|Catching up with … the Dolphins||06.20.12 at 3:28 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at last year’s playoff teams: Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans and Bengals. In addition, we’ve broken down the division with looks at the Jets and Bills. We wrap it up today with the Dolphins.
When we last saw the Dolphins, they were rebounding from a hideous 0-7 start to finish the year with six wins in their last nine games (two of those defeats to end the season were by three points or less). They allowed them to finish with a 6-10 mark — not bad at all after the awful beginning. The Patriots swept them in 2011, winning the regular-season opener 38-24 in Miami and beating them 27-24 on Christmas Eve in Foxboro, 27-24.
Who they added: In addition to new head coach Joe Philbin (a former Green Bay coordinator who is also a former assistant with Harvard and Northeastern), the Dolphins signed quarterback David Garrard as a consolation prize after losing out on Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith. They added versatile defensive back Richard Marshall in free agency, and picked up wide receiver Chad Ochocinco after he was cut loose after one season with the Patriots. Other free-agent additions include former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton and safety Tyrell Johnson, formerly of the Vikings. In the draft, they picked up quarterback Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) in the first round, who has already been anointed as the signal-caller of the future.
Who’s gone: The Dolphins dealt No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall with the Bears for a pair of draft picks, and didn’t really replace him. They also released safety Yeremiah Bell a week into free agency … after telling him they weren’t going to cut him loose. Defensive end Kendall Langford (to St.Louis) and quarterback Chad Henne are also gone.
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|Catching up with … the Bills||06.19.12 at 2:17 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans and Bengals. Now, we’ll turn our focus to the rest of the division, with a breakdown of the Bills.
When we last saw the Bills — after a 5-2 start that included a lot of good things on both sides of the ball — they were suffering through one of the worst injury-related stretches in recent history. Reeling, they lost eight of their last nine on the way to a 6-10 finish that pretty much erased all of the good feeling that was built up at the start of the season. Buffalo split with the Patriots in 2011, winning at Ralph Wilson Stadium against New England for the first time since 2003 (34-31) but losing the regular-season finale in Foxboro, 49-21.
Who they added: You could make an argument that no team had a more impactful free agent period than the Bills. They landed the top available free agent in defensive end Mario Williams, giving him a six-year, $100 million contract that included $50 million in guaranteed money. They also swiped free agent defensive end Mark Anderson from the Patriots, creating a formidable defensive front, while adding cornerback Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) in the first round and offensive lineman Cordy Glenn (Georgia) in the second round of the draft. And while they didn’t necessarily add them, the re-signing of wide receiver Stevie Johnson, middle linebacker Kirk Morrison and tight end Scott Chandler before the start of free agency allowed the Bills to lock up some of their most important assets.
Who’s gone: The only major departure came when left tackle Demetress Bell signed with Philadelphia. Wide receiver Roscoe Parrish also left for San Diego.
What they think of the Patriots: “It was confidence. Bill (Belichick) and that whole organization had confidence in me to come in and do what I do which is to rush the passer and be a playmaker for the team. I worked real hard with everything I had to do. Everything just gelled at the right time. Like I said, I thank God for everything. I’m in a blessed situation right now. I’m going to try and help the Bills and the Bills nation right now and try and take it to a whole other level.” –Anderson on what went right for him in New England in 2011
Analysis: There is a lot to like about what the Bills did over the offseason, particularly the defensive upgrades they made. While there are some familiar questions (particularly as to whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick is a franchise quarterback, as well as receiver depth after Johnson), there appears to be a solid nucleus in place for the foreseeable future. If the ownership stays the course, they could enjoy some success sooner rather than later. However, with the Patriots and Jets considered the leaders of the pack in the AFC East, Buffalo will have to show that they can consistently compete with both New England and New York before they can be considered a long-term playoff possibility.
|Catching up with … the Bengals||at 12:28 am ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos and Texans. Today, we take a look at the Bengals:
The last time we saw the Bengals, they had survived the fistfight that is the AFC North, going 9-7 and making the postseason. Sure, they were depantsed in the wild-card round by the Texans, 31-10, but the fact that Cincinnati was able to finish above .500 and reach the postseason is certainly a step in the right direction for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. They’ll look to build on that in 2012 with one of the better offseasons in the NFL.
Who they added: The Bengals made some wise free-agent signings, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis, cornerback Jason Allen (Houston) and guard Jacob Bell (St. Louis). They also added defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. In addition, they had what many consider to be a very good draft, getting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) in the first round, to go along with defensive lineman Devon Still (Penn State) in the second round and safety George Iloka (Boise State) in the fifth round, two players who many believe can contribute immediately.
Who’s gone: The Bengals lost a pair of quality defensive linemen in Frostee Rucker (Cleveland) and Jonathan Fanene (New England) in free agency.
What they think of the Patriots: There’s no bad blood between the two teams, but it’s worth mentioning that they effectively pulled off an offseason trade through free agency, swapping Green-Ellis for Fanene. While Green-Ellis will be used as the primary back for the Bengals, look for Fanene to be used situationally (primarily as an interior pass rusher) in his first season in New England.
Analysis: The Bengals finished strong and made great strides in the offseason, but they’re still victims of geography: Frankly, it will still take a massive effort for them to be consistent playoff performers in the always brutally tough AFC North, a division that has almost always been ruled by the Steelers and Ravens. It can be done, and Cincinnati has taken a lot of steps in the right direction over the last 12 months, but until the Bengals can prove themselves to be a consistent winner — that is to say, when they can put together back-to-back trips to the postseason — they are at the back-end of the playoff picture in the AFC.
|Catching up with … the Texans||06.11.12 at 5:13 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets, Ravens, Steelers and Broncos. Now, it’s the Texans:
The Texans had the best season in franchise history, winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record (good for the third seed in the AFC) and beating the Bengals in a wild-card matchup at home. (They lost at Baltimore, 20-13, in the divisional round of the playoffs.) Houston suffered some serious injuries along the way, but a young and aggressive defense that evolved into one of the best in the league under coordinator Wade Phillips kept them playing into mid-January. Ultimately, it was a very a successful year for Houston.
Who they added: Even though they technically didn’t add him, it’s important to note that they avoided a holdout with All-World running back Arian Foster, signing him to a long-term deal. In the draft, they picked up defensive end Whitney Mercilus (16 sacks and nine forced fumbles as a junior) with their first-round pick out of Illinois.
Who’s gone: Houston arguably suffered more significant free-agent losses than anyone in the league: on defense, outside linebacker Mario Williams and cornerback Jason Allen departed, and on offense, right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston also left. And inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.
Analysis: When healthy, the Houston offense — led by Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Adrian Johnson — is among the best in the league. In addition, despite the losses, there are a lot of choice elements remaining on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive lineman J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph. In 2011, they took advantage of a down year for the AFC South (no Manning in Indy, while the Titans weren’t quite there yet and the Jags were, well, the Jags), and put together an impressive season. However, every year there seems to be one playoff team who ends up coming back to the pack the following season, and with the sheer talent and veteran leadership that departed Houston in the offseason, one has to wonder if the Texans will be that team in 2012.
|Catching up with … the Broncos||06.10.12 at 12:11 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets, Ravens and Steelers. Now, we turn our attention to the Broncos:
The last time we saw the Broncos, they were getting curb-stomped by the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Gillette Stadium, 45-10. That being said, it was a tremendous run for Denver in 2011 — buoyed by a great run from the defense, some clutch work from its special teamers and a little magic from the quarterback, they finished 8-8 and upset the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.
Who they added: Peyton. The Broncos artfully extracted themselves from the Tim Tebow situation by dealing for Manning and signing him to a five-year, $96 million deal. Denver also augmented an already above-average group of pass catchers by adding tight ends Jacob Tamme (Indianapolis) and Joel Dreessen (Houston) as well as wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati). In the draft, the Broncos didn’t have a first-round selection, but added defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) and quarterback Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) with their two second-round picks.
Who’s gone: Tebow was shipped to the Jets for a fourth-round pick. And defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley signed a five-year, $25 million contract with New Orleans, while cornerback Andre Goodman was released in April.
What do they think of the Patriots? “Manning all day. What do you expect me to say? He’s my teammate.” –Current Denver (and former New England) defensive lineman Ty Warren on who he thinks is the better quarterback, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning
Analysis: Even though it was just a change at quarterback, no 2011 AFC playoff team heads into 2012 with more of a different look — at least offensively — than the Broncos. The Tebow-for-Manning switch means Denver will make wholesale changes to their offensive game plan, going from the triple option they used with Tebow to a full-on passing attack under Manning. At the same time, there have to be questions to whether or not Manning is fully recovered from four neck surgeries in two years. If he’s healthy, look for Denver to be the class of the AFC West. If not, expect the Broncos to rely on a young and aggressive defense (as was the case in 2011) to get them back to the postseason. Either way, Denver will be a fascinating team to watch in 2012.
|Catching up with … the Steelers||06.09.12 at 2:55 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets and Ravens. Today, it’s the Steelers:
The last time we saw the Steelers, they were evaporating in overtime in the thin air of Denver, the last victim of Tim Tebow’s amazing run with the Broncos. It was Pittsburgh finished the 2011 regular season at 12-4 — which included a 25-17 win over New England at Heinz Field — but lost out to the Ravens for the AFC North title.
Who they added: The Steelers offensive line has struggled the last couple of years when it came to protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and so they went after help up front with their first two picks, landing guard David DeCastro (believed by many to be the best interior offensive lineman in the draft) in the first round and Mike Adams (a premiere left tackle, but one who comes with some character questions). And while they didn’t necessarily add him, Pittsburgh beat the odds and managed to hold on to wide receiver Mike Wallace. They placed a first-round tender on the speedy wideout, which means the Steelers will keep the standout wide receiver for 2012 at a $2.7 million salary.
Who’s gone: The Steelers lost a few veteran bodies of note in the offseason. Pittsburgh cut linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith and cornerback Bryant McFadden — all 2011 opening-day starters — while longtime wide receiver Hines Ward and backup nose tackle Chris Hoke retired and cornerback William Gay signed with Arizona.
How they feel about the Patriots: “The Patriots sat back and did nothing on defense in that game.” –Troy Polamalu on New England’s defensive game plan against the Broncos in the playoffs
Analysis: The very definition of a steady-as-she-goes franchise underwent a relatively eventful offseason, and it will be interesting to see how they react to the changes. Longtime pillars Ward and Farrior are gone, and Todd Haley is the new offensive coordinator. Haley is reportedly a big believer in running the ball, and in that context, the running back spot will also be worth watching, as starter Rashard Mendenhall suffered an ACL tear in Week 17. There’s some question as to whether or not he’ll be able to go at the start of the season — if not, it looks like Isaac Redman will get the call. Ultimately, there’s little reason to think that the Steelers won’t be a playoff team, but the offseason moves certainly bear watching, especially when it comes to overall continuity.
|Catching up with … the Ravens||06.06.12 at 1:26 pm ET|
Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the Jets. Here’s a glance at Baltimore.
The last time we saw the Ravens, they were losing to New England in a classic AFC championship game at Gillette, a 23-20 contest that almost ended up going into overtime if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff at the end of regulation. (If Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore doesn’t break up a last-minute pass for Lee Evans in the end zone, Baltimore likely has that game won.) The Ravens ended the regular season with a 12-4 mark and the division title — a good year for many teams — but the loss to New England remains a bitter pill to swallow for a proud franchise that continues to set a very high bar.
Who they added: The Ravens went after some really intriguing players in the draft. They got Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the first second round, and he’s a guy who will be expected to contribute more than your average rookie — the departure of Jarret Johnson in free agency, and the injury suffered by Terrell Suggs (which he may or may not have suffered playing basketball and could keep him sidelined for the bulk of the 2012 season) will put a lot on Upshaw’s plate. In addition, they picked up interior offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski (Delaware), who should eventually become Matt Birk’s successor at center. And they used a sixth-round pick on Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter, a prospect the Patriots had been sniffing around during the pre-draft process. In addition, they added free agent cornerback Corey Graham (formerly of the Bears) as an extra defensive back and special teams contributor.
(For what it’s worth, the Ravens kept restricted free agent corner Lardarius Webb in the fold with a six-year, $53 million contract extension. And everyone’s favorite defensive back, Bernard Pollard, got a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension.)
Who’s gone: The Ravens lost six defensive players — including the aforementioned Johnson (Chargers) and defensive end Cory Redding (Colts) — in free agency.
How they feel about the Patriots: “It was a tough loss. We were a catch, a field goal, whatever, we were that away from the Super Bowl. Now, we’ve got to go prove to a lot of people and to ourselves that we can do the same thing again, but end up in the Super Bowl.” – Pollard on the loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game
Analysis: Again, there’s no reason to think that the Ravens won’t be among the AFC’s elite in 2012 — there’s just too much talent and smarts on both sides of the football. But there remain plenty of questions. The core of the defense — Suggs (when he returns) Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata — all remains in place, but the group is another year older. How much longer can this world-class defense sustain its current run? How will the franchise settle the contract situations of running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco? And can the Ravens shake off the hangover that comes with a bitter playoff defeat?
2013 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
2013 NFL DRAFT
- Rob Gronkowski Undergoes Successful Forearm Surgery
- Patriots Sign WR Mark Harrison, K David Ruffer; Fill Roster
- Brandon Spikes Absent From Patriots OTAs
- New England Patriots Links 5/20/13 - Brady Better Than Ever; OTAs Begin
- Dwight Freeney Signs With Chargers; Pats Showed 'Last Minute Interest'
- USA Today: Gronkowski Dealing With Back Issue, Could Face (Another)...
- Patriots Sign Second-Round Pick Jamie Collins