Monday Notes: Jets Notch First Preseason Win, Wilkerson Returns

A Quick Recap of Last Week in JetNation:


Starters Struggle Again, but Backups Saved the Day


On Friday night the Jets pulled out a 30-22 win against the Falcons. The starters struggled once again on both offense and defense. The starting defense played two drives against the Falcons starting offense. The Falcons opening drive started with a 60-yard completion to fullback Collin Mooney, and ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Terron Ward. The Falcons second drive began on the Jets four yard line due to a 59-yard punt return by Devin Hester. The Falcons made short work of the Jets starting defense again, cashing in on a touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson.


The starting offense didn’t perform much better as they were scoreless for their first five possessions, they scored on their sixth and final drive with a 33-yard touchdown rush by Chris Ivory. The scoring drive came against Atlanta’s backups. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t exactly exciting while leading the offense, but he showed his intelligence by being smart with the football. Ryan completed 13 of 19 passes for 118 yards. Although the starting offense wasn’t exactly potent, they didn’t turn the ball over which is certainly a step in the right direction.


While the starters struggled, the backups maintained control of the last two and a half quarters, showing that the Jets have great depth at most positions. Leonard Williams sparked the team with a safety of quarterback T.J. Yates, and finished the game with five total tackles and one and a half sacks. Bowles acknowledged Williams’ big night, “He had two big plays… You saw the big plays, but I gotta look at the film to see how he did on every other play. But he did make two big plays and kind of turned on the light for everybody.” The Jets responded to the Falcons first 14 points with 30 unanswered points of their own. The Falcons rallied late in the game, but came up eight points short.


This was a good game for certain players fighting to make the team, a number of players improved their stock against the Falcons. Players who stood out include: Leonard Williams, Jamari Lattimore, Bryce Petty, Jason Babin, Rontez Miles, and Bilal Powell. It’s tough to pick only one play for the play of the game, but Leonard Williams’ safety has to be the choice due to the huge impact it had on the game. Other big plays were Jamari Lattimore’s interception for a TD, Rontez Miles’ fumble recovery returned for a TD, and Bryce Petty’s TD toss to DeVier Posey.


Muhammad Wilkerson Finally Returned to the Practice Field


After three weeks on the sidelines, Muhammad Wilkerson finally returned to practice on Sunday. Wilkerson has been out due to hamstring issues or “tightness.” Some have speculated that Wilkerson was staying out of practice due to the slow pace of his contract negotiations with the Jets. Those who know Wilkerson though, know that he puts the team first and wants to be on the field with his teammates.


Wilkerson worked exclusively with the backups during his first day back at practice, but moved around well and didn’t have any issues. When Wilkerson was asked about his return to the practice field he said “I need practice reps to get in the flow with my teammates… I haven’t been out there in weeks, the guys are installing and I haven’t been out there. I need to catch up a little bit.”


If all goes well, Jets fans can expect to see Wilkerson make his preseason debut against the Giants this Saturday. Wilkerson could see the field for a good amount of time with the starters expected to play for at least the first half. Todd Bowles expressed optimism about Wilkerson playing Saturday “He’s feeling a lot better… He’s moving pretty good, we’re bringing him along slowly, but he’ll practice this week. Pending any setbacks, he’ll play this weekend.” Wilkerson, who’s contract expires at the end of the season, has said he will table any contact negotiations if an agreement isn’t reached before the beginning of the regular season.


Other Notes


The Jets committed 17 penalties during the game against the Falcons, and Todd Bowles took notice. During the Jets practice at Hofstra University Todd Bowles told the officials to “call anything, even if the wind blows.” Needless to say, there were a lot of penalties called. Bowles is trying to clean up the mistakes before the last preseason game with the starters. There was a huge difference in the number of penalties between week one and week two. Week one the Jets committed three penalties, they jumped to 17 in week two.


The Jets signed quarterback Matt Flynn, who won’t see any playing time Saturday against the Giants. Flynn is recovering from a hamstring injury. The best case scenario for Flynn is to see a good chunk of starting time in the Jets final preseason game against the Eagles. The Jets also claimed tight end Arthur Lynch off of waivers, and waived punter Jacob Schum. The Jets signed another tight end on Monday in Matt LaCosse, and waived injured defensive lineman Davon Walls.


The injuries continue to mount for the Jets, there were a few during the game against the Falcons and a couple during Sunday’s practice at Hofstra. Both linebackers Calvin Pace (strained groin) and Lorenzo Mauldin (sprained knee) were injured within 24 hours of each other. Other players still recovering from injuries include: Ben Ijalana (sprained MCL), Jace Amaro (sprained shoulder), Devin Smith (broken ribs), Jeremy Kerley (concussion), Geno Smith (broken jaw), Erin Henderson (sprained MCL), Dee Milliner (wrist), Matt Flynn (hamstring), Stevan Ridley (knee), Ronald Talley (strained groin), Kevin Vickerson (hamstring), James Brewer (back), Curtis Brown (hamstring), Shaq Evans (sprained back),  Durell Eskridge (concussion), Daryl Richardson (concussion), and Dashaun Phillips (ribs). Clearly the injuries are mounting for the Jets, who hope to see some of their players return soon. Calvin Pryor is still out due to a death in the family as well.


On a positive note, Chris Owusu made a return to practice wearing a red jersey and made some nice catches. Obviously, Muhammad Wilkerson also made a return to practice. The Jets were hurting for Wilkerson to return after taking some hits on the defensive line. The Jets will hope to get some of their players back in the near future to test their depth throughout the last two preseason games. The Jets will need to trim their roster from 90 players to 75 on September 1st.






Sunday Notes: Geno’s Jaw, Jets Preseason Debut

A Quick Recap of This Week in JetNation:


Geno Returning Soon?



Tuesday morning former Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali “sucker punched” Geno Smith in the locker room fracturing his jaw in two separate places. According to David Chao, an orthopedic surgeon that focuses on athletes, Geno’s recovery time could be significantly shorter than originally anticipated. After the incident, the prognosis was a 6 to 10 week recovery time, but Chao believes Smith could be ready for action by week one of the regular season. It was thought that Smith would need to have his jaw wired shut, but he ended up having a plate and screws inserted instead making the timeline for recovery shorter. Smith was seen at the Jets’ facility Sunday morning with trainers and medical staff.

Todd Bowles may have already turned the page on the Geno saga, even if he’s healthy by week one. Bowles has made it clear that if Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing well, he won’t hand the starting spot back to Geno. “If the other guy’s playing well, and the boat’s going right and there are no waves and everything and we’re 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-0, you’re not coming back to start.” Bowles’ quote obviously implies that Smith wouldn’t be eligible to return until week four, but would Bowles still feel that way if he was cleared to play by week one?


Jets’ Starting Defense Struggles in Preseason Debut


Many Jets fans were anticipating the debut of reunited cornerback tandem Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, even though it was only in preseason action. Unfortunately, the Jets’ starting secondary was torched giving up multiple big gainers. The two main culprits were Antonio Cromartie and Calvin Pryor blowing coverage and missing tackles. Marcus Gilchrist also missed a tackle and committed a penalty on Ameer Abdullah’s 41-yard rush. The run defense wasn’t much better getting burned on multiple rushing attempts, and missing key tackles.

Jets fans can take solace in the fact that it is only preseason, and Todd Bowles was using a vanilla defensive scheme running mostly zone defense. Bowles emphasized the missed tackles saying “I thought our tackling was extremely sloppy… We’ve practiced it. We’re going to practice it a lot more.” The game also came on the heels of the Smith-Enemkpali fiasco, possibly adding a little more pressure. The defense will look to rebound week two against the Falcons at home.

While the starting defense struggled, the starting offense had more production. Ryan Fitzpatrick only had one drive, but looked to be in command of the offense. Fitzpatrick went 2-3 for 16 yards on a 10 play drive, the drive would have continued if it wasn’t for a drop by Jeff Cumberland inside the 10 yard line. Nick Folk ended the drive with three points. The running game looked solid as well with nice gains by both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. The starting offense only saw one drive, then sat out the rest of the game. Bryce Petty was in for the remainder of the game, failing to put together a scoring drive.

Even though Fitzpatrick was anointed starter less than a week ago, he looked to have a decent rapport with the wide receivers. Throughout training camp Fitzpatrick was working exclusively with the backups, and will have to continue to develop chemistry with the starting offense.

While the game was mostly disappointing for the Jets, there were a few players who made a good impression against the Lions. Players who stood out include: Walter Powell, Bilal Powell, Trevor Reilly, Joe Mays, Keon Lyn, and Durrell Eskridge. The play of the day for the Jets had to be Walter Powell’s 48-yard kick return, setting up the Jets’ lone scoring drive. Marcus Williams’ interception was in the running, but it came after he gave up multiple completions on the same drive.


Other Notes


The Jets are still getting bitten by the so called “injury bug,” Jace Amaro and Erin Henderson both went down against the Lions. Erin Henderson has a sprained MCL and is day-to-day, Amaro has a shoulder injury and is week-to-week. As of Sunday’s practice: Muhammad Wilkerson, Chris Owusu, Devin Smith, Dee Milliner, Erin Henderson, Stevan Ridley, Jace Amaro, Steve Maneri, and of course Geno Smith weren’t participating. Calvin Pryor didn’t participate due to a death in the family, and Bowles mentioned Pryor would be out for “quite a few days.” Marcus Gilchrist, Antonio Cromartie, and Brandon Marshall all left the field at some point during Sunday’s practice, only Gilchrist and Cromartie returned. According to Bowles, Marshall’s injury wasn’t serious.

The Jets brought in quarterback Matt Flynn for a physical, but no deal is imminent. With the only viable back up being Bryce Petty, the Jets will likely bring in a veteran arm for the remainder of the preseason at some point. Other notable names in the free agent market include: Mike Vick, Rex Grossman, Tyler Thigpen, Jordan Palmer, Brady Quinn, and Jason Campbell. The Jets have already spoken to Vick, and both sides agreed a reunion wasn’t in their best interests.

After the incident with IK Enemkpali and Geno Smith the Jets promptly released Enemkpali and signed free agent cornerback Javier Arenas. Arenas is a journeyman cornerback who could add some depth to a secondary that has taken some hits. The Jets have also been trying Arenas out at kick/punt returner in practice. Arenas could make an appearance at kick returner during the Jets next preseason game against the Falcons.

Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan pulled another brash move by picking up IK Enemkpali after he was released. Rex Ryan said Enemkpali was a “great teammate” while he was the head coach of the Jets, and stressed that Enemkpali will be on a tight leash. Picking up Enemkpali after he broke Geno’s jaw was a classic Rex Ryan move. Ryan will likely try to get as much information as he can out of Enemkpali, while also taking joy in “sticking it” to his former team. Enemkpali struggled during his debut as a Bill, getting “pancaked” by a Panthers lineman.

During Sunday’s practice the Jets had two skirmishes on the field, the first one was between Breno Giacomini and Quinton Coples while the second was between Dalton Freeman and Jason Babin. The second was the worse of the two, although no punches were thrown. Bowles wasn’t very pleased, and made the entire team run “gassers” or sprints. Bowles also mentioned both Freeman and Babin could be fined. The Jets will need to retain that intensity to have a good showing in their upcoming game against the Falcons.






Holmes & Milliner Out

Both sides will be missing a significant player on offense this week as the Jets will not have WR Santonio Holmes availble while the Falcons will be without the services of RB Steven Jackson. The Falcons are a bit banged up with WR Julio Jones, WR Roddy White, and CB Asante Samuel all limited in practice due to their injuries. Two-thirds of the Jets running game in Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory were also limited in practice this week. Rookie CB Dee Milliner will miss the game due to a hamstring injury.

New York Jets

Aboushi, Oday OL Knee DNP DNP DNP Out
Holmes, Santonio WR Foot/Hamstring DNP DNP DNP Out
Milliner, Dee CB Hamstring DNP DNP DNP Out
Allen, Antonio S Finger FP FP FP Probable
Colon, Willie OL Elbow FP FP FP Probable
Coples, Quinton DE Ankle FP FP FP Probable
Cromartie, Antonio CB Hip FP FP FP Probable
Ellis, Kenrick DT Back FP FP FP Probable
Goodson, Mike RB Hamstring LP Probable
Hill, Stephen WR Concussion DNP LP FP Probable
Ivory, Chris RB Hamstring DNP LP LP Probable
McIntyre, Garrett LB Shoulder FP FP FP Probable
Richardson, Sheldon DT Shoulder FP FP FP Probable
Smith, Geno QB Ankle FP FP FP Probable
Walls, Darrin CB Shoulder LP FP FP Probable
Gates, Clyde WR Knee LP LP DNP Questionable
Winslow, Kellen TE Knee DNP LP DNP Questionable

Atlanta Falcons

Coffman, Chase TE Knee LP Questionable
Jones, Julio WR Knee LP LP LP Questionable
Samuel, Asante CB Thigh DNP LP LP Questionable
White, Roddy WR Ankle LP LP LP Questionable
Worrilow, Paul LB Knee DNP LP LP Questionable
Babineaux, Jonathan DT Foot LP LP FP Probable
Davis, Drew WR Ankle FP FP FP Probable
Baker, Sam T Knee Out
Dent, Akeem LB Ankle Out
Jackson, Steven RB Hamstring DNP DNP DNP Out
Practice Status

  • DNP = Did not participate in practice
  • LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
  • FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
  • Out = Player will not play
  • (-) = Not Listed = No practice status available

Game Status

  • Out = Player will not play
  • Doubtful = 25% chance a player will play
  • Questionable = 50% chance a player will play
  • Probable = 75% chance a player will play
  • (-) = Not Listed – No game status available

JetNation NFL Power Rankings – Part Two

(Part 1 link) 

21) Buffalo Bills

Offense:  The Bills rely on a balanced attack when it comes to offense.  They ranked 13th-15th in most major statistical categories: Points (14), Yards (14), Passing Yards (15), and Rushing Yards (13).  They are led by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who threw 24 touchdowns but a league high 23 interceptions.  The Bills use a spread quick pass offense which helped limit the offensive line to only 23 sacks.  The loss of LT Demtress (former Demetrius) Bell has left a hole at that position.  Currently rookie draft pick (#41) Cordy Glenn is the front runner to fill the spot, although he is more suited to play guard, with second year lineman Chris Hairston also in the mix.  WR Stevie Johnson (76 REC, 1,004 YRS) is Fitzpatrick’s favorite target but he will drop a big one from time-to-time.  RB Fred Jackson had almost 1,400 all purpose yards in ten games before an injury ended his season and back-up C.J. Spiller had a 5.2 yard per carry average. 

Defense:  The Bills made waves in the off-season signing top pass rushing DEs Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.  They also drafted CB Stephen Gilmore (#10) to improve their secondary.  They needed the help on defense as they gave up 371.1 yards (26th) and 27.1 points (30th) per game and only managed 29 sacks last season. 

Analysis:  The Bills are everyone’s sleeper team which means they are not a sleeper team.  They did add some pieces to a below average defense which should improve the unit but a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 needs to “prove it” not just acquire a few big names.  Fitzpatrick will have to show he can throw the ball down field as last year’s hot start (5-2) had people on the Bills bandwagon then off quick as they lost seven straight.

20) San Diego Chargers

Offense:  QB Philip Rivers had a down year yet throw for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns however he also tossed 20 interceptions.  The team was 6th (393.1 YRS, per) in total offense last season.  Rivers will have some new faces to complete passes to this year as WR Vincent Jackson moved on to Tampa while the Chargers picked up WRs Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish.  Antonio Gates (64 REC, 778 YRS) will be back at TE and the team is expecting big things from RB Ryan Mathews as back-up Mike Tolbert went to Carolina but they did pickup HB/FB Le’Ron McClain.  The Bolts lost the entire left-side of their offensive line as they released LT Marcus McNeill (injury) and LG Kris Dielman retired due to concussions.  OT Jared Gaither filled in nicely for the injured McNeill and will start this season while Tyronne Green (8 starts in 2011) attempts to replace Dielman.

Defense:  The Chargers didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of many QBs as they only had 32 sacks last season.  LB Antwan Barnes had 11 sacks alone but there wasn’t much of a threat after him.  The team drafted DE/OLB Melvin Ingram (#18), DT Kendal Reyes (#49) to help bolster the pass rush.  The secondary gave up a 7.5 yard average per pass so the Chargers used pick #73 on safety Brandon Taylor who will play with veteran Eric Weddle (88 tackles, 7 INT).

Analysis:  The Chargers still have Rivers and some weapons on offense but the defense lacks elite talent.  They seem to be stuck in neutral and head coach Norv Turner will blow a game or two with bad decisions.  Their division is weak but someone will emerge with double digit wins this season, it just won’t be the Chargers.

19) Denver Broncos

Offense:  The Broncos sure decided to go in a different direction offensively bringing in QB Peyton Manning.  It will be vital for the Broncos line to keep Manning upright but they did allow 42 sacks last season and given Tim Tebow’s scrambling ability that seems quite high.  Denver brought in some familiar faces WR Brandon Stokley and TE Jacob Tamme whom Manning has played with in the past.  The team will be expecting a big year from WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker but wonder if RB Willis McGahee can duplicate almost 1,200 yards rushing without Tebow, besides he’ll be 31 this season. 

Defense:  Often hear how the Denver defense held them in games which Tebow was able to pull out.  Well this is true to a point as the Broncos were 24th in points allowed (24.4 per) and were 22nd against the rush (126.3 per).  Losing DTs Brodrick Bunkley, Marcus Thomas and Ryan McBean and their 119 combined tackles can’t help their run defense.  The Broncos will be looking for immediate production from #36 draft pick DT Derek Wolfe.  SS Brian Dawkins has retired and the safety position as a whole is a concern.  D.J. Williams and his 90 tackles will be suspended six games but second year player Von Miller will look to improve on his impressive 11.5 sacks as a rookie along with Elvis Dumervil’s 9.5 sacks.

Analysis:  Tebow got the Broncos to the playoffs and even advanced the team one round, thanks for the memories as he was shipped out.  Denver has many question marks and who knows what Peyton Manning is now after four neck surgeries and a year off from football.  Their schedule is murder as they face seven playoff teams from last season.  It will be difficult for the Broncos to repeat as AFC West champs and don’t see enough wins for a wildcard as they will battle San Diego for second place in the division.   

18) New York Jets

Offense:  The team finished 25th in offense (311.8 YDS, per) but 13th in points scored (23.6 per).  The Jets brought in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to try and improve the overall performance of the offense and really more on the running game which averaged about 105 yards per game.  QB Mark Sanchez threw 26 TD but 18 INT and had 8 fumbles.  Usually a team strength the o-line gave up 40 sacks and was inconsistent all year.  The Jets acquired QB Tim Tebow from the Broncos along with WR Chad Schilens (6’4”, 225) and rookie WR Stephen Hill (#43, 6’4”, 215) to provide speed and size to the receivers.  The Jets are looking at Tebow as a change of pace QB who can be used to run or throw.  They hope his unique skill set will increase overall offensive production getting crucial first downs preventing three and outs.

Defense:  The Jets finished 5th overall (312.1 YRS, per) but was 13th against the run (111.1 YRS, per).  The Jets drafted DL Quinton Coples (#16) to help against the run as well as rush the passer as the Jets only had 35 sacks in 2011.  They also added rookie LB Demario Davis (#77) to bring some youth/speed to an aging LB group.  New DL coach Karl Dunbar was brought in to improve the d-line play.  The Jets philosophy is simple stop the run make the opposition one dimensional and scheme blitzes while their great corners Revis/Cromartie cover top receivers.  Rookie FS Josh Bush (#187) will be used in passing situations to provide support to the CB.

Analysis:  The Jets are a veteran team but lack depth on the offensive line so their health will be important as last year showed when center Nick Mangold went down leaving inexperienced lineman to fill big shoes.  They did not beat a team with a winning record last season and QB Sanchez can’t have 26 turnovers if the Jets want to make a playoff push.  Their schedule is not that difficult but the Bills are formidable and New England will be favored to win the division again.  The question is was 2011 just a down year and the Jets will bounce back or a sign of what will be in 2012?  An 8-8 2011 finish puts the Jets here for now only time will tell the answer to the pervious question.

17) Tennessee Titans

Offense: The Titans have a QB competition on their hands as veteran Matt Hasselback will battle second year back-up Jake Locker for the starting job.  It seems like the job is Hasselback’s to lose for now but Locker did well in limited action as a rookie.  The team added top OG Steve Hutchinson to a line that only surrendered 24 sacks a year ago but the team was 31st in rush yards (89.9).  RB Chris Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards last season but took some time to get going after a contract holdout.  All indications are Johnson is in top shape and ready to perform more like his 2009 season when he rushed for over 2,000 yards.  The receivers are solid as Nate Washington led the group with 1,023 yards along with Damian Williams and Kenny Britt who is returning from a knee injury which cut his 2011 season short.  The Titans also drafted WR Kendall Wright (#20) to add more depth to the unit.  TE Jared Cook had 49 receptions for 759 yards in 2011.

Defense:  While giving up 19.8 (8th) points per game the Titains struggled to get to the QB only having 28 sacks.  They picked up DE Kamerion Wimbley and drafted LB Zach Brown (#52) in an effort to improve their sack total.  They did lose top cover CB Cortland Finnegan but still have a decent secondary led by safety Michael Griffin (75 tackles, 2 INT).

Analysis:  The Titans were in the playoff hunt last season and their division is weak, except for Houston.  Given the schedule they can be in the hunt again. A December 17th match-up against the Jets may put the winner in position to make the post-season.  They have some tough out of conference games against the NFC North but there is no reason to believe they will not finish second in their division. 

16) Cincinnati Bengals

Offense:  Rookie QB Andy Dalton was able to bring his team to the playoffs last season.  Dalton threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011.  The big question is will he progress or have the well known sophomore slump?  Feature RB Cedric Benson (1,067 YRS) was not retained so it will be up to Bernard Scott, free agent pick up BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Dan Herron (#191) to handle the rushing duties.  The Bengals drafted to WR Mohamed Sanu (#83) and Marvin Jones (#166) to play along with second year receiver A.J. Green (65 receptions 1,057 yards).  Their offensive line played well only allowing 25 sacks but the Bengals lost both guards from last season.  They picked up veteran LG Travelle Wharton and rookie draft pick Kevin Zeitler (#27) will play RG as the offense looks to improve on its 20th ranking (319.9 YRS, per).

Defense:  The Bengals defense ranked 7th (316.2 YRS, per) last season and recorded 45 sacks on the year.  DT Geno Atkins led the team with 7.5 sacks last season.  They are hopeful to have CB Leon Hall back for the start of the season as an Achilles injury ended last season after 9 games.  The Bengals did use the #17 draft pick on CB Dre Kirkpatrick as insurance if Hall is not 100% or ageing CB Nate Clements falters.

Analysis:  Even though they made the playoffs the Bengals have yet to prove they can overtake AFC North powerhouses Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  Dalton will need to improve upon a quality rookie season if they want to try and win the division and the running game will have to help him.  The schedule has enough winnable games that they should be in the hunt just don’t think they are on par with elite teams in the league. 

15) Dallas Cowboys

Offense:  The Cowboys offense ranked 11th (375.5 YRS, per) QB Tony Romo threw for 4,184 yards, 31 TD, and only 10 INT.  RB DeMarco Murray (5.5 YRS per carry) is expected back after an ankle injury cut his season short.  The Cowboys spent the offseason trying to upgrade the offensive line bringing in OG Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livingston as the Boys look to improve on the 39 sacks allowed.  Undrafted rookie OL Ronald Leary has turned some heads in pre-camp workouts and could push for a major role on the line. 

Defense:  Giving up 244.1 yards per game passing was the Cowboys down fall as their secondary was torched often.  To remedy this they signed free agent CB Brandon Carr and traded up to #6 overall to select CB Morris Claibourne.  They have an elite pass rusher in OLB DeMarcus Ware (19.5 sacks) so they need players to cover long enough to allow the pressure to get to the opposing QB. 

Analysis:  If the games ended after 3 quarters the Cowboys would have been in the playoffs.  Their offense has the fire power to be very good as long as Romo doesn’t make bonehead mistakes down the stretch of games, something he’s done often.  With the additions on defense the Cowboys should be able to maintain some fourth quarter leads.  They play in a difficult division but Dallas has a good shoot at double digit wins this season. 

14) Atlanta Falcons

Offense:  QB Matt “Ice” Ryan had another good regular season 4,177 yards passing to go with 29 touchdowns but he has yet to win a playoff game and had an early exit last season.  RB Michael Turner had 1,340 yards rushing but is 30 years old and may not be able to handle the same workload as years past.  Second year receiver Julio Jones will look to build on his impressive rookie season (54 REC, 959 YRS, 8 TD).  While the Falcons offensive line only allowed 26 sacks last season there is some concerns.  They used their first pick (#55) on OL Peter Konz who is expected to start at RG.  LT Sam Baker allowed 11.5 sacks in 2010 and had an injury prone 2011 season reserve Will Svitek may push to start over Baker but both lack the talent needed at the most important o-line position. 

Defense:  The Falcons ranked 20th against the pass (236.6 YRS, per) and only had 33 sacks last season.  Ex-Jet John Abraham led the way with 9.5 sacks but he is 34 years old and will hit the wall eventually plus there is not much else after him.  They traded for CB Asante Samuel who will play across from Brent Grimes.  The Falcons lost LB Curtis Lofton’s 147 tackles and will look to replace him with Lofa Tatupu who underachieved with Seattle and didn’t play last season. 

Analysis:  While Julio Jones is a true asset the Falcons lost important picks in this year’s draft to acquire him.  Just feels like the Falcons, while still good, have taken steps backwards personnel wise.  It is possible their best chance at a championship past them by two years ago and have been declining since.  They could easily end up third in the NFC South. 

13) Kansas City Chiefs

Offense:  The Chiefs struggled to put up points last season only 13.2 per game.  Injuries really took a toll on this team as back-up QB Tyler Palko in four games and his 2 TD, 7 INT, 59.8 (QBR) didn’t help the already depleted Chiefs.  They have had a nice off-season picking up RB Peyton Hillis, OT Eric Winston and TE Kevin Boss.  RB Jamaal Charles is expected back after missing last season with an ACL injury. QB Matt Cassel is also expected back after breaking his hand in November.  Cassel will have a full complement of receivers Dwayne Bowe had 1,159 yards even with Palko starting 4 games, second year wide-out Jon Baldwin should improve and veteran Steve Breaston had 785 yards receiving last season.  TE Tony Moeaki is expected to be healthy after a knee injury kept him out last season, he’ll share time with Boss.  The Chiefs have a solid rush and pass protection line, giving up 34 sacks last season, which isn’t bad given the QBs at times.

Defense:  Considering how bad the Chiefs offense was their defensive numbers 11th (333.3 YRDS, per) is fairly respectable.  They did have problems stopping the run 132 yards per game so they drafted DT Dontari Poe (#11) and picked-up DL ex-Jet Ropati Pitoitua to help the run defense.  CB Stanford Rout was brought in to replace the departed Brandon Carr and will play across from stand out CB Brandon Flowers.  The return of SS Eric Berry from a knee injury and his 92 tackles in 2010 will also help the run/pass defense.  The Chiefs will need to improve on their 29 sacks with DE Tamba Hali having 12 last season. 

Analysis:  Matt Cassel is an average QB but fortunately for him the team is surrounded with talent.  It was obvious former head coach Todd Haley had lost the team as Romeo Crennel led them to victory over the undefeated Packers after Haley was fired.  If the Chiefs can avoid the injuries they are a very dangerous team and will win the AFC West. 

12) Carolina Panthers

Offense:  The Panthers were 7thin team offense (389.8 YRS, per) and rookie QB Cam Newton accounted for 4,800 yards of offense throwing/running and 35 touchdowns.  The Panthers have a solid line with some depth if often injured RT Jeff Otah or rookie OG Amini Silatolu (#40) struggle.  RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for close to 1,600 yards rushing last year.  They also picked up HB/FB Mike Tolbert to add depth to a talented backfield.  WR Steve Smith had 1,394 yards receiving last year and the team will look for increased production from third year wide-out Brandon LaFell (613 YRS).

Defense:  The Panthers defense ranked 28th overall (377.6 YRS, per) and struggled against both the run and pass.  Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have a full off-season to try and implement their defense.  The Panthers drafted LB Luke Kuechly (#9) and he will likely start at MLB with SLB James Anderson (145 tackles in 2011) and former MLB Jon Beason returning from an Achilles injury will likely play weak side LB.  Another LB returning from injury is Thomas Davis who would add some depth at the position. 

Analysis:  The Panthers defense should improve with better LB play but they still have some question marks on the d-line and secondary.  The offense should be excellent and balanced which will keep the defense off the field.  The Panthers are good enough to take the next step with the Saints hurting from bounty-gate and the Falcons possible coming back to the pack. Carolina will have a chance to win the NFC South or at least contend for the playoffs. 

11) Chicago Bears

Offense:  The Bears season fell apart last year after losing QB Jay Cutler.  Job one is to keep Cutler healthy and new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will use a much different approach than his predecessor Mike Martz.  Don’t think Cutler will be sending Tice profanity laced messages via the sidelines as Martz’s play calling led to many Cutler beatings.  The Bears picked up former Cutler teammate WR Brandon Marshall and RB Michael Bush.  Franchised RB Matt Forte is currently in holdout mode but reports say he’ll be there opening day.  Besides Marshall the Bears drafted WR Alshon Jeffery (#45) to go with Earl Bennett and Devin Hester.  The offensive line gave up 49 sacks last year and has been a problem for awhile.  It has already been reported Tice will have Cutler getting the ball out early and using the running game more, this should help lower the sack numbers. 

Defense:  The Bears have a solid defense but would like to improve on their 33 sacks from last year.  Julius Peppers led the way with 11 so the bears drafted DE Shea McClellin (#19) to play across from Peppers. 

Analysis:  The Bears play in probable the toughest division in the NFL which could produce three playoff teams.  If they can keep Cutler upright and health the Bears will battle for a spot in the postseason as double digit wins are likely.