Archive for July, 2013

Buffalo Bills

2012 record: 6-10, 3rd place AFC East (tied with NY Jets)

Notable offseason losses: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Donald Jones, LB Nick Barnett, SS George Wilson, QB Tarvaris Jackson

Notable offseason acquisitions: HC Doug Marrone, QB Kevin Kolb, WR Da’Rick Rogers

Notable draft picks: QB E.J. Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso

Dave’s 2013 record prediction: 9-7

The winds of change blow in Buffalo. New head coach Doug Marrone brings experience as a former offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints and head coach of the Syracuse Orange. Buffalo selected the first QB in the draft with E.J. Manuel who should challenge Kevin Kolb for the starting job as the weeks progress in Buffalo. Kolb has shown he can perform as a competent backup in tight spots (see Philadelphia), but has struggled in the past as a starting quarterback (see Arizona). Kolb should perform the buffer role to help Manuel ease into the pro game.

Buffalo clearly drafted for need as former USC standout Robert Woods comes into challenge David Nelson for a starting spot left by departed Donald Jones at wide receiver. Additionally, former Oregon Duck Kiko Alonso looks to be the natural replacement for former starting linebacker Nick Barnett. Former Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers failed to get drafted, but Buffalo signed the controversial talent this offseason with hopes that he’ll bring a spark to the offense.


Buffalo Bills rookie wideout Robert woods

On defense, Buffalo has a surprisingly talented defensive line. Established star Mario Williams accrued a healthy 10.5 sacks last season while defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus collected 5 and 5.5 respectively. That’s a lot of pressure coming only from the defensive line. While Buffalo did not statistically speaking have a great defense last season, and gave up oodles of yards on the ground, they performed respectably against the pass. Safety Jairus Byrd intercepted five passes, defended six more, and forced four fumbles. Second round pick Kiko Alonso should help turn things around on a defense that ranked second to last in rushing last season.

Miami gets all the attention for bringing in plenty of free agent talent, but Buffalo may challenge New England for the AFC East crown this season. If Marrone (an offensive mind) and Manuel can get the ball rolling on offense, all the tools are there for Buffalo to assemble a very balanced attack. Running back Fred Jackson is one of the very top running backs in the league when healthy. C.J. Spiller has proven his worth as a very talented runner averaging six yards per carry to break 1,200 yards this past season. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson broke out two seasons ago and tight end Scott Chandler has a nose for the endzone. If Manuel can live up to first round pick expectations, Buffalo may catch many teams sleeping in the coming season.

Miami Dolphins

2012 record: 7-9, 2nd place AFC East

Notable offseason losses: RB Reggie Bush, OT Jake Long, DB Sean Smith

Notable offseason acquisitions: WR Mike Wallace, TE Dustin Keller, WR Brandon Gibson

Notable draft picks: LB Dion Jordan, CB Jamar Taylor

Dave’s 2013 record prediction: 8-8

Miami is undergoing the Oregon Ducks treatment this offseason with brand new uniforms hoping to inspire change in the team atmosphere. That and the drafting of former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan should help. Expectations are high in Miami with budding second year QB Ryan Tannehill and a host of receiving options including: Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson, and hometown hero Brian Hartline. pundits suggest that second year running back Lamar Miller will have a breakout year in the absence of Reggie Bush. While Miller has done little to hint of any breakout NFL performance, the talent is there for Miami’s offense to break out if Tannehill can take the next step.

Miami RB Lamar Miller

Miami RB Lamar Miller

Miami ranked seventh in scoring defense last season, with an average of 19.8 points per game allowed. Their most glaring weakness appeared in their inability to stop the pass ranking 27th out of 32 in passing yards allowed per game. The addition of first and second round picks OLB Dion Jordan and CB Jamar Taylor should bolster Miami’s pass defense.

Miami may be looking to eventually replace the departed left tackle Jake Long with the drafting of OT Dallas Thomas. Long left some big shoes to fill in Miami, widely regarded as one of the, if not the best left tackle in the game.

By and large, Miami’s season rests on Tannehill’s shoulders. The load a starting quarterback carries can be daunting, especially in a system built around the pass, which, looking at the team’s recent free agent acquisitions, appears to be the direction Philbin and his team are moving in. Watch for the new-look Dolphins to make a run for a wild card spot in the AFC this coming season.

New England Patriots

2012 record: 12-4, 1st place AFC East

Notable offseason losses: WR Wes Welker, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Brandon Lloyd

Notable offseason acquisitions: WR Danny Amendola, WR Donald Jones, RB LeGarrette Blount

Notable draft picks: WR Aaron Dobson, OLB Jamie Collins

Dave’s 2013 record prediction: 11-5

New England may have the least familiar offense in the AFC east this coming season with the way their offseason has developed. Wide receiver Wes Welker defected in free agency to the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos. Former receivers Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd, and Donte Stallworth were not asked to return to the team. Former running back Danny Woodhead left for San Diego. Star tight end Aaron Hernandez has been arrested for murder and was cut by the team. Other star tight end Rob Gronkowski has had medical issues since week eleven of the 2012 season, but is expected to return by the start of the NFL season.

Brady, Belichick & Co. have led an offense into the playoffs with lesser known players before. Before Wes Welker was a star in New England, he was a walk-on at Texas Tech, undrafted in the NFL, and waived by San Diego. Part of Welker’s former responsibilities included returning kicks and making kicks. Welker is now a highly-respected star receiver on a high-powered Denver offense after his tenure in New England.

In his prime, Deion Branch won a Super Bowl MVP award in 2004 as a New England Patriot and netted New England a first round pick for 2007 in a trade with Seattle. Branch never fulfilled his potential outside of New England, and actually got traded back to New England from Seattle for a fourth round pick. The Patriots offense should rank in the top seven in scoring regardless of who is catching the ball this season.

New England’s defense got involved in many a shootout this past season, ranking 29th in passing yards allowed with 271.4 per game. New England drafted two pass rushers and two defensive backs in the draft, likely hoping to address defensive needs well enough to propel them further into the playoffs.

New England will likely face stiffer competition in the division this season as Buffalo and Miami have undergone significant change on offense, though the Belichick-Brady formula has not changed, suggesting the Patriots will again take the division crown.

New York Jets

2012 record: 6-10, 3rd place AFC East

Notable offseason losses: CB Darrelle Revis, RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller, S LaRon Landry

Notable offseason acquisitions: RB Chris Ivory, TE Kellen Winslow

Notable draft picks: CB Dee Milliner, DL Sheldon Richardson, QB Geno Smith

Dave’s 2013 record prediction: 5-11

The Jets stumbled this past season with a struggling offense and an aging defense. The Jets pass defense stood strong ranking 2nd overall in fewest passing yards allowed per game, but were gashed by the run and allowed 23.4 points per game. Since their dominant 2010 season, the Jets offense has failed to put up quite as many points, but more importantly, the notoriously stingy Jets defense has been much more beatable in the past two seasons. The loss of star corner Darrelle Revis should only exacerbate this issue. Instead of relying on former first round picks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson to fill the role, the team drafted first round pick Dee Milliner out of Alabama early to shore up the secondary in a division with Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson, and whoever Tom Brady feels like throwing to this season.

The Jets offense looked, at times, like the keystone cops. The forcing of Tim Tebow into roles he was clearly never meant for and the infamous Mark Sanchez butt-fumble underscore some of the issues the Jets faced on offense. The drafting of Geno Smith should push Sanchez to raise his competitiveness throughout camp, and the season. Smith, widely considered as the number one quarterback prospect in the NFL draft, may be the future of the offense in New York if Sanchez doesn’t put together an uncharacteristically impressive season in 2013.

With the departure of Shonn Greene, Jets running back Chris Ivory will likely assume the starting role. Ivory rushed for 700+ yards and five touchdowns over twelve games in his rookie season in New Orleans in 2010.

Ivory, while no doubt reliable, is not thought of as one of the NFL’s dominant running backs. Dustin Keller, former Jets tight end and arguably their most effective receiving option, left for division rival Miami. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kellen Winslow was brought in and is expected to claim the starting tight end spot in camp. The Jets face an uphill battle in an improving AFC East. Miami and Buffalo are priming to climb into the 8-9 win column this season, and Rex Ryan has more questions than answers on offense this season.

Qualities of an NFL dynasty

The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys. These teams come to mind when someone mentions the phrase: “NFL dynasty,” a franchise that repeatedly wins NFL championships in a short period of time. These teams during their dynasty period exhibited similar qualities that propelled them to championships. Here are some qualities that I feel significantly boost a franchises’ likelihood of becoming a repeat champion over a short period of time.

A patient leader

Franchises that win multiple championships in a short period of time do so with stability at the head coaching position for a reason. Bill Belichick led the 2001-2004 New England Patriots to three super bowl wins in four years’ time. Belichick has built a reputation on discipline, an ‘us against the world’ team mentality, and situational game-planning. Chuck Noll, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 – 1991, led the Steelers to four super bowl wins between 1975 – 1980. Coach Noll led his team to multiple championships in part due to his development of a stout defense (nicknamed the steel curtain), drafting highly talented players, and emphasizing player fundamentals. Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, led his team to super bowl wins in 1981, 1984, and 1988. Walsh was instrumental to his teams’ success for instituting the west coast offense an offensive philosophy that emphasizes the short pass. Clearly stable and talented coaching is instrumental to forming a football club that can compete year after year at a high level.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Emphasis on the draft rather than free agency

Historically successful franchises build their team through the NFL draft. And they do so well. The Green Bay Packers, one of the most successful NFL franchises in NFL history, drafted many of their current star players. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Clay Matthews, and many other starting players were all drafted directly by Green Bay and played an integral role in Green Bay’s  2010 championship season.

Some franchises try to patch holes in their offense/defense through free agency. Sometimes an already successful franchises can add a key free agent to help them “get over the hump.” For example, when San Francisco signed Deion Sanders for the 1994 season, Sanders played an integral role in the 49ers super bowl championship that season. But he could not have done that had San Francisco not already assembled a stellar cast including Steve Young, Ricky Watters, and Jerry Rice. Signing a valuable free agent can make a difference for the team, but the ‘meat and potatoes’ for building a successful franchise must come from drafting high-caliber NFL talent.

Accruing quality depth

Successful franchises have quality backups that can perform well in the place of starters. As games get late into the third or fourth quarter, players can get injured or tired and in need of a break. Many teams are struck with injury, successful teams will push onward even when their star running back or linebacker is lost to injury. Championship caliber teams will have backup linebackers, linemen, and other position players that can come in and perform just as well as the starters. They don’t have to be flashy or even look good. They just have to be dependable. Players like this will accept a backup role on a championship caliber team because they know they are talented, and are interested more in winning games than in getting paid as much as possible. Reliable backups can mean the difference between making or not making the playoffs in the face of devastating injury*.

Operating on principles rather than trends

Truly successful NFL franchises make decisions based on correct principles rather than current trends. As the league has evolved to a more pass-friendly game, some franchises will still play to their strengths, even if that means building an offense around the running game. San Francisco and Seattle, two of the NFL’s very best teams, build their offenses around a great running offense. A great defense pairs well with a tough running attack because running the ball takes lots of time off the clock. This gives the defense plenty of time to rest. If the defense can keep opposing offenses to less than 14-16 points per game, a running offense will be enough to score sufficient points while still keeping the clock running. Even though offenses are passing now more than ever (evidenced in 2011 when Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees each threw for over 5,000 passing yards** in one season***), Seattle and San Francisco rely on sound football principle, regardless of popular NFL trends, which has led them deep into the playoffs in recent seasons.

San Francisco RB Frank Gore

San Francisco RB Frank Gore

Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch

Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch

At the end of the day many teams struggle just to post a check in the ‘W’ column, never mind trying to win one or multiple super bowl championships. Even still, some franchises consistently perform at a high level, yet fail to capitalize on their position with a championship win. The Buffalo Bills are a prime example of this. They went to four straight super bowls in the early 90’s. Let me say that again. The Buffalo Bills went to FOUR STRAIGHT SUPER BOWLS.  And lost each one. If you make it to multiple NFL championship games, your organization is clearly very well run. The final game rests upon the shoulders of the players and the coach to outperform their opponents. The general manager, owner, front office and much of the staff can only have so much impact on a team’s actual super bowl performance the day of the game. Becoming an NFL dynasty is a team effort, which probably explains why NFL dynasties are so difficult to form.

* 1999 St. Louis Rams. Backup quarterback Kurt Warner started in place of injured Trent Green and led the team to an NFL championship and led the greatest show on turf, one of the NFL’s highest scoring offenses ever.

** Former Miami quarterback Dan Marino holds the only other 5,000+ passing yard season in 1984. Many NFL pundits argue that Marino’s record of 5,084 yards in 1984 is more impressive than recent records due to the difference in the climate of the game and difference in rules 25+ years ago.

*** NY Giants Eli Manning got close, with 4,933 yards in the same season.

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