NFL Nation: New York Jets

Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the lessons it learned from last week's NFL combine in Indianapolis, as well as the latest in the push for bringing the NFL to Los Angeles.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters.

Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) joins to give an idea of how feasible it would be for the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in Southern California. Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) discusses why he thinks Jameis Winston is all but a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) breaks down which direction the Jets will go with the No. 6 overall draft pick. Will they go with a quarterback? Defense? Receiver? Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) weighs with his thoughts on where the Titans will turn at No. 2 if Winston is off the board.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT each Tuesday, and be sure to give the show's a podcast a listen following each taping.
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the latest in the league's coaching changes.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the recent hirings made by the teams they cover.

Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) discusses the hiring of Gary Kubiak, minutes before Kubiak was introduced to media in the Mile High City. Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter) chats about former Broncos head coach John Fox's recent hiring in the Windy City. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) talks about Todd Bowles becoming the Jets' new head coach. And Bill Williamson (Oakland Raiders reporter) and Gutierrez break down the decisions that brought Jack Del Rio back to the Bay Area, and kept Jim Tomsula there.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, and give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.

Listen to this week's podcast here.
CLEVELAND -- Selling offseason optimism after a December free fall is difficult even with good quarterback play.

The Cleveland Browns' outlook at the game’s most important position is spiraling down to the bottom of the NFL unless Johnny Manziel can take ownership of the job this offseason.

Manziel was drafted before Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oakland’s Derek Carr, yet both franchises have more quarterback security than the Browns do, in part because those rookies were able to play through mistakes. They also got better late in the season.

Manziel didn’t get that luxury but also did little to show he’d be prepared for that rookie evolution.

The Browns aren’t the only team in the league with questions at quarterback. Let’s see whether the Browns -- with Manziel, Connor Shaw and Tyler Thigpen on the roster, the No. 12 and No. 19 picks in the first round and the ability to sign a free agent from a relatively weak quarterback pool -- have a better or worse situation than these teams.

Jets -- Better. Manziel seems to have more upside than Geno Smith, and the Jets’ No. 6 overall pick doesn’t guarantee a high-level quarterback in this draft.

Bills -- Worse. EJ Manuel doesn’t look like a high-level starter, but he’s been serviceable. He’s a good fallback.

Texans -- Worse. Houston coach Bill O’Brien is a factor. He can help turn marginal quarterback play into wins. Ryan Mallett showed potential in his few starts, and there are some evaluators in the Browns' facility who liked Tom Savage.

Titans -- Worse. Questions still surround Zach Mettenberger, but he looks the part. Tennessee could take Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick.

Rams -- Tie. There’s no guarantee Sam Bradford can remain healthy, and the options behind him are scarce. If Bradford returns to form, clearly the Rams have a better situation.

Redskins -- Better. Washington seems ready to start over after Robert Griffin III's benching, which means they have no solutions at all save a draft gem.

Bucs -- Worse. Manziel is better than the current stable of Bucs quarterbacks, but having the ability to draft Mariota aids Tampa Bay’s cause.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Nick Folk might have nightmares about the New England Patriots, if he hasn't already.

The New York Jets' place-kicker has had a solid season, making 29 of his 35 field-goal attempts. But in the Jets' two games against the Patriots, Folk had potential game-winning kicks blocked.

Back in October, a 58-yard attempt on the final play of the game was blocked by Chris Jones, sealing the Pats' 27-25 victory. And Sunday, a 52-yard try with just over five minutes remaining was partially tipped by Vince Wilfork, preserving the 17-16 final score.

Despite the cold weather, Folk made a kick from that distance in pregame warm-ups. It would have been 10 yards closer, except for Dont'a Hightower's sack of Geno Smith on the previous play.

Folk had connected from 26, 23 and 37 yards earlier in the game.

"I feel like I was hitting the ball pretty well today," Folk said. "It's a bummer the last one; I didn't get a chance to see it go in."

"I hit it about as pure as you could hit the ball," Folk added. "I’d like to think it would have gone through."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said his team made a tweak before that fateful kick.

"I coached special teams for a significant part of my career. I know how that goes," Belichick said. "When you see a guy block a kick or get pressure in a certain area, you try to stop that and that usually creates opportunities for somebody else. We’ve gotten it from different guys in different gaps. If the team concentrates too much on trying to stop one guy and there’s an opening somewhere else, we’ve got to be able to take advantage of that.

"We had a stand right there before the snap and changed our alignment a little bit. It was a long kick, like the one we had in New England. Like Chris [Jones] did, Vince got his hand up and the ball was a little low. The key to blocking the kick was being in front of the ball. Vince got himself there and made the play."

Folk did have a game-winning kick in the Jets' 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots last season. But it was not without controversy. Folk was originally wide left from 56 yards away, but Chris Jones was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pushing a teammate into the opponent's formation -- a penalty that had never been called in an NFL game before.

What's next for Folk and the Patriots? Well, we'll just have to wait for next season.

Jets vs. Titans preview

December, 12, 2014
When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: LP Field, Nashville TV: CBS

Two of the NFL's five worst team's square off Sunday at LP Field.

Big changes are coming for the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, two teams that are a mess and carry 2-11 records into the game.

Young players will gain experience, and coaches will see how willing their players remain to give them their all.

But a win in this game could be unhealthy for the long-term forecast, because the high draft pick to come should have a big bearing on the potential for a turnaround in 2015 and beyond.

ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky got together to chat about the New York-Tennessee game.

Paul Kuharsky: Chris Johnson spoke before the season as if his new offensive coordinator was going to have all the answers and he was going to prove the Titans wrong for moving on. I saw some good runs when they were on national TV, but how’s the body of work been?

Rich Cimini: Suffice it to say that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hasn't had all the answers. This has been a frustrating year for Johnson, who has expressed his feelings on a few occasions. This will be the first time he doesn't reach 1,000 yards. He got off to a slow start, probably because of the surgically repaired knee. He has been more elusive in recent weeks, looking more like the Johnson of old. Your Titans' followers might find this hard to believe, but he's third in the league in yards-after-contact per rush with 2.29. I thought he'd be a bigger factor in the passing game -- so did the coaches -- but he had a couple of early drops and they forgot about him. Johnson will be highly motivated for this game. He's been talking about it since he signed nine months ago.

What happened to Shonn Greene? He was a tough, workmanlike back with the Jets, but he seems to be off the radar now.

Paul Kuharsky: He is. Last week he was a healthy scratch as the Titans tried to get a look at rookie Antonio Andrews, who’s a similar back. But Andrews, like Greene so many times before him, didn’t get much action as the game steered the Titans in a different direction. Greene hurt a knee in the 2013 opener, missed five games and was never the same. He still got 19 carries in a game with Mike Munchak as the coach. This year he’s maxed out at 15 in the opener and hasn’t had more than 11 since. Since Week 5, he has 16 carries total. He’s not a bad situational back, but the worst third-down offense in the NFL isn’t in third-and-short a lot. They gave him a three-year, $10 million deal. I don’t think he’s going to see Year 3.

The Titans are beat up on the offensive line and got torched for eight sacks by the Giants. The Jets look to have a more formidable front than the team they share their stadium with. How’s the pass rush?

Rich Cimini: The pass rush looked good early in the season, but like most everything else on the Jets, it faded -- only nine sacks in the past five games. That said, the defensive line is the strongest unit on the Jets. The Titans should pay attention to Sheldon Richardson, who is coming off the Jets' first three-sack game since 2009. The 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is making a Pro Bowl push. There's a chance that Muhammad Wilkerson, sidelined the past two games with turf toe, could return this week. He has a specially designed shoe and is planning to test it in practice. Their pass-rushers are hungry, and there could be plenty of eats against the Titans' woeful line.

Some in New York are calling this the Mariota Bowl. Clearly, the Jets will be in the quarterback market. What about the Titans? Would Marcus Mariota, or even Jameis Winston, be a no-brainer pick?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think so. Mariota is a good player, but running around is a big part of what he does, and Ken Whisenhunt is big on pocket passers. Winston would bring some potential to have Vince Young-style issues, and the Titans are not that far removed from that headache and the setbacks it caused the franchise. Anything is possible. But I think they’ll probably go forward with Zach Mettenberger as the starter. He’s shown some promise and is just the style Whisenhunt likes -- a tall guy who can stand in against the rush and has a big arm to deliver the ball. If they stick with him, perhaps they can trade back a bit and land more picks to address their giant list of needs. A pass-rushing threat at outside linebacker in the 3-4 is a must.

Is Rex Ryan down to his final three games in New York? How about general manager John Idzik? Who deserves the most blame for the state of the team?

Rich Cimini: Yes, Ryan's days are numbered. He knows it and everybody in the organization knows it. When you miss the playoffs four straight years, especially in a market like New York, it's tough to make a strong case for him to stay. Idzik's future is less certain. My sense is there's a chance that he, too, will be fired. This is only his second year, but nothing has gone right. He inherited a 6-10 team and turned it into a 2-11 team. I'd say he's probably more at fault than Ryan. Idzik did a poor job of drafting and attacking needs in free agency. He also has turned off people in the organization with his stubborn, closed-door style of management. They could use a good house cleaning.

Obviously, this isn't a stellar matchup, but I think the Jets are still playing hard for Rex Ryan. Can the same be said for the Titans and Ken Whisenhunt?

Paul Kuharsky: I’m not so sure. They are so overwhelmed so quickly these days, there is a resignation that runs through the team as the familiar pattern unfolds. Neil O’Donnell, who quarterbacked the Jets and the Titans, still lives in Nashville and said on the radio this week that he doesn’t believe guys want to play for Whisenhunt. It’s a complete mess, and while no current players are critiquing the coach and his staff, there have been some hints they have questions. And they should. The Titans don’t have much talent, but Whisenhunt has done a poor job of making the most of what he has. There will be big roster turnover in the offseason, but if a roster filled more with Whisenhunt guys doesn’t show significant improvement, his job could have just a two-year tenure.

Chiefs vs. Jets preview

October, 30, 2014

The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, teams headed in opposite directions, meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. After losing their first two games, the Chiefs climbed to 4-3 after Sunday's 34-7 win over the St. Louis Rams. The Jets, after beating the Oakland Raiders to begin the season, have lost seven straight games, including Sunday's 43-23 defeat to the Buffalo Bills. This week, the Jets replaced struggling quarterback Geno Smith with veteran Michael Vick.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Jets reporter Rich Cimini preview Sunday's game.

Teicher: Rich, do you think the Jets are making the best decision for this game by replacing Smith with Vick?

Cimini: I don’t think the change will solve the turnover problem, but Vick might bring a spark to the offense. He isn’t the Vick of 2010, but he’s still capable of escaping trouble with his legs. That alone will be good for a few first downs a game. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a full week of practice reps with the starters, something he hasn’t had with the Jets, including training camp. I know one thing: The players were ready for a change after last week’s brutal performance by Smith. The downside to Vick is that he will fumble; he’s always been careless with the ball. He had four fumbles last week (and lost two). Obviously, Andy Reid knows him better than anyone, having coached him in Philadelphia. That insight will help in the game planning.

It looks like the Chiefs are taking dink and dunk to a new level. How would you describe their passing game and what’s the deal with Alex Smith’s shoulder?

Teicher: It is a dink-and-dunk passing game. Smith last Sunday was the first NFL quarterback in two years to win a game by attempting just one pass longer than 10 yards down the field. While that’s an extreme, Smith has had similar games earlier in the season. Shaky protection is part of the problem. The Chiefs have allowed more sacks per pass play than all but four other teams, so the Chiefs put a premium on Smith getting rid of the ball quickly. The Chiefs have no pass play of longer than 33 yards. All the other teams have at least two pass plays of 34 yards or longer. The Chiefs ask their receivers to earn yards after the catch. Tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles do that well.

The Jets are allowing a lot of points and their pass defense has been horrible. Give me a scouting report on the Jets defense and detail some of the reasons they’ve been so bad on that side of the ball.

Cimini: You’re right; the defensive performance has been stunning. Blame injuries and poor personnel decisions at cornerback. Rex Ryan is playing cards with half a deck, and the results have been lousy. They’re giving up big plays (nine pass plays of 40-plus yards), they stink on third down (a league-high 12 touchdowns) and they can’t steal the ball. Incredibly, they have only three takeaways -- one interception and two fumble recoveries. They don’t have anyone who can play man-to-man, so Ryan is playing more zone than ever before. Now, I will say this: The Chiefs don’t have an explosive passing attack, so this matchup plays to the Jets’ strengths, stopping the run and rushing the passer.

Obviously, Justin Houston is having a great year. What makes him so effective in Bob Sutton’s scheme, which is similar to Rex Ryan’s scheme?

Teicher: Houston would be a good fit in a lot of schemes, but he’s the perfect outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He’s a solid all-around player, good against the run and in coverage as well as rushing the passer. He’s getting plenty of help in pressuring the quarterback. Tamba Hali, a relentless player, is a nice complement to Houston as an edge rusher. Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe have been effective inside rushers.

The Jets traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin last week and they got him involved immediately in the game against the Bills. How did they utilize him and what difference, if any, should he make in the Jets’ offense?

Cimini: Harvin didn’t make much of a difference in his Jets debut -- seven touches on offense for a total of 50 yards. Instead of using him as a “gadget” receiver -- bubble screens, jet sweeps, etc. -- the Jets used him as a traditional X receiver. I guess they think they’re smarter than the Seahawks, but the only plays that worked were his old Seattle plays. Two of his three catches came behind the line of scrimmage. Elsewhere, he caught only one of seven targets. His four rushes came from a running-back position. He played 44 of 84 snaps last week, so look for that total to increase after another week of absorbing the system. He’s fast, all right, but he’s not the kind of player that can elevate those around him.

After an 0-2 start, the Chiefs seem to have their act together. Could they pull a reverse of last year, finishing strong and becoming a factor in January?

Teicher: It’s possible. I think the Chiefs will be a strong contender for a wild-card spot. They’ve greatly reduced the number of big pass plays they’re allowing. That was a big problem for them last season, even during their 9-0 start. They aren’t a big-play offense, but they run the ball well and are very effective on third downs. They finally got a significant contribution last week on special teams, where they won on a weekly basis last year. If they continue to get that, the Chiefs will be tough to beat during the second half of the season. If they do make the playoffs, their chances of winning a game or two would be better than they’ve been in a long time, depending on the matchup.

W2W4: New York Jets

August, 28, 2014
The New York Jets (2-1) face the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, in the final preseason game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

1. A sort of homecoming: Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the Jets, against the team he played for the past five seasons. It'll be interesting to see how he is received by the fans in Philadelphia. The Jets are sitting all their starters, and even Vick won't play for long. Ex-Jets starter Mark Sanchez is now the backup to Nick Foles in Philly, but Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn't planning to use either of his top two QBs in this game. Nevertheless, it'll be an opportunity for Sanchez and his former teammates and coaches to reconnect on the field before and after the game.

2. Last chance? One Jet who will play is wide receiver Stephen Hill, and his job appears to be on the line. The former second-round draft pick, a major disappointment in his first two years with the team, has just two catches for 29 yards in three preseason games. Fellow wideouts Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson are locks to make the final roster, and coach Rex Ryan talked up Greg Salas and Saalim Hakim on Tuesday, and fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders is currently tabbed as the team's No. 1 punt returner. Hill better make some plays Thursday, or else his Jets career could be over.

3. Around the corner: The Jets' lack of talent and depth at cornerback has been the biggest topic of conversation regarding the team during the preseason, and it could get ugly against the Eagles. Dee Milliner (ankle) is still out, and Dimitri Patterson has been suspended for the rest of the preseason. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle (knee) is out for the season, and converted safety Antonio Allen (concussion) is still out as well. Darrin Walls sat out practice Tuesday and will not play against the Eagles, and Ryan is holding nickel back Kyle Wilson out of this game, too. That leaves you with Ellis Lankster and LeQuan Lewis as your likely starters, with Johnny Patrick, Brandon Dixon and Jeremy Reeves as your reserves. Yikes.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s special post-draft episode on Spreecast. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) and Dan Graziano (New York Giants reporter) break down the 2014 NFL draft as we look at draft winners and losers with a look ahead to rookie camps. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.


NFL Nation: 4 Downs - AFC East

May, 7, 2014

Did the AFC East's best keep on getting better?

The perennial division champion New England Patriots signed elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, which could offset significant free-agency gains by the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

The Buffalo Bills are in good position to improve through this week's NFL draft. EJ Manuel, the Bills' top pick last season, returns as the starting quarterback and is one of three second-year players facing intense scrutiny in 2014.

Who finishes atop the AFC East in 2014 could depend largely on which team best handles the stretch run, as December features five inter-division matchups -- including three in a row for the Patriots to end the season.

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 offseason and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East team has had the best offseason to date?

Rich Cimini: I'm all about the stars, which is why I'm picking the Patriots, who landed the best free agent of them all: Darrelle Revis. He's one of the top two cornerbacks in the league, a legitimate game-changer. His presence will allow Bill Belichick to play more press-man coverage, which will help their pass rush and create headaches for opponents. Once Brandon Browner serves his suspension, they'll have two physical corners. The Jets and Dolphins helped themselves in free agency, addressing need areas, but neither team acquired a player as good as Revis. The Patriots lost a terrific corner in Aqib Talib and actually upgraded. How often does that happen in free agency?

Mike Reiss: The Patriots get the nod here because they added the best overall player in cornerback Darrelle Revis and re-signed receiver Julian Edelman (the Jets had explored poaching him), but I don't think it's a large gap to the next club. I like what the Dolphins have done to start rebuilding their offensive line (Branden Albert, Shelley Smith) while also bringing in defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes and potentially getting some value with cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Mike Rodak: Comparing gains and losses in free agency, the Patriots have fared the best. The season is never won in March, but the Patriots were able to upgrade even after losing cornerback Aqib Talib. Signing Darrelle Revis was the most significant free-agent move in the division, while Brandon Browner adds another quality player to the secondary. The Jets aren't too far behind. Eric Decker and Chris Johnson add firepower where the Jets have struggled in recent years -- at their skill positions. Neither player, though, is on the same level as Revis, which is why I give the Patriots the edge. Honorable mentions go to the Dolphins for signing Branden Albert and the Bills for signing Brandon Spikes.

James Walker: I like what the Jets have done this offseason. It has been offense, offense and more offense in free agency for New York. The Jets went out and signed wide receiver Eric Decker, former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson and veteran quarterback Michael Vick. All three have a chance to make an impact on New York's weakest side of the football. Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind and has that side taken care of. It's just a matter of New York scoring more points this year. If the Jets can add a receiving threat such as Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks in the first round Thursday, look out for "Gang Green."

Second Down

Will an AFC East team select a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft?

Cimini: No one will pick a quarterback in the first two days of the draft. The most likely candidate is the Dolphins, who have a new offensive coordinator and might be looking to acquire some Ryan Tannehill insurance after two so-so seasons -- but it won't happen before the fourth round, not this year. Neither Geno Smith nor EJ Manuel is entrenched with the Jets and Bills, respectively, but their teams have too many other needs to start doubling down on quarterbacks. The Patriots made headlines by hosting Johnny Manziel on a pre-draft visit, but I'm not buying it. It's still too early to start looking for an heir to the Tom Brady throne.

Reiss: Yes. One of the things that has become clear in the build-up to the draft is that this is a good year for clubs looking for a developmental quarterback. ESPN's Mel Kiper said he has spoken with teams who have identified as many as 15-20 draftable quarterbacks this year, which is higher than the norm. NFL Network's Mike Mayock said he has 10 signal-callers with grades within the first three rounds, which is about double the norm. I think Buffalo (insurance for EJ Manuel) and New England (backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season) are the spots to look within the division.

Rodak: The Patriots are the most likely to select a quarterback in the first three rounds. Their backup since 2011, Ryan Mallett, enters the final season of his rookie contract and hasn't proved in limited playing time that he's capable of being a starter. Mallett was a third-round selection and that could be the sweet spot for the Patriots again, although I wouldn't put it past them to take a quarterback in the second round if one of the top signal-callers falls. The Bills might also pluck a quarterback off the board by Friday night. EJ Manuel, a first-round pick last year, is their starter but they could use an upgrade over Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel as their backup. If the right quarterback falls, Buffalo might pounce.

Walker: The third round seems like the best possibility; it's the safest round of the three for avoiding a quarterback controversy. The Bills would have the best case for drafting a quarterback fairly early. The team has said several times that it's behind 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel, but I don't see any reason for the Bills to avoid adding depth at the position behind Manuel in the middle of the draft. Backup quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel are not the answers. Manuel had injury issues last year, as well. It makes sense for the Bills to consider a capable backup.

Third Down

What stands out about the NFL schedule for each AFC East team?

Cimini: Prepare for the missiles of October. The Jets face Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span, Weeks 5 to 7. Before that, they meet up with a few other top quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. The Jets' suspect pass defense, which allowed nearly 4,000 yards last season, will be seriously tested. This is the main reason they need to prioritize cornerback in the draft.

Reiss: The Patriots have a well-placed bye week and some of their biggest games around it. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos precedes the bye, then coming out of it is a Nov. 16 road game against the Colts. Fun, fun. If that's not the iron of the schedule, then back-to-back road games against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) probably qualifies. Also, with the season concluding with three straight division games, the AFC East could still be up for grabs late.

Rodak: I've harped on this point before, but the Bills might have the NFL's toughest December schedule. Who knows where they'll be by Thanksgiving -- they could be in the playoff hunt or fading -- but their final month is brutal. The Bills must travel to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos, return home to host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, make a cross-country trip to face the Raiders and then head back East to finish their regular season on the road against Brady and the Patriots. Ouch. Perhaps it's better that this four-game stretch comes at the end of the season rather than the beginning -- the Bills could be staring down an 0-4 start if it did -- but if they have any hope at the playoffs, they're going to need to win a couple of those games.

Walker: The Dolphins must bring their A-game on the road because they do not have back-to-back home games until the final two weeks. The Dolphins were a respectable 4-4 on the road last season, but it will be challenging for them to put together any significant winning streaks away from Sun Life Stadium. Miami's regular-season opener at home against the Patriots also stands out. We will find out immediately whether the Dolphins are a legitimate threat to New England in the AFC East.

Fourth Down

Which AFC East second-year player has the most to prove?

Cimini: My first inclination is to say Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who could lose his starting job to Michael Vick, but that's the Jets beat writer in me talking. The better answer is Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. Why him? Unlike Smith, Manuel was a first-round pick, which means greater expectations -- and those expectations were heightened when the Bills anointed him as The Guy. Smith has yet to receive that kind of endorsement from the Jets. The Bills have hitched their franchise to Manuel, who is coming off a mediocre-at-best rookie season in which he went 4-6 as the starter. He was hampered by injuries, but part of being a franchise quarterback is being on the field.

Reiss: Bills quarterback EJ Manuel would be my choice. He looked like a foundation-type player in the season opener against the Patriots last year, and had a few bright spots in ensuing weeks, but overall had an uneven first year in the NFL that was affected by injuries. The Bills surprised many by using a first-round draft choice to select him last year, and because of that Manuel gets the nod here over Jets quarterback Geno Smith, a second-round pick. It will be intriguing to see how things unfold with Smith now that the Jets have also signed Michael Vick, but I think the discovery process on Manuel in Year 2 -- is he really a franchise quarterback? -- trumps it.

Rodak: It has to be EJ Manuel. Geno Smith is a close second, but the Jets have Michael Vick to lean on. The Bills decided not to add an experienced backup quarterback this offseason, clearing the way for Manuel to be their unquestioned starter. Manuel needs to be more consistent. He showed flashes last season but also had some downright horrid games, including a four-interception afternoon against the Buccaneers. Manuel must also stay healthy. His three knee injuries last season limited him to 10 games and set back his development. Another injury this season will cloud the picture and keep the Bills from knowing exactly what they have. That could give him more leeway if he isn't progressing as quickly as the team would like, but it could also cause the Bills to look elsewhere.

Walker: It's easy to point to the quarterback position and say New York's Geno Smith and Buffalo's EJ Manuel have the most to prove. But neither player was drafted higher in 2013 than Miami's Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick. The Dolphins traded up nine spots to get Jordan last year, only to use him as a backup defensive end and special-teamer. It was head-scratching to figure out why such a dynamic talent couldn't find his way onto the field. Jordan's usage actually was one point of contention between Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and former general manager Jeff Ireland, who had a falling out last season. Was Jordan not ready for the NFL level? Was Miami's coaching staff holding him back? This is a big Year 2 to answer those questions.

How Giants lured DRC away from Jets

March, 26, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Before visiting with the New York Giants, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent time at the New York Jets' facility, meeting with team officials. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't worried about losing the free-agent cornerback to his local rival.

"It seemed as if he was going to continue to visit until he found what he wanted," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Rodgers-Cromartie found it with the Giants, who gave him a five-year, $35 million contract that includes $13.98 million guaranteed. Putting the money aside for a moment, the Giants believe they landed the talented corner by providing two important elements: A specific plan for him on defense and stablity.

This will be DRC's third team in three years, and he wants to settle down with one team, according to Coughlin. The Jets didn't provide that opportunity, reportedly offering what amounted to a one-year contract for about $6 million.

"To be honest with you, he was looking for a place to sink his roots and become a guy who represented a team and stayed there, and worked his way through some things," Coughlin said. "He wanted to be part of something instead of one year here, one year there. ...He jumped on that. He wanted to be a guy who’s associated with a team and be recognized."

Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented, but inconsistent player. He played well last season for the Denver Broncos, but he was a disappointment in the two previous seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Coughlin said the Giants' coaches studied him closely, formulating a plan to maximize his strengths. He wouldn't divulge the plan.

"We have a young man that really wants to be coached," he said. "We studied and we saw some areas we can help him in, and we were very specific about how that would happen. He was very open and receptive to it. We did a good job of it. Our coaches worked their tails off. They spent a lot of time on it, a lot of time."

And the Jets still have a gaping hole at cornerback, with general manager John Idzik taking heat for failing to address a need.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC East

March, 13, 2014

There's the New England Patriots ... and then there's everyone else.

With a few exceptions, that has been the makeup of the AFC East since 2001, when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won their first division title -- and Super Bowl -- for New England. Even when the Patriots lose, they win. One day after free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib left for Denver, New England replaced him with perennial Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis.

Belichick will turn 62 next month and Brady turns 37 in August. Both are closer to the end of their careers, so is it realistic to expect the Patriots to decline soon? The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are all surely hoping so, as recent history has been that they need to get past the Patriots to make a playoff run.

The AFC East hasn't produced a wild-card playoff team since 2010, when the Jets went on the road to upset the Patriots and punch their ticket to the AFC Championship Game. The Jets' success was short-lived, and they've since been cast back into the pack with the Bills and Dolphins.

Overall, this is a young division. All four teams, including the Patriots, were among the youngest in the AFC at the start of last season. That youth shows up most at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel are all green and looking to prove their worth in the NFL. Their teams' ability to challenge the Patriots might hang in the balance.

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 power structure in the AFC East and some other some key offseason topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East team is closest to catching the Patriots?

Rich Cimini: The Jets, no question about it. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins are three teams with question marks at quarterback -- and quarterback play is everything in the NFL. So why the Jets? When rating teams, I like to look at which ones can be dominant on at least one side of the ball. Clearly, the defenses of the Bills and Jets (ranked 10th and 11th, respectively) are the best units among the three Patriots-chasing teams. Beyond the stats, I'd give an edge to the Jets because their defensive line has a chance to be the most dominant position group in the division. And the Bills lost their best defensive player, safety Jairus Byrd. Another reason I'd pick the Jets is the coaching staff. Granted, Rex Ryan has missed the playoffs for three straight years, but he has a veteran staff that experienced little upheaval. Continuity is important. The Bills have a new defensive coordinator and the Dolphins ... well, that situation is dysfunctional.

Mike Reiss: Tough to answer, obviously, before we see how each team comes together after adding pieces in the draft and free agency. Last year, it was the Dolphins. Now, after a turbulent offseason and offensive line questions, I'll move off them to the Jets. Why the Jets? Respect for a very good defense and a belief they will address major deficiencies on offense, starting with a viable quarterback option to pair with shaky Geno Smith. All that said, I still see a rather wide gap between the Patriots and the next team in the division.

Mike Rodak: The Patriots hardly tore through the division last season, losing to the Dolphins and Jets on the road, while nearly dropping their season opener in Buffalo. But it's difficult to see the other three teams contending for a division title until their quarterbacks emerge as quality NFL starters. In Miami, Ryan Tannehill showed flashes last season. It's hard to predict much of anything season to season in the NFL, but I think the Dolphins are the closest to contending. The Jets and Bills are not that far behind.

James Walker: My short answer is no AFC East team is ready to catch the Patriots in 2014. As long as Tom Brady is healthy and Bill Belichick is coaching, the Patriots will be the favorites to win the division. But the team with the smallest gap is the Dolphins. They have the most talented roster to challenge New England and the second-best quarterback in the division in Ryan Tannehill. Miami's problem is it can't stay out of its own way with infighting and in-house controversy. Last year, there was the bullying scandal and coach Joe Philbin had a falling out with former general manager Jeff Ireland. Miami still split with the Patriots, mostly because of talent. But how can the Dolphins win consistently when they're fighting themselves?

Second Down

How justified is the AFC East's reputation as a weak division?

Cimini: I hate to say it, but it's justified. The division doesn't have much street cred these days. The Jets helped the cause with their little run there in 2009 and 2010, when Ryan was in his "I'm not kissing Belichick's rings" phase, but the AFC East has turned into a bottom-heavy division. Since 2011, the Jets are 22-26, the Dolphins are 21-27 and the Bills are 18-30. In that span, the teams not named the Patriots have combined for a grand total of zero playoff appearances. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999, which is practically prehistoric. The Dolphins haven't made it since 2008. Records aside, the division lacks star power, save for Brady, Belichick & Co. Each team has a handful of good players, but we're not talking about guys with a lot of box-office appeal. Everything is cyclical in the NFL, so I'm sure things will swing the other way. But right now, the AFC East is in a state of depression -- except for the Patriots.

Reiss: I'll start with some stats. Last season, AFC East teams were 22-18 against out-of-division teams. That was the third-best mark of the eight divisions. As it turned out, AFC East teams were tied for the second-best record against non-division playoff teams. So while I wouldn't call the AFC East an elite division, I'd strongly counter any line of thinking that the division is a doormat. What impresses me the most about the division is the quality along the defensive line, which rivals any division in the NFL.

Rodak: Strength of divisions is always difficult to measure because it changes so often. The NFC West was considered a weak division for several years, but recently it has been the class of the NFL. The Seahawks groomed their young talent into a perennial playoff team, while the 49ers found a coach (Jim Harbaugh) who has brought his team to three consecutive NFC title games. They're a far cry from the Seahawks, but the Bills and Jets both had some of the NFL's youngest rosters last season. Let's see if those teams can make the next step before we label the AFC East as "weak." Plus, how many other divisions have a team that has been as dominant as the Patriots? That adds strength at the top of the division while making life tougher for everyone else.

Walker: Absolutely, the reputation is justified. I cannot think of another NFL division that was mostly owned by one team over the past dozen years. I've said since last summer that the 2013 Patriots were the weakest New England team in years. That Patriots group still won the AFC East by four games! That is more of an indication of poor football by the Jets, Dolphins and Bills than dominant football by New England. Here is all you need to know about the AFC East: No team other than New England has posted a winning record the past three seasons.

Third Down

Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel: Which young QB will still be his team's starter in three years?

Cimini: I'll be blunt: I'm not confident that any of the three young quarterbacks will be starting in three years. They all have talent, but each one was thrown into a difficult situation. Smith and Manuel were rushed into starting jobs, and Tannehill was under siege last season, behind the worst (and most dysfunctional) offensive line in the league. Out of this group, I'd say Tannehill probably has the most staying power. I'm not saying he will be a star, because I've seen him throw passes that conjure up images of Nuke LaLoosh of "Bull Durham" fame, but he has a decent amount of talent and moxie. That said, Tannehill has a new coordinator, and he could have another one next year if the Dolphins decide to blow up the coaching staff. The same could happen to Smith next year if things go sideways on the Jets. Continuity is vital for a young quarterback. So is the quality of his supporting cast. Smith could overtake Tannehill in this category if the Jets surround him with better players. That, undoubtedly, would accelerate his growth.

Reiss: I'll go Tannehill, assuming the Dolphins protect him better than they did in 2013. I think he's the most naturally gifted of the three. When I watch him beat a Patriots game plan in December that dared him to make throws to the outside of the field, and he succeeded in doing so, it reflects a promising foundation on which to build. I'm interested to see how the presence of a new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, affects his development.

Rodak: The Bills, Dolphins and Jets have dealt with inconsistent quarterback play for the past decade. Of those three teams, only the Jets with Chad Pennington had a starter for more than three consecutive seasons since 2000. Three years is a very long time in the NFL -- enough time for young quarterbacks to see their stars rise and fall. Smith, Tannehill and Manuel were all high draft picks and have the potential to be long-term starters. Of the three, I think Smith is least likely to stick. Playing in New York can be tough, while the Jets' coaching situation remains volatile. The Bills might have the most stable environment for Manuel to grow, but his knee injuries are a concern. Tannehill has shown promise in Miami, but changes in the front office might bring different opinions. This might be radical, but I don't see any of the three quarterbacks starting in three years.

Walker: My first response hinted at my answer: I'm going with Tannehill, though the instability of the Dolphins' organization gives me pause. Joe Philbin might not be Miami's head coach in 2015, let alone in three years. That obviously impacts Tannehill's job security. However, I think Tannehill has the most pure talent of the three young quarterbacks. Tannehill set career highs in yards (3,913), touchdowns (24) and passer rating (81.7) last season. He also was sacked a franchise-record 58 times last season and had little help from the running game. I believe Tannehill can thrive with good pass protection and a stronger running game. He needs to work on his deep ball and make quicker decisions, but that might improve with time.

Fourth Down

The Dolphins, Bills and Patriots each experienced noteworthy changes to their coaching staff. Which will have the greatest impact?

Cimini: The Patriots lost a beloved assistant coach, Dante Scarnecchia, but let's be honest: As long as Bill Belichick is the HC of the NEP, the Patriots will be a highly competitive team. Assistants and coordinators come and go, but the Patriots remain the Patriots because of one man. I think the Bills' coaching change -- Jim Schwartz as the new defensive coordinator -- will have the greatest impact in the division. True, the Bills took a big jump last season under the departed Mike Pettine, but they still stunk against the run. Schwartz will fix that. The Dolphins' new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, has a chance to make a big impact, but it won't happen right away. Why not? Because the Dolphins' offensive line is in shambles (maybe you heard about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess), and no offensive genius has invented a scheme that works without efficient line play. They addressed it in free agency by signing Branden Albert, but there will be growing pains for the offense.

Reiss: I was going to say the Patriots because of the wide-ranging respect retiring offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has across the NFL, and also with linebackers/scout team coach Pepper Johnson landing in Buffalo. But the more I thought about it, how can it not be the Dolphins with a new offensive coordinator and two new offensive line coaches? The Patriots will miss their two assistants for different reasons, but that seems to pale in comparison to Miami based on the bigger role/responsibilities of offensive coordinator.

Rodak: I think the Patriots' changes are the least likely to have an impact given Bill Belichick's reputation to wield nearly absolute control. Assistant coaches come and go in New England, but Belichick keeps his staff small and his message consistent, so there typically isn't much change. It's a toss-up, then, between the Dolphins and Bills. The Bills have seen significant changes on their defensive coaching staff, but their personnel doesn't figure to change dramatically. The Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator, and while their skill positions could remain intact, their offensive line will be different next season. That, coupled with the need for a culture change after their bullying scandal last season, means the Dolphins' coaches have more to overcome this season.

Walker: I really like the addition of Jim Schwartz in Buffalo, and it goes beyond X's and O's. Schwartz brings head-coaching experience to Buffalo's coaching staff. Bills head coach Doug Marrone is entering his second year after a 6-10 record in 2013. There were some things last year that appeared a little too fast for him as a rookie head coach in the NFL -- and that's expected. Schwartz can help slow things down in Year 2 for Marrone, who is trying to make the transition from the college game. Schwartz experienced plenty of ups and downs with the Detroit Lions and can be a shoulder for Marrone to lean on. Mike Pettine also was a solid defensive coordinator, but he couldn't bring that element to Buffalo's staff.

A few takeaways on the New York Jets' decision to release cornerback Antonio Cromartie:

1. Is this really goodbye? There is the possibility of re-signing Cromartie down the road, according to a source, but I don't see that happening. I think Cromartie is done in New York. Unless he's willing to return on a modest, one-year contract, what sense does it make to commit to a 30-year-old cornerback with a chronic hip condition? Cromartie was terrible last season despite making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. (What a sham that was.) I give him major props for playing through the injury, but he was a liability at times. If he were a few years younger, yeah, you would bring him back, figuring the hip would heal. But he'll be 30 next month, and the combination of age and injury makes this a no-brainer. Cromartie relies on speed, not technique. If his speed is compromised, he's not the same player.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerWith Antonio Cromartie heading to Arizona, the Jets are in need of a top-flight cornerback.
2. Possible replacements: The Jets might try to sell us on Kyle Wilson as a possible replacement, but don't buy that for a second. Right now, they have only one starting-caliber cornerback on the roster -- Dee Milliner. With about $30 million in cap room, which will grow to $38 million as soon as they cut Santonio Holmes (which will happen any minute now), the Jets have plenty of flexibility to sign a top-tier free agent. On Saturday, they inquired about Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans. He and the New England Patriots' Aqib Talib will be the best cornerbacks on the market, assuming they don't re-sign before Tuesday. I think the Jets should make a push for Verner, only 25, coming off his first Pro Bowl. He could cost $10 million a year, but you would rather go long term with a player entering his prime than re-up with a banged-up player at the beginning of his downside.

3. It had to be done: Cromartie told teammates at the end of the season that he expected to be a cap casualty, and he later articulated that view in a TV interview. When Cromartie restructured his contract last year, he pushed money into 2014, resulting in a bloated cap figure of $14.98 million. That included a prohibitive $5 million roster bonus, due this week. Obviously, there was no chance he'd remain on the team at those numbers. By cutting Cromartie, the Jets will have a $9.5 million cap savings. Now Cromartie can test his value on the open market, hoping to convince teams he's healthy and still explosive. A young and healthy Cromartie was always the best athlete on the field.

4. Dynamic duo ... gone: In 2010 and 2011, the Jets had one of the premier cornerback tandems in the league, Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, who missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury. In a span of 11 months, general manager John Idzik broke up the two-man band, trading Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cutting Cromartie. He had better hope Milliner is the real deal, or else the defense is in big trouble.

5. As the Cro flies: Favorite Cromartie memory? That's easy. It was his 47-yard kickoff return in the 2010 wild-card game against the Indianapolis Colts. Basically, he won the game, putting Mark Sanchez & Co. in great field position and setting up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal as time expired. Cromartie wanted the ball in that spot, and the coaches gave it to him, knowing he could break a long one. He was capable of greatness, but too often he aggravated the coaches with his mental lapses. There was "good Cro and bad Cro," as former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine once said.
From now until March 11, the start of the league year, we'll profile potential free agents that figure to be on the New York Jets' radar:

Player: Josh McCown, Chicago Bears

Position: Quarterback

2013 stats: Started five game for the injured Jay Cutler, compiling a 3-2 record and fueling a quarterback controversy. Finished third in passer rating (109.0), completing 149 of 224 passes (66.5 percent) for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. The 13 touchdown passes exceeded the combined total of his six previous seasons. He played in 421 offensive snaps (40 percent).

2013 salary: $865,000.

Sign him up: McCown, who turns 36 in July, is the quintessential journeyman. He has played for five teams, and it looks like it will be six because his mid-30s renaissance last season probably priced him out of the Bears' budget for a backup. In terms of role acceptance, he would be a good fit for the Jets because he would push Geno Smith in a non-threatening way -- if that is what they're looking for. He would be David Garrard, sans the chronic knee condition. At this point in his career, McCown knows he won't be handed a starting job. He won't come cheaply; quarterbacks of McCown's ilk can cost a team about $4 million for the first year.

Reasons to stay away: His magical, five-game run last season screams "aberration!" McCown was a mediocre quarterback his entire career, finally finding something special under quarterback guru Marc Trestman. It also helped that he had a couple of stud receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery; he wouldn't have that luxury with the Jets, that's for sure. McCown will parlay his right-time, right-place season into a relatively big payday, but it will be hard to duplicate last season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars are possible suitors.

McShay's Mock 3.0 reax: Jets

March, 6, 2014
In his latest mock draft , ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay predicts USC wide receiver Marqise Lee for the New York Jets, who own the 18th pick.

Lee was off the board for the Jets in McShay's previous mock draft (he had them taking Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks), but this time there's a run on defensive players from the 13th pick to the 17th, allowing Lee to fall. In this scenario, he'd be the third receiver selected, behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins (Oakland Raiders, No. 5) and Texas A&M's Mike Evans (Detroit Lions, No. 10). Interestingly, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron still is there for the Jets, which would make for an interesting choice. Obviously, the decision could be based on how they address those needs in free agency.

If the Jets take Lee, they'd be looking past his disappointing 2013 season, betting that his 2012 performance (he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver) is a better gauge of his talent. A similar situation unfolded in 2012. Defensive lineman Quinton Coples was a beast at North Carolina in 2010, but slipped the following year for a variety of reasons. He became a human pinata before the draft, with critics taking shots at him. The Jets chose him 16th overall. How's it working out? Too soon to say. Coples' physical talent is undeniable, but he has given credence to some of the pre-draft concerns by displaying a lukewarm motor at times. Lee's work ethic is said to be outstanding.

McShay Mock 3.0: Jets 

March, 6, 2014
Todd McShay's third NFL mock draft for 2014 is out on ESPN Insider today.

For a team picking 18th overall, the New York Jets sure have a lot of needs right now. That is a testament to the job coach Rex Ryan did with a limited talent base and an erratic rookie quarterback in Geno Smith.

This is another roster that will look much different on draft day than it does right now, but the only positions I can't see New York considering with this pick are quarterback, running back, center, left tackle and the defensive line. There is still much rebuilding to be done, but with the extreme strength of this draft, the Jets should find a very useful piece with the 18th pick.

Whom does McShay have the Jets drafting at No. 18? ? Let's take a look Insider: