CB Cromartie Not Returning To NY Jets

Cromartie v JagsFormer Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie was let go by the team and became an unrestricted free agent because they did not want to pay a $5 million roster bonus due on March 13.

The team tried to sign a replacement for Cromartie but missed out on players like Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, leaving a void at the cornerback position. The Arizona Cardinals had been showing interest in Antonio Cromartie, but the cornerback expressed a desire to re-sign with the Jets.

Cromartie had the best year of his Jets career in 2012 with “All-Pro” cornerback Darrelle Revis missing most of that season with a knee injury but he struggled in 2013 battling a hip issue. A Jets/Cromartie reunion seemed to make sense, but Cromartie has signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals.

The cornerback market has dried up with players like Asante Samuel, Carlos Rogers and former Jet Aaron Berry still available. The Jets could be looking at the trade market as the Houston Texans might be looking to move cornerback Jonathan Joseph or they might choose to draft a replacement.

Cromartie finishes his four year Jets career with 51 pass defenses and 13 interceptions.

NY Jets Free Agents: Staying, Going Or Gone

Revis BucsNFL free agency is in full swing and the Jets lost some guys who played with the team last year while others remain unsigned. Below is a list of 2014 Jets free agents and what has or might happen to them.

Of course former Jets “All-Pro” cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was traded last offseason to the Buccaneers, was released and there was hope he might return to the Jets. This turned out not to be the case as he signed a deal to become a rival New England Patriot.

Here’s some Jets who’ve moved on:

RT – Austin Howard:

The right tackle started every game over the last two seasons but the Jets were unable to work out a contract before he hit free agency. Howard has signed a five-year, $30 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract with the Oakland Raiders.

The Jets acquired former Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Breno Giacomini as Howard’s replacement.

DB – Isaiah Trufant:

Mostly used on special teams, Trufant was also used in a limited role with the defense. He was a restricted free agent before March 11 but the Jets did not tender an offer, allowing him to hit the open market. The Cleveland Browns, whose head coach is former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, signed Trufant at $1.54 million over two years. At age 31 Trufant’s role on the Jets should be relatively easy to replace.

Former Jets currently free agents, but could be re-signed:

OLB – Calvin Pace:

Having a very productive 2013 season, recording ten sacks, Pace was with the Jets for the last six years. He is a veteran at a position of need, but is going on 34 and might be nearing the end of his career. It seems one more season at a minimum contract makes sense for both sides. It is doubtful teams, even if interested, want to give more than a minimum salary for Pace as he has drawn no interest in free agency.

OL – Willie Colon:

Spending six years with the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the Jets in March of last year Colon, 31 in April, started all 16 games at right guard during the 2013 season. He brought a veteran presence and took on a leadership role within the locker room.

There hasn’t been much reported about Colon early in free agency, but he’ll definitely be a consideration for teams looking for a proven offensive lineman later on. Losing Howard and Colon would mean two new starters on the right side of the line. The Jets will strongly consider bringing Colon back for another season.

OLB – Garrett McIntyre:

McIntyre has been a solid special teams player over his Jets career and contributed 19 tackles and two sacks on defense last season. With the Jets a bit thin at the outside linebacker position it was surprising the team did not place a tender on McIntyre as he was a restricted free agent. Since no tender was given McIntyre (29) is free to sign with another team. The Jets could be looking to give him a two-year deal after his market value is set rather than using the one year tender. There is a good chance he ends up back with the green and white.

Could be brought in as a camp body:

Safety – Ed Reed:

The future Hall of Fame defensive back is a favorite of head coach Rex Ryan. Acquired during the season after he was released by the Houston Texans Reed appeared in seven games for the Jets having three interceptions.

The safety position is an area of need for the team, but Reed will be 36 at the start of the 2014 season and no longer possesses the same abilities he once had. The Jets could bring him in at a minimum salary and see if he has enough left to make the roster.

QB – David Garrard:

Garrard was signed by the Jets in March 2013 to add some veteran depth to the quarterback competition, he retired in May, but rejoined the team mid-season. Garrard is now 36 and has not played an NFL game since 2010.

The Jets are in need of a veteran quarterback and while Michael Vick’s name has been thrown around Garrard could be brought into camp as a less expensive alternative.

ILB – Josh Mauga:

Spent 2013 on injured reserve while only appearing in five games during the 2012 season. Mauga would have to fight for a role on special teams if he is even brought back.

FB – Lex Hilliard:

Rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon started the entire 2013 season as Hilliard spent the year on injured reserve. Hilliard did play 12 games for the Jets in 2012 and could be brought in for some competition at the position.

CB – Aaron Berry:

There was hope Berry could have been a contributor in 2013 but a torn ACL ended his season early. The Jets might want to see if he has recovered and can provide depth at the cornerback position.

Definitely gone:

TE- Kellen Winslow, OL – Vladimir Ducasse, TE – Konrad Reuland, WR/KR – Josh Cribbs

“Out for the Season” Words Coaches To Often Hear: The NFL Should Consider Changes To Offseason Workouts

With all 32 teams in full swing at training camp, it seems the injury bug has plagued just about every team.  These injuries aren’t all small, temporary day-to-day injuries but season ending injuries.  This year more than any other I could think of, the amount of ACL tears, and leg injuries in general has skyrocketed to a disturbing level.

Players with torn ACLs already from training camp include: Bryan Bulaga (Packers), Aurelius Benn (Eagles), Jeremy Maclin (Eagles), Denario Alexander (Chargers), Vidal Hazelton (Jets), Aaron Berry (Jets) Chris Culliver (49ers), Joe Morgan (Saints), Victor Butler (Cowboys), Dan Koppen (Broncos). 

I may have forgotten a few but in the two weeks since most training camps started that is TEN players with torn ACL’s prior to the first preseason game for most teams.  Other injuries include Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta (Hip Disclocation), Chicago CB Kelvin Hayden (Torn Hamstring), Saints DE Kenyon Coleman (Torn Pectoral Muscle) and Buccaneers PK Connor Barth (Torn Achille’s Tendon).  It is alarming to say the least that these devastating injuries are occurring.  The average professional career of most NFL players is only three years and injuries like these can cause some of these players their livelihood for their career.

The NFL has moved the NFL Draft back about a month starting next year, but that doesn’t mean that OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and mandatory mini-camp will be pushed back as well.  I have a proposal for the NFL and NFLPA to potentially help cut down on these horrific, career-changing injuries during the offseason:

  1. Push OTA’s back from early June to late June.
  2. Push mandatory mini-camp back to mid July and have it for an entire week (2 days with helmets only, 3 days with shoulder pads and helmets).  Football is a violent, collision sport and some collision is necessary in mini-camp, even if it’s light thud and tackling form drills.  This will allow the players to get a bit of contact in, and gradually get them used to live blocking, and hitting.
  3. Start training camp August 1st and eliminate one preseason game(from 4 games to 3).  Maybe add in a controlled practice scrimmage for teams in locations somewhat near each other.  Training camp should start the same way mini-camp did;  2 days of helmets, 3 days shoulder pads and helmets, and then full pads after that.  It is an elementary philosophy, but with the effort NFL players put into practice, it should be a consideration.  After every third day of full equipment coaches should have the choice of upper body pads or lower body pads ONLY for the fourth day.

In the regular season, the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), only allows for FOURTEEN padded practices per 17-week season.  Eleven of these practices must be held once a week for the first eleven weeks of the season, and then three more in the next six weeks.  Padded practices are defined in the CBA as: “a practice in which players are required to wear helmets and shoulder pads, in addition to any other equipment required by the Club, subject to the exceptions set forth in Article 23, Section 6(b). (pg. 143).” 

The padded practices while using only lower body pads (knee pads, thigh pads, hip pads) should be utilized more often to prevent bumping knees, and unnatural bending and collapsing of the legs.  Most coaches will use their one day a week padded practice to wear upper body pads, which is fine, but would it really be a hassle to make players wear their lowers?  I don’t think so.  In addition, players will be mandated by the NFL to wear lower body pads in games starting this season, so why not wear them in practice as well, even if they’re not wearing shoulder pads.  Will wearing pads stop injuries from occurring?  No.  Will it help in keeping the players from getting caught in a compromised position?  More often than not.

Obviously, this proposal wouldn’t be able to be negotiated until the next CBA, but it’s something to think about.  It decreases the off time the players have in the offseason, but after this offseason of Aaron Hernandez, and others, would it be such a bad thing?

This proposal would also help coaches keep track of their players more closely in the offseason to make sure that they are keeping up with their own training.  Another question raised would be: Are the lack of two-a-days what is causing players to put a little more effort into their one practice per day and thus maybe being overaggressive?  That may be the case for some but most players will tell you that when they’re out of the practice field, they’re going to give 110% of their effort.  However, if two-a-days were still allowed, would players hold back a bit of that excess built up energy knowing they have another practice?  All questions that wouldn’t be easy to answer.

My proposal is based on what I feel should be done by the NFL to get guys hitting in mini-camp and decreasing the off time of the players in order to ensure that they are staying active and getting football-related work in for 10 months of the year.  Players can weight lift three times a day, run sprints twice a day, or run hills all they want, but if they’re not doing football relevant activities, the chances of a football injury can occur when they get to training camp.

I hope that we don’t have to see any more of these season ending injuries in the NFL and I hope the NFL and the player’s association have realized the issues and are currently working on a plan of some sort to ensure player’s safety.  The NFL is doing more than enough of that in game situations, and they should continue to look at this for practices as well.

Analysis Of The NY Jets First Week Of Training Camp (JetNation Podcast)

New episode JetNation Radio: (Show Link).

New York Jets training camp is in full swing, hosts Dennis Agapito and Tyson Rauch discussed what has been going on in camp with JetNation:

  • The current analysis of the quarterback competition between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
  • Who should be making the final call on the week one starting QB and how much influence will general manager John Idzik have?
  • Wide receiver Braylon Edwards was resigned along with the development of Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates and Jordan White.
  • How does the loss of Aaron Berry effect the cornerback competition?
  • What is happening with the running back position? Mike Goodson is a no-show at camp, Joe McKnight not being healthy while Chris Ivory is nursing a hamstring injury. 
  • John Idzik finally gets the Jets first round picks signed.

Next Show:  August 6th at 8pm

Jets Cornerback Berry Out For The Season With Knee Injury

New York Jets cornerback Aaron Berry tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee and will miss the entire 2013 season.

Entering the 2012 season Berry was projected to be a starting cornerback for Detroit Lions but two offseason arrests led to his released. The Jets acquired Berry on October 1st 2012 giving him a two-year contract.  He recorded two tackles over seven games during the remainder of the season.

Berry seemed to be taking advantage of his second chance and was staying out of trouble.  There was hope that he could contribute more this year and was competing for a roster spot.

He is likely to be waive/injured and once clearing waivers placed on reserve/injured ending his season. 

2013 New York Jets Roster Preview: Defensive Backs

Current Safeties on the Roster:

# Name Pos. Height Weight Age Exp. College
39 Allen, Antonio S 6-1 210 24 2 South Carolina
32 Bush, Josh S 5-11 205 24 2 Wake Forest
37 Jarrett, Jaiquawn S 6-0 196 23 2 Temple
26 Landry, Dawan S 6-1 212 30 8 Georgia Tech
42 Lockett, Bret S 6-1 220 26 4 UCLA
45 Miles, Rontez S 6-2 203 24 R California (PA)

Current Cornerbacks on the Roster:

# Name Pos. Height Weight Age Exp. College
22 Berry, Aaron CB 5-11 180 24 4 Pittsburgh
41 Crocker, Eric CB 6-2 195 25 1 Arkansas-Monticello
31 Cromartie, Antonio CB 6-2 210 29 8 Florida State
43 Edwards, Mike CB 5-10 186 22 R Hawaii
34 Fletcher, Donnie CB 6-1 195 22 2 Boston College
21 Lankster, Ellis CB 5-9 190 26 4 West Virginia
27 Milliner, Dee CB 6-0 201 21 R Alabama
35 Trufant, Isaiah CB 5-8 170 30 3 Eastern Washington
30 Walls, Darrin CB 6-0 190 24 3 Notre Dame
20 Wilson, Kyle CB 5-10 190 25 4 Boise State
38 Adams, Royce DB 6-0 190 25 2 Purdue


Cornerbacks

With Darrelle Revis now in Tampa Bay, the number one cornerback for the Jets is Antonio Cromartie.  As he did when Revis was hurt last year, Cromartie will have the monumental task of covering some of the best wide receivers in the game.  He intercepted 3 passes and deflected another 13.  Quarterbacks often chose not to throw against him last year and the same could be true in 2013.  Next year those receivers include the likes of Stevie Johnson, Mike Wallace, Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Vincent Jackson, Roddy White/Julio Jones, among others.  Coming off a strong season Cromartie has been confident and has now took on the role of “player-coach “ for the younger defensive backs on the team.  Sky is the limit when it comes to Cromartie’s Pro Bowl potential and the Jets hope he’ll step up and perform as he did in 2012.

Dee Milliner, 9th overall pick, comes in as the most outstanding corner in the 2013 draft.  As a member of National Champion Alabama, Milliner had an astounding 41 pass deflections and 6 interceptions.  He helped them become the nation’s top defense for the last 3 years.  Milliner should not be compared to Revis.  Putting a tag on a young player like that can be detrimental to his development.  Fans need to treat Milliner as his own brand.  Milliner has many traits as a cover, lock-down corner that emulate Revis, but he shouldn’t be compared in any extent.  Milliner brings a level of speed and athleticism that the Jets missed last season and he should be an immediate plug in as the Jets number two corner.

Kyle Wilson has struggled so far in his career.  However, he has had mild success as a third corner in the slot.  If Milliner beats out Wilson to become the starting corner, Wilson will assume the nickel corner role.  He has been working with Cromartie all off season in New Jersey to try and improve his hip flexibility and his ability to read routes and react.

Other corners like Isaiah Trufant, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls, Aaron Berry, and Royce Adams will have a role on the team in special teams or in special pass coverage packages and will provide mildly experienced depth in case of injury.  Adams is a converted WR turned corner who saw significant reps with #1 defense last year in minicamp prior to getting hurt.  The competition among these players, as well as, Eric Crocker, Mike Edwards, and Donnie Fletcher will make this a fun area to watch come minicamp and training camp.

Safety

After losing LaRon Landry (Indianapolis Colts) and Yeremiah Bell (Arizona Cardinals), arguably the two most consistent and solid defensive players on the 2012 roster, the Jets have turned in another direction.  They signed veteran free agent Dawan Landry, older brother of LaRon, who played as a safety for Rex Ryan in Baltimore between 2006-2010.  In Rex Ryan’s defensive system Dawan accounted for 9 interceptions and 270 tackles.  Landry isn’t quite the big hitter as his younger brother, but he can still bring a big hit.  He is a bit more fluid in pass coverage than his younger brother.  Fans shouldn’t look for him to match his brother’s production in total tackles because the Jets defense will be younger and faster and hopefully won’t have to rely on safeties to lead them in tackling.  He was a low risk high reward signing by new GM John Idzik who can play a major role as a leader in the secondary.

With knowledge of the system, Landry is going to have to help the young safeties be the “quarterback of the defense” by making coverage calls and checks pre snap.  Some of the young safeties that could be starting week one are 2nd year players Antonio Allen or Josh Bush.  Allen saw some time as a blitzing safety last year and will now have a bigger role as an every down safety.  Bush has been called a “ball hawk” by many of the offensive players including Jeremy Kerley.  Rex has said in the past that Bush has many qualities that Ed Reed had under Rex in Baltimore.  That is a huge compliment.  While Bush may not quite be Ed Reed, look for he and Allen to have significantly better 2nd years and play a major role in the defense.

Other guys in the mix could be Jaiquawn Jarrett, Bret Lockett, and hard hitting UDFA Rontez Miles (link is his highlight video).  Miles had a very good rookie minicamp.  He comes from California University (PA), where he had 10 interceptions and was one of the hardest hitting safeties in the country.  Miles could be an interesting guy to watch in minicamp and training camp as an “in-the-box” safety used to blitz.  His physical play is right up Rex’s alley for players he loves to find playing time.  Out of the three “on-the-bubble” safeties on the roster, Miles may have the best chance to make the team, if he learns the system and continues to perform as the hard hitter and playmaker he has been throughout college.

Jets Sign CB Aaron Berry For 2 Years

After putting Joe McKnight at corner, the Jets decided to go ahead and sign a guy who actually played the position in the NFL.  Today they signed Aaron Berry to a two year contract, after giving him a tryout on Friday.  He had served a 3 game suspension for a couple of arrests during the offseason.  Berry has 34 tackles and 1 interception in 12 career games with the Lions. His salary is unknown for now.

Here is some additional information from our NY Jets message board.

JetNation NFL Power Rankings – Part Three

(Part 1 Link)       (Part 2 Link)

10) Baltimore Ravens

Offense:  The Ravens came a stripped pass away from making the Super Bowl.  Feature RB Ray Rice had 1,364 yards rushing last season and 704 yards receiving.  The Ravens have franchised Rice and he is hoping to get a long term contract with the team.  The Ravens lost starting LG Ben Grubbs to the Saints but replaced him with veteran OG Bobbie Williams.  They also drafted Iowa State OL Kelechi Osemele (#60).  LT Bryant McKinnie has struggled with weight issues, surrendered 8.5 sacks last season and will turn 33 in September.  QB Joe Flacco, may think he is the best QB in the league, but puts up average numbers (3,610 YDS, 57.6 Comp%, 20 TD, 12 INT).  Flacco will be throwing to promising second year WR Torrey Smith (50 REC, 841 YDS) and veteran Anquan Boldin (57 REC, 887 YRDS) but he is turning 32 this season.  They did pick up WR/PR Jacoby Jones and have TEs Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta over 900 yards receiving last season.

Defense:  The Ravens strength is the defense which ranked 3rd (288.9 YDS) last season.  They also has 49 sacks on the year but have lost DE/OLB Terrell Suggs (70 TCKL, 14 SCKS, 7 FF) for probably the entire season with an Achilles tear. They hope rookie DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw (#35) can step in for Suggs.

Analysis:  The Ravens would be ranked higher if not for losing Suggs he is a playmaker and will be missed.  ILB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed aren’t getting any younger and while they have played at a high level they have to drop off at some point.  The Ravens o-line is in transition and the receiving core is not very deep.  They were able to beat Pittsburgh twice last season and win the division wonder if there good enough to do it again?  The Ravens are a playoff caliber team with a top 5 defense but may struggle to repeat as division champs.

9) New Orleans Saints

Offense:  How did San Diego ever let Darren Sproles go to the Saints, like their offense wasn’t potent enough, 1st (467.1 YDS, Per).  Sproles had almost 2,700 all-purpose yards and Drew Brees threw for an amazing 5,476 yards last year.  The Saints did lose WR Robert Meachem (40 REC, 620 YRDS) but still have stud TE Jimmy Graham (99 REC, 1,310 YRS, 13TD) drafted WR Nick Toon, former Jets WR Al Toon’s son, and Brees can make almost any WR look above average.  Brees is looking for a long term contract with the Saints as he was given the exclusive-franchise tag.  They also picked up LG Ben Grubbs to replace departed All-Pro Carl Nicks as the line and Brees’s quick release only gave up 24 sacks last season.

Defense:  The Saints had 33 sacks and were 30th (259.8 YRS, per) against the pass.  This is not surprising since most teams were so far behind they had to abandon the run.  The Saints added some veterans to the defense this off-season: DT Brodrick Bunkley, LB Curtis Lofton and LB David Hawthorne.  These pick-ups will help as LB Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the entire season and DE Will Smith was given a four games suspension for the bounty-gate scandal.

Analysis:  Bounty-gate is bound to take a toll on the Saints season as they have lost their head coach Sean Payton for the entire year.  Their offense will still be top notch given Brees is a coach on the field and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is proven.  The Saints talented wise are still the best team in the NFC South but they will be/have been challenged on and off the field.  They have a difficult enough schedule and usually don’t play as well on the road thus winning the division is not a given.

8) Pittsburgh Steelers

Offense:  Job one, keep QB Ben Roethlisberger (4,077 YRDS) healthy.  New offensive coordinator Todd Haley will implement a higher percentage of running plays to do just that.  This will be more difficult as the Steeler’s best RB Rashard Mendenhall will miss most of the season with an ACL injury.  They will look for Isaac’ Redman to fill-in until Mendenhall can return.  The Steelers used their first two draft choices on offensive linemen: #24 OG David DeCastro and #56 OT Mike Adams.  They are hoping both will start this season and improve on the 42 sacks allowed in 2011.

Defense:  They are old and slow yet ranked 1st in yards and points allowed.  They only had 35 sacks last season with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley each having 9.  NT Casey Hampton is coming off a torn ACL and may not be ready for opening day so the Steelers drafted DT Alameda Ta’amu (#109) in case Hampton is not ready.

Analysis:  The Ravens will miss Terrell Suggs but the Steelers won’t.  His injury just made winning the AFC North easier.  Roethlisberger has plenty of weapons on offense and if the o-line additions workout the unit will be set for a long time.  Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is one of the best in the NFL and the Steelers defense, while not dynamic, just seem to get the job done.  If they split with Baltimore the Steelers will win the AFC North.

7) San Francisco 49ers

Offense:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh got the most out of former bust label QB Alex Smith (90.7 QBR).  Harbaugh put Smith into positions to succeed by running the ball (8th, 127.8 YRS, per) effectively and having Smith manage the game as he only threw 5 interceptions last season.  The line did give up 44 sacks as RT Anthony Davis allowed 9.5.  The 49ers let RG Adam Snyder sign with the Cardinals and it appears they will look to third year OL Alex Boone to take his place, although Boone has never started an NFL game.  They did add to their skill positions with WRs Mario Manningham and unretired Randy Moss as well as RB Brandon Jacobs.  They also drafted change of pace RB LaMichael James (#61).

Defense:  The 49ers were ranked 4th in yards(308.2) and 2nd points allowed (14.3).  They have excellent LBs lead by Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (143 TCKLS).  They were 1st against stopping the run (77.2 YRS, per) and were an impressive plus 28 in turnovers.

Analysis:  The 49ers are the best team in the NFC West no doubt but even with a strong defense wonder if they overachieved some last season and can duplicate that plus 28 turnover ratio.  Alex Smith is a game manager but his line has some question marks and feature RB Frank Gore is 29 and had 282 carries last season, wonder if he’ll wear down some.  13-3 seems unlikely given some very difficult match-ups this season but they will win the NFC West.

6) Detroit Lions

Offense:  QB Matthew Stafford finally was able to stay healthy and proved why he was the #1 overall pick in 2009 with 5,038 yards passing and 41 touchdowns.  The Lions will be looking to get more out of their running game 29th (95.2 YRS) as second year RB Mikel Leshoure should be back from an Achilles injury that cost him his rookie season and Jahvid Best (4.6 YRS per carry) only played six games due to a concussion but is expected to return.  The Lions WR core is excellent led by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (96 REC, 1,681 YRS) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (83 REC, 777 YRS).  The offensive line gave up a respectable 36 sacks last season considering the amount of passing they did but LT Jeff Backus gave up 8.5 sacks and will be 35 this season.  The Lions use their first draft pick #23 on OT Riley Reiff who could start at RT or play LT if necessary.

Defense:  The Lions have a talented defense especially on the line.  If they can keep from being arrested, see Nick Fairley, too often maybe the team can improve on their 41 sacks from last season.  The Lions are hoping third year CB Aaron Berry can replace the departed Eric Wright but Berry was recently arrested as well on DUI charges.  They also drafted DBs Dwight Bentley (#85) and Chris Greenwood (#148) to help their secondary.  The Lions defense ranked 23rd (367.6 YRS, per) in 2011.

Analysis:  The Lions have a talented team, their offense should be top notch and more balanced.  The defense needs to stay focused and stop hanging around with law enforcement, in a bad way.  The Lions defense had a rough time slowing the best offenses in the league as the Packers and Saints (twice) put up big numbers.  If the Lions want to compete for a championship their defense will have to step-up against the better offenses.  The Lions have the Packers and Bears in their very difficult division and it will be hard to beat out the Packers for the NFC North title but they should obtain a playoff berth again.

5) Houston Texans

Offense:  The Texans had one of the best offensive lines last season as they led the league in rushing (153 YDS, per).  RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate had over 2,100 yards rushing combined.  The only problem is they have to replace the entire right side of the line as RG Mike Brisiel signed with Oakland and RT Eric Winston was released “failed physical” although it was a salary cap move, later signed with the Chiefs.  They hope OG Andre Caldwell, OT Rashad Butler or rookie OG Brandon Brooks (#76) can replace the lost linemen.  QB Matt Shaub should be back after a Lisfanc fracture ended his season after 10 games.  He will have All-Pro WR Andre Johnson to throw to as long as he is on the field since he only played 7 games last season.  The Texans don’t have much at WR after Johnson, they drafted WR Devier Posey (#68) and Keshawn Martin (#121).  They’ll be looking for more than 39 receptions 492 yards from veteran Kevin Walter and they hope second year receiver Lestar Jean can contribute.  TE Owen Daniels led the team with 54 receptions for 677 yards.

Defense:  The Texans are just loaded on defense even after losing DE/OLB Mario Williams, who only played 5 games and they never missed him, and trading LB DeMeco Ryans.  They drafted DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus (#26) to replace the departed Williams while second year DE J.J. Watt (68 TCKLS, 5.5 sacks) looks to improve on an impressive rookie year.  The Texans defense was 2nd (285.7 YDS, per) last season and there is no reason to think they won’t be at least as good.

Analysis:  The Texans do have some questions on the o-line and at WR depth but the offense was 10th in points scored (23.8) last season and will be formidable.  Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense should be excellent as they have playmakers all over the field.  The AFC South is weak with Tennessee being the only team with a chance to be above .500.  The Texans will win the AFC South and be in the hunt for the #1 or 2 seed in the AFC.

4) New England Patriots

Offense:  The #2 ranked offense (428 YRS, per) from 2011 goes out and gets WR Brandon Lloyd who had almost 1,000 receiving after spending most of the season with the Rams and their terrible offense.  Lloyd knows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s system since he played for him at Denver while McDaniels was the head coach.  The Pats picked-up WRs Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth also adding RB Joseph Addai to replace departed BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  They are also looking for big things out of second year RB Stevan Ridley.  They did lose LT Matt Light to retirement but have OTs Nate Solder or Sebastian Vollmer as a replacement.  The pass heavy Patriots line only gave up 32 sacks last season.

Defense:  Their defense was 31st (411.1 YDS) per game, 31st in passing yards (293.9) but only 15th in points (21.4) last season.  The Pats went hard after defenders in the draft picking DE/OLB Chandler Jones (#21) and ILB Dont’a Hightower (#25), six of their seven picks were used on defense.  They also picked up DL Jonathan Fanene, DE/OLB Trevor Scott, CB Will Allen, former Jets DB Marquice Cole along with safety Steve Gregory.  Second year CB Ras-I Dowling is returning from a hip injury that cost him most of his rookie season.  The Pats lost DE Mark Anderson and his ten sacks and DL Andre Carter (10 sacks) remains a free agent, reports say Carter is seeking a long term deal from the Patriots, but he is still recovering from a season ending injury.

Analysis:  The AFC champion Patriots are primed for another run at the Super Bowl as they may have the best offense in the league.  They will have to improve on a poor pass defense and might need to carry the offense, for once, during the tough post-season stretch.  The Patriots will win the AFC East the only question is will they get a post-season bye week?

3) Philadelphia Eagles

Offense: The Eagles finished 4th (399.1 YRS) in total offense in 2011.  They have signed WR DeSean Jackson (58 REC, 961YRDS) to a long term contract, so maybe he’ll try harder now.  They also locked up RB LeSean McCoy, 1,309 yards rushing, 315 yards receiving last season.  They did lose LT Jason Peters to an Achilles injury but replaced him with former Bill’s LT Demetress Bell.  TE Brent Celek had a solid year (62 REC, 811YRS).

Defense:  The Eagles had 50 sacks last season but were 16th against the run (112.6 YDS, per).  They used their first three draft picks on defensive players: DT Fletcher Cox (#12), LB Mychal Kendricks (#46) and DE Vinny Curry (#59).  They also acquired MLB Demeco Ryans from Houston since he didn’t fit the Texans 3-4 defense but Ryans excelled in the 4-3.

Analysis:  The “Dream Team” turned into a nightmare fast last season but Philly seemed to get it going down the stretch.  Maybe the new additions needed sometime to gel and the lack of off-season preparation hurt them.  They can move the ball on offense and can get to the QB on defense so why didn’t they make the playoffs last season?  A minus 14 turnover ratio doomed the Eagles as they gave the ball up to often especially in the red-zone.  They have a difficult schedule and play in the division with the champion Giants and improved Cowboys but they have enough talent to challenge for a championship if they can hold onto the ball.

2) Green Bay Packers

Offense: QB Aarron Rogers and his 4,643 yards passing and 45 touchdowns led the Packers to the #1 scoring offense in the league, 35 points per game average.  The Packers gave up a surprisingly high 41 sacks given Rogers abilities.  LT Marshal Newhouse allowed 11.5 sacks alone and will likely start at LT again as the Packers released former LT Chad Clifton and second year OT Derek Sherrod is still recovering from a broken leg.  The Packers also lost center Scott Wells but replaced him with veteran, long time Colt, Jeff Saturday (age 37).

Defense:  As good as the offense was the defense was bad.  The Packers ranked 32nd (411.6 YDS) and only had 29 sacks in 2011.  They spent their first six draft choices on defensive players and are hoping DE/OLB Nick Perry (#28) can be a pass rushing threat taking blockers away from DE/OLB Clay Mathews who only had 6 sacks last season as teams focused on him after 13.5 sacks in 2010.

Analysis:  The Packers were an impressive plus 24 in turnover ratio as they had 31 interceptions to their opponents 8.  The offense is elite and with Rogers at QB they will have limited turnovers as he had a 45-6 TD-to-INT ratio.  The defense usually plays with a lead so don’t expect them not to give up yards but will need to improve the pass rush and overall performance if they want to win the Super Bowl again.  The Lions and Bears are tough competition in the NFC North but Green Bay is just too good and will be entering the post-season with a week-off.

1) New York Giants

Offense:  Where would the Giants be without QB Eli Manning (4,933 YDS, 61% COPM, 29TD), well they wouldn’t be Super Bowl Champs.  Manning carried the Giants offense as they ranked last in rushing yards per game (89.2).  The Giants used their first draft selection on RB David Wilson (#32) hoping he and RB Ahmad Bradshaw (659 YRS), who was missed time to injury last season, can carry the running game.  They did lose longtime RB Brandon Jacobs and WR Mario Manningham to the 49ers. WR Hakeem Nicks (76 REC, 1,192 YRS) is dealing with a broken foot luckily the Giants drafted WR Rueben Randle (#63) and are hoping second year receiver Jerrel Jernigan can replace Manningham and fill-in until Nicks is full healthy.  They also lost TE Jake Ballard (38 REC, 604 YDS) but picked up TE Martellus Bennett from the Cowboys.  The o-line only gave up 28 sacks last season, thanks in part to Manning, and they will look to replace former RT Kareem McKenzie and want to keep LT Will Beatty healthy for the season.  Second year OT James Brewer is in the mix to replace McKenzie.

Defense:  The Giants had 48 sacks in 2011 led by Jason Pierre-Paul’s 16.5.  The Giants fought injuries all season last year but got healthy when the playoffs began.  They have an excellent d-line with depth and they are hoping second year DT Marvin Austin can contribute as an injury prevented seeing any action last season.  They picked-up often injured LB Keith Rivers in a trade with the Bengals but he was the #9 overall pick in 2008 and could be a real steal if healthy.  They will need to improve on the 27th defensive ranking (376.4 YRS, per) if they want to repeat as champs and will need to remain healthy to do so.

Analysis:  On paper the Giants (9-7, 2011) are not the number one team but you don’t play games on paper.  The saying is “To be the champs you have to beat the champs” and since the Giants have the Lombardi Trophy they are ranked first until someone proves why they should not be.  Nine victories will probably not win the NFC East this season but the Giants will battle for the division’s top spot and could make a run at another championship.