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11AFC East Offseason Needs: Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins

Now that the Super Bowl and the 2013 season are in our rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2014 season and the NFL offseason that’s just getting underway. The first step is to examine the offseason needs of each to team to see where they need to focus their efforts in free agency and the draft. We’ll start today with the teams of the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills – Much of the Bills’ 2014 season will hinge on the development of quarterback E.J. Manuel and the team’s young wide receivers, but there are several areas where they can improve their roster. A pass-catching tight end and an improved offensive line could go a long way toward helping Manuel make big strides in 2014, so those are two areas for the Bills to address. Buffalo does have one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL, but they need to add one, if not two, quality linebackers to play alongside Kiko Alonso. The team also needs to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd, and if they can’t do that they’ll need to find a way to adequately replace his presence in their secondary.

Miami Dolphins – For a team that was so close to reaching the postseason, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do this offseason. Miami may need to completely overhaul its offensive line, which is a task that could take up a majority of their time and resources during the offseason. Adding help at running back could also be a part of Miami’s plans this offseason. Defensively, Miami could stand to make improvement at all three levels, although the interior of the defensive line and the secondary are their most pressing needs.

New England Patriots – The Patriots making it to the AFC Championship Game this year with a watered down set of skill players shows that the window to get to the Super Bowl is still open if they can make some improvements. Tom Brady can still do a lot, but he needs more support. New England would be wise to bring in the best wide receiver they can find, while also acquiring a tight end to both guard against another injury to Rob Gronkowski and give them a two tight end attack, which has worked well for them in the past. Help along the offensive line is also a must for the Patriots, as they need to keep Brady healthy for as long as possible. Defensively, New England has some good young talent, although they could use some more depth in their secondary.

New York Jets – Before they do anything else, the Jets need to find some offensive playmakers. New York needs to add at least two, perhaps three, quality wide receivers that they know will be productive in 2014. Adding a tight end would also be beneficial for their offense. The offensive line could use some help as well, but it’s not as much of a priority as the skill positions. Defensively, the Jets are in good shape under Rex Ryan, although they are in need of a safety after their mid-season signing of Ed Reed didn’t work out and they’re also going to need some reinforcements at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher.


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11New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski Makes Fun Of Asian Fan (Video)

When he’s healthy, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is perhaps the best at his position in the NFL, but he continues to make headlines for some strange off-the-field behavior and he’s done it again over an incident that took place on Sunday night.

Gronkowski was caught on camera making some insensitive remarks about Asians during a Sunday Night Football viewing party in Foxborough, according to The New York Daily News.

An Asian man, who was wearing Gronkowski’s jersey, began dancing during a Q&A session with fans at Bar Louie at Patriot Place.

“They told me he could only cook fried rice,” the 24-year-old Gronkowski said.

As if he hadn’t done enough damage with the quote, Gronkowski then referred to the man as Leslie Chow, Ken Jeong’s character in “The Hangover” movies.

After Gronkowski’s comments, someone took the microphone to remind those in attendance that they had signed waivers agreeing to hand over their phones upon exiting, but the video managed to make its way to TMZ.com.

The Boston Globe notes that Gronkowski’s previous off-field exploits include having a porn star take a picture of herself wearing his team jersey and a video of him wrestling not long after suffering a broken forearm.

However, this latest incident comes at a particularly sensitive time for the NFL, which is dealing with the fallout from the Miami Dolphins’ controversy and the question of whether Richie Incognito bullied teammate Jonathan Martin with racist taunts.

Sources: New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, TMZ.com


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11Richie Incognito Clams He's Not Racist, Blames 'Culture' of Locker Room (Video)

Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito gave his first interview since being suspended indefinitely, a week ago, for allegedly threatening and racially harassing his black teammate Jonathan Martin.

Due to Incognito's harassment, Martin has quit the team, notes Salon.com (video below).

Since the claims about Incognito became public, a video of the all-pro guard using the N-word surfaced as have allegations by a woman who claimed he sexually harassed her at a golf tournament last year.

However, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer almost seemed to be smirking as he threw softball questions to Incognito.

According to Deadspin.com, Glazer has given Incognito MMA training and they have a personal friendship.

“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” Incognito stated. “This is an issue of my and John’s relationship. You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins locker room, ‘Who had John Martin’s back the absolute most?’ and they will undoubtedly tell you me.”

"All this stuff that's coming out speaks to the culture of our locker room," claimed Incognito. "It speaks to the culture of our closeness. It speaks to the culture of our brotherhood. And the racism, the bad words, that's what I regret the most, but that is a product of the environment and that's something we use all the time."

"I'm not a racist," added Incognito. "And to judge me by that one word is wrong."

Sources: Salon.com and Deadspin.com


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11Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin Thought About Giving Up Football Because Of How He Was Treated, According To Report

The alleged bullying involving Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin might have contributed to him thinking about walking away from the sport.

The New York Post reports that before Martin left the team saying he was bullied, he told multiple people that he was considering quitting football, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. One of the people said Martin thought about giving up the sport because he was mistreated by other offensive linemen, but now plans to continue playing.

Another report that came out on Wednesday claims that Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland was made aware of the alleged bullying involving Martin and Richie Incognito, and suggested that Martin try to resolve the matter by confronting his teammate physically, according to Fox News.

After the team practiced on Wednesday, many players stood up for Incognito and questioned why Martin left the team.

"I don't know why he's doing this," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. "And the only person who knows why, his name is Jonathan Martin."

Other players, including Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said that Martin and Incognito were close.

"If you had asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said.

The Dolphins organization has not commented on any aspect of the case since announcing Incognito's indefinite suspension for conduct detrimental to the team late Sunday.

Sources: Fox News, New York Post


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11NFL Thursday Night Preview: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins

Let’s face it, many of this year’s Thursday night games haven’t been all that compelling, but this week we finally get one that looks interesting. Let’s take a closer look at the Bengals and the Dolphins.

WHAT’S AT STAKE
Miami is in a must-win situation. After a promising 3-0 start to the season, the Dolphins have lost four in a row and desperately need to stop the bleeding. Miami does travel to winless Tampa Bay next week, but they’d like to use that game to build up momentum for the second half of the season and not break a losing streak that has doomed their season. Despite the losing streak, the Dolphins are just a half game behind the Jets for the final wild card spot in the AFC, so if they can get back in the win column they will be right in the middle of the playoff hunt.

The Bengals don’t have as much of a sense of urgency heading into this game, as they are in complete control of the AFC North division. However, as it stands now, Cincinnati is fighting with New England and Indianapolis for the second seed in the AFC, which would mean a first round bye in the postseason. The Bengals come into this game with a ton of momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and a coming off a 40-point thrashing of the Jets, their most impressive win of the season.

CINCINNATI OFFENSE VS. MIAMI DEFENSE
Andy Dalton has really stepped his game up and is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league over the last three weeks, throwing for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in wins over the Bills, Lions, and Jets. A.J. Green is still the primary target, but Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham are all getting plenty of touches as well, and Dalton has not been afraid to spread the ball around if teams try to clamp down on Green. The running game still isn’t great, but the Bengals are balanced enough on offense to make them really dangerous, which means the Dolphins will have their hands full tonight. Miami is average at best defensively, and lacks standout players on that side of the ball. The Dolphins haven’t held an opponent under 20 points since week 1 against the Browns, and that’s not a trend that’s likely to end, as the Bengals have the kind of offense that could put up 30 points or more against Miami.

MIAMI OFFENSE VS. CINCINNATI DEFENSE
A major trend during Miami’s four-game losing streak has been critical turnovers by Ryan Tannehill, which is something that has to stop if the Dolphins are going to put an end to their losing streak. The Dolphins have run the ball better the last two weeks, which is something that needs to continue, as it helps to take some of the pressure off Tannehill. However, the Bengals are holding their opponents under 100 yards rushing per game, and they generally have no trouble putting pressure on the quarterback, which will be two stiff challenges the Dolphins will have to overcome. When Tannehill has avoided turnovers, he’s played well this season and Miami has been a steady and consistent offense. However, despite having four solid receiving options, the Dolphins have struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game this season, something that has also contributed to their four-game losing streak. If Miami is going to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, they’ll have to find a way to create some big plays.

PREDICTION
Usually, in games between two close teams the advantage goes to the team that needs the win more, which in this case would by Miami. However, these two teams are not that close. Cincinnati’s weaknesses are difficult to find and hard to take advantage of, which isn’t the case with Miami. The Dolphins don’t have the caliber of defense that can slow down the Bengal’s balanced offense for four quarters, and they’ve been too turnover prone, which will be a problem against a solid Cincinnati defense that knows how to take advantage of other team’s mistakes. The Dolphins will keep it close for a while, but things will start to fall apart towards the end of the 3rd quarter: Cincinnati 34, Miami 21.


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11Monday Night Football Preview: New Orleans Saints vs. Miami Dolphins

It may only be week 4, but a meeting between two undefeated teams deserves plenty of attention, especially when it happens on Monday Night Football. Let’s take a closer look at tonight’s matchup between the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Neither team’s season will crumble with a lost, but both have plenty to gain with a win. Miami could really make a statement with a win at New Orleans, especially after beating Atlanta last week. A 4-0 start for the Dolphins would leave no doubt that they’re for real this season, and would put a scare in the New England Patriots that their dominance of the AFC East could be in jeopardy. For the Saints, a win would allow them to retain a sizeable lead in the NFC South, which could help them runaway with the division early on in the season.

MIAMI OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE

Ryan Tannehill is off to a great start, but he’ll face his toughest test of the season, as Rob Ryan has completely turned around the Saint’s defense this season, turning them into a more than respectable unit. Last week, the Saints allowed just 161 yards passing against Carson Palmer and the great trio of wide receivers of the Arizona Cardinals, which was quite impressive. However, the Dolphins have a quartet of quality receiving options with Charles Clay providing a nice option at tight end alongside the wide receiver trio of Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, and Brandon Gibson. Wallace had just two catches last week, but if can break out the way he did in week 2 against the Colts, the Dolphins will pose a challenge for the Saint’s defense. The x-factor to this matchup will be Miami’s running game, which has been slow to get going this season. Lamar Miller averaged over seven yards a carry last week, but only had eight carries. Miami will need to make more of an effort to get Miller involved and keep their offense balanced or else Ryan is likely to come after Tannehill with a lot of blitzes, which could make things difficult for a young quarterback, even one that’s played so well this season.

NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. MIAMI DEFENSE

As expected, the Saints have been great at throwing the ball up and down the field, with tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston doing most of the damage. So far this season, Graham has continued to create mismatches and been a nightmare for opposing teams to defend, and that should be the case again this week. Miami’s secondary has struggled to slow down quality quarterbacks each of the past two weeks, and they’ll need their pass rush to step up in order to help out their secondary and slow down the Saint’s passing attack. Like Miami, New Orleans hasn’t gotten their running game going this season, but running back Darren Sproles does provide another option in the passing game, which will make things even more difficult for the Dolphin’s defense, who will likely have their hands full all game and will need to be at their best to have a chance to win on the road.

PREDICTION

As impressive as Tannehill has been this season, being able to out duel Drew Brees in the Super Dome on a Monday night might be asking too much. The Miami defense hasn’t provided a ton of support this season, and that’s unlikely to change against the Saint’s offense. Tannehill will have his moments, but Ryan’s defense will eventually get to him, while Miami will have no way of slowing down Brees, Graham, and Colston. Miami has a good showing, but can’t get the win. New Orleans 31, Miami 20.


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11Are the Miami Dolphins For Real?

Before the NFL season began, many pondered whether the Miami Dolphins were prepared to take a big step forward, and some even thought they could potentially challenge the New England Patriots atop the AFC East.

These thoughts were born of the potential of quarterback Ryan Tannehill to show significant improvement in his second NFL season, as well as a successful offseason both in free agency and in the draft. The Dolphin’s 3-0 start to the season warrants a deeper look into whether this fast start proves that the Dolphins are indeed for real and pose a threat to the Patriots and the rest of the AFC or if their success early in the season is merely an aberration.

The three teams the Dolphins have beaten would point toward Miami being for real this season. A road win over Cleveland to start the season can be brushed off, but their week 2 win at Indianapolis needs to be taken seriously, especially after the Colts dominated San Francisco this past weekend. Not only did Ryan Tannehill go toe to toe with Andrew Luck, the crown jewel of the 2012 quarterback class, but Tannehill out played Luck in many respects, completing a higher percentage of his passes than Luck and not turning the ball over.

Miami’s week 3 win over Atlanta is also an impressive victory for the Dolphins, as the Falcons have become a perennial contender in the NFC. Tannehill performed at the same level as Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, the only difference being that when the game was on the line, it was Tannehill that led his team on a game-winning drive in the final minutes, showcasing the poise and execution of a seasoned veteran. Tannehill has performed better than anyone could have expected him to over the first three games of the season, as his play has compared favorably to more established quarterbacks and allowed the Dolphins to beat quality opponents.

Of course, Tannehill isn’t doing it alone; the whole Dolphins team is playing well, especially in the second half. Miami has outscored their opponents 41-16 in the second half of games this season, which is a substantial point difference just three games into the season. It indicates that the coaching staff is making good adjustments at halftime and that the players are at their best when the game’s on the line, both of which indicate that their success is sustainable over 16 games.

Also pertinent is the fact that Miami has committed the fourth fewest penalties in the NFL, which indicates that they’re a disciplined football team that doesn’t beat themselves. In the NFL, a team that’s getting good play from it’s quarterback and isn’t beating themselves with penalties and turnovers is going to have a chance to win on a weekly basis, which is why the Dolphins have been in position to win with strong second half performances the first three weeks of the season.

That’s not to say that the Dolphins have done everything perfect this season. Tannehill is getting sacked far too often, while Miami’s pass rush isn’t returning the favor on opposing quarterbacks. Miami’s rushing attack hasn’t been as productive as it needs to be and new acquisition Mike Wallace has been under-utilized, in part due to injury. One could go as far to say that there’s too much pressure on Tannehill, and while he’s handled it so far, at a certain point he’s going to need more support.

After all their early success, the Dolphins will really be put to the test this week, as they play a Monday night road against the New Orleans Saints, who have also started the season 3-0, meaning somebody will be leaving the Super Dome with their first loss of the season. If Miami wins this game, there will be no doubt that they’re for real. But even if they lose, the Dolphins have done enough over the first three weeks to indicate that they have indeed made significant progress from last year, and if Tannehill keeps performing the way he has, the Patriots will have some serious competition in the AFC East.


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11Members of 1972 Miami Dolphins Football Team Decline Invitation to White House, Cite Political Differences With Obama

One week after announcing plans to travel to the White House in celebration of their undefeated 1972 season, some Miami Dolphins football team members have declined to visit, citing political differences with President Obama.

Obama will personally honor their undefeated season, including regular games and the Super Bowl, with as many as five players refusing to attend the ceremony.

"I want to be careful, because mom said if you have nothing good to say about someone, then don't say anything,” former offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg said. “I don't have anything good to say about someone.”

Jim Langer also declined to attend, saying that Washington lacked a moral compass, and that he could not participate in a party full of people he disagreed with and act entertained.

“If that [angers] people,” Langer said, “so be it.”

However, most players have expressed excitement in participating in the ceremony, which was originally canceled while then-President Richard Nixon dealt with Watergate.

"I'm honored that the accomplishments of the 1972 Dolphins are going to be recognized by the president," coach Don Shula said. "I know it's something that all of us will enjoy and remember."

Linebacker Nick Buoniconti has also expressed his interest in the ceremony, noting that the recognition has been a long time coming.

When asked if the President was disappointed by some of the team members’ decisions, White House spokesperson John Earnest said people are free to make their own decisions, and that the President is looking forward to the event.

Sources: The Huffington Post, Newsmax


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11Can the Miami Dolphins Defense Keep Up?

The Miami Dolphins made some significant upgrades on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. Their biggest move was signing free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, but they also added wide receiver Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller. With those additions and the development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins figure to be much improved offensively, possibly to the extent of challenging the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. However, even with an improved offense, if the Dolphins are going to compete for a division title in 2013, their defense is going to have show significant signs of improvement as well.

The front four that Miami will put on the field will look similar to group it had last season, except with the addition of first round pick Dion Jordan. The Dolphins don’t know what exactly to expect out of Jordan in his rookie season, but they did get 15 sacks from Cameron Wake last season, so there won’t be too much pressure on Jordan to produce right away. Miami will also have quality depth at defensive end with Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon, so if Jordan has a good rookie season, the Dolphins could have four capable pass rushers, which should allow them to put consistent pressure on the quarterback.

The linebacker position was Miami’s biggest emphasis during free agency, as they added Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, both who will step into Miami’s starting lineup. Wheeler had a breakout season last year and appears to be entering his prime, so the Dolphins will be expecting a lot from him this season. Ellerbe is fresh off winning a Super Bowl and having the best season of his career as well. The Dolphins will expect him to own the middle of the field, where he could eclipse the 100-tackle mark for the first time. If Wheeler and Ellerbe play up to expectations, they should have no problem giving the Dolphins quality play at linebacker, as younger replacements after Miami parted ways with veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.

The secondary is where Miami will need the most help, after finishing 27th in the NFL against the pass last season. The Dolphins addressed the secondary in both free agency and the draft. In free agency they signed Brent Grimes, who only played in one game last season, but who had a few real good seasons in Atlanta between 2008 and 2010. In the draft the Dolphins added Jamar Taylor in the second round and Will Davis in the third round. Both Taylor and Davis are penciled in as back ups right now, but they should provide Miami with good depth at cornerback, while also pushing Grimes and Richard Marshall for their starting spots. At safety, the Dolphins will bring back Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons, two players that appear to be entering their prime.

While Miami’s offense will get a lot of the credit if they end up challenging the Patriots in the AFC East and make the playoffs this season, but the defense appears ready to play an equal part in the team’s success. The Dolphins are younger on defense than they were a season ago, and they have several key players that are beginning to play the best football of their careers. Miami may not have one of the NFL’s elite defenses this season, but just as the Dolphin’s offense is expected to take a step forward in 2013, the defense should show significant improvement as well. If Miami is able to improve enough on both sides of the ball, they will have a realistic chance at toppling New England atop the AFC East this season.


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11Can the Miami Dolphins Challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East?

For more years than the other three teams care to remember, the New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East Division. In addition to being a Super Bowl contender on a yearly basis, the Patriots have owned their division, usually with a significant gap between them and the other three teams. But all reigns have to come to an end at some point, and there are reasons to believe that New England’s might finally come to an end in 2013.

If there’s one team that has a chance to challenge the Patriots this season, it’s the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were a distant second place in the East Division last year with a 7-9 record, but they’re hopeful that quarterback Ryan Tannehill can make significant strides in his second NFL season and thrust Miami into the playoff picture. Tannehill had some rough moments last season, but he also showed plenty of promise, and with a year of experience under his belt, he could start to fulfill his potential in year two. After losing four games last season by five points or less, Miami believes that improvement out of Tannehill can mean a big difference in the standings.

Not only do the Dolphins have a chance to make a significant improvement at the quarterback position in 2013, but they also had one of the most productive off-seasons in the NFL with an emphasis on giving Tannehill plenty of help around him. The free agent signings of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson gives Miami a strong trio of wide receivers, which includes last year’s leading receiver Brian Hartline. Miami also upgraded at tight end with free agent Dustin Keller and rookie Dion Sims. Between the natural progression and development Tannehill is expected to make in his second season and the strong contingent of receivers Miami is surrounding him with, the Dolphins could have the caliber of offense in 2013 to compete with the Patriots.

Miami’s improvement alone might not be enough to take the division away from New England, but after the offseason they’ve had, the Patriots are in rough shape heading into the season. Tom Brady is still the quarterback, but his supporting cast is not what it’s been in the past. If Rob Gronkowski isn’t healthy by the start of the season, the Patriots will be without their top five receivers from last year, which will make them far too reliant on new acquisition Danny Amendola, unproven rookies and a collection of mediocre veterans. Brady can do a lot, but without a solid group of skill players around him, especially ones he’s familiar with, there’s a limit to how good New England’s offense can be, which could be a problem with a defense that they can’t always depend on.

Not only does New England look like a team that will take a step back on the field, but they’ve also had to deal with serious issues off the field that could serve as a distraction. The Aaron Hernandez situation has been a huge black cloud over the entire organization despite their efforts to distance themselves from him, and the arrest of Alfonzo Dennard so close to training camp doesn’t help either.

The “Patriot’s way” has worked for a long time, but there are signs that it’s starting to fall apart. The problems New England has on and off the field this offseason, and the improvement the Dolphins are projected to have could create the perfect storm for Miami to challenge New England atop the AFC East. The Patriots will begin the season as the favorite, but the gap between them and the next best team in the division isn’t as big as it usually is. If New England plays to their potential, they should win the division yet again, but if they falter, Miami has the potential to end their reign as kings of the AFC East.


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