New York Jets: Is Shonn Greene A Lead Back?

TOJ questions whether the Jets can continue to rely on Shonn Greene as a lead bac

I have been consistent in my support of Shonn Greene as the New York Jets lead back since he burst on the scene midway through the 2009 season. Unfortunately, after watching him finally spend a full season in that coveted lead back role it is hard to believe that the Jets offense doesn’t need to add another back to take co-ownership or full ownership of that job.

His stat line of 253 carries, 1,054 yards, and 6 touchdowns is somewhat disappointing enough. However, a closer look at his stats from Pro Football Focus paints a clearer picture of Greene’s shortcomings in 2011. They have something called an “elusive rating” which breaks down like this –

“We combine a runner’s carries and receptions to give a total ball handling opportunities figure.  We then combine the number of missed tackles that player forced against both the run and the pass to get a total missed tackles forced figure, which is then divided by the ball-handling opportunities.  This figure then gets multiplied by a player’s yards after contact per carry average (*100) to get the final Elusive Rating.  In essence the rating is a combination of how often players force missed tackles and how much yardage they generate after contact on a per carry basis.”

Greene ranked 47th in this category among halfbacks in the 2011 season and finished 24th in rushing missed tackles total. If you watched every Jets snap this season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I am aware of the struggles on the Jets offensive line but the bottom line is Greene simply doesn’t make enough people miss and doesn’t make enough big plays. His longest run since the 2009 playoffs is for 31 yards. He only had 4 runs of 20 yards or more this past season.

Greene is a good, not great player who some offenses could get away with being their lead back. Not this offense. Michael Lombardi made a great point the other day when discussing the Jets in 2012

“If they want Mark Sanchez to be a great quarterback, they need to have a blue-chip running back around him. If they want to be ground and pound, then you can’t be ground and pound and [tight end] Dustin Keller can’t block anybody. It’s tough to be ground and pound when everybody knows the tight end isn’t going to block anyone. So now you have to substitute to get the blocking tight end in. And, oh yeah, by the way we’re going to run now that [Matthew] Mulligan is in the game. Why don’t you just put up a red flag that you’re going to run it? I think they need to change their roster to suit that [style]. I don’t think Shonn Greene is the guy to be the blue-chip running back.”

This argument also supports potentially moving Dustin Keller. Yet focusing on running back, if the Jets want to have a dominant running game to support Sanchez, they are going to need more at running back than Greene, Joe McKnight, and Bilal Powell.

Getting a “blue-chip” player isn’t going to be an easy process. In the draft, they’d have to move up to acquire Trent Richardson. In free agency, they would have to put a mammoth offer together to acquire a franchised Matt Forte in a trade. They could also explore engaging other teams who have a surplus at running back (Carolina, New Orleans, Houston to name a few) but teams don’t just give away big time backs, it is going to cost the Jets. Mike Tannenbaum has got creative in the past and he may have to do it again.

A cheaper scenario would be the Jets adding a running back in the middle rounds and then adding a mid-level free agent, maybe a Ryan Grant or Tashard Choice. You then have the new additions compete with the current backs on the roster and find the best committee approach possible.

When you are a “Ground and Pound” team, 22nd in rushing yards per game doesn’t cut it.

St. Louis Rams: A Case Study

Justin continues his breakdown of the current state of every NFL team, continuing today with the St. Louis Rams

Justin Fritze will be breaking down where every team in the NFL currently stands for us here at TOJ, going from worst to first…continuing today with the St. Louis Rams –

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There is a strange three headed beast. It begins with the mustache of Jeff Fisher, surrounded by his increasingly “party first” mullet. It wears black sunglasses, even at night, and it is very predictable in it’s forward motion.

We all know Jeff Fisher was a defensive minded coach, so him picking up a sadistic defensive coordinator has made his rebirth in St. Louis a pretty predictable style of football. Turnovers, quarterback sacks, run the ball, short passing. Kill the clock. Antithesis of the Greatest Show On Turf.

One simple problem. There are no Pro Bowlers at defensive line or linebacker (although Fred Long made the 2008 All Pro team), helped out by a defensive back roster including the 37 year old Al Harris and the 31 year old Quintin Mikell. Add to this the fact that 11 cornerbacks were on IR at some point last season. How the hell do you explain that?

Now, the third head of that beast, Brian “the slant” Schottenheimer, is coming to town off a relatively soul crushing end to his tenure with the Jets. This makes sense to get picked up by Fisher. Why? Because as soon as Brian starts screwing up, Jeff is gonna take over the play calling and remind him, in that gravelly baritone “you have no f*cking clue what you’re doing Brian, and I still owe this kid Bradford $32 million, so if you’ll kindly stick to ruining one quarterbacks career I’m gonna take this thing over from here on out”. Then he will win coach of the year on route to the playoffs.

If the offensive experiment works then Schottenheimer will get his shot at a head coaching opportunity next year, when of course five of the 2012 season’s coaches have been fired. (Making bets on someone’s livelihood is cruel and mean, but this is football, and football is full of clowns.)
But how would it work? Well there’s Steven Jackson, who can bail Bradford out of most 3rd and short situations, a potential monster if they draft Matt Kalil at offensive tackle, or if they decide to go receiver (Kendall Wright?) in the second round, they’ll have at least three guys who can run and catch, with serious upside (Pettis 23, Salas 24, Kendricks 23), even if they completely fail on the draft pick.

THE MAD SLANTER

This is where the offense vs. defense argument comes into play. If Williams gets his way, they will take Morris Claiborne in the first round, disregarding the fact that all logical persons see Kalil as a can’t miss pick who for the next 10 years will appear in multiple Pro Bowls. But the Rams need to make a play to grab every young defensive free agent they can, because they’re going to play the 49ers twice, Arizona twice, and a Seahawks team that may in fact yield a legitimate starting roster for the first time in 5 years. Stealing guys like Cliff Avril and Anthony Spencer could help out with line depth, but they need something else. Terrell Thomas?

So how does Schottenheimer step in from all this obsessus defensus and put his foot down? He loads up the NFL.com page of the Rams, and points to the following statistics: Points (32nd) Yards (31st) Passing Yards (30th) Rush Yards (23rd). BOOM. Win one for Schotty. There are 32 teams in the NFL.

This team, with a decent draft (can’t screw it up from the 2 spot THAT bad) and a few free agent pickups, can actually COMPETE for the NFC West next year. Anyone can compete in the NFC West. If Gregg Williams carries a few tricks over from the Saints, there’s not any elite quarterbacks in their division that are going to put up numbers.

There is one thing to remember: The Rams play some playoff teams next year, and Gregg Williams, regardless of his skills, is now on the wrong side of 5,400 yards passing.

Down With The Old: Breaking Down The Indianpolis Colts

Justin begins his look around the NFL with a breakdown of where the Indianpolis Colts currently stand

Justin Fritze will be breaking down where every team in the NFL currently stands for us here at TOJ, going from worst to first…starting out today with the Indianpolis Colts.

Peyton Manning is not coming back to the Colts. Counterargument? Peyton Manning is coming back to the Colts. No? Without the GM tandem of the Polians, without the strength and conditioning coach that was his best lifeline to the franchise this season, without the offensive coordinator who built the Manning system, and without the head coach who did a half decent job of keeping the Colts in the playoffs under his tenure.

It’s ok Colt fans. Things get worse from here. Kerry Collins? Yeah sorry he’s gone too. I know a few people went out, got drunk, and purchased a Collins jersey somewhere around week 1, or if they are true riders of the ‘shoe, bought it as soon as he signed with the Colts for a cool $4 million. The Dutch Boy Painter? If the Colts don’t get rid of him, then Grigson and his purported “close door analysis of the roster” must have gone horribly awry, because that dude is probably hovering somewhere around bottom 5 quarterbacks that had actual playing time in the 2011 NFL season.

With a passer rating of 60.6, expect Painter to end up on the Jets to give Sanchez a challenge, or try and steal the thunder from Kevin Kolb out in Arizona. Most likely, he sneaks around the IFL throwing touchdown tosses to TO while one of them has a serious reassessment of where life led them. Even Dan Orlovsky isn’t safe, which could lead to a very strange testing of free agent quarterback waters. Possible scenarios: Vince Young backing up Andrew Luck, Jason Campbell backing up Andrew Luck, or even Donovan Mcnabb backing up Andrew Luck.

All in all, it’s not going to be pretty for anyone who has a serious issue with “the Luck” starting out of the gate. According to certain statistics, Joseph Addai did not have a good year. Well I’m not a sports scientist, but I have a brief theory on that. No Peyton Manning, no deep threat, no passing game, no reason to put less than 8 in the box. That means that Joseph Addai was essentially running into a wall of defensive lineman, linebackers, and probably the occasional safety. You can literally hear Addai telling himself how much he hates his life without Peyton, as he utters things like “come back 18”, “Peyton!”, and “how long lord!” right before hitting the hole.

He eventually grew silent altogether when running from the I formation, demanding to his running backs coach that Jacob Tamme should be getting the worst of it at fullback, because fullbacks deserve pain. Which leads us to Donald Brown, who has the sweetest picture onWikipedia that screams “that’s right, I’m PEYTON MANNING’s new running back!”.

I wish I could talk to him now, because in his brief tenure with the Colts he will have had brief time to suckle at the Manning teat, while continuing his career with what could possibly be the greatest quarterback of his generation. Delone Carter? 4th round pick out of Syracuse? Nobody Cares, you will only be used barring serious injury to Addai or Brown.

Ah the receiving core! I’m quite certain Reggie Wayne had about three nervous breakdowns mid game this year, one of which was during the realization that Kerry Collins was throwing him the ball, one when he realized he might have to live with Curtis Painter as his starter, and one when it finally set in that out of 3 quarterbacks, Dan Orlovsky was the best of the bunch. There’s no coming to terms with that, and Wayne’s statement that he wants to stay in Indy was quickly redacted once he realized his head coach and his offensive coordinator, meaning Peyton Manning, would not be coming back.

He will fit in somewhere desperate, like the Browns or the Redskins, and if Peyton does something truly strange like go to Arizona or Seattle, he’ll follow. You see, Reggie Wayne needs a good quarterback to live. He has 5 pro bowls, and 3 all pro seasons, and not one of them was for someone other than Peyton Manning. But again, I come to the defense of Colts fans, as I remind you that you have Anthony Gonzalez, 1st rounder out of Ohio State to help right the ship! Too soon? OK, take Pierre Garcon and stop calling me “Tim from Indy”.

Dallas Clark is in a strange position. He once won tight end of the year. Seeing as how Luck will eventually create his own system akin to Peyton, a tight end is very friendly to Luck, but with great new quarterback usually follows great rookie tight end. Coby Fleener, with the haircut of a 12 year old goth core fan (look at his Stanford bio pic), is already being predicted as a second round pick for the Colts, which will no doubt end Clark’s career as a Colt. You know, because he just happened to play at STANFORD. If Irsay is salting the earth, a good bit is going to Peyton’s core guys. I can see the Tamme/Fleener duo working, but then again I can also see Dallas Clark opening up a rodeo bar and making $345,000 off of Peyton memorabilia if he decides to retire.

Offensive line? NO PROBLEM. Dump sad sack Saturday and let Andrew Luck take snaps from either Peter Konz or Mike Brewster. That’s about the same in terms of blue collar name/average dude persona. Let Anthony Castonzo find out if he really deserved a 1st round pick, and if they don’t draft any offensive line help, there’s probably a few people they could grab in the off season, seeing as how the Patriots and Ravens assembled a ridiculous depth of offensive lineman from rejects and castoffs of other teams. Note to Ben Ijalana, earn that 2nd round draft pick! Don’t pull a Ducasse and ruin it for all the small schools.

Chuck Pagano is going to coach the Colts. That’s right, defensive “guru  Chuck Pagano is going to coach the Colts. Wonder if Tony Dungy had a hand in that one.

With that in mind, a brief look at the defense. I originally thought that Robert Mathis was going to be a goner, but if Pagano is going to be there, why not keep your best two defensive ends and try and build it up through some 3rd, 4th and 5th round draft picks? Jerry Hughes has one last shot to make it, especially if he’s going to be playing under a coach that spent 75% of his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. If they use a 3-4, Hughes could be an asset in the sub package, or nickel/dime situations, while retaining a role as a starter if he switches to OLB full time. 3 legitimate speed rushers could wreak havoc if they get as exotic as the Ravens did this past year.

As far as linebackers go, Ernie Sims and Pat the Jackhammer Angerer seem to be the only ones safe. There’s going to be plenty of late round linebackers, and if they swing it right they could even trade down from their second round pick to grab one in the 3rd round. With this much changeover as far as defensive coordinators throughout the league, linebackers will be cut and signed at a pace even the hardcore insiders won’t be able to comprehend. Just keep Zach Brown in mind on draft day. It could be the first power move of Pagano’s tenure.

Seeing as how Chuck Pagano specialized in defensive backs, Antoine Bethea is likely to take over the mantle as free wheeler like Ed Reed did in Baltimore. Letting Bethea roam is probably the best option, as he is the only one who seems to have the “leader” status in the defensive backfield. What Colt fans can look forward to is the continuous saga of Bob Sanders finally being over, and getting Melvin Bullitt back as the other half to the safety tandem. One more solid corner and this defense can be in the op half in the AFC in no time at all.

With two defensive backs drafted in last years draft in the 5th and 6th, look for the Colts to throw a few 1-5-5 packages out there, or even some packages with 6 defensive backs in third down situations. This is Pagano’s team now. There will be no more debate as to if Pagano made the Ravens defense good or if the pieces made the job easy. The Colts failed on all fronts last year, and now we’ll see if the new Colts defense can compete.

NFL Divisional Round: Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On

Justin with a breakdown of the Patriots/Broncos divisional round match-up for TOJ

While everyone from Denver settles themselves in as the sun goes down, Patriots fans are having some serious inner dialogue. What is he going to do? Are they going to play this one conservative? Is Tim Tebow saving the final act for the field where playoff hopes go to die for the home team? What if he starts airing it out all over the place, with the occasional QB draw once he finally gets his 2 deep look?

The problem for the Patriots is not the Broncos defense. It’s the Broncos offensive playcalling, which NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN. Seriously, did anyone think the Broncos were gonna average 31.6 yard per pass? Nope. Not even New England tried that against the Steelers. It was all dink and dunk over the middle, couple of comeback routes and the occasional power run to keep everything close. No one is ready for what the Broncos are going to unleash tonight. Least of all the Patriots secondary. Sure the Pats are going to try some 2 deep zone looks to try and keep things in front of them, but Tebow will bring them closer, if for nothing else but to see if there are still pupils in his eyes.

I keep looking over the sheets of notes I made here, with the name Stevan Ridley popping out at me. That’s what terrifies me most about the Patriots. They can change the pace of a game WHENEVER THEY WANT. They have Green-Ellis to just run up the middle and get blasted a few times for 3 yards a clip. Then there’s the two strangest x factor backs most people have never even heard of. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen may in fact turn this Patriots running game into a strange troika of smoke-screening, with Danny Woodhead ready for a jumbo formation counter play when Brady checks out of the spread as the safeties of Denver begin to have a very serious dilemma. What happens when the 4 wide set is Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Deon Branch, and Rob Gronkowski? Suddenly Woodhead motions in, and Gronkowski slides left into a bunch formation. Decisions need to be made. Quickly.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t about revenge for Tom Brady. He got his revenge by owning the Jets twice this year. This is about respect. Everyone knows that a playoff loss at home to Tim Tebow is going to set this team back about two years, when everyone was unanimously picking them for at least an AFC championship game appearance. That hasn’t happened in over 4 years, and despite the fact that his supporting cast has become great and awful simultaneously, Brady and Belichick know there are only two faces that will appear on the back of the Boston Herald.

Counterpoint: What may in fact be worse for the rest of the league is that a loss to the Broncos is going to cause a dramatic shift for the Patriots in terms of draft and free agent ideology. As of now, the Patriots have two first round picks, two second round picks, and two third round picks. Which leaves this doomsday scenario. Patriots move up about ten spots in the first round, and move up in the second, while cutting the fat of a few older players with some draft day trades. Two legitimate first round picks on defense, and two more second rounders, one defense and maybe another receiver. There will be serious problems if the Patriots get a pass rush anything near the Giants, and if they have a secondary that can at least be adequate in man coverage, teams are going to have a serious issue on their hands when you’re trying to force the ball down the field because Tom Brady just put up 28 on you in less than 15 minutes.

And what if the Broncos win? ESPN executives will begin to hemorrhage and contemplate a running banner of Tim Tebow tweets from now until the Super Bowl. There will be no escape. Giant slayers. Holy rollers. Brady beaters. No one wants to mention the fact that Mark Sanchez beat Manning and Brady back to back on the road last year, because that’s last year, and it’s been established by his own defense that Mark Sanchez sucks.

Tim Tebow winning in Foxborough will change things. That’s why it won’t happen. Even Ochocinco admitted that Tom Brady has turned into the Tom Brady everyone despises outside of Boston. The guy whose main focus is to put up enough points so that he can sit down in the third quarter and let Ryan Mallet humiliate the Broncos defense to the tune of 51 points. John Elway will be grinning either way. This is modern day football. Have no faith in miracles.

NFL Divisional Round: The Nervous Breakdown That Is Alex Smith

Justin breaks down the Saints/49ers match-up for TOJ

What may be the most diametrically opposed concepts of football is going to be taking place in San Francisco, a city that ruined my psyche with it’s plethora of drugs, bums, and general aimlessness. This weekend will not be aimless. It has already been lamely compared to “objects in motion stay in motion until they hit immovable forces”, blah blah blah. OK. Here’s what this all breaks down to. Alex Smith not getting his head removed from his shoulders. Why in God’s name would Greg Williams have any respect for Alex Smith, or the big boi on slow legs Frank Gore? Sure the Saints might get beat down the middle a few times, but the Saints know for a fact that they can turn around and put up 14 before anyone knows what happened. You’ll see.

You’ll go out to smoke a cigarette, Alex Smith marching down the field with some counters, a little play action, and even a few comebacks out of the spread, ball is on the 30. Then what happens? Saints score 10 points. Huh? Yep. Alex Smith gets sacked on the Saints 20, Drew Brees runs a draw for 20 yards and all of the sudden Jimmy Graham gets loose down the seam because the two linebackers are trying to spy over the middle. Easy stuff.

Where this game may get interesting is when Brees gets into 3rd and long, which will happen less than 5 times the entire game. Mark my words. The Saints are going to keep things interesting, two tight end sets, play action, shovel passes to Sproles, and the occasional power run set. The Saints don’t want to overpower the 49ers, they want to outsmart them. The Saints are fencing and the 49ers want a street fight. You don’t get points for punching in fencing.

If Mark Ingram was in this game, it’s not even close. The Saints would stuff it until someone gets knocked backwards, and then the play action is at it’s deadliest. But he’s not in, and Pierre Thomas isn’t going to try to run into Aldon Smith on a regular basis.

What I fear, and what will probably happen, is that if the Saints get desperate and it’s a low scoring game, then the first down hail mary will rear its ugly head and the Saints will somehow gain 60 yards without a completion. It’s the ace in the hole for Sean Payton, and Sean Payton likes poker. Will it make 49ers fans fume with rage for the next week and a half?

I really don’t know if San Francisco, as a city, cares about this game. I’ve been there. I spent a week and didn’t see a single jersey. Given, it wasn’t football season, but I have a hard time envisioning the Castro aglow with red jerseys and vicious drunks. Which is why the team should be permanently moved to Alcatraz and people should have to swim for their lives to see the game if they don’t want to pay the price of admission. Sure, a few people wouldn’t make it, but those who do would make even Raiders fans weep tears of joy.

Jesus, where have I gone with this. Too many nights spent staring at swirling patterns on my hotel room bunk bed, 18 year old street fights, and general madness. I know I wrote about the breakdown of Alex Smith, and he may in fact sneak out of here alive, but there’s only one chance for that, and it’s turnovers. Multiple turnovers. The 49ers can’t slow the Saints down to a crawl, no one can. They’re gonna have to do a job of disguising plays that makes Rex Ryan’s last playoff scheme against the Patriots look like 3 box play calling in Madden. Screw Gameflow. I’m rooting for the 49ers, and I’d like to see the NFC West raise themselves from the murk and get interesting. And I like linebackers, just not Jonathan Vilma. Because he, like many others, proved the Jets are inept at keeping talent. So there it is, I like the mud of the 49ers and I’m still trying to find reasons to not give up on the Jets for good. I got rid of the Knicks a week ago, and I’m on Step 7 of recovery.

TOJ Divisional Round Picks

TOJ with his divisional round picks

Wild Card Weekend: 2-2

TOJ Divisional Round Picks

New Orleans (-4.5) vs. San Francisco – Thoroughly exhausted of hearing about this game being outside. The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow and unless a rain storm hits, I am more confident in the Saints taking care of business than the inexperienced 49ers pulling the upset in their first playoff game under John Harbaugh. New Orleans has enough of a running game to keep a balanced approach against a tough 49ers defense and San Francisco’s offense simply won’t make enough big plays to win this game.

Denver (+13.5) vs. New England – New England has a way of being disappointing in home playoff games as of late. Can Tebow really win this game? I’m not sure but he will do enough to keep this under the massive 13.5 point spread.

Baltimore (-7.5) vs. Houston – Sometimes these games get over-analyzed when things should come down to something simple like: do you think rookie T.J. Yates is going into Baltimore, where the Ravens were 8-0 this year, and doing enough to beat that defense? I certainly don’t.

Green Bay (-7.5) vs. Giants – This has been a week filled with everybody comparing this Giants team to the 2007 team, talking up the Giants as the only team who can knock off the Packers, Jason Pierre-Paul making guarantees, Antrel Rolle yapping as usual…and not much chatter coming from the defending champions who went 15-1 this year. This is Aaron Rodgers, having one of the best years in NFL history, not Brett Favre. Green Bay isn’t blowing this game.

TOJ Wild Card Weekend Reaction

TOJ with reaction to wild-card weekend and some early thoughts on the divisional round match-ups

A collection of thoughts from wild-card weekend, most importantly starting with…No more of this! Spare us!

Between this commercial, the rumors of Brian Schottenheimer returning as the New York Jets offensive coordinator, and watching the Giants continue to win…aren’t we suffering enough right now? I know you miss our Jets in the playoffs America, I can tell because the 10 people I watched the game with couldn’t stop referencing the Jets and their enduring hate for them. Beyond that, NFL Countdown still spent a healthy 15 minutes talking about them. Anyway, I am ranting…

Five Things I Learned From Wild Card Weekend

1. Marvin Lewis Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Hold A Challenge Flag You might have thought he would have learned from the mistakes he made in the 2009 playoffs against the Jets but he didn’t. Nobody does a better job of wasting timeouts and challenging meaningless plays than Lewis and he kept it up this past Saturday. The Bengals looked like the better team early in the game but everything turned on J.J Watt’s interception. Cincinnati isn’t ready to overcome that type of punch in the gut on the road. Houston buried them in the second half, thanks to a power running game, an overwhelming defense, and a well managed game by T.J. Yates.

2. This Isn’t Madden, Mike SmithSomething about the quarterback sneak, twice on 4th and 1, behind a smaller center, when you have your power running back not involved didn’t feel like it made sense. The Falcons were smacked around on both sides of the ball but could have kept it competitive by making a play in a few big spots, which they just couldn’t do.

3. This Tebow Thing Really Makes No SenseAfter the three blowouts by the favorites, we all should have seen the overtime upset by the underdog coming. Tebow played the game of his life against Pittsburgh, can he do it two weeks in a row?

4. Calvin Johnson Is A MonsterIt is a shame that such a great game by him went to waste. He should spend some time in the off-season teaching his defensive backs how to catch, because if they could, this could have been a different game.

5. People Love Comparing This Giants Team To The 2007 TeamWe have heard it about 8 million times in the past few weeks, so much that it is starting to feel like they are favorites this Sunday against Green Bay.

I do admit the Giants should be confident heading to Green Bay and that it should be a tight game. Yet, don’t forget that this is Aaron Rodgers under center, not Brett Favre, the killer interception won’t be coming from him. Jason Pierre-Paul has already guaranteed a win, but somehow I don’t think the defending champs at 15-1 will be laying down too easily at home.

In the other games, unless Joe Flacco lays a complete egg, I can’t ese Houston winning in Baltimore. Jets fans, who else would you be rooting for right now in the AFC besides the Ravens? The Jets are built on the same formula as them, you want to see it work. Beyond that, I think we’d all vomit at the thought of another Patriots Super Bowl appearance or seeing Tebow come out of the AFC. When it comes to Saturday, you have to root for Denver and hope their magic doesn’t run out at the hands of Brady and Belichick.

In San Francisco, I think too many are caught up in the game being outside. It is supposed to be good enough weather this weekend and unless a rain storm hits, I feel better with Drew Brees, in the middle of an epically good season from him, than I do against Alex Smith in his first playoff game.

By the way, we were all reminded this past weekend how much the Jets miss Jerricho Cotchery. Derrick Mason just retired by the way, Mike Tannenbaum.

TOJ Wild-Card Weekend Picks

TOJ with his wild-card weekend picks. Who do you like?

After a very average season of regular season picks against the spread, I am ready to impart my wisdom on the wild-card round of the playoffs. If you have said before the season that I’d be settling in this weekend to watch T.J. Yates, Andy Dalton, and Tim Tebow play, I would have said you were as crazy as Rex Ryan when he decided to name Santonio Holmes captain. Oh well.

Final Regular Season Record: 124-120-5

Houston (-3) vs. Cincinnati – This should be an evenly matched, fairly low-scoring game. I do think the Houston running game will control the clock and Arian Foster or Ben Tate will break a big run at some point that will prove to be difference. Cincinnati made it into the playoffs without ever posting a truly impressive win, I do think this will be tight into the fourth quarter but they won’t be able to make the big play late to win this game.

Detroit (+10.5) vs. New Orleans – I do think New Orleans will ultimately win this game but it will be closer than most people anticipate. Detroit has the firepower to run up points in the dome and I think they will remain in striking distance until the fourth quarter, when Drew Brees will make a few plays that Matthew Stafford won’t.

New York Giants (-3) vs. Atlanta – A very evenly matched game, in which both teams should run up a good amount of points. The key to this game will be how well Atlanta can run the football in order to set up the play action passing game where they can hurt the Giants secondary with their big play weapons. Ultimately, in a game this tight I am going with the better quarterback, who is Eli Manning.

Pittsburgh (-8.5) vs. Denver – This game has 20-3 written all over it. Tim Tebow isn’t ready to beat this Pittsburgh defense.

The Slow March: First Casualties Of Black Monday

Justin looks at the teams in the NFL who fired their coaches and where they go from here

The Rams have excuses. Sam Bradford got too buff, cornerbacks came down with the Greg Oden syndrome (6 cornerbacks on injured reserve), the return of the manchild Josh McDaniels (who may or may not be the future Jets offensive coordinator). Things are tough in St. Louis. Pujols skipped out. Although, looking back on it, it was one of the shrewdest and most cost effective moves in the last decade in the MLB. The Angels will wish they didn’t pull a Steinbrenner in 5 years. Trust me, I’ve been watching the Yankees like a third work anthropologist. Things fail in New York. Fail big.
Bumping Bradford will be like trying to find a date for a cousin whose name shows up on the local ex-con web site. It’s hard to avoid the fact that there were more than one game this year in which he performed like a one legged pirate with osteoporosis.

It’s very real, this uncertainty. It’s going to be snowing in St Louis soon, and to those with the NFL network, the TIVO replays of the Rams season is going to be like Chinese water torture. There will be no bright spots. It’s a Rorschach test without answers.

In being fair to the good people of San Lewie. I will look for something that doesn’t cause you to stare out the window one last time, call up that old dope dealer from your factory job, and tell him you’d like to meet him somewhere off I-95, in the deep woods.

There’s essentially two ways of looking at the Rams offseason. Both will cause Rams fans to scramble to put Bradford jerseys on Ebay, and hold off on the Brandon Lloyd for Pro Bowl resuscitation campaign. Keep Bradford, let Pettis and Salas show off what they’ve got in a full training camp, let Brandon Lloyd acclimate to ,another year of McDaniels? And at least have faith in Matt Kalil, who will be the only Rams player to make the Pro Bowl next year, as opposed to the 0 that made it this year. The upside is that if Bradford is protected, and has a full year of Pettis, Salas, Mark Clayton and Lloyd, and he fails miserably, there is finally a legitimate excuse to part with him and let him attempt to revive his career in some miserable place like Minnesota or Miami.

The other? Vegas. Get Blackmon with the second pick, have a starting duo of Lloyd and Blackmon, while the rest scramble to nail a slot receiver job, and pray to god they reincorporate the spread offense, looking for 4,000 yards passing and giving Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams a break from the bone crunching they’ve had to take all year. Take a cornerback in the second round (Al Harris is 37), and do some more work on the defensive line with the third round pick. They’ll have a tough time selling this team to anyone through free agency.

Turning from the worst division in the NFC to a team with the most and least potential at once in the NFC South. Has everyone learned their lesson about young head coaches in the NFL? Have a “run” that doesn’t even get you into the playoffs and you become a pariah. Articles about Raheem Morris coming up in the streets, toughness, Dre Beats, Zip Em Up. How many fights you think Belichick got into growing up? Everyone understands there’s some sort of youth movement going on in the NFL, but there’s a point when players have to be accountable for their actions, and from heads on the inside, the whole Aqib Talib not getting cut for attempting to kill someone may have been the first of many wrong decisions throughout the season.

In his most recent interview, Ronde Barber admitted “the uptic is that we’re a young team”. Of course. Young. Full of talent on the defensive line. but what else? Kellen Winslow? Davin Joseph? Is this what the people in Tampa Bay are paying to see?

Everyone sees Ronde Barber leaving in the next year or two anyway, so a 1st round corner would at least give some help to a secondary most likely planning to start this years rookies (Black & Gaitor).

Many aren’t happy with the time Freeman is getting in the pocket so a center in the second round is the backhanded approach at eventually dumping Freeman if he falls apart at the seams in his fourth year. “We got him offensive line help! Even drafted a 4th and 6th round receiver! Looks like we were wrong about Josh. Good thing we drafted Brandon Wheeden in the 3rd round.”

Let us, for a second, be completely truthful about the Buccaneers. Barring some sort of miraculous free agent receiver pickup, the Buccaneers aren’t making the playoffs next year. Their best bet is to ultimately build up that defensive line, try to pressure with 4 and grab a linebacker and another defensive back in free agency, and see it from there. Hope Freeman turns it around and airs it out big time.

As if this wasn’t turning into an out and out pity party, it’s time for the Colts, sadly, without the Polians going forward. The twitter world is already morning the insane exchanges between fans, Polian, and Irsay. It was like a bunch of teenage Friends going off to college and exchanging mushroom trip stories. Brilliant stuff. One real quote: “The New Year will have 7 lives and many faces” You’ll never understand.

Let’s say Irsay gets real loaded one night and Tweets this out. “Housecleaning Special In Indy….18 Reasons To Move Forward…Peyton will not play in 2012…Start Packin It Up Mathis!”

It could happen. The only people the Colts really need to keep, by position, are the following. Delone Carter and Donald Brown at running back. Reggie Wayne at wide receiver. Dallas Clark at tight end. Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana on the offensive line. Jamaal Anderson, Jerry Hughes and Drake Nevis on the defensive line. Antoine Bethea, Jermaile Hines, and Chris Rucker in the secondary. If you haven’t heard of half those names it’s because they were last years draft picks and it’s usually in bad taste to dump draft picks one year into their career.

Mathis? Expendable. Especially if it lands an offensive weapon, which is what Andrew Luck is going to need if they’re going to attempt to run the already installed offense. The Wayne and Clark duo can do a good enough job of keeping the continuum and Andrew Luck makes his own line calls anyway, so keeping old Jeff Saturday there grumbling about Peyton is pretty much pushing it at 36 years old.

There’s plenty more to come, and I’m still weighing writing something about the Jets, because after watching what happened in the last 48 hours concerning that team, I can think of few things as laughably absurd about the situation as a whole. Maybe a Kim Kardashian announcement to pursue a PhD in experimental mathematics, but there would be some shred of admiration in the attempt. WIth the former, there’s nothing.

Initial Thoughts On Wild-Card Weekend

Initial thoughts on the match-ups for wild-card weekend. Who are you rooting for?

Contrary to the beliefs of some New York Jets fans out there, the world and the NFL season did not end this past Sunday. The playoffs kick off this weekend, with a particularly weak AFC field that does make the Jets missing the playoffs sting a little more. Here is a quick look at the four games –

Cincinnati at Houston – Pretty bizarre to think that the Bengals are in the playoffs when most people ranked them as the 32nd best team in the league heading into the season. Remember how they looked in the pre-season against the Jets? Who would have thought? Regardless, they have a tough defense, a young quarterback who isn’t afraid to put the ball down the field, and a monster at receiver in A.J. Green. Houston is down to their third quarterback in rookie T.J. Yates and has struggled down the stretch. This game is a complete toss-up, yet Jets fans should be rooting for the Texans. Why? You want Pittsburgh (after they dismantle Denver) going to New England in round two to end our beloved Patriots season. If the Bengals win, they are heading to a blow out loss in New England, which nobody wants to watch.

Detroit at New Orleans – Even though we all remember picking the Saints to easily win wild-card weekend last year and watch them lose a shocker to Seattle, it is hard to imagine the same thing happening two years in a row. The Saints are nearly unbeatable in their dome and the Lions are one of the teams they smacked around in it during the regular season. Detroit’s only chance is to beat New Orleans at their own game in a shootout and I just can’t see Drew Brees coming up short here.

Atlanta at Giants – The best match-up of the weekend. Atlanta has the weapons to take advantage of a suspect Giants secondary with Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez but can they protect Matt Ryan, who has never won a playoff game, long enough so he can get the ball out? Eli Manning and Victor Cruz have turned into arguably the best big play combo in the league and will put up points on an inconsistent Falcons defense. This should be a high scoring, close game that comes down to the final possession.

Pittsburgh at Denver – Whether you want to embrace it or not, Tim Tebow is not a good NFL quarterback and the Broncos offense is a joke. The only way this game is close is if Denver’s defense puts together an epically good performance.