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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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11NFL Playoff Preview: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos

Well, here we are again: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. There’s a chance that this is the last time we see these two faceoff, so let’s try to enjoy it. That being said, this game isn’t just about the quarterbacks; it’s about the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots playing with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Let’s take a closer look at the AFC Championship Game.

Both teams had a great regular season, won their division, and ended up with a first round bye in the playoffs. Last week, the Broncos held off a feisty but overmatched San Diego team, while the Patriots withstood a good effort from Andrew Luck and the Colts before ultimately winning by a sizeable margin.

The Patriots have made a surprising transition to a run-based offense that they’re hoping will take them to the Super Bowl. Last week LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley combined for 48 carries while Brady threw the ball just 25 times. Blount has become a near unstoppable force, running for 189 yards in the regular season finale against Buffalo and 166 yards against the Colts last week, and scoring eight touchdowns over the last three games. Even with all the injuries to their secondary, the biggest threat to the Broncos is New England controlling the ball and the clock with their ground game and keeping Manning off the field. Denver has to find a way to stop the run at all costs, so they can put the Patriots in passing situations and give their pass rush a chance to get in Brady’s face. If New England has success running the ball, not only will it keep the Denver offense on the sidelines, but it will also set up play-action for Brady, where he can be deadly, especially against a Denver secondary that could be vulnerable without a steady pass rush.

Despite a good collection of defensive talent, the Patriots have rarely shut teams down this season, and they certainly haven’t faced a dangerous set of skill players like this since they played Denver earlier this season, except this time they won’t the benefit of strong Foxboro winds deterring Manning from throwing the ball all over the field. The biggest area of concern for New England could be their rush defense, which was one of the worst in the NFL this year. Manning and his receivers get most of the credit, but the Broncos generally have a good balance on offense and have gotten steady production from Knowshon Moreno all season, as well as meaningful contributions late in the season from rookie Montee Ball. If New England can’t slow down Denver’s running game, the Broncos will stay ahead of the chains, putting Manning and his receivers in advantageous positions to challenge the New England secondary down the field. The Patriots will have to find a way to get the Broncos in long-yardage situations so that their pass rush can get after Manning, although the Denver offensive line has done a great job all season of keeping Manning on his feet, and as long as Manning is on the field and on his feet, it’s a safe bet that the Broncos are going to be able to move the ball and score points.

Pay no attention to the first meeting between these two teams; it was such an odd game played in unusual weather conditions, and if not for a botched punt return by the Broncos in overtime the game likely would have ended in a tie, so these two teams match up fairly evenly with one another. At least for now, the forecast in Denver calls for clear skies and fair temperatures, which is a sign that the Football Gods are smiling upon Manning and the Broncos. Brady will get his and both teams will score a lot points, but this game is Denver’s to lose. Denver 38, New England 24.

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11Colts vs. Patriots: The Andrew Luck Takeover is Coming, But Not Just Yet

If you watched Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck play the last two weeks, it was hard not to be impressed. Heck, if you’ve seen him over the past two years it’s hard not to be impressed with him, and how far he’s taken a team that won just two games the year before he arrived. Luck’s performance over the past two seasons is that of someone poised to one day take over as the best quarterback and most impactful player in the NFL. But he’s not there yet, as Luck will be sitting at home this weekend while veterans Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will square off in the AFC Championship Game.

The accomplishments of Luck’s team over the past two seasons do not compare favorably to Brady or Manning, or even the other young quarterbacks in the league like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, who will be meeting one another in the NFC Championship game. However, over the past two seasons Luck has done more with less and elevated his team to great heights, despite supporting cast around him that pails in comparison to what the four starting quarterbacks still playing have around them.

Luck has played the last two seasons behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, which has kept him under constant pressure and forced him into turning the ball over an in ordinate amount of times, which is one of the biggest complains against Luck, and is seen as a hindrance to his team’s success. However, many of those interceptions, including some of the seven he threw in this year’s postseason, were the result of trying too hard to make plays under pressure, and were not necessarily his fault. At the same time, being under constant pressure has allowed Luck to showcase his superb pocket presence and surprising skills as a runner, which will be even more of an asset when the Colts get better support for him along the offensive line.

Many of Luck’s mistakes the past two seasons, including his seven interceptions in this year’s postseason, have come as a result of trying to bring his team from behind, which has forced him to take more chances and ultimately make more mistakes. The Colts have not had a strong defense the past two years, which has constantly put Luck in a position in which he has to overcome a deficit, much like 28-point deficit he erased last week against Kansas City. Obviously, Luck hasn’t overcome every deficit he’s faced, but he has made some spectacular comebacks, none more impressive than last week against the Chiefs, and as the Colts improve their defense, they will be less reliant on Luck to do everything for them, which will help Luck to cut down on mistakes and perform at an even higher level.

For now, Luck remains a shade behind Brady and Manning, and not quite as accomplished as Kaepernick and Wilson. But his play over the past two weeks has re-affirmed what we have seen over the past two years: he’s capable of some extraordinary things, even when facing an uphill battle, and without a suitable supporting cast behind him. As Luck continues to improve even more and the Colts presumably get more help around him, he will continue his take over of the league as the as the pre-eminent quarterback and most impactful player in the NFL. He’s already done so much in the first two years of his career, and while he’s not there yet, if the past two weeks are any indication he’s real close.

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11NFL Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

Saturday night in primetime it’ll be an inter-generational matchup at the quarterback position between young Andrew Luck, fresh off the first playoff win of his career, and the aging Tom Brady, who is hoping to win his fourth Super Bowl. Let’s take a closer look at the Colts and Patriots.

The Colts completed the second biggest comeback in NFL playoff history against the Chiefs, overcoming a 28-point 3rd quarter deficit to beat Kansas City and earn a trip to New England. Meanwhile, the Patriots enjoyed the week off after yet another AFC East Division championship. It wasn’t quite as easy as it’s been in past years, but New England won 12 games and earned the second seed in the AFC Playoffs.

The Colts have had their rough moments offensively this season, but when they get going they can be close to unstoppable, and there’s no better example of that than the 35-point 2nd half they had against the Chiefs on Saturday. Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were a lethal combination that were responsible for 224 of Luck’s 443 passing yards, with LaVon Brazill and Cobi Fleener also being frequent targets. However, things may not come so easy against New England. The Patriots will rely on Aqib Talib to help take Hilton out of the game, in what could be the most important one-on-one matchup of the game. New England will also go after Luck with pass rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as they attempt to expose an offensive line that has had its problems this season. Luck has done well to use his legs to escape pressure this season, and he may have to do a lot of it against the Patriots. One area where the Colts may have a distinct advantage is running the ball against the 30th best rush defense in the NFL, especially with the injuries the Patriots have on defense. Indianapolis can’t always commit to the run, as they tend to fall behind early in games, but Donald Brown has had a nice season, and if they can get him a lot of touches early in the game, it could make things a lot easier for Luck, especially if he doesn’t have to worry about coming from behind. But if the Colts have to come from behind again, the Patriots will be in better shape than the Chiefs were to prevent Luck from pulling off another historic comeback because of their pass rush and the presence of Talib in their secondary.

Giving up 44 points to an offense that had Alex Smith at quarterback doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence heading into a game against a team that has Tom Brady at quarterback. To make matters worse, there are some injury concerns for Indianapolis, especially in the secondary, which is the last place they can afford to be thin against Brady. The Patriots don’t have a particularly frightening or intimidating set of skill players, but Danny Amendola is healthy for once, Julian Edelman has been a headache for opposing defenses all season, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has had moments of brilliance this season, and Shane Vereen is a versatile threat that needs to be accounted for. If Indianapolis is missing starters on defense due to injury, the Patriots have just enough skill players to be dangerous with Brady at quarterback, and forcing turnovers may be the only way the Colts can slow down the New England offense enough to give Luck and company a fair shot at winning without having to make another spectacular comebacker.

Is this going to be the passing of the torch? Not just yet. The Colts remain notorious for getting off to slow starts, and that’s going to be a big problem if it happens against the Patriots; Brady and company will blow out Indy if the Colts aren’t ready to play from the start, and coming back on the road against the pass rush duo of Jones and Ninkovich is asking too much of Luck. New England 41, Indianapolis 24.

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11NFL Week 12 Review: Lessons Learns From Broncos vs. Patriots

After the instant classic we got to watch last night, I need to get some things off my chest:

1. Denver’s running game is a lot better than we thought. Even when the Patriots had their run package defense out there, the Broncos were still gashing them. It was very impressive.

2. Bill Belichick is either the most arrogant coach in the NFL (which is probable) or he still knows what he is doing. You would be hard pressed to convince me any other coach in the NFL would trade the ball for the wind against Peyton Manning.

3. Speaking of Peyton, Mr. Manning is going to be hard pressed to win a Super Bowl with his lack of ability to play through elements such as cold, wind, rain, etc. Brady on the other hand, is 39-5 when the temperature is below 40 degrees.

4. When will Von Miller be back in shape? You can’t convince me after the 1st half that he had, that the Patriots found a way to completely contain him. There had to have been some fatigue issues there.

5. When it matters most, you take Tom Brady over Pey….anyone. Brady is the only QB in history to EVER be 100 games over .500 and now he 10-4 against Peyton with continually less weapons around him.

Fire away Patriots haters.

Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson

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11Monday Night Football Preview: Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots

A big game on Monday night between two good teams deserves a little extra attention. Let’s take a closer look at the Panthers and the Patriots.

These two teams aren’t battling one another for playoff position, but both are in the midst of a late-season push for the postseason. As usual, the Patriots have a substantial lead in the AFC East, leading by three games in the loss column, and a win tonight would make it hard to imagine them not winning the division once again.

As for the Panthers, they need a win to stay one game behind the Saints in the NFC South, keeping alive hope that they can win the division this season with two games against New Orleans left on the schedule. A win would also put Carolina in sole possession of the top wildcard spot in the NFC with six weeks left to play. However, a loss would put them two games back in the division and in a four-way tie for the NFC’s two wildcard spots. If sense of urgency means anything, the Panthers definitely need this game more than the Patriots.

The Patriots have struggled to stop the run all season, even against teams that usually don’t run the ball well, and that could be a problem for them against the Panthers, who have a top-10 rushing attack. Not only have the Panthers received steady production this season from DeAngelo Williams, but also Jonathan Stewart has been a nice addition to the backfield the past couple of weeks, and on top of that quarterback Cam Newton can be dangerous when he leaves the pocket. New England’s defensive end duo of Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones need to keep Newton in the pocket and force him to move the ball with his arm. Of course, at the same time, New England’s linebackers will have to slow down Carolina’s running backs. Newton has been more effective throwing the ball over the past month, but Carolina still has an underwhelming set of receivers and with Aqib Talib coming back from injury, the Patriots should be able to take away whichever receiver they feel is the most threatening, which could make it tough for Newton to make plays in the passing game, although that will only matter if the Patriots can slow down the Carolina rushing attack.

Before their bye week, the Patriots put up their best offensive effort of the season, scoring 55 points against the Steelers, with Tom Brady throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns while three different receivers had over 100 yards receiving for the game. New England is as healthy as they’re going to get on the offensive side of the ball, and they look like they’re finally starting to gel as a unit. That being said, they haven’t faced a defense like the one they’ll face in Carolina. The Panthers boast a defense that’s top-5 in the NFL against both the run and the pass, giving them a defense with few weaknesses that will be difficult for even Brady to figure out. Carolina hasn’t allowed more than 15 points since week 6 against the Cardinals, which is the last game they lost. Even with all of their personnel available to them, an extra week to prepare, and a lot of momentum riding over from their 55-point outburst against Pittsburgh, the Patriots will have to execute to perfection in order to consistently move the ball and score points against Carolina’s defense.

This looks like it’ll be a defensive battle. Despite the Patriots exploding on offense in their last game, things won’t come so easy against Carolina’s defense. The Panthers should be able to keep New England’s offense under wraps and they should be able to control the ball with their running game. For the second straight week, the Panthers will win a close game against a quality team because of a strong defensive effort: Carolina 20, New England 16.

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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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11'Sign Tim Tebow' Rally Held In Jacksonville

Tim Tebow doesn’t seem to be giving up on his dream of being an NFL quarterback, and neither will fans in his native Jacksonville, Fla. Tebow is currently a free agent, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are winless and one of the worst teams in the NFL. Now, some Jags fans want to bring the two parties together, so they held a rally at EverBank Field, the home of their favorite team, Tuesday,

The group has even set up a Facebook page to help spread the word:

Tim Tebow Quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars? We say.... WHY THE HECK NOT? The Jags are going no where in 2013 if Opening day is any indication. An embarrassing 28-2 Home loss to the only team as bad as us last year. Look at the photos above. That is 5 minutes to go in a NFL game. Stadium Empty.

We are asking that YOU Take action NOW. We are mobilizing the City Of Jacksonville to shame the Jaguars into getting Tebow. If the Jags got Him....Overnight, The Jaguars would be on the National Stage. The Stadium will be full of Tebow Maniacs & Tebow haters alike. The whole country would tingle with anticipation & all eyes would be on Jacksonville. Not as a punchless loser but as the Grand-Final-Once-and-for-all Tebow proving ground.

Tebow most recently played with the New England Patriots this preseason, but was cut before the regular season began. He also spent time with the New York Jets and was drafted by the Denver Broncos out of the University of Florida, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, and the Davey O’Brien Award and the BCS National Championship in 2008.

Sources: CBS Sports, Facebook

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112013 NFL Week 2 Breakdown: New York Jets vs. New England Patriots

The Patriots will look to continue their dominance over the New York Jets in their home opener in Foxborough Thursday night.

Unlike years past though, one could argue that there are almost as many questions surrounding the Patriots as the Jets going into this one. After all, Tom Brady will most likely be missing his top 2 targets from week 1 in Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola, while Gronkowski is still on the mend. This is on the heels of a victory over the Bills in which Brady looked very unconnected with his WR’s and TE’s for almost the entire game.

On the other side of the field, for the second week in a row, a rookie QB will look put up points against a Bill Belichick led defense. Now, usually that would sound like a definite advantage to the Patriots, which I think it still is, but if you watched week 1 there could be slight reason for concern. Last week in Buffalo, Bills rookie E.J Manuel threw for 150 yards, 2 TD, and ran for 19 without turning the ball over once to the top ranked “take away” defense from last year.

As far as turnovers go though, you would think that could be the turning point in the game for both teams. Both teams turned the ball over multiple times in week 1 and ended up having to win the game at the end. It will be crucial for the Jets that they take care of the football and don’t let Brady and company seize the momentum, because that when they tend to step on your throat better than any other team.

Lastly, we all know that when it comes to a rivalry, all bets are off. These two coaches and teams know each other very well, neither team looks to be very smooth on offense as of yet, and both defenses have given the other team’s fits over the past few years.

Prediction: What does all this mean? That the Jets are going to go on the road with a rookie QB and stun the 11 ½ point favorite Patriots. Let’s not get crazy. After all, it is still the Jets we are talking about. Plus, the Pats have one huge advantage we didn’t talk much about, but everybody already knows: they will be starting Tom Brady while the Jets will be going with Geno Smith.

In the end though, as long as Geno takes care of the football, don’t be surprised if it is closer than the spread indicates and the Patriots have to win ugly with a depleted WR and TE corps.

Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson

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11Aaron Hernandez Indicted In The Murder Of Odin Lloyd

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was indicted Thursday of first-degree murder and weapons charges in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a Boston semi-professional football player and boyfriend of Hernandez’s girlfriend’s sister.

The six-count grand jury indictment charges Hernandez with killing the 27-year-old Lloyd, who’s body was found in an industrial park about a mile from the former Patriot’s home.

Hernandez, 23, pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges in June, and he is being held without bail at a county jail.

He appeared in court briefly in Attleboro on Thursday afternoon. After the indictment, his attorney Michael Fee said the defense was looking forward to testing the prosecution's case.

"There has been an incredible rush to judgment in this case," and the state doesn't have enough evidence to prove the charges, he said, according to ESPN.

Hernandez signed a $40 million contract last summer with the Patriots, but was cut by the team within an hour and a half of his June 26 arrest.

At the same time, Hernandez continues to be the subject of more murder and shooting investigations in Massachusetts and Florida. A separate grand jury in Suffolk County, Mass, is investigating a July 2010 drive-by double-murder in Boston, to which Hernandez may be connected, according to The Providence Journal.

The Journal writes:

In that case, Daniel Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, of Boston, were shot and killed while their BMW sedan idled at a traffic light in Boston. Earlier this summer, the police seized a Toyota 4-Runner with Rhode Island plates from a garage in Bristol, Conn. that his owned by Hernandez uncle, Andres ``Tito'' Valderrama. Police said they believe the sports-utility vehicle was used in the fatal drive-by shooting.

Sources: ESPN, The Providence Journal

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