New York Jets…And The Hysteria Sets In

One regular season loss and the hysteria has set in for Jets Nation

Let’s not sugarcoat anything from the New York Jets game last night. It was embarrassing to make the number of mental errors they did. The table was set perfectly for them to make a run for a AFC East title and they choked. Nobody played well. Nobody coached well.

Now for some perspective: despite a missed chip shot field goal, a muffed punt, a tipped ball interception, horrific clock management, horrific protection, and a mediocre performance from the quarterback, the Jets were down by a touchdown with less than 10 minutes left.

This loss hurts as it ended any realistic chance of the Jets winning the division and hosting a home playoff game. The road to the Super Bowl will again be spent…on the road. Now the key is actually getting to the point of the playing those road playoff games.

I don’t care how much last night stung, the Jets are still sitting at 5-4 with 5 straight games coming up in which they will be favorites. They are in a conference where there could be a 9 win team who makes the playoffs and nobody is pulling away in the wild-card race. If they do make it into the tournament, who is unbeatable?

New England was unbeatable last year and we know how that went. Baltimore just lost to Seattle. Pittsburgh has looked vulnerable at times. The AFC West is a mess and Houston has never played a playoff game and now has Matt Leinart under center. It is a wide open conference where the team who gets hot at the right time will end up in the Super Bowl.

I am not trying to blind with you some sunny optimism about the Jets and the holes on their current roster. There is real problems that we will get to addressing later. Yet, for now they are more than talented enough to beat Denver and their college style offense even on short notice.

The pity party solves nothing, similar to the rash of hysteria that follows every loss this team has. I have news for you Jets fans, Mark Sanchez isn’t going anywhere. He is our quarterback and this isn’t a bad thing. Is he inconsistent? Is there room for improvement? Yes. Sanchez is a young, developing quarterback who had minimal experience in college and has dealt with a revolving door at wide receiver and some questionable play-calling. On the whole, he will likely make a statistical improvement in every major category this year from last year…just like he did from his second year in comparison to his first year.

Stop saying the Jets can’t win with him because he has already won four road playoff games and wasn’t the reason they lost of either of their AFC Championship Games. The media gives Sanchez the rashest and harshest treatment because of his coach and the team he plays on.

Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions yesterday, his team has lost 3 of 4, and he is always banged up. Should the Lions give up on him? Josh Freeman has been terrible this year compared to last year and has never won an important game. Should the Bucs give up on him? Matt Ryan zero playoff wins. Time to cut him loose? Joe Flacco can’t get past Pittsburgh in the playoffs and just lost in Seattle, why keep him around?

The same thing goes for Rex Ryan, don’t hate on his personality and brashness when the team loses but embrace it when they are winning. You can say this about Rex, he is consistent. He is himself and that never changes. Either like it or dislike it, don’t say he needs to stop being who is because the Jets didn’t run the table after starting 2-3.

Last night was an ugly loss to our hated rivals…it brings out plenty of negative emotions. Vent them out but save your big picture judgements until the season is over. The same people who buried the Jets today are the same people who buried them in 2009 and 2010 after regular season losses to New England.

Jets vs. Patriots: A Deeper Look At Two Rivals, Part 2

Part 2 of our roundtable series discussing Jets/Pats featuring TOJ, The Jet Report, Pats Propaganda, Green Lantern, and NBC’s Bruce Beck

In part I of “A Deeper Look” we broke down the main characters such as Rex, Belichick, Sanchez and Brady. As we continue today with the second installment of our three part roundtable series breaking down the Jets/Pats showdown, we look at other members of the backfield, as well as how these teams fared during free agency.

Once again we are joined by TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, Mike Dussault from Pats Propaganda, WFAN’s Jeff Capellini and NBC’s Bruce Beck:

Q. Darrelle Revis: Explain how his play effects the entire Jets defense and teams that try to attack it.

Capellini: Besides basically shutting off half the secondary on passing downs, Revis is also a very good tackler. He’s very good against the run. He forces opponents to overload one side of the field, which causes congestion and a better chance of tipped balls and interceptions. Cromartie, Wilson and the linebackers have already shown great prowess at ball-hawking. If you narrow a team’s options throwing the football and cut off the real estate they have to play with, turnovers happen with greater frequency. Last week Ryan Fitzpatrick was picked off twice in the center of the field by linebackers, this while Stevie Johnson was one-on-one on the outside. That right there is the Revis factor in a nutshell.

Caporoso: He is the league’s only true lock down corner and his skill set gives Rex Ryan the ability to be so comfortable in man coverage. Some teams choose to avoid Revis entirely but this season teams seem to be taking more chances on him, which is leading to a monster year for him in terms of creating big plays (see Dallas and Miami game).

Q. Neither club seems to be on their way to leading the league in rushing. The Jets struggled early on defensively and the Pats have had their problems there seemingly all year. Can a team in the modern day NFL win a Super bowl without a solid running game? Without a shutdown defense?

Caporoso: I think the answer has to be yes, just from looking at Green Bay last year. I wouldn’t say they had a solid running game or a shutdown defense yet their passing offense was so ridiculous and their defense created enough turnovers that it compensated for it. Every team has a different formula for winning based on their coach and personnel. For the Jets to win a Super Bowl, they need a solid running game and a shutdown defense.  

Dussault: The Patriots seem to think you don’t need an elite running back, though they drafted two of them in the third round this year. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is the perfect Patriots runningback. He runs hard, doesn’t lose yards, doesn’t fumble, and as an undrafted free agent he doesn’t cost much. That said he’s not going to make plays by himself. Danny Woodhead has lacked the explosive plays this year, but I believe Kevin Faulk should be the big factor against the Jets this weekend assuming he’s healthy. They’ll need his pass protection smarts to pick up the complex Jets blitzes. I’d expect to see him out there more than any other back.

As for a shutdown defense I’m not sure one exists. You need an offense that can finish and a defense that can make the stops in the key moments. Usually these are veteran defenses like Jets and not young defenses like the Pats. But you’re not going to ever fully shutdown the top offenses in the game, you just have to stop them when it counts most.

Capellini: The Colts and Pats from some years back had ample enough running games and defenses to win it all and they did. Even last season the Packers, for all their airing it out with Aaron Rodgers, still had a scoring defense and got big efforts from the likes of James Starks when it mattered. I think you can live without the running back to an extent if you have a good committee, but without the defense you are not going to win a championship. If the Patriots are not worried about this right now they have their heads in the sand.The Jets are more complete on both sides of the ball and just recently have started to show it. The onus will be on all 53 to keep up this consistency or they, too, will be watching come January.

Q. What player on your club has been the biggest pleaseant surprise so far in 2011? Biggest disappointment?

Dussault: The Patriots biggest pleasant surprise has to probably be Kyle Arrington with his league leading 5 interceptions. His emergence really made Leigh Bodden expendable and he’s able to play both outside and in the slot. He may be undersized but he’s tough, though he’ll give up his share of completions. Brandon Spikes is another player who is emerging as arguably the Pats best linebacker. For all the love Jerod Mayo gets it’s really Spikes who is becoming the heart of the defense. Too bad it looks like he’ll be out on Sunday with a sprained MCL.

Biggest disappointment has to be Devin McCourty after a breakout rookie year.He’s looked better the last couple weeks though, now he just needs to start making plays on the ball.

Caporoso: Joe McKnight has gone from being from the team goat to a terrific all-around playmaker. So he is the biggest surprise. The biggest disappointment? I will go with Derrick Mason, considering the way his entire situation went down and the early turmoil it created on the team.

The Jet Report: We’re with Joe on this one. McKnight has made huge plays and made people forget about Brad Smith who was a huge part of this team. Especially when considering how many roles Smith played, how often the Jets, who have had red zone issues in the Sanchez era pre Plax, needed big plays from him. McKnight has done the same, maybe even in a more explosive way. Disappointment? The offensive line has taken a while to get into gear. That has hurt the run game. Mangold is back now so all things seem to be settling down up front.

Capellini: Believe it or not, Plaxico Burress has begun to provide a stability on offense. He’s nearly at game speed now and you can see it in his route running and concentration. I think he more than any other player this side of Sanchez will tell the tale for the Jets on offense going forward. Defensively, I love what Sione Pouha is becoming. I think if the Jets can get him and unsung Mike DeVito going together going forward you will be talking about a serious two-headed run-stuffing monster.

Q. Where do both clubs need to improve the most?

Caporoso: For the Jets, it is Mark Sanchez and the passing attack. If they continue to improve, the Jets are going to be a very difficult team to beat. For New England, it is the defense and in particular the secondary who needs to improve substantially. 

Dussault: For the Pats it has to be communication in the secondary. We’ve seen when this defense is all on the same page they’ve been very effective at shutting down some very good offenses. This is characteristic of a young defense. If they continue to improve and show more consistency the Patriots will be a better team than they were in 2010. They’ve been especially better recently on 3rd down and in the red area which is encouraging. They just need to do it game in and game out.

Capellini: The Patriots’ secondary is a mess. Besides bringing in new guys, which is always a crapshoot, it’s on master Belichick to scheme things the way he has in the past. So far, he hasn’t. The Jets still need a pass rusher. I’m not breaking news here. They totally shut down the high-flying Bills last week without getting a single sack. Now imagine what they could be if they could get to the quarterback more?

The Jet Report: The Pats come into the is game 32nd in the NFL on defense against the pass AND run. That has to get better. They don’t have to become the Steel Curtain, but they have to exit THAT territory. The Jets are getting into a groove defensively, have their special teams set up now with McKnight and Kerley and have figured out a balance on offense. They have to stop shooting themselves in the foot in the first half. Those stunted drives that end in turnovers not only hurt on the scoreboard, they impair the team emotionally. It takes them through halftime until they regain their flow again. Finish early drives guys.

Q. Let’s go back in time for a minute. Free agency resembled the “Wild West” this past August. Has the production level put forth by free agent pick ups so far warranted the decisons to release others who once held their positions? (you answer this based on FA’s  Pats picked up and let go)

Caporoso: For the Jets it appears at this point, it was the right decision to part ways with Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith considering the production of Plaxico Burress and Joe McKnight. I can’t argue with Shaun Ellis leaving either since he hasn’t done much in New England combined with the fact that Muhammad Wilkerson has held down his previous role well. I would have liked to keep Jerricho Cotchery to mentor Jeremy Kerley, especially considering how Derrick Mason worked out. I think in retrospect New England would look elsewhere for their deep threat at receiver instead of Chad Ochocinco and would have focused more on improving the secondary.

Dussault: Brian Waters has been a great acquisition filling a big hole at right guard though the Pats offensive line has been less than stellar as of late. Chad Ochocinco has been under a lot of criticism but against the Giants he truly looked like he was starting to get it, Brady just had trouble delivering the ball to him when he was open. His ability to beat press man coverage is why he was brought in and they will really need something out of him against the Jets.

Capellini: If you consider the Pats’ two biggest pickups are now basically not involved, then I would say New England didn’t do the greatest of jobs this past offseason. Haynesworth ended up being the problem many people thought he would be and OchoCinco, as stated earlier, has been a major disappointment. Burress justifies letting Braylon Edwards walk. McKnight justifies letting Brad Smith walk, at least as far as special teams go.

The Jet Report: Haynesworth and Ochocinco were just trimmings. Albert is gone but Ocho still could help out if he and Brady get on the same page down the stretch. The Jet choices were all solid. We would have liked to see a bit of shopping for a backup QB though. The problem was that Sanchez loves Brunell as a mentor so that wasn’t going to happen. We also wonder what would have transpired that first week of free agency had Asomugha not been such a focal point for the Jets.

Q. Albert Haynesworth was released on Tuesday. Derrick Mason was traded weeks back. Did you expect alot more from them? Why did both veteran players fail to become part of the equation in Foxboro and Florham Park.

Caporoso: I thought Haynesworth had potential to be a contributor but shame on me for forgetting how lazy and what a lost cause he was. I also did think Mason could succeed here but shame on me again, for forgetting his history of creating issues in a locker room. I just think neither player bought into the system and locker room of an already tight, successful team.

Dussault: Haynesworth is who the critics thought he was. He looked dominant at times and other times he looked like the worst defensive lineman on the team.  It’s disappointing because he clearly has the talent to dominate if he wanted to.Schematically he wasn’t a perfect fit for what the Pats do, but he could’ve made a real impact as an interior sub-rusher. The Pats brought him along carefully and gently but it was all for naught, and it looks like his career is probably over now.

Capellini: Temperament goes a long way in this league. I wish Mason had just kept his mouth shut and worked on helping the Jets, but you knew what you were getting when you signed him. He’s a great talent, has been for years, but he’s also a powder keg. To basically get kicked off the Jets, who never shut up, shows you just how much he didn’t fit in. Haynesworth, like I said above, became a problem because he, too, couldn’t keep his mouth shut, not to mention the fact that he just didn’t perform all that well. But like the Jets, the Pats knew what they were getting themselves into. It shows that even in a football factory, where there’s a clear right way and wrong way to do things, even the mighty Pats can make a bad personnel decision on an older player.

Q. What makes this Patriots Jets rivalry so special?

Caporoso: The players and coaches going back and forth between the two franchises. The recent success of both teams. The number of large games, including two playoff meetings in recent years. Rex Ryan’s attitude compared to Bill Belichick’s.

Dussault: Of course you have the history of being divisional rivals for so long, but what makes it truly special now is the stark contrast in approaches. In just about everything they’re complete opposites yet both styles have proven effective. There’s a great balance to the rivalry and they’ve split the games since Rex Ryan joined the Jets. There also a balance to the Jets having a veteran defense and an offense around a young quarterback, while the Pats have a veteran offense with a young defense. Just about every element of the rivalry has balance and that makes it a lot of fun. Rex brings a lot to it all by himself, I can’t think of another coach I’d rather have coaching my team’s rival. He makes it a lot of fun because you want to beat him so badly. I’m sure Belichick does the same for Jets fans in his own way.

Capellini: It’s really not about New York and Boston. It’s a matter of combustible personalities and fan bases colliding. It’s about one perennial doormat finally getting its act in gear and challenging the status quo. It’s about the rightful throne holders not liking the new kids on the block because they know one day their reign of terror could end, mostly because the usual also-rans now have a plan. It’s also about the lesser team being tired of hearing about and watching the great gods from up north continue to destroy and conquer. The Jets envy what the Pats are as much as the Pats fear what the Jets are becoming. It’s a symphony on the field two or three times a year.

The Jet Report: The history. The storyline. The characters involved. From the AFL’s onset up until the 1990’s, these teams were division rivals but never eternal enemies. Once Bill Parcells left New England to become the Jets head coach, and Bill Belichick left the Jets to return to New England, the entire battle went from trench warfare to Civil War style. With both sides fully armed, heading full steam towards each other. Add New England’s magnificent run with Brady, followed by Eric Mangini ditching Bill, getting locked out in Foxboro, then calling out his boss with “Spygate,” and you have the need for NATO intervention. All of this mind you, BEFORE REX RYAN showed up in Florham Park. It’s been nothing but great drama, great strategy, and classic games for a long time between these two. Both of whom have now earned a mutual respect for each other in the process. As hard as that may be for some of the players involved to admit.

Beck: The atmosphere will be electric. Jets-Pats — the best rivalry around, outside of Yankees-Red Sox. Sunday Night Football on NBC. As Mills Lane used to say, “let’s get it on.”

Look for Part III of “Jets vs Patriots: A Deeper Look at Two Rivals” Saturday

Jets vs. Patriots: 12 Pack Of Predictions

12 predictions for the Jets/Patriots Sunday night showdown for first place in the AFC East

What else can I say? 12 Pack. Jets vs. Pats. It doesn’t get any better.

1. Tom Brady is getting sacked at least three times and will turn the football over at least once. He also won’t crack 300 yards through the air.

2. The other quarterback? Mark Sanchez will put together a performance very similar to the one he had in the playoffs last year.

3. Shonn Greene will be the leading rusher in this game. He will also score another touchdown.

4. Rob Gronkowski will have a big game against the Jets secondary after not doing in much in their first meeting.

5. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress will combine for 150 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns.

6. Joe McKnight is going to outplay Danny Woodhead.

7. Chad Ochocinco…will have at least 1 reception. How is that for a bold prediction?

8. Wes Welker will have 75 yards receiving and a touchdown.

9. Dustin Keller will have less receiving yards than both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

10. Calvin Pace and Bart Scott will both record sacks. Scott will see a substantial bump in playing time after not playing much in the week 5 meeting.

11. Jeremy Kerley will have at least 40 yards receiving.

12. If you haven’t been able to tell, I am pretty confident in the Jets this week. Actually as confident as I have ever been for a Jets/Pats game. The Jets will win 31-21 and began their march to a AFC East title.

The Truth And The Myth Of The New England Defense

Justin takes a look at the myth and realities surrounding the New England Patriots much maligned defense

A year ago, no one would argue that the first round pick of the New England Patriots was a far better immediate return than the Jets first round pick Kyle Wilson. Devin McCourty nearly got the nod for Defensive Rookie of the Year, something that eventually went to one of the greatest defensive players of his draft class and someone who should have won the Heisman as a defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh.

Ras I Dowling, the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 draft, may have been the next Mccourty, but since he was put on IR, the Patriots pass defense has suffered.

So why is this year’s Patriots pass defense ranked 32nd in the league? Before getting to details, remember we are only halfway through the season. The experiment the Jets had on offense is the same one New England has had on defense. While I do not make assurances to Patriots fans on a regular basis, I will offer one for the fanatics. They will be in the top 20 by the end of the year. This is the age of reason. Beat writers unfortunately need something to write about on a daily basis, and constant praise does not sell papers.

Was there a turning point for this year’s slide against the pass? No. It started before the season began, when the once mysterious Belichick, who at one time utilized all sorts of corner blitzes, 1-5-5 formations, and various types of zone blitzes, pretty much proclaimed to the world that he was going with a 4-3 (probably to calm the nerves of Albert Haynesworth). This immediately sent a red flag to Patriots fans, as Belichick usually lets no one know anything before he does it.

So they went with the 4-3 and abandoned the 3-4. If you are going to go with a 4-3, as the Lions have done, you are going to need guys who play hard on every play and have a deep rotation of defensive tackles. Drafting a “can’t miss” top 5 defensive tackle two years in a row as the Lions have done makes things pretty easy for a defensive line coach.

A 34 year old Shaun Ellis, a 30 year old Vince Wilfork, and a 30 year old “seriously lacking in competitiveness when he has over $10,000,000 in the bank” Albert Haynesworth does not. The other glaring issue with the Patriots defensive line? Chemistry. Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have not played double digit games together. They haven’t even played double digit games for the Patriots. The defensive line rotation is, to put it mildly, a work in progress.

The Patriots currently have 9 defensive lineman in the starting rotation. They’ve got pass rushers and they’ve got run stuffers, but if they’re going to have success as a unit, it’s going to know exactly how to rotate them depending on the opposing offense that is going to keep their secondary from becoming vulnerable against 20 yard post routes.

To compare to a friendly rival, Rex Ryan drafted two defensive players this year, one last year. It took Rex Ryan a full year to give Kyle Wilson a starting nickel job, and Kenrick Ellis won’t become the starting nose tackle until next year. If not for necessity, Muhammad Wilkerson wouldn’t be a starting defensive end. Only two of the seven lineman have not been on the team for more than a year. Most have been on the team for at least 4.

Even more than offense, defensive players need the trust of their coach. They need the same eyes their coach has, to see when a run is coming, to see when a pass is coming, to see the play action, etc. etc. The Patriots defense is already 6th against the run, the pass will catch up.

New York Jets Offense: They Can Do It All

TOJ on why there is no reason for the New York Jets offense not to have a monster game this Sunday night

The New York Jets offense has seemed like a perpetual work in progress the past couple of years. In the past few games, we have seen steps in the right direction. The shift to a greater focus on the running game with a play action passing attack working off it has given the Jets back the identity they have thrived in.

There was a reason behind the chest puffing from members of the offense in the pre-season. There is a high talent level on this unit, enough talent to consistently put up around 30 points on a weekly basis. You have a legitimate number one, slot receiver, a split end who is rounding into form as a big time target over the middle and in the red-zone, a tight end with the ability to stretch the field and an improving rookie slot receiver. In the backfield, you have a good north/south runner who fits in well behind a very good offensive line, complimented by a more than capable third down back and a potentially electric change of pace back.

The quarterback is still developing, still prone to occasional bonehead mistakes but on the whole is continuing to improve and is more than capable of putting together big games, particularly in big spots.

WIth the defense they are facing this week, there is no reason the Jets can’t do it all and play to their true potential. The running game should absolutely take the lead but don’t handcuff Mark Sanchez. When New England starts stacking the box, their personnel has no chance of matching up with Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Dustin Keller. Take the play action shot down the field.

Brian Schottenheimer needs to be able to find the mix of exploiting New England’s secondary, while still allowing his running game to keep rolling. Shonn Greene can get his 20 carries with Sanchez still taking his shots down the field.

The Jets put up 21 in New England back in week 5. Considering their progress since then, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to put 31 this time around.

I’m Coming Home: Halfway Through NFL Season (NFC)

Justin breaks down the NFC at the mid-point of the season. Who are the real contenders?

If the playoffs started today, the Bengals would lead the AFC in wins and get a home playoff game. Take a few moments to breathe, loosen your tie, and try and remember that there are 4 divisional games remaining for the Bengals, 2 of which are against the Ravens, and 2 of which are against the Steelers. The Bengals will win none of those games, if not for only the fact that both the Ravens and Steelers playoff chances hinge on divisional wins against the shakiest team in the hardest division of the AFC.

Enough hating on the Bengals….for now.

Let’s look at the playoff picture in its entirety, starting with the NFC. The Falcons notoriously took Julio Jones in the first round and gave up two draft picks. That will come to be one of their best draft moves for the next 5 years. While the Falcons are currently ranked as the 7th best team against the run, that will probably bump up to the 15th by the end of the season. The Falcons defense has two first round picks at defensive line, one at linebacker and one at defensive back.
There is a formula to the Falcons that makes it one of the potentially greatest offenses in the league. They have their big power running back with Turner, their safety valve in Tony Gonzalez, and two of the top 15 receivers in the NFL. Roddy White and Julio Jones will be huge threats in the second half of the year, especially anywhere indoors.

The problem for a defense facing the Falcons in the second half of the year is that they understand how to roll their three headed dye with precision. If you get double coverage on either receiver, check down to Gonzalez, if Gonzalez has double coverage, find one of three on the outside, and if the defense drops 2 deep and man coverage on both receivers, run it up the middle. Packers have more explosive receivers, Bears have a better running back, but no one has a tight end as good as Gonzalez unless you count Hernandez and Gronkowski for the Patriots as one unit.

The only issue I have with the Falcons is the fact that they have only one quality win this year. Philly? No Vick. Colts? No Manning. Detroit? My feelings on Detroit are mixed, and I think they have a few more losses throughout the year as people start to pick up on how to stop Calvin Johnson and confuse a still relatively inexperienced Matthew Stafford.

Moving on. As I described previously, I have mixed feelings on the Lions. They have flash on defensive line and at receiver, but I don’t think they have enough experience to dig themselves out of a hole against a playoff team when the weather gets cold and Matthew Stafford is asked to find guys that aren’t Calvin Johnson. Next year? Sure, Lions easy playoff team. This year, I still can’t see them getting out of the first round of the playoffs, even though they have three first round picks on their defensive line and the 6th ranked pass defense halfway through the season.

The Saints. Next to Green Bay, the Saints have the best offense in the league. In fact, I would call the Saints the Big Brother to the Packers, if only because of experience in the playoffs. Are they a better overall offense? That depends on if you consider the running game as important as the passing game. The Saints easily have the best tandem at running back in the NFC. Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram is the best 1-2 potential, and there is simply no argument against the potential of Mark Ingram as a power running back in the second half of the season if he can stay healthy.

The Giants, despite the strange tendencies of their offense to be able to run the ball, pass the ball, and then not be able to do those things in the same game, still have the best defensive line/linebacking core in the NFC. This despite the fact that Goff and Sintim are on IR for the rest of the season. If they can get a shutdown corner with Prince Amukamara, then the Giants defense will be able to get nearly as insane as the Jets do in terms of blitz variety and amount of guys they can send to rush the passer.

Someone completely out of their mind may assume the 49ers are the second best team in the NFC. That sort of proclamation can easily be countered by looking at the number of quality wins they have. Philly? Didn’t have their team together yet. Lions? A team so up and down you never know what you’re gonna get. They will face the Giants, Ravens and Steelers, and most likely lose 2 out of 3 games there. Those defenses will show everyone that they are at least a 4 loss team.

Where will I give the 49ers credit? For finally utilizing the pieces that should have been walking all over the NFC West for the past 3 years. Mike Singletary was a great player. He was a below average coach and the turnaround by Harbaugh is most likely split credit between the coach and the division.

Look at what they’ve had. Justin Smith is a 2 time Pro Bowler. Patrick Willis is a 4 time Pro Bowler who will be the only linebacker to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ray Lewis. Vernon Davis averages 12.7 a catch and has over 29 receiving touchdowns as a tight end. They had pieces, and the fact that the 49ers took a defensive back in the third round and the sixth round while grabbing another linebacker in the first round makes it clear that Jim Harbaugh is going to have the perfect mix of youth and experience on defense. The fact that they did not take a quarterback in the first round may have been the best decision by the front office in years.

The Green Bay Packers have caught that Patriots bug of luck mixed with insanely efficient quarterback play. Cullen Jenkins? Gone. Nick Barnett? Gone. Nick Collins? Out on injured reserve. They get Jermichael Finley back, resurrect the youth of Donald Driver, and sling it to Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Greg Jennings in no particular order. They’ve got their future linebacker tandem of Hawk and Matthews for another 7 years and the secondary is stacked with young value talent. The only thing more terrifying than this year’s Packers is what next years Packer’s will look like when Randall Cobb finds his role at receiver and their two tight end draft picks (5th and 7th round) start to see more playing time.

By the end of the season, look for the 49ers to win their division easily, sneak in at 11-5, and lose at home to either the Lions or the Saints. The one thing I think can happen is the rematch of Falcons/Packers in the divisional round. If the Giants play the Packers I think they’ll be able to get to Aaron Rodgers, but only for a half. He will exploit the middle of the field and keep the pass defense on their toes. The Packers are much harder to scheme for than the Patriots. There has been a torch passed, whether people are willing to admit it or not.

TOJ Mid-Season NFL Power Rankings

TOJ with his mid-season NFL Power Rankings. How much do you disagree?

Your mid-season NFL Power Rankings from TOJ, but first a necessary and brief rant

It is hard to mentally fathom the crimes committed by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. It is almost harder to fathom the protection he received from the infrastructure of the University he coached at. It does appear now that Joe Paterno won’t be back next year and he shouldn’t be. It is time to clean house. Clear the school and every last shred of any person who didn’t do everything in their power to report the crimes they were aware of. This situation is nothing short of sickening and to watch an institution placed over the safety of children is a disgrace. Hang your head in shame Happy Valley, your reputation will forever be tarnished.

1. Green Bay Packers (8-0) – It is hard to think that they don’t have a real shot of going 16-0.

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-1) – They should have that division clinched any day now.

3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – It was huge for this franchise to get a sweep of Pittsburgh.

4. New York Giants (6-2) – Pretty amazing what they have done considering their injuries.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) – They may have to go on the road in the playoffs this year.

6. New Orleans (6-3) – Some inconsistencies but they are hard to beat when they are on point.

7. New York Jets (5-3) – If their defense plays like that, they could beat anybody.

8. Detroit Lions (6-2) – Now in battle with Chicago for second place in the NFC North.

9. Houston Texans (6-3) – They should roll the rest of the way in the AFC South.

10. New England Patriots (5-3) – Incredible how awful their defense has become.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) – I’m not sold yet.

12. Chicago Bears (5-3) – Gutsy win over Philly will keep them very relevant for second half of season.

13. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) – A chance to assert themselves as serious contenders this week against New Orleans.

14. Dallas Cowboys (4-4) – A soft schedule will give them a shot to hang with the Giants.

15. Buffalo Bills (5-3) – The early season hype seems like a long time ago.

16. Tampa Bay Bucs (4-4) – The “Youngry” Bucs haven’t lived up to expectations this year.

17. Tennessee Titans (4-4) – They have 8-8 written all over them.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) – Playoffs looking like a long shot after killer loss to Chicago.

19. San Diego Chargers (4-4) – The awfulness of their division keeps them a contender.

20. Oakland Raiders (4-4) – See above.

21. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) – See above.

22. Denver Broncos (3-5) – See above.

23. Carolina Panthers (2-6) – They will be fun to watch the rest of the year.

24. Minnesota Vikings (2-6) – Will be competitive with Christian Ponder under center.

25. Cleveland Browns (3-5) – How bad is that offense?

26. Washington Redskins (3-5) – See above.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) – See above.

28. Miami Dolphins (1-7) – Glad they don’t suck enough for Luck.

29. Seattle Seahawks (2-6) – Hey, they are in second place in their division.

30. Arizona Cardinals (2-6) – How much did they pay Kevin Kolb?

31. St. Louis Rams (1-7) – Frustrating step back after last year.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-8) – It is hard to think that they don’t have a real shot of going 0-16.

TOJ Roundtable Week 9 – Jets/Bills Predictions

The TOJ writing staff submits their picks for the Jets week 9 showdown against the Buffalo Bills

Joe Caporoso: Check the 12 Pack

TJ Rosenthal: Jets Win If – They stop Fred Jackson. The Bills offense can be contained in the air for two reasons. First, their WR combo of Stevie Johnson and David Nelson won’t stand a chance to Darrelle Revis should the Jets choose to lock either one of them up. The Bills TE Scott Chandler has 6 TD’s but has been targeted just 18 times all season. The Jets get exposed when TE’s force safeties up in coverage. By shutting down the passing game the Jets can attend to Jackson who has been rushing for 5.5 yards per carry (132-721 yds).

We expect a balance on offense for the Jets with Shonn Greene being effective. The Bills defense has allowed 4.9 yards per carry to opposing backs and Greene is coming off his best three games of the season (62-269 yds 4.3 avg). Look for Holmes to breakout or contribute greatly this week in a winning scenario. The media spotlight on his “happiness” will only add motivation.

The Jets Lose If: They can’t stop Jackson and Mark Sanchez throws too many interceptions. His 5 INT game against the Bills as a rookie is a mere coincidence for this concept. Our point is, if Sanchez even manages this game, then Greene can burn down some clock so  the Bills can’t put up their 30 point average. However, if Fred Jackson helps open up the Bills offense for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick by keeping Rex honest and backed off of the line of scrimmage, then a poor decision making game by the Jets QB could be enough for Buffalo to tip the scales. Even in a game played by both teams scoring in the low 20’s. Containing Jackson, while protecting the ball on their own half of the field is the way to get out of Buffalo alive. Even WITH the understanding that attacking downfield must be mixed in by Schotty at times.

Chris Celletti: If the Jets have proved anything under Rex Ryan, it is that they play their best when their backs are against the wall. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that their season rests on what they do Sunday in Buffalo. A loss is potentially crippling with the Patriots coming to town in Week 10. The Jets simply have to win this game, and I think they respond. It will hinge a lot on the Jets’ offense, an offense that simply has to put up points to beat the Bills. Buffalo has been very good on offense all year, with Fred Jackson being one of the best backs in football, and the Jets’ run defense having been suspect. On the other hand, Buffalo’s defense is statistically one of the worst in football.

I expect the Jets to give a healthy dose of Shonn Greene to try and control the clock and keep Ryan Fitzpatrick on the sideline (who would have ever thought that would be the strategy against the Bills?) In the end, I think the Jets make just enough plays on both sides of the ball, perhaps forcing a few key turnovers as the defense steps up in the second half. The Jets set up a showdown with the Patriots as they knock off Buffalo, 26-20.

Rob Celletti: Following the Jets in the Rex Ryan era, there have been a lot of stories written about the dangers of a team that “believes its own hype” and its eventual downfall.  Strangely, this week could potentially flip the script.  Yes, the Jets got some of their swagger back before last week’s bye, but is there a sexier team than the Buffalo Bills in 2011?  Media and casual fans are enamored, and the team’s confidence couldn’t be higher.  Well, that all comes crashing down to earth this week for the Western New Yorkers.

There will apparently be a “white out” at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with the home fans matching the home team’s all-white get-up.  But the Jets have not only played in, but thrived in more hostile atmospheres.  I expect the road warrior Jets of 2009 and 2010 to show up big for this game.  Buffalo is 4-0 in home games (including last week’s Toronto game), the Jets are 0-3 on the road.  As Michael Kay would say, “Do you believe in ‘due’?”

Do not forget that the Jets have embarrassed this Bills over the past few seasons with a relentless rushing attack, and I expect Shonn Greene to rack up another 100+ yard performance and punctuate it with a score or two.  Joe McKnight will be dangerous as well.  Santonio Holmes is also going to reel in a touchdown and post close to 100 receiving yards.  The Jets’ defense will shut down Ryan Fitzpatrick’s receivers, and they’ll pick off the Harvard man once or twice and turn it into points the other way.

The Bills have been a good football team, and I don’t mean to disparage them, but they’ve benefited from some pretty fortunate bounces (see the multiple interception games by Mike Vick and Tom Brady, for example).  I just have a feeling that their luck runs out this week, just as the Jets start to get rolling.

The game will seem close, but Mark Sanchez will throw a late touchdown to Dustin Keller to put this game on ice.  Jets 31, Bills 20.

Jets vs. Bills: 12 Pack Of Predictions

TOJ with 12 predictions for the Jets/Bills week 9 match-up

What is better than fall in NYC? Here is a November 12 Pack to, as we gear up for a monster weekend of NFL Football –

1. Shonn Greene is going to run for over 110 yards and his third touchdown of the season. Joe McKnight will also receive his most offensive touches so far this year.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to struggle against the Jets defense, being sacked multiple times and having at least one turnover. Stevie Johnson will have a minimal impact in this game.

3. Fred Jackson will have over 120 yards of total offense and score at least once. The Jets are going to miss Mike DeVito if he doesn’t end up playing this Sunday.

4. Brad Smith will make at least one big play in this game. However, Joe McKnight will break off one big kick return that directly sets up points for the Jets offense.

5. Aaron Maybin is going to have not one, but two sacks in his most extensive action of the season.

6. Mark Sanchez is going to throw for about 200 yards and one touchdown. He will be in the game manager role for most of Sunday, until late in the game.

7. Santonio Holmes will have at least 65 yards receiving.

8. Dustin Keller will get back in the end-zone for the first time since week 2.

9. Antonio Cromartie will be called for at least two penalties.

10. Brian Schottenheimer is going to call one of his best games of the past few years. How’s that for a crazy prediction?

11. Buffalo will gain their yards but the Jets will frequently hold them to field goals and keep them out of the end-zone.

12. This will be a tight game in the final minutes of the 4th quarter, but it will be Mark Sanchez not Ryan Fitzpatrick who leads the big scoring drive late as the Jets will win 23-19.

New York Jets Defense: Can They Rise To The Occasion?

TOJ wonders if the New York Jets defense has the personnel to slow down Buffalo’s high powered offense

The Buffalo Bills have surprised this season led by a high powered offense. Running back Fred Jackson is playing as well as any back in the league and possesses the type of game breaking ability on the edges that has given the New York Jets defense fits this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacks a spread attack that is built around his quick release and timing.

In terms of Buffalo’s passing attack, the Jets are built to stop them. They have the corners to match-up with their receivers, who have the ability to be physical enough with them to disrupt their timing and push them around the field. Aaron Maybin is going to lead a charged up pass rush that should have the ability to get after Fitzpatrick.

It is going to come down to stopping Jackson both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, if the Jets defense wants to have a respectable showing on Sunday. There still remains a chance Mike DeVito won’t play this weekend, which means the pressure will be on Muhammad Wilkerson and the rotation of Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua at end to set the edge, along with Calvin Pace at outside linebacker.

When it comes to covering Jackson out of the backfield, that is on the safeties and extra corners. I would expect the Jets to spend most of this game with 5 or 6 defensive backs on the field. Kyle Wilson and Brodney Pool should play the bulk of the game and need to help in run support, along with disrupting the short passing game.

The Jets defense played their best half of the season against San Diego. They now need to build on it against a better offense.