Once you add co-owner John Mara to the equation, the braintrust of the New York Giants could be the modern day Three Stooges.
On January 14, Todd Bowles was hired to be the 18th head coach of the New York Jets franchise. The last three head coaches of the Jets were able to get Gang Green to the National Football League Playoffs at least once during their respective tenures. But no Jets head coach has been able to hoist the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions since Weeb Ewbank did it in 1968. The Jets hiring of Bowles is a homecoming as he was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and the township could be renamed after him if he were to lead Gang Green to a Super Bowl Title. But Bowles does have his work cut out for him with the Jets.
Bowles is replacing Rex Ryan as Jets head coach and he inherits a defensive unit that was sixth in the NFL in total defense last season. But the Jets biggest problem right now is on the offensive side of the football where they were 22nd in total offense this past season. The Jets inept offense was a big reason why they were 4-12 last season and thus Bowles was hired to replace Ryan. This past season Geno Smith and Michael Vick split the duties as Jets starting quarterback and neither player left you bubbling with optimism about their potential. Vick is now an unrestricted free agent and I don’t see the Jets bringing him back while Smith is still under contract with the Jets for two more seasons. In two seasons with the Jets, Smith has a record of 11-18 to go along with 25 touchdowns, 34 interceptions, a 57.5 completion percentage, and a 71.5 quarterback rating. And now because of this Bowles and the Jets are in a very awkward situation.
The quarterback class of the 2015 NFL Draft is not expected to be the deepest and with the Jets slotted to pick sixth overall in the first round, they more than likely will not get their hands on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Winston and Mariota both have question marks surrounding them as they are both set to embark on professional careers, but it will be slim pickings behind them this April for teams that are looking for a new franchise quarterback. Bowles or new Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan have not given their public endorsement for Smith as new general manager/head coach combos tend to want to bring in their type of player at quarterback instead of rolling with a holdover which puts Gang Green back at square one AGAIN!!!!!
Unfortunately for the Jets they are still searching for the next Joe Namath and he doesn’t appear to be arriving at Florham Park anytime soon. If Bowles and Maccagnan decide to stick with Smith then they have to make sure that they put a very strong supporting cast around him as far as a solid running game and wide receivers. Smith has shown a flash here or there, but I am not sure if it will be enough to convince Maccagnan and Bowles to give him a legitimate shot to be the Jets starting quarterback of the future. These next few months will be extremely important for Maccagnan, Bowles, Smith, and the Jets as this organization is in dire need of some answers at the quarterback position.
In the current National Football League it is tough for a head coach to maintain his job when he fails to lead his team to the postseason in three consecutive years. New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan has been unable to lead his team to the postseason since 2010, but he is still walking the sidelines at MetLife Stadium. The Jets 1-3 start to this season has not put a ton of trust in their fan base as most people that back Gang Green are clamoring for a change. Geno Smith is in his second season as the Jets starting quarterback. As a rookie in 2013, Smith threw 21 interceptions, but there was optimism that he would improve this season. Through four games this season Smith has already thrown 5 interceptions. And after Smith threw an interception and lost a fumble this past Sunday in the Jets 24-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, the boo birds were out in force at East Rutherford, New Jersey. For Ryan it is simple; he must bench Smith in favor of Jets backup quarterback Michael Vick.
When Ryan joined the Jets in 2009, he drafted quarterback Mark Sanchez and he made him believe that he was better than what he actually was. In Sanchez’s first two seasons, the Jets had one of the top defenses and rushing attacks in the National Football League which resulted in the team reaching the AFC Championship Game. After 2010, the talent around Sanchez dipped which resulted in a decline in his stats and the team’s overall record. Sanchez fell so far out of favor with Ryan that he and the Jets general manager John Idzik drafted Smith last year. But when Sanchez was injured in the 2013 preseason after Ryan foolishly elected to put him back into a game with a backup offensive line, it thrust Smith into a starting spot as a rookie. It was a baptism by fire for Smith, but Ryan cannot afford to see the growing pains of his young quarterback if he wishes to remain employed by the Jets.
This past off-season the Jets signed Vick as a backup and to mentor Smith. But Smith needs to watch from the sidelines right now. In 11 previous NFL seasons Vick led both the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs. Vick is 34-years old, but he still has a quick release and he is also one of the fastest quarterbacks in pro football. Vick is injury prone as only made all 16 starts in a season once, but the Jets offense needs a jolt and he is worth the risk.
Since his collegiate days at West Virginia, the pro game has never slowed down for Smith. It also doesn’t help Smith that he primarily played in the spread offense in college while he is taking the majority of his snaps in the NFL under center which does take an adjustment period. It is easier said than done, but Smith let his emotions get the best of him this past Sunday when he shouted an obscenity towards a fan which opened him up to more criticism from the New York media. I am in no way shape or form siding with the fan on the issue, but Smith is in a no-win situation when he trades barbs with fans. Publicly the Jet players along with Ryan will support Smith, but they must wonder if Vick gives this team a better shot to win right now.
With the Jets struggling to start the season it doesn’t help their case that their next three games find them on the road to meet the San Diego Chargers, home for the Denver Broncos, and on the road once again versus the New England Patriots. All three teams entered this season as favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and a 2-5 or 1-6 overall record by the Jets in a few weeks could be damming for Ryan. Ryan is hanging on by a thread due to the fact the Jets owner Woody Johnson has a soft spot in his heart for the head coach that helps him win the back pages of the New York tabloids. Last year winning the last two games of the season allowed the Jets to finish the season with a record of 8-8 which somehow helped Ryan keep his job. This time around Ryan doesn’t need to be creative to keep his job for he simply just needs to sack Smith in favor of Vick.
X-New England Patriots 12-4
Since 2001, the New England Patriots have been the team to beat in the AFC East and that will once again be the case in 2014. Since 2001, New England has won 11 AFC East Division Titles and under Patriots head coach Bill Belichick they are looking for another in 2014. Aside from looking to once again win the AFC East, the Pats ended 2013 with a bitter taste in their mouths. For the second consecutive season the Patriots lost the AFC Championship Game which can be a lonely feeling. But under Belichick, the Pats are not in the business of feeling sorry for themselves.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is set to begin his 15th season in New England. At the age of 37, some folks are attempting to write Brady off, but he still has some gas in the tank and more importantly some zip in his magical right arm.
The Patriots do have some questions about their running game as Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley have some red flags about their durability and ball security. In four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver Brandon LaFell was an afterthought, but he could be an improved player in 2014 now that he’ll catching the football from Brady. The Patriots need wide receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski to be healthy this season as they’ll each be vital to the Patriots passing game.
Belichick recently shook things up when he traded longtime guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But on their offensive line New England still has an offensive tackle by the name of Nate Solder who is rapidly turning into one of the best anchors in the business.
Defensively the Patriots will once again be a motley crew of interchangeable parts, but it will be imperative for a defensive line that features defensive end Chandler Jones to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork returns to the Patriots after missing the majority of 2013 with an Achilles injury and if he is able to regain the form that has made him a five-time Pro Bowl selection it will symbolize big things for the Pats this year.
The Patriots biggest defensive acquisition during the off-season was that of cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Patriots lost cornerback Aqib Talib in free agency to the Denver Broncos, but they didn’t miss out on Revis. Previously Revis was a thorn in the side of the Patriots as he spent the first six years of his National Football League career with the New York Jets. Now Revis has crossed over to the other side of the Boston-New York rivalry and he is still one of the best shutdown corners in the game.
Four of the Patriots first six games this season will be on the road, but Belichick is one of the best head coaches in the business as far as getting his team prepared for a challenge and another deep playoff run should be on the horizon in Foxboro.
New York Jets 8-8
In the current National Football League it isn’t that often that a head coach is able to retain his job after three consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance, but that doesn’t apply to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. In Ryan’s first two seasons with the Jets he led the team to the AFC Championship Game. But since then Gang Green is 22-26 and Ryan apparently has nine lives. Unlike the past three seasons the Jets have a better chance to make the postseason in 2014.
Last season the Jets were 25th in total offense in the NFL, but they are hopeful that things will be different this season. As a rookie in 2013, Jets quarterback Geno Smith threw 12 touchdowns while serving up 21 interceptions. Ryan and Jets general manager John Idzik signed veteran quarterback Michael Vick to push the youngster Smith. After gaining 2,006 rushing yards in 2009, running back Chris Johnson has been unable to come close to matching that production. The Tennessee Titans gave up on Johnson, but the Jets see a player that still has some explosion in his legs. Last season wide receiver Eric Decker was one of quarterback Peyton Manning’s top targets with the Denver Broncos. But Decker is going to find out real quick this season that he is no longer playing with Manning.
But as long as Ryan is the head coach of the Jets, they will have one of the best defensive units in the NFL. The Jets defensive line can be a force this season if Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are able to apply pressure on opposing offenses. But the Jets are still thin at linebacker and in the secondary which could hamper them this season.
Three of the Jets first four games are at home this season. But if Gang Green gets off to a slow start you will hear the boo birds in New York looking for the team to can both Ryan and Smith.
Miami Dolphins 7-9
The Miami Dolphins have the talent at their offensive skill positions to be a playoff team this season, but that alone won’t be enough. After the “bullying scandal” destroyed the Dolphins offensive line last season, the team really didn’t do a great job in upgrading their line in the off-season and it is important for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be protected.
In two seasons in the National Football League, Tannehill has progressed as passer and he is poised to become the first Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino in 1992 to pass for more than 4,000 yards in one season. But just like the days in Miami when Dan Marino was the quarterback, the current Dolphins are unable to run the football as they were 26th last season in rushing which puts more pressure on Tannehill and the passing game to produce. If Tannehill begins this season as the starting quarterback in Miami it will be the first time since 2003 that the Dolphins would have had the same starting quarterback for three consecutive seasons.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was hopeful that second year defensive end Dion Jordan would be able to offset defensive end Cameron Wake, but that will have to wait as Jordan has been suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
With games against divisional rivals in the Patriots and Buffalo Bills in the first two games of the season, it will be penthouse or outhouse for the Dolphins. But if the Dolphins were to miss the postseason for a third consecutive year it could mark the end of Philbin’s tenure in South Florida.
Buffalo Bills 6-10
The Buffalo Bills have the longest current streak in the National Football League without a trip to the postseason. 1999 was the last time that the Bills played in the postseason and they are hopeful that things will change in 2014. Since their last postseason appearance the Bills have only had one winning season and they are trying to end a stretch where they have had five consecutive seasons in which they’ve lost at least 10 games.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone is entering his second year in Buffalo and any success that he is going to have starts with his quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel is entering his second season as the Bills quarterback. In 10 starts last season for the Bills, Manuel had a 58.8 completion percentage to go along with 1,927 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Marrone is hopeful that Manuel is ready to take the next step in his progression which will include completing 65 percent of his passes.
The Bills traded up in the first round of last spring’s NFL Draft to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins whom the people in Western New York are very high on. At 6’1″, 211 lbs., Watkins comes to Western New York as a three-time All-American from Clemson University and he is a burner. Because of Watkins’ potential, the Bills traded wide receiver Steve Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers. Watkins has the ability to be the first Bills wide receiver to consistently command a double team since the days of Eric Moulds in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Last season the Bills had the tenth ranked defense in the National Football League and they will have a new defensive coordinator this season in former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz that will look to make this defensive units one of the toughest in pro football. With defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Mario Williams, and defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes leading the way the Bills can rush the quarterback with the best of them in football and Schwartz will look to turn them loose in 2014.
The first five games of the upcoming season will be important for the Bills as they will only face one team that had a winning record in 2013 and it will be important for Buffalo to get off to a good start if they are going to end their long playoff drought.