Jets At Bengals Preview

New York Jets Game PreviewThe New York Jets (4-3) will begin week eight on Sunday in Cincinnati to face the Bengals (5-2). Coming off an impressive home victory last week over the evil empire, the Jets will look to take back-to-back games for the first time all season. Cincinnati is one of the hardest teams to get a grip on, beating the likes of Green Bay, New England, and Detroit this year but also looking lifeless in a loss against Cleveland and narrowly beating Buffalo. Keep your legs rested as we dive into a huge matchup.

Cincinnati Offense

The Bengals are loaded on both sides of the ball. The offense features one of the best wide receivers in the game in A.J. Green (43 receptions, 619 yards, five touchdowns) and plenty of compliments. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are second and third in receptions respectively and pose unique threats. You’ll see Eifert split more out wide while Gresham is featured more on the line of scrimmage. Both are very big, fast and athletic. Wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are both a handful to cover and even rookie running back Giovani Bernard has 25 receptions on the year.

Speaking of Bernard, himself and the law firm BenJarvus Green-Ellis make up one of the better running back duos in the NFL. While Cincinnati doesn’t have the best run blocking line, you have to respect the toughness Green-Ellis brings and the versatility and quickness Bernard has. They compliment each other well.

It all comes down to third year quarterback Andy Dalton. He has everything he needs to elevate his (and thus the teams) play. His offensive line is second in pass-block efficiency per ProFootballFocus.com and his weapons are second to none. Dalton is coming off a really impressive game against Detroit but his team has won more this season more in spite of him instead of because him. If Dalton can prove to be consistent the NFL will be in trouble.

Cincinnati Defense

This is another unit loaded with talent that might be under performing a little. The Bengals are ranked 16 in yards allowed per game and 26 on third down percentage. The front seven is pretty dominant with an even amount of play makers. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict leads the NFL in tackles (remember when he wasn’t strong enough to play in the NFL? Neither do I) and Ray Maualuga is a very solid middle linebacker. The defensive line has compiled 18 sacks and is lead by defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is an all-pro and his battery mate Domaka Peto is pretty good himself.

The secondary suffered a huge blow when cornerback Leon Hall tore his Achilles last week. No matter, safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka makes it tough to beat Cincy over the top and corners Adam Jones, Terrence Newman, and Dre Kirkpatrick can all make life difficult for receivers.

How To Win

So what Jets team are we going to get? As stated in the intro, the Jets are looking to win back-to-back games for the first time all year and the players know it. The Jets defensive line has their hands full again. They did a good job getting to Tom Brady (especially in the third quarter) last week and will need to keep that pressure up. Quinton Coples had a strip sack last week but needs to be way more consistent. He was largely nullified besides that. Getting to Dalton also means less big plays for A.J. Green. Antonio Cromartie was great last week and will have to be near perfect again.

Chris Ivory is a bruiser and showed that off in week seven and was consistently tough. Geno Smith was excellent again, routinely converting on third downs (more on that in a second), using his legs when needed, and spreading the wealth. Marty Mornhinweg’s game plan was excellent. The Jets took advantage of a banged up Patriots defense by getting big chunks at a time.

The Jets win last week stemmed from these two major factors: Third down conversions and field position. The Jets D held New England to 1-12 (!!!!) on third downs and went 11-21 themselves, including six receptions from Jeremy Kerley that extended scoring drives. The Jets special teams flipped field position, consistently holding New England deep into their own territory. Also, Josh Cribbs. How great is it having a real punt returner out there?

Time to get consistent now. Want to be considered real contenders? Win a tough road game. Mornhinweg has been extremely inconsistent in his game planning for the offense and that won’t fly on the road against a good defense.

There may not be a lot of Santonio Holmes fans out there, but I think he’ll be missed this week much like he was against Pittsburgh when receivers struggled to get separation. Jeff Cumberland did a very good job getting open last week but had two big drops. Cincinnati will likely make the Geno beat them, especially early, where I’m sure they’ll stack the box. Can Kerley, David Nelson, and Stephen Hill do enough? Only time will tell.

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.

 

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.