NFL Nation: Tim Hasselbeck

Carson Palmer was in focus when ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck set expectations for the Arizona Cardinals' new quarterback at the 1:11 mark of the NFL32 video above.

Hasselbeck is predicting more than 4,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes for Palmer. However, he also thinks the team's emphasis on deeper passes will expose Palmer to considerable punishment, a concession he thinks the Cardinals are willing to make as they push the ball downfield.

"Carson doesn't play with the best anticipation in terms of quarterbacks in the National Football League," Hasselbeck said. "He waits for things to develop, holds onto the ball. You get hit when that happens. You get sacked when that happens."

Palmer ranked 10th last season among qualifying quarterbacks in average time before the pass, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He was at 3.37 seconds. Tom Brady was first at 3.03 seconds. The average was 3.46 seconds for 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Palmer ranked eighth in lowest sack rate, taking sacks on 4.4 percent of drop-backs.

The figures for Palmer suggest he does a pretty good job getting rid of the football and avoiding sacks. However, that is not the full story. Andrew Luck ranked first and Palmer third last season in number of times hit while throwing, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The figure was 46 for Luck, 30 for Brady and 28 for Palmer. So, even though Brady and Palmer got rid of the ball more quickly than most, they also took more hits on pass plays when they did not take sacks.

ESPN's quarterback hit numbers reflect only those plays when the QB was hit while throwing, not plays when he was hit after throwing.

Palmer played for the Oakland Raiders last season. His new head coach in Arizona, Bruce Arians, was running the Indianapolis Colts' offense with Luck behind center. Luck ranked 27th in time before the pass (3.76 seconds on average). Luck took sacks on 5.9 percent of drop-backs, right around the 5.7 percent average for the 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Luck also took lots of hits.

Bottom line: Palmer could take quite a few hits even if he does a good job avoiding sacks.

MNF preview: 49ers catching a QB break?

November, 17, 2012
Jason CampbellMike DiNovo/US PresswireBears backup Jason Campbell's career stats are similar in many ways to starter Jay Cutler's.
The San Francisco 49ers won't have to face Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11.

They'll draw backup Jason Campbell instead.

This would seem to increase the 49ers' chances for victory, but based on what? Cutler has a better won-lost record as a starter. He has greater experience running the Bears' offense. But if you're looking for additional evidence, you won't find it in the traditional or advanced stats used to evaluate quarterbacks over time.

You'll see a couple of quarterbacks who have produced similarly over the past five seasons. Cutler has played more and for better teams. But his NFL passer rating since 2008 is 83.0, compared with 85.1 for Campbell and 84.1 for every other NFL quarterback. Cutler's Total QBR score since 2008 checks in at 56.5 when 50 is about average and 65-plus represents Pro Bowl-caliber play. The figure was 50.9 for Campbell and 52.0 for all others.

The point is that the 49ers might not be catching a big break while Cutler sits out the game after suffering a concussion in a 13-6 home defeat to the Houston Texans in Week 10. The Bears paid a $3.5 million salary for Campbell to be their backup because they figured they could win with him.

"We feel like he is a starting quarterback in the NFL that we have being our backup, and we feel very comfortable with him leading us," Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters.

NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and I discussed on a recent Inside Slant podcast how aggressive the Bears should be in re-signing Cutler after the season. I had some general impressions of Cutler but was curious to see how he stacked up against the highest-paid quarterbacks the past few seasons.

Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan all had QBR scores in the 70s among regular starters over that period. Cutler was at 56.5. The figure for Cutler is 50.3 since 2009, compared with 50.5 for former Bears starter Kyle Orton and 47.7 for Campbell. Again, all the top quarterbacks were closer to 65-plus.

Cutler does have a 31-19 starting record with the Bears. That is far better than the 31-39 mark Campbell has posted for his career. But the Bears were 30-20 in the 50-game period before Cutler arrived. Orton, Rex Grossman and Brian Griese were their starting quarterbacks in that span.

Campbell's former team, Washington, was 31-39 in the 70-game span before Campbell posted the same starting record for the Redskins and Oakland Raiders. Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell were the starting quarterbacks during that run.

Quarterback play matters a great deal. Teams with the higher QBR scores have won 86 percent of games since 2008. Teams with higher NFL passer ratings have won 79.7 percent of the time over the same period. Those figures outrank even the winning percentages for teams winning the turnover battle (78.5 percent, a figure related to the previous two in that QBs are leading contributors to turnover stats).

The Bears are most dangerous for their defense, however. They rank among the NFL's top five on defense in passer rating, QBR, yards, rushing yards, net yards per pass attempt, interception percentage, third-down conversion rate and points. They were built to win without great quarterback play.

So, if Cutler has been only slightly above average and Campbell plays an average game Monday night, the drop won't be as pronounced as it usually is when a journeyman replaces a big-name quarterback. And if Campbell plays poorly, well, Cutler has done that, too. He has thrown more than three picks in a game four times since 2008, a league high.

Before offering his list of five wideouts with the best hands, ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck explains why he thinks San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh offered such high praise for Michael Crabtree.

"If you look at the context, Randy Moss joins the team, you spend a fairly high draft pick on a wide receiver," Hasselbeck said. "It's part of massaging the guys on your roster to make them feel appreciated."

Cue the video for Hasselbeck's top five.

Yes, Larry Fitzgerald is on the list.

Video: Saints penalties too harsh?

May, 2, 2012

Jason Babin, Merril Hoge and Tim Hasselbeck react to the NFL suspending four players for their roles in the Saints' bounty system.

NFL32: Grilling Patrick Chung

October, 20, 2011

Patriots safety Patrick Chung stops by, and the NFL32 crew tests him on Bill Belichick press conferences. Kris Jenkins says the Jets need more unity in the locker room, and Tim Hasselbeck answers tweets on New York's Week 7 matchup with the Chargers. All this in a jam-packed edition of NFL32OT!
Hue Jackson is still not saying whether or not Carson Palmer will start Sunday against Kansas City.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported the Raiders plan to start Palmer, who was acquired on Tuesday from Cincinnati, in the game. If Palmer, who has been practicing this week, doesn’t start, backup Kyle Boller will. Jackson indicated he may not make his decision public anytime soon. His final mandated media session is Friday afternoon.

This is what Jackson told reporters Thursday: “There’s no decision. Again, everybody’s wondering who is going to start. I am not going to make that decision; I don’t have to anytime soon. Sometime maybe tomorrow evening I will figure it out. Right now, I am not in a rush. There is no reason to rush.

“I got more friends right now than I’ve ever had in my life. There’s more media here than ever, my phone will not quit buzzing. I got people saying, ‘I’m your friend from way back when,’ you know? Like I’m going to tell somebody something. I ain’t telling anybody anything. So, you guys can all stop.”

I think if Boller was going to get the start. He’d get nearly all the snaps in practice to prepare. I think Jackson doesn’t want to commit to Palmer publicly yet because he wants to make sure Palmer is physically and mentally ready to play. He hasn’t played since Jan. 2. If Palmer feels comfortable by Friday, I’d imagine the Raiders wil go with him.

Thursday on "SportsCenter", ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck gave some great insight that adds to the idea that Palmer will start. He said he played a game with Washington nine days after he joined the team. His offensive coordinator was Hue Jackson. He said Jackson simply took plays out of the first game’s plan that Hasselbeck wasn’t yet comfortable with. So, Jackson has been down this road before.

Anything can change, but count me as among the surprised if Palmer doesn’t play Sunday.

Meanwhile, the contract numbers of Palmer’s renegotiated deal (which was part of the trade) have been filed. Palmer will make an average of $10.75 million through 2014. His salary cap number for this season is $2.499. He will make $12.45 million in base salary next year with $5 million guaranteed.
Tarvaris JacksonBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireTarvaris Jackson will be a stopgap as Seattle tries to find their future quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks will not ask Tarvaris Jackson to replace what Matt Hasselbeck has represented for the past 10 seasons.

That wouldn't be very logical.

If the Seahawks are smart, they'll ask Jackson to compete with Charlie Whitehurst (and others) as the organization searches for its next long-term starter behind center. And that will be the point: searching for the next quarterback.

Jackson, who reached agreement with the Seahawks on a contract that cannot be signed before Friday under league rules, may or may not succeed in the role. He's one option for a team that remains early in the process. Seattle could still draft or otherwise acquire its future quarterback in 2012, making Jackson only one part of this story.

The bottom line, of course, is that Hasselbeck should have finished his career in Seattle. I think he would have finished his career in Seattle if Mike Holmgren, the man responsible for acquiring Hasselbeck in 2001, had remained in a leadership position with the team. Holmgren is long gone, however, and the current leadership team is doing what Holmgren sought to do when he arrived in Seattle back in 1999: move on with an eye toward the horizon.

Back then, Holmgren turned his back on an aging Warren Moon even though Moon had tossed 36 touchdown passes with 24 interceptions while starting 24 of the 25 games he played in Dennis Erickson's final two seasons as head coach. Moon was 42 years old at the time and would start only one more regular-season game, with Kansas City.

Hasselbeck turns 36 in September and should have more of a future than Moon had way back when, but then as now, Seattle didn't have an obviously superior alternative lined up. The team simply wanted to move on.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesMatt Hasselbeck spent 10 seasons with the Seahawks and led Seattle to its first Super Bowl.
Seattle did offer a contract to Hasselbeck, but the quarterback wanted a stronger commitment -- something that would give him more security beyond the 2011 season. It's questionable whether Hasselbeck will command such a deal elsewhere. He could wind up taking an underwhelming deal from another team. But if the Seahawks felt more strongly about wanting him back, they could have found a way.

Getting a deal done with Jackson days before the signing period opens tells us Seattle's interest was lukewarm. It's unlikely the rest of the league was lining up for a shot at Jackson.

Hasselbeck will leave Seattle as the arguably the best quarterback in franchise history. Dave Krieg matched Hasselbeck in Pro Bowls and won a higher percentage of his starts, but Hasselbeck helped lead Seattle to its first Super Bowl. Fans will remember him for playing a leading role in the most successful run in franchise history. He's a lock for the team's Ring of Honor and a Seattle sports icon.

Those things didn't guarantee him the starting job after a rough three-year run, of course. Hasselbeck started 35 games over the past three seasons. During that span, the team was 12-23 (.343) when he started and 4-9 (.308) without him in the lineup. He's one of 19 quarterbacks with at least 35 starts over the past three seasons. The other 18 had higher passer ratings during that stretch.

The Seahawks fell apart around Hasselbeck over the last three seasons, a big reason for his struggles. They went into full rebuilding mode with a new coach and new general manager last year. And yet they never took an extended look at Whitehurst even while Hasselbeck struggled through injuries and behind a constantly reconfigured offensive line. I thought that was the Seahawks' biggest failing last season, mitigated by the team's surprise showing in the playoffs and Hasselbeck's stellar performance in the wild-card round.

ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck, speaking about his brother on 710ESPN Seattle, said he expected the Seahawks to take criticism until the next quarterback proved to be a superior alternative.

"Strictly as an analyst, it's hard to say that they improved at the quarterback position by deciding to go in a different direction [with Jackson]," Tim Hasselbeck said. "If they signed Kevin Kolb, we are probably having a different conversation. But that is how I see it and how I think a lot of people will see it."

No doubt. Tim Hasselbeck said his brother appreciated hearing directly from coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider when the team told Matt Hasselbeck it was moving in another direction. He also said his brother was disappointed.

"The way it went down was, I had been talking with him throughout the day, trying to get some information to see what was happening," Tim Hasselbeck said. "Matthew has been talking to me about teams that had been contacting him throughout the day. There were a lot of teams. The Seahawks weren't one of those teams. A little before Danny O'Neil had reported it, the Seahawks, in a very classy move, Pete Carroll and John Schneider called Matthew and said, 'Listen, we appreciate what you have done for the organization, but we are going to go in a different direction and signing another quarterback.' "

Jackson is that quarterback, Tim Hasselbeck said, affirming John Clayton's expectations and a report from Dave Mahler of Sports Radio 950 KJR AM. I have since confirmed the Seahawks' agreement with Jackson through a source who said the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback was expected to sign with Seattle on Friday.

Jackson becomes what Jon Kitna was to Moon years ago -- one of the next guys, but not necessary The Guy.

Video: Could Logan Mankins torpedo CBA?

July, 19, 2011
New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins and San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, antitrust lawsuit plaintiffs, reportedly want to be declared unrestricted free agents or receive $10 million for their trouble before signing off on dropping the suit. The suit must be resolved before the collective bargaining agreement can be finalized.

Mankins and Jackson have been trapped by the uncapped season and were unable to be free agents last year. The minimum service time was raised temporarily from four years to six years, forcing them to remain with their teams for qualifying money.

Hasselbeck, Kolb and QB prospects

July, 12, 2011
Highlights and interpretations from Tim Hasselbeck's appearance Tuesday with Brock Huard and Mike Salk on 710ESPN Seattle:

  • This discussion focused on Matt Hasselbeck's future with the Seattle Seahawks or elsewhere, with a long look at Kevin Kolb's prospects as a franchise quarterback. Tim Hasselbeck endorsed Kolb as a prospect more likely to become a "very good starter" than to fail. He had no doubt an NFL team could win with Kolb. But he also thought Arizona, not Seattle, would be more likely to invest heavily in Kolb as the future of its franchise. I tend to agree. There's less urgency in Seattle for several reasons, including the fact that coach Pete Carroll is entering only his second season. The team is rebuilding.
  • [+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
    Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesQuarterback Matt Hasselbeck's future with the Seahawks remains up in the air.
  • Salk has said it's tough to know whether the Seahawks value Kolb highly enough to part with a first-round draft choice (or more) in a trade. That type of commitment would also require rewarding Kolb with a lucrative long-term deal. If Seattle did view Kolb as that type of player, I suspect the team's conversations with Philadelphia would have gained more momentum last offseason.
  • This was a fairly dispassionate conversation until Charlie Whitehurst's name came up. "Guys don't have press conferences unless they are expected to be the starter," Tim Hasselbeck said. Press conferences? What was this about? Tim Hasselbeck pointed to the long-forgotten (by most of us) news conference Seattle held announcing Whitehurst's acquisition as evidence the team would not invest heavily in another quarterback, Kolb in particular. Seattle played the news conference more as a means to prove all jobs were open to competition, but it naturally felt more personal to the Hasselbeck camp. I don't get the sense the Seahawks' commitment to Whitehurst is great enough to preclude them from seeking an upgrade. The team did not bet its future on Whitehurst. I'm also not convinced Seattle sees clear upgrades available.
  • While Tim Hasselbeck had generally positive things to say about Kolb, he discounted Carson Palmer's level of play and bristled at the idea Seattle would offer Matt Hasselbeck anywhere close to the one-year, $5 million deal Alex Smith is expected to sign with San Francisco. I get it. Matt Hasselbeck is far more accomplished than Smith. He's been to three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl. Smith has better stats and a better starting record over the past two seasons, however. Hasselbeck should get more -- he was outstanding during the playoffs last season -- but he hasn't been challenging for Pro Bowls recently, either.
  • Tim Hasselbeck expressed respect for Kyle Orton while questioning whether Orton would fit well with the offensive scheme Seattle will run under new coordinator Darrell Bevell. Tim Hasselbeck also acknowledged that Matt Hasselbeck would have to learn new terminology if he signed with Tennessee, a team with interest in a veteran bridge to rookie Jake Locker. I don't think the Titans will offer substantially more than Seattle ultimately offers Hasselbeck.
  • Matt Hasselbeck has said he wants to re-sign with Seattle. Tim Hasselbeck affirmed that thinking. Matt Hasselbeck has reportedly sought a deal offering security beyond one season. I doubt he could get such a deal from Tennessee given Locker's presence. Minnesota likely wouldn't offer longer-term security with Christian Ponder in the picture. What is the market for Hasselbeck outside Seattle?

Expectations for a new labor deal include the potential for a three-day window during which teams could try to sign their own free agents. Such a window could prove critical in making sure there's time to let cooler heads prevail should negotiations become emotional.

I have a hard time envisioning Hasselbeck relocating his family at this stage of his career as long as the Seahawks make an honest offer while treating Hasselbeck with the respect he has earned over the past decade.
Matt Hasselbeck Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck threw for 3,001 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Seahawks last season.
Matt Hasselbeck became a trending topic during the 2011 NFL draft without saying a word.

The longtime Seattle Seahawks quarterback continues to keep a low profile. He hasn't granted interviews since speaking with his hometown newspaper a couple weeks before the draft. The things he said then -- that he wants to return to the team and he understands why there was no deal before the lockout -- were the opposite of inflammatory.

With a lockout in place, there shouldn't be much buzz.

Strong words from ESPN analyst and former Hasselbeck teammate Trent Dilfer changed the dynamics. Dilfer flatly told draft viewers that Hasselbeck would not return to Seattle in 2011.

It was time to reassess. Did Dilfer have inside information based on his association with Hasselbeck? The two shared NFL meeting rooms years ago. They share the same agent, still.

Or, was Dilfer merely stating his opinion based on any number of factors, including the idea that another team -- say, Tennessee or Washington -- could target Hasselbeck?

My money is on the latter, but lingering perceptions can easily masquerade as reality.

I've held back in analyzing the situation because I wanted to do some digging first. Perhaps there had been some sort of behind-the-scenes development that would hasten Hasselbeck's departure once the free-agent signing period opened down the line.

If anything, the opposite appears to be true.

First, the Seahawks did nothing during the draft to diminish Hasselbeck's value to them. They did not select a quarterback in the early rounds. In fact, the team has yet to draft a quarterback in any round since coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over the team in early 2010.

Second, the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, reached out to Hasselbeck and reiterated the team's interest in him during the brief window when teams were allowed contact with players over the weekend. Bevell seems to be about as by-the-book as they come. I highly doubt he'd reach out in that manner if it were all a lie.

Third, some of the prime landing spots for Hasselbeck outside Seattle appear less prime now. Minnesota used the 12th overall choice for Christian Ponder. San Francisco drafted Colin Kaepernick and laid the groundwork for re-signing Alex Smith. Arizona could still be an option, though I don't think Hasselbeck fits the Cardinals' downfield passing game very well.

But Dilfer could still be right.

[+] EnlargeWhitehurst, Carroll, Hasselbeck
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCoach Pete Carroll will have a decision to make at quarterback between Charlie Whitehurst, left, Matt Hasselbeck, right, or another NFL veteran.
Tennessee drafted Jake Locker eighth overall and might still be drawn to Hasselbeck as a mentor; Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt and multiple members of his front office worked for the Seahawks during Hasselbeck's prime years.

The Seahawks could head in another direction as well. They could make a play for Kevin Kolb or another quarterback with more years remaining than Hasselbeck has left at age 35.

Hasselbeck's run in Seattle could end after 10 seasons for a variety of plausible reasons. It's just that there seems to be nothing new boiling beneath the surface.

A few things to consider when seeking clarity for a muddled situation:

  • The lockout works both ways. The longer the lockout runs, the more convenient Hasselbeck becomes for the Seahawks in 2011. He's familiar with the passing game Bevell is bringing to Seattle. I also think the lockout could affect Hasselbeck's return negatively. Long-term strategic thinking can harden during extended periods without coach-player interaction. The Seahawks' long-range plans do not include Hasselbeck. Everyone understands that. Perhaps making the break now becomes easier if the lockout keeps the relationship on hold for too long. Schneider hasn't hidden his desire to make the Seahawks younger.
  • Whitehurst is a factor. The Seahawks have taken considerable criticism for their move to acquire quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Initial reports suggested the San Diego Chargers took advantage of the Seahawks during negotiations. Subsequent reports have focused on the price Seattle paid for a quarterback who remains a non-factor. When Seattle failed to draft a quarterback over the weekend, Carroll pointed to the 2011 third-round choice that was part of the Whitehurst deal as evidence the team had addressed the position. Carroll also praised Whitehurst to a degree he had not done when Hasselbeck was entrenched as the starter. These are the sorts of things teams say when laying the groundwork for change. If Hasselbeck did eventually leave, at least Carroll's praise for Whitehurst would already be part of the public record.
  • Drama complicates matters. Dilfer's comments created only the latest buzz. Earlier this offseason, ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck stood up for his brother and made pointed comments during a Seattle radio interview. Tim Hasselbeck took shots at Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer, dismissing both as viable alternatives to Matt Hasselbeck. Strong comments from people with ties to Hasselbeck can leave the impression Hasselbeck is at least tacitly signing off on them, even if he is not. The effect can be corrosive with a lockout preventing direct communication. Could it affect whether the Seahawks come back with an offer as strong as they one they made previously?

Re-signing Hasselbeck makes sense on a few levels. Hasselbeck knows Bevell's offense. The Seahawks are recommitting to the ground game and remaking their offensive line, which would benefit Hasselbeck. Carroll and Hasselbeck got along well last season. Seattle remains in rebuilding mode, making it tougher to justify trading significant 2012 draft capital for an unproven quarterback such as Kolb.

There are also reasons to consider moving on. Carroll wants to emphasize the running game. Schneider was with Green Bay when the team turned away from Brett Favre without apology.

"I think Kolb gets you two more wins than Hasselbeck does next year," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He has more playmaking ability. Maybe there are more misreads, but the arrow is going up on Kolb and clearly we have seen the best of Hasselbeck. But if you sign Hasselbeck, the plan has to be, 'We need to get a quarterback in the next draft unless Whitehurst unexpectedly lights it up.'"

Will AFC East recycle Plaxico Burress?

March, 8, 2011
Plaxico Burress is scheduled to get out of the pokey June 6.

That would give the former New York Giants receiver plenty of time to get on a roster and play a full season. If a labor standoff doesn't compress the summer workout schedule, Burress also would have a good chance to learn the new offense by opening day.

Would Burress be a fit in the AFC East?

Before we consider each team, let's project the kind of receiver Burress will be.

His 34th birthday is in August. He hasn't caught an NFL pass since November 2008. Even before he went to prison after accidentally shooting himself at a Manhattan nightclub, his average yards per catch diminished four straight years.

Still, he's 6-foot-5 and always a threat to sky over defensive backs.

"When you look at him on the field, the guy is tall," ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck said Monday. "He's got long arms. One of the things the Giants loved to do is they'd get on [the opponent's] 45 and take a shot. With the way the rules are set up in the National Football League, it's absolutely perfect for a guy like Plaxico Burress, whose got the long arms, got the reach, who understands how to use his body.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
Chris Morrison/US PresswirePlaxico Burress will be 34 and playing for the first time since the 2008 season.
"He's not as fast as he was two years ago. He can still be effective and still can help somebody out if that team ends up trusting him."

Hasselbeck said Burress' employment prospects could be helped by Michael Vick's successful return from prison. Vick seemed to have grown from the experience. Maybe Burress did, too.

Next to Hasselbeck on the "NFL Live" set was former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who claimed prison might have helped Burress in another way. Pierce won a Super Bowl ring after Burress caught the decisive touchdown to deny the New England Patriots' perfect season.

"He was in jail for two years, and that's a lot of time for that body to heal up," Pierce said. "Plaxico had some ankle, some knee injuries. You sit around for two years, your body starts to heal.

"There's some teams out there ... that would love to have his services."

The AFC East could be a destination. I reached out to Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson for his thoughts on the four rosters and whether or not there would be room for a receiver like Burress.

"I really don't know what he will be able to provide," Williamson said. "He obviously will be the same size when he returns and should continue to use his big frame well, especially near the goal line. It is speculation as to what he will be like athletically, but I have to think that his big play ability and suddenness will be greatly compromised."

Buffalo Bills

Their receiving corps looks solid, but it can be upgraded. Lee Evans has been a disappointment, but defenses must account for him at all times. Steve Johnson had a breakout season with more than 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Roscoe Parrish had the best season of his career even though a broken wrist sidelined him after just eight games. Undrafted rookie David Nelson stepped up late in the year when injuries provided an opportunity. Interest in Burress: Low.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have invested heavily in Brandon Marshall, and Burress probably offers a similar skill set at this stage. They are tall, possession receivers who don't stretch the field (anymore). The Dolphins also have their slot receiver in Davone Bess. While Burress could help the Dolphins' woeful red-zone offense, what they need is a speedster who can help Chad Henne blow the top of coverages on occasion and loosen things up for Marshall and Bess underneath. Interest in Burress: Medium.

New England Patriots

The Patriots, as Williamson noted, are in a similar situation as the Dolphins. The Patriots have Wes Welker and Deion Branch plus tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Their greatest need in the passing game is a lightning bolt to help Tom Brady keep defenses honest. Brandon Tate and Taylor Price are burners, but they are young and haven't established themselves as capable. Interest in Burress: Low.

New York Jets

The Jets seemingly present the greatest possibility for Burress in the AFC East. "That could be a fit," Williamson said. "I could see them taking the risk. And after free agency departures, Burress might be attractive. Plus, they are in win-now mode." Points well taken. The Jets might not be able to re-sign all of their free-agent receivers: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan have shown with Holmes, Edwards and Antonio Cromartie they're open to second chances. Interest in Burress: High.

Cam Newton off the board by No. 3?

February, 22, 2011
A couple weeks ago, most Buffalo Bills fans didn't consider Auburn quarterback Cam Newton a legitimate possibility for the third overall pick in April's draft.

Now a respected NFL draft analyst has expressed shock at the thought of Newton still being on the board when the Bills are on the clock.

Gil Brandt is a former Dallas Cowboys executive who dissects draft prospects for Brandt told Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Jimmy Burch the Carolina Panthers should name Newton their No. 1 selection.

"It would shock me ... if he's not the first player picked," Brandt said. "If I was drafting and I had Carolina's pick, I'd feel really good about who I was getting as far as ability.

"I just hope he realizes how hard he needs to work. You can have all the ability in the world but if you don't work like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, you're only going to be semi-successful."

National writers and analysts have noted Bills general manager Buddy Nix has an affinity for Newton. That growing sentiment plus Newton's impressive public workout earlier this month sent him soaring up many mock draft boards and ahead of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top player at his position.

ESPN draft overlord Mel Kiper's latest mock draft has Newton slotted to the Bills.

Newton announced Monday night he would participate fully at this week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Some quarterback prospects prefer not to throw at the combine.

"I don't have nothing to hide, and I'm a competitor," Newton said. "I'm going to go out here and do what I've been working on this whole time and preparing for this moment right here."

Video: Jets at Steelers predictions

January, 21, 2011

ESPN commentators Tim Hasselbeck and Mark Schlereth preview Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC crown.

Both analysts predict the Steelers will win the rematch because superstar safety Troy Polamalu is back, and the Jets won't be able to handle Ben Roethlisberger's brand of "backyard football."

Chiefs versus Raiders matters again

November, 5, 2010
McFadden/CharlesUS PresswireThe running of Darren McFadden, left, and Jamaal Charles is one reason the Raiders and Chiefs are having success this season.
Get over it, NFL: The AFC West is the center of the universe this week.

Yes, I know, Halloween is over. Still, it can’t be denied that the most intriguing matchup of the Week 9 slate will be in Oakland. The suddenly resurgent Oakland Raiders (4-4) play host to the surprise of the first half of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs lead the AFC West with a 5-2 record.

Earlier this week on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck was chuckling that he couldn’t believe it, but this game is the matchup of the week. The Chiefs and Raiders have played plenty of crucial games against each other in decades past. But relevant games between these rivals from the AFL days have been rare in recent seasons.

But Hasselbeck is right: This game looms large. This is the latest in the season both Kansas City and Oakland have been at least .500 since 2002. In that season, both teams were 4-4 heading into Week 9.

This game is an opportunity for each team to make a statement heading into the second half of the season. If Kansas City wins, it will have a huge lead in the division, showing it can win a tough game on the road. If Oakland wins, it will be the Raiders’ third straight win and they would have defeated each AFC West opponent this season. The Raiders would be a half-game out of first place as they head into their bye week.

“We haven’t experienced this in the last six, seven years around here,’’ Oakland left guard Robert Gallery told reporters this week. “It’s supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to be in games like this. We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing the past two weeks and we have a shot to do some good stuff this year.’’

This is the biggest game in the division since San Diego won at Denver in Week 11 last season. This game might just be a celebration of a power shift in the AFC West. The Raiders haven’t won more than five games in a season in the past seven years. The Chiefs won a total of 10 games from 2007 to 2009.

The Chiefs and the Raiders have been the story of AFC West. The Chargers (3-5) have been floundering because of mistakes, and 2-6 Denver doesn’t look like a team ready to make a difference in the second half of the season. The change has shown in’s Power Rankings. The Chiefs are No. 11, while Oakland is No. 16, San Diego is No.22 and Denver is No. 28.

Oakland has opened eyes around the NFL the past two weeks. After a sluggish start, the Raiders have hit their stride in a big way. Oakland outscored Denver and Seattle by a combined score of 92-17. It scored a franchise-record 59 points at Denver. (The Raiders had scored only 52 points in three games in September.) Oakland has amassed more than 500 yards of offense in back-to-back games for the first time in team history. That’s why Oakland has won back-to-back games for the first time in 24 games.

Oakland has the second-ranked running game in the NFL (behind Kansas City), led by third-year running back Darren McFadden, who is enjoying a breakout season. McFadden is no longer dancing at the line of scrimmage. He is always moving forward and is excelling in the outside and inside games. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Raiders’ running success is opening up the play-action pass. In the past two seasons, Oakland averaged 8.1 yards per pass on play-action plays. This year, the Raiders are averaging 9.4 yards per play. Their passer rating using play-action is 105.6 this season compared with 65.8 the past two seasons.

Oakland is eighth in the NFL in total offense, fourth in points per game and eighth in time of possession. All of those are dramatic improvements from last season.

The offensive line has made major strides in recent weeks and is a big part of the improvement. The key has been the return of Gallery from a hamstring injury and the emergence of third-round draft pick Jared Veldheer at left tackle. He is much better suited at that position, as opposed to center, where he started the season.

“You have to be impressed by Oakland the past couple of weeks,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “They’ve made big strides on each side of the ball. ... This is an interesting game for the Raiders this week.”

As impressive as Oakland has been in the past two weeks, the Chiefs have shown improvement all season. It starts with the NFL’s best running game. The Chiefs are averaging 190.4 yards per game. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are wearing down defenses. Jones’ presence has helped keep Charles fresh and it has given Kansas City ground toughness. ESPN Stats and Information reports the Chiefs are averaging 4.7 yards a carry while running up the middle. They averaged 3.1 yards up the middle through the first seven games of the season in the past two seasons. Kansas City has earned 24 first downs this season compared with 14 in the past two seasons through seven games.

Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel is benefiting from the strong running attack and he is not making mistakes. In the past five games, Cassel has thrown nine touchdown passes and only one interception. The offensive line has improved dramatically and this unit is well-coached by Todd Haley and coordinator Charlie Weis. Fine coaching has helped the defense as well. Coordinator Romeo Crennel’s unit is not allowing teams to score much; it is rushing the passer well and is strong against the run and the pass.

“This roster is really impressive,” Williamson said. “It’s well-coached and it is young. This is a team to watch for the immediate future and down the line. ... Things may be changing in the AFC West.”

And that’s why Sunday’s game in Oakland deserves to be in the spotlight.

How worried should Jets be about Sanchez?

August, 28, 2010
Mark Sanchez didn't have the kind of performance that would give New York Jets fans peace of mind heading into the regular season.

The third preseason game is supposed to be the most realistic exhibition, but in Friday night's 16-11 loss to the Washington Redskins at the Meadowlands, Sanchez looked like he needs more time to figure things out.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez was 13-of-21 for 139 yards and one touchdown with one interception Friday night.
Sanchez was 13-of-21 for 139 yards and one touchdown with one interception. The Redskins sacked him twice.

Sanchez guided the Jets to zero touchdowns on 15 straight possessions before he hooked up with tight end Dustin Keller in the fourth quarter.

In all three preseason games, Sanchez has quarterbacked 18 drives that have gone for 28 points. That's two touchdowns (a missed extra point) and four field goals.

The "NFL Live" crew of host Michael Smith and analysts Tim Hasselbeck and Eric Allen took a look at Sanchez's development and how the Jets will handle it.

"From what I saw from him last season and then what I've seen in the preseason," Hasselbeck said, "you've seen some improvement, but you've also seen him revert back to some things that got him into trouble last year. What I would like to see from Mark Sanchez is really more consistency."

Hasselbeck was critical of how careless Sanchez is with the ball when he's in the pocket.

"That is an issue for me and something I'd like to see him clean up," Hasselbeck said, "if he's going to take the Jets to ultimately where they think he can take them."

Allen provided his formula for the Jets to help Sanchez come around.

"They have to get back to controlling the middle of the football field with Shonn Greene, utilize [LaDainian Tomlinson's] experience," Allen said. "When you're standing back there and it's third down, having that great veteran by you and be able to chip before he goes out [for a pass], utilize Keller in the passing game, screens and draws, really get that confidence back into that passing game and confidence back into that young man so they can work down the football field."