. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Wide receiver: The Jets practically stole Santonio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft choice. Holmes was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII and was coming off a 1,248-yard season. But character issues, underscored by a four-game suspension to start the season, made him a bargain. Need addressed? Yes.

Camp Confidential: New England Patriots

August, 13, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 9

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Is this the year another AFC East team surpasses the New England Patriots in wins?

For nine straight seasons, no team in the division has won more games each season than the Patriots.

But they're being pushed.

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have experienced greater successes the past couple years. The Jets went deeper into the playoffs last winter. The Dolphins won the division two seasons ago on a tiebreaker that kept the Patriots out.

The Patriots, aging on offense and patchwork on defense, seem vulnerable to being overtaken.

Still, they're the Patriots, and as long as Bill Belichick is the head coach and Tom Brady is the quarterback, they'll be a fearsome opponent. Randy Moss is back. Wes Welker looks like he's going to be a factor from the start of the season. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork will anchor the defense with linebacker Jerod Mayo behind him.

"Each year is a new year," Belichick said at the beginning of training camp, "and what a team looks like on paper and what they actually are in the fall and how they perform are two different things.

"Each year it seems like we have three or four new division winners. We have teams that go from one, two, three wins to double-digit wins and playoff teams and so forth. I don't know how you project all of that. I don't really spend a lot of time worrying about that. I think you do your preparation on your opponents -- the new ones and the ones you are familiar with like the Jets and Miami, teams like that, Indianapolis, and then you take them as they come."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesLogan Mankins is unimpressed by the Patriots contract offer and has demanded a trade.
1. How will left guard Logan Mankins' absence impact the offense? Mankins is unsigned and publicly demanded a trade because the Patriots haven't presented him with a contract proposal worth signing. Those who know him don't think he's going to back off that stance easily.

The Patriots already are down to a third-stringer at his position. They switched last year's starting right tackle, Nick Kaczur, to left guard. He suffered a back injury that could threaten his season. That puts Dan Connolly, a sixth-year offensive lineman with four career starts, in the lineup.

That's a precipitous drop from Mankins. He went to his second Pro Bowl last year and is known as one of the division's great smash-mouth players, regardless of position. He has a mean streak that sets the tone for New England's offensive line, particularly in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

One of Belichick's objectives coming into 2010 was to improve New England's red zone efficiency. Belichick has shown he's willing to go with three tight ends if he must. But Mankins' presence certainly would help the offense in terms of attitude and production.

2. Will the Patriots be able to generate enough of a pass rush? They tied for 23rd in sacks last year, registering a lackluster 31, worst among all playoff teams.

So the Patriots had a problem when they entered the offseason and might have gotten less stable. They cut Adalius Thomas, whose three sacks ranked fourth on the club. Derrick Burgess, a two-time Pro Bowler, tied for second with five sacks. He hasn't reported to training camp and is said to be contemplating retirement. Update: Burgess was reinstated to the active roster Friday, and defensive end Ty Warren (hip) was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

Tully Banta-Cain, who led the team with 10 sacks, is back. But he doesn't strike fear in opposing tackles. Half of his sacks came against the overwhelmed Buffalo Bills. Second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham didn't play in Thursday night's preseason opener, which should raise some eyebrows.

You can't tell me Rob Ninkovich or Marques Murrell are going to provide that desperately needed jolt. Murrell did beat Pro Bowl tackle Jon Stinchcomb to sack Drew Brees on Thursday night (the Patriots' only sack), but the undrafted former Jet hasn't started an NFL game. Neither has Ninkovich.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Michael DwyerQuarterback Tom Brady has not made a big fuss about his contract this preseason.
3. Will Tom Brady's contract situation be a distraction? In stark contrast to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis' entrenched holdout, Brady's approach to his contract situation has been commendable.

Brady is entering the final year of his contract and reportedly has been aggravated by the fact he hasn't gotten an extension yet. Some pundits insist Brady will be a tough negotiator because he has made salary concessions in the past and will insist on receiving full market value for a three-time champion.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft wants Brady to remain the face of the franchise, but it's not that simple. Labor strife and the role each man plays -- Kraft an influential voice for the league, Brady an emerging union spokesman -- contributes to the delicate process.

Brady's contract has been a major storyline of camp so far, but because he showed up on time and said all the right things, it hasn't been a problem.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Welker didn't play in the exhibition opener, but he has demonstrated he's going to be ready to play in Week 1, barring a setback. The only visible evidence he's coming back from two torn left knee ligaments is a brace. He also had offseason shoulder surgery, but you'd never guess by looking at him. Welker went all-out in joint practices with the Saints, putting his body in harm's way to make tough catches. He sliced through defenders, fought through coverages and leaped for passes.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Burgess, the AWOL outside linebacker, has left the Patriots in a lurch with his indecision. He apparently wanted to play in June, when he signed a one-year contract worth as much as $1.65 million. The Patriots expressed surprise when Burgess declined to report for camp. With an inkling Burgess was having second thoughts, they would've had a better chance to address the situation before it was too late.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
    AP Photo/Michael DwyerWide receiver Julian Edelman was impressive in the Patriots' first preseason game.

  • You have to wonder if Welker's speedy recovery is partially due to the presence of Julian Edelman. I'm not saying Edelman is Welker's equal, but knowing that Edelman's on the roster and ready to step in must have entered Welker's mind once or twice during rehab.
  • Edelman, the converted quarterback from Kent State, turned in a very Welkerish six-reception, 90-yard performance on Thursday night. He also had a 40-yard punt return.
  • Strong safety Brandon Meriweather continually has progressed toward star status in his previous three seasons and still has room to get better. With another year of experience, this should be a big year for him.
  • Interesting choice to start at running back in the preseason opener. Belichick went with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran 11 times for 34 yards but darted for a 6-yard touchdown run.
  • Both rookie tight ends look like they'll be impact players. Aaron Hernandez (113th overall) has trouble blocking but is a dangerous receiver. Rob Gronkowski (42nd overall) looks like a power forward at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He'll be easy for Brady to spot in the red zone.
  • Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty has been getting first-team reps with Leigh Bodden sidelined by a knee injury. McCourty looks like he belongs out there, a great sign for the Patriots' secondary.
  • Second-year cornerback Darius Butler, meanwhile, committed a costly penalty in Thursday night's preseason opener. Butler was called for illegal contact on a fourth-down play in which the Patriots seemed to stop the Saints. The penalty extended a 20-play touchdown drive.
  • The Patriots will need more consistency out of their kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski, an All-Pro two seasons ago, had trouble kicking field goals this week, although he did nail both of his tries (from 35 and 28 yards) Thursday night. Zoltan Mesko can boom it, but the fifth-round draft pick occasionally delivers an onside punt.
  • If you're in a larger fantasy league, jot down receiver Brandon Tate on the margin of your cheat sheet. Draft him late. You might steal one.

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Schobel a perfect piece for Patriots defense

August, 4, 2010
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Nobody has sacked Tom Brady more often than Aaron Schobel.

For that reason alone, the New England Patriots were thrilled to hear the Buffalo Bills officially released Schobel on Wednesday afternoon.

Schobel

Schobel
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss advocates the Patriots snatch him up. All indications point to Schobel playing in 2010 after dawdling the Bills into a release.

Reiss writes "It just makes too much sense."

The Patriots wouldn't be counting on Schobel to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 alignment. That would be unrealistic when considering that Schobel has been a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme his entire career.

But given the way the Patriots vary their defensive plan from week to week, and have multiple packages within their scheme, it's easy to imagine a significant role for Schobel in which he could be unleashed to do what he does best: get after the quarterback as an end-of-the-line defender. His presence would be huge in weeks when the team elects to play a four-man line, such as last year's matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

Had the Bills been competitive during Schobel's time with the team and made the playoffs once or twice in his nine seasons, it's difficult to imagine him pulling this stunt. Reports have underscored his interest in playing for the Houston Texans, but the Patriots might entice him as perennial contenders.

The Patriots are in a bind at outside linebacker. Derrick Burgess is pulling his own Schobel indecision act, declining to show up for the start of camp and let the Patriots dangle while he contemplates retirement.

"He's killed us," Belichick said before a Patriots-Bills game in 2007. "He's got a lot of things going for him. He's got a great motor. He works hard on every play. He's never out of a play. He's got several good moves. He can get up-field. He's got a good spin move. Even though he's not the biggest guy, he's got explosive power. He's hard for everybody to block."

And, for no other reason that the fact I had it in my quote archives, here is what New York Jets coach Rex Ryan had to say about Schobel last season:

"I really like Schobel. I like the way he plays," Ryan said. "You can ask Schobel, I worked him out actually when he came out of TCU. He can tell you how heavy I am because the first thing he said was, ‘My God, how much do you weigh?’ when I was trying to leverage him. What a tremendous player he is. I’ve just got a lot of respect for him."

But don't get excited, Jets fans. A league source tells me the Jets aren't interested in pursuing him.

Burgess retirement would weaken Pats

July, 29, 2010
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ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli, citing multiple unnamed sources, reports New England Patriots outside linebacker Derrick Burgess is mulling retirement.

Burgess did not report for the start of Patriots training camp Thursday at Gillette Stadium. The odd development comes after the 31-year-old Burgess chose to re-sign with the Patriots in June. His one-year contract has a $1.4 million base salary and included a $100,000 signing bonus.

If Burgess decides to quit, his absence would weaken an already uncertain outside linebacking corps. The Patriots ranked 22nd in sacks last year with 31. Burgess was tied for second on the team with five sacks.

Tully Banta-Cain led the way with 10. Defensive lineman Mike Wright also had five, and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, since released, was fourth on the team with three sacks.

Burgess played all 17 games. He started four games at outside linebacker and two at defensive end.

AFC East training camp preview

July, 27, 2010
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Can the AFC East send three clubs to the playoffs?

Sure seems possible to me. The past two years have produced different division champs and a third team that reached the AFC Championship Game last season.

The journey will start in a matter of days. The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots blow the air horn on Thursday. The Miami Dolphins start Friday afternoon. The New York Jets open their "Hard Knocks" camp Monday morning.

All four teams have loose ends to tie up before camp. None has signed its first-round draft choice. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins remains unsigned and unhappy.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

Buffalo Bills: Who will be the quarterback?

[+] EnlargeEdwards
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireTrent Edwards played in just eight games for the Bills last season.
New head coach Chan Gailey has stressed there will be an open quarterback competition, but the first depth chart will be known when the Bills begin camp. The campaign would get off to a fascinating start if anybody other than Trent Edwards takes the initial first-team reps. Ryan Fitzpatrick finished last year as the starter, but offers the least amount of upside. He's a sixth-year journeyman backup. Brian Brohm, a 2008 Green Bay Packers second-round pick, provides the most intrigue, titillating Bills fans because he's the unknown quantity. The battle should be a slowly progressing storyline unlikely to be decided until preseason games have been played -- and maybe not until the week before the season opener.

Miami Dolphins: How quickly will receiver Brandon Marshall integrate into the offense?

The Dolphins' prized offseason acquisition missed voluntary workouts and minicamp because of hip surgery the Dolphins didn't anticipate when they traded for him in April. His absence delayed the Dolphins' ability to see how he could transform the offense, forcing any ideas to remain X's and O's on the dry-erase board until training camp. The injury also prevented quarterback Chad Henne from getting fully acquainted with Marshall, a player who can help expedite Henne's development. Henne must get used to Marshall's speed and route angles. How quickly they find their timing on intermediate and longer patterns such as deep outs and posts against a defense will be important to making sure they're totally on the same page when the season starts.

New England Patriots: Will the Patriots show noticeable improvement on defense?

[+] EnlargeDarius Butler
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDarius Butler will compete with Devin McCourty for the chance to start at left cornerback.
The old baseball adage claims championship teams are strong up the middle. The Patriots can say they're formidable in that regard. They have star nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo and a solid group of safeties. But this ain't baseball. In football, especially with a 3-4 defense, teams need an outside presence. The Patriots are eager to see if they can improve their pass rush and be more consistent at cornerback. Those two areas depend on each other and contributed to the Patriots ranking 22nd in sacks per pass play last year. They'll have to sort through returning outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, Rob Ninkovich and Shawn Crable and 53rd overall draft pick Jermaine Cunningham. At the all-important left cornerback spot, unproven sophomore Darius Butler will compete with first-round pick Devin McCourty.

New York Jets: Will quarterback Mark Sanchez take command in his second camp?

As a reckless rookie, Sanchez seemed hell-bent on squandering a team loaded in several key categories: No. 1 defense, No. 1 rushing attack, three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line. But late last season, Sanchez finally bought into what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had been preaching and closed the season with a deep playoff run. Knee surgery limited Sanchez's first full NFL offseason, but he participated in minicamp. He'll have two talented receivers, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, who weren't around at this time last year. How their chemistry develops over the next two months will be crucial.

HOTTEST SEATS

Bills: Demetrius Bell. It's odd to imagine a player drafted in the seventh round as a long-term project being on the hot seat going into just his third season. But Bell plays left tackle, and the Bills can't afford to fool around at such an important position. Bell didn't play a snap in 2008, yet emerged as last year's opening-night starter. He struggled before a knee injury ended his season prematurely. Bell was one of the NFL's most penalized players, and Gailey abhors pre-snap penalties. In eight games, Bell committed six false starts and allowed five sacks.

[+] EnlargeWill Allen
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesHow Will Allen rebounds from a knee injury will be important.
Dolphins: Will Allen. The 10-year veteran started last season as the club's top cornerback, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game. The Dolphins played out the year with a pair of rookies, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, at cornerback. While they were frequently broiled by opposing receivers, they are the future and there's something to be said for trial by fire. Allen's contract might doom him. He's scheduled to make base salaries of $5.2 million this year and $5.5 million next year.

Patriots: Laurence Maroney. He has been a polarizing player since the Patriots drafted him 21st overall in 2006. He has looked like a stud running back at times, but not nearly often enough. Maroney's entering his fifth season but has started only 14 games, hasn't cracked 900 rushing yards in a season and fumbles too much.

Jets: Nick Folk. Coaches don't have much patience for an erratic kicker. The Jets parted ways with a good one, letting Jay Feely leave via free agency. They signed Folk, a former Pro Bowler who was a disaster with the Dallas Cowboys last year. He was inconsistent in Jets voluntary workouts and minicamp, already drawing playful ridicule from coach Rex Ryan. If Folk continues to miss kicks, the Jets won't be laughing.

SECRET WEAPON

Patriots receiver Brandon Tate. When considering New England's top targets, the names Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Torry Holt and maybe Julian Edelman come to mind. Keep an eye out for Tate, a second-year pro with one reception. Tate still was recovering from knee surgery when the Patriots drafted him in the third round out of North Carolina. He made his debut in Week 7 and suffered another knee injury in Week 9. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has spoken highly of Tate during the offseason.

CHANGING OF THE GUARDS

The Bills boast one example of stability over the rest of the AFC East -- on the offensive line, no less.

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets' release of Alan Faneca raised some eyebrows.
The Bills enter training camp with the lone left guard in place. Second-year pro Andy Levitre returns as the starter, while each of the other three clubs have uncertainties to address. The Jets and Dolphins are letting players compete for their left guard openings, while the Patriots have a two-time Pro Bowler who has demanded a trade.

In Jets camp, second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse and sophomore Matt Slauson are battling for the vacancy created by the controversial release of nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca.

The Dolphins traded Justin Smiley, their left guard the past two seasons. Nate Garner started eight games, including four on the left side while Smiley was hurt last season. Donald Thomas started 12 games at right guard. Richie Incognito started at right guard for the St. Louis Rams and Bills. The Dolphins drafted guard John Jerry in the third round.

Mankins isn't expected to be at Patriots camp when it begins. He's an unsigned restricted free agent and last month went public with his desire to be traded. Right tackle Nick Kaczur has been working in Mankins' spot.

Patriots tab OLB with third selection

April, 23, 2010
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After drafting a cornerback and a tight end, the New England Patriots went after the position many analysts predicted they'd address first, taking Florida outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham 53rd.

Why the Patriots took him: They had to bolster their pass rush. They re-signed Tully Banta-Cain, who led them with 10 sacks last season, but veterans Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess combined for only eight more sacks.

Where Cunningham fits: Scouting reports indicate Cunningham is a work in progress and needs to grow into the role. This probably isn't the type of addition that will decide whether the Patriots part ways with the disappointing, and highly paid, Thomas. That conclusion -- if it hasn't already -- will be reached independently.

Scouts Inc. says: Lacks elite top-end speed. Still developing his swim and rip techniques. Tries to use speed-to-power moves, but is only effective on occasion and typically versus tight ends and smaller tackles. Has a very quick first step and excellent change-of-direction skills, though. He will work to the whistle and disrupt the quarterback on pure effort at times. Can't overlook his production (12.5 sacks) versus elite competition the past two seasons. ... Does a good job staying off of blocks and working his way down the line. He plays with solid leverage but simply lacks the bulk and base to anchor at the point of attack. He needs to play with more discipline as well. He will cost his team occasionally by getting sucked inside.
The Raiders made an interesting move Sunday by trading for Cleveland outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley.

Wimbley
Wimbley
Oakland sent a third-round pick for Wimbley -- the third-round pick it acquired in the Derrick Burgess trade lest year with New England. Oakland will keep its own pick in the third round.

That's why I don’t think this was a bad move for a player who has not lived up to his rookie success. Wimbley, the No. 13 overall pick in 2006, had 11 sacks as a rookie. He has had 15.5 sacks since.

He is not a bad player, but he may not be an ascending player, either. Wimbley has to show he can still improve. He will have to transition from the 3-4 that Cleveland ran to the 4-3 in Oakland. He is supposed to play outside linebacker, but he could also possibly play defensive end.

Oakland has some decent, young pass rushers. If Wimbley can regain his pass-rushing groove this will be a decent trade.

On the flip side, this draft is considered to be very deep. So, there will be good players available in the third round. Oakland may have been served well to take four players in the top 100 picks instead of a player who was given up on by Cleveland.

The Raiders gave up their 2011 first-round pick to New England for Richard Seymour last September. It needs to get more young talent. Trading top picks is not the way to get younger.

AFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
8:26
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Buffalo Bills

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

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

Franchise player: None.

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

Miami Dolphins

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

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

Franchise player: None.

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

New England Patriots

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

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

Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.

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

New York Jets

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

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

Franchise player: None.

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

Patriots budgeting out their offseason

February, 26, 2010
2/26/10
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It was fitting that Nick Caserio, on the lookout for a remote place to speak with reporters Friday on the Lucas Oil Stadium concourse, gravitated to an ATM alcove.

The New England Patriots' player personnel director occasionally leaned on the cash machine while discussing Vince Wilfork's contract status, negotiations with unrestricted free agents and ramifications of an uncapped year.

Caserio didn't deliver much news, but he spoke at length about issues facing the Patriots. And you have to admire the man's ability to speak into a microphone for 20 minutes and not reveal anything.

He did say the Patriots will be operating within a self-imposed budget during an uncapped season. But who knows how fat that budget will be? The Patriots are one of the league's wealthier clubs.

"In terms of our process, we go through the same process this year as we did in years past," Caserio said. "We have a budget in place like we do every year. It doesn't really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition.

"As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don't have a crystal ball. You don't have a crystal ball. We're operating under the terms that we have in place and that haven't really changed all that much since I've been here."

For effect, Caserio could've whipped an ATM card from his back pocket, swiped it through the machine and got Julius Peppers' agent on the phone to ask how much he should withdraw. Unfortunately for the gathered reporters, Caserio declined to give us a story.

He also declined to give any meaningful updates on negotiations with Wilfork for a long-term deal, only saying "the communication has been good. It's been ongoing." He declined to put a timetable on when a contract might be finalized.

Caserio touched on New England's other unrestricted free agents and how much communication there's been from him or senior advisor Floyd Reese. Their UFA group most notably includes running back Kevin Faulk, outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess and cornerback Leigh Bodden.

"I think you have levels of communication with all your free agents," Caserio said. "You are at different stages. Obviously, all the agents are here [at the combine]. So I would say there is continuous communication amongst all parties. Obviously once we get into free agency [March 5], it goes a little bit further."

On the recent re-signing of receiver David Patten, Caserio said the Patriots aren't living in the past.

"David has been great for us," Caserio said. "He’s great off the field. He has an unquestionable work ethic. So we want competitive, tough-minded, hungry football players looking for an opportunity, and I think David Patten kind of falls into that category.

"He has to come and earn his role on the team. Here is an opportunity for him, and whatever he makes of it, that’s entirely up to him, but we’re certainly happy to have him."

Draft Watch: AFC East

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills had craters to fill on both sides of scrimmage before new coach Chan Gailey came aboard and decided to switch to a 3-4 defense. That has created more positional needs. Critical to pulling off that defensive transformation is identifying a classic, run-stopping, multiple-blocker-occupying nose tackle. One doesn't exist on their roster.

But where the Bills really need to upgrade is at offensive tackle and quarterback for an offense that has rated 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons. They neglected left tackle after trading Pro Bowler Jason Peters before last year's draft. They passed on budding star Michael Oher. Without that piece, can the Bills afford to draft a quarterback ninth overall, pay him the type of money he would command and expect him to develop behind a feeble line?

Miami Dolphins

For the third offseason in a row, receiver is Miami's sexiest offseason need. Dolfans have been begging for downfield help, and the necessity has been augmented now that Chad Henne is the quarterback. The Dolphins got by with a collection of possession receivers because of Chad Pennington's pinpoint, midrange arm. A reliable deep threat would benefit Henne.

The Dolphins have a decision to make at nose tackle. Incumbent Jason Ferguson is coming off a season-ending leg injury and will turn 36 next season. If the Dolphins look elsewhere, then that's a big hole.

No matter what, they must improve at inside linebacker and free safety, the positions most responsible for surrendering big play after big play throughout the season. Last year's free safety, Gibril Wilson, was paid well and gave up costly plays. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele simply aren't playmakers. They combined last year for one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two recoveries.

New England Patriots

Crucial to the Patriots' offseason is finding pass-rushers, either through free agency or the draft. They're rice-paper thin at outside linebacker, where unrestricted free agents Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess were first (9.5) and tied for second (five) on the team in sacks. It's hard to imagine Adalius Thomas remaining on the roster. Defensive end is another area of concern. Bill Belichick dealt Richard Seymour in training camp. Jarvis Green is unrestricted.

On offense, it would sound laughable to say this a year ago, but the Patriots need receiver help. They never located a legitimate third option last season. Randy Moss showed his volatile side for the first time as a Patriot. Wes Welker has a long recovery from knee surgery ahead. Tight end is another unsettled spot. Benjamin Watson is unrestricted, and even if he comes back, the Patriots never seem comfortable there.

New York Jets

A year ago, the Jets embarked on what appeared to be massive renovations. Now they're tweaking. On offense, receiver is an area to concentrate on. Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are a nice start, but the Jets couldn't find trustworthy help beyond that. Whether they add a wideout or a slot target, Mark Sanchez could use help as the Jets develop into a more balanced offense.

Offensive line and defensive end are places where the Jets are getting older. The Jets are not compelled to find starters in either area, but they're in desperate need of depth players they can groom for the future. General manager Mike Tannenbaum isn't afraid to barter draft picks, and the result has been just 13 selections over the past three Aprils, including three last year. When you're constantly filling out the back end of your roster with undrafted rookies and castoffs, depth can suffer a long time.

Free agency: AFC East

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
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AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC East.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

Buffalo Bills

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

[+] EnlargeOwens
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireTerrell Owens caught 55 passes for 829 yards and five TDs for the Bills in 2009.
Key figures: The Bills' roster presumably will experience considerable turnover under new general manager Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey, who's switching the defense to a 3-4 scheme. The Bills don't have any free agents they must re-sign. Their most notable unrestricted free agents are Owens, Reed and Scott. The club probably won't go out of its way to sign any of them. Strong safety George Wilson and guard Richie Incognito are the most prominent players who would be impacted by the uncapped year, morphing from unrestricted to restricted.

Miami Dolphins

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

Key figures: Some big names populate the Dolphins' free-agent list. Three of their captains -- Pennington, Ferguson and Taylor -- are unrestricted. They're trying to jettison a fourth captain, outside linebacker Joey Porter, onto the open market. Ferguson is 35 and coming off a leg injury. Yet he would be the toughest to replace because 3-4 nose tackles are commodities. If the NFL miraculously avoids an uncapped year, then running back Ronnie Brown would be unrestricted. Otherwise, a clause would keep him under contract for 2010.

New England Patriots

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

Key figures: Wilfork is the only AFC East free agent worthy of a franchise tag. While most of the focus is on him, other significant contributors have expiring contracts. One of the Patriots' areas in need of an upgrade this offseason is their pass rush. Sacks leader Banta-Cain and Burgess accounted for 15 of the team's 31 sacks. There's a belief the Patriots will let Watson walk, creating a larger void at tight end.

New York Jets

Unrestricted free agents: WR David Clowney, CB Drew Coleman, LS James Dearth, DT Mike Devito, K Jay Feely, DT Howard Green, TE Ben Hartsock, FB Tony Richardson, G Robert Turner.

Key figures: Richardson and Feely are the biggest names because a blocking fullback is integral to the offense, and a reliable kicker is crucial to the Jets' defense-first, grind-it-out approach. The Jets' list of free agents could grow if they don't want to fork over substantial roster bonuses next month for running back Thomas Jones, cornerback Lito Sheppard or safety Kerry Rhodes.

AFC East Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
2:30
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

New England Patriots

Final Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: Tully Banta-Cain largely was considered an afterthought to the Patriots' defense when the season began. Players such as Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather were the projected stars. But Banta-Cain, back after two years with the 49ers, led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks, four more than his previous career-high. He also had a pair of forced fumbles.

Biggest disappointment: Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas probably won't be back next year. Thomas has two years remaining on a free-agent contract that pays him an average of $7 million, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from benching him twice. Thomas notched 11 sacks for the Ravens the year before the Patriots signed him. He finished with three this year, tying his worst output since he became a starter in 2001.

Biggest need: Despite unexpected seasons from Banta-Cain and defensive tackle Mike Wright, the Patriots must improve their pass rush. Wright had five sacks. So did Derrick Burgess, acquired with high expectations in a trade with the Raiders in training camp. The Patriots notched a mere 31 sacks, tying them for 23rd in the league. They ranked 12th in pass defense.

Team MVP: Wes Welker won't be around for the playoffs, but he certainly helped the Patriots get there. He led the NFL with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards.

Turning point: On opening night, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled with about minute left in the game to set up Tom Brady's second touchdown pass in the final 2:06 of a stunning victory. Had the Patriots lost that game, the whole trajectory of their season might've changed.


New York Jets

Final Power Ranking: 12

Biggest surprise: When star nose tackle Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, everyone figured the Jets' 3-4 defense was doomed. But rookie coach Rex Ryan continued to mold his defense into the NFL's best unit. The Jets ranked No. 1 in total defense and passing defense, and gave up the fewest first downs. The Cowboys had to close the season with back-to-back shutouts to nip the Jets by one-tenth of a point for the best scoring defense.

Biggest disappointment: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's lack of progression from the start of the season has been frustrating. He began his career remarkably well, playing beyond his years in helping the Jets open 3-0. But his penchant for giveaways and a failure to grasp team concepts forced the Jets to curb their offense rather than open it up as the season wore on. The best solution has been to marginalize Sanchez. In his past five victories, his attempts were in the teens, and his yardage never surpassed 154.

Biggest need: Aside from accelerated experience at quarterback? Despite the trade for downfield threat Braylon Edwards, the Jets really could use help at receiver. Sanchez would benefit from a reliable slot receiver. The Jets' fourth-leading target was running back Leon Washington, who didn't play the final nine games. You'd have to look even lower on the stat sheet to find their third receiver. David Clowney finished with 14 catches for 191 yards.

Team MVP: Lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was the best player on the NFL's best defense. His six interceptions tied him for fifth in the league, and his 37 passes defensed were best by a comfortable margin.

Turning point: The Jets had a miraculous Week 16. All of the teams they needed to lose fell flat, and the undefeated Colts pulled their starters with almost six minutes left in the third quarter to usher the Jets onto the postseason threshold.


Miami Dolphins

Final Power Ranking: 21

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins couldn't have appear more condemned than when they started 0-3 and lost quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury. In came sophomore Chad Henne, who had been lackluster in the preseason. The Dolphins preferred to let Henne marinate for another season, but he won seven of his first 10 starts and showed enough to give Dolfans reason to believe they've found a franchise quarterback.

Biggest disappointment: The best compliment head coach Tony Sparano could pay outside linebacker Joey Porter recently was that he had gotten better at stopping the run as the season progressed. Porter led the AFC in sacks last season with 17. He recorded only nine this season, with half coming in two games. A hamstring problem bothered him, and Sparano benched him one game for disciplinary reasons.

Biggest need: The Dolphins need receiving help more than ever. Pennington thrived with their collection of possession receivers because he's a precision passer. But Henne has downfield capabilities that require a reliable deep threat. Ted Ginn certainly has the speed but little else to qualify him as a No. 1 wideout.

Team MVP: Ricky Williams is 32 years old, but he turned back the calendar with his best campaign since 2003, the longest spread between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He became the workhorse, rushing for at least 102 yards in four out of the five games after Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending broken foot in Week 10.

Turning point: The Dolphins were in control when they were 7-6. Then they lost their last three games to finish out of the playoffs.


Buffalo Bills

Final Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: When it came to this year's draft class, all of the attention was focused on defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th overall) and offensive linemen Eric Wood (28th) and Andy Levitre (51st). But safety Jairus Byrd (42nd) stole the show for much of the season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Byrd started only 11 games, but his nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead.

Biggest disappointment: Marshawn Lynch appeared ready to break out as an elite running back. He was entering his third season and was a Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. But he opened the season with a three-game suspension for repeated bad behavior. He lost his job as the featured back by Week 11 and finished with 450 yards. He completed four games with 6 or fewer yards.

Biggest need: The Bills are practically naked at both offensive tackle spots. They traded Pro Bowler Jason Peters before the draft and chose not to replace him -- even though they had a crack at young star Michael Oher. The Bills went through a series of unimpressive names, including Demetrius Bell, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers.

Team MVP: Fred Jackson took over as lead back by thoroughly outperforming Lynch. Jackson rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 46 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also was Buffalo's top kick returner with 1,014 yards.

Turning point: Had McKelvin not coughed up the ball on that fateful kickoff return on opening night, the Bills would have ended a wicked losing skid against the Patriots and probably would have changed the course of their season.

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