cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/21/2012 04:09 PM

San Francisco 49ers Focus On Super Bowl Trip

What a difference a year can make!

At this time last summer, few had a clue that newly-hired coach Jim Harbaugh would have such an impact on the San Francisco 49ers. Sure, the hire looked promising, as Harbaugh had already established himself as a miracle-worker of sorts in a brilliant four-season run as the coach at Stanford, down the Peninsula. All Harbaugh did in Palo Alto is inherit a woeful program that had posted a 1-11 record in the season before his arrival and turned it into a BCS qualifier within four seasons. Harbaugh’s last Stanford team finished ranked fourth in the country after walloping Virginia Tech, 40-12, in the Orange Bowl.

But most seemed to be saying to Harbaugh, let’s see you do that in the NFL, especially with what appeared to be a dysfunctional 49ers team that had finished a subpar 6-10 in 2010 and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2002.

A year later, Harbaugh has answered any doubters after leading San Francisco to one of the more stunning turnarounds in recent NFL annals, as the 49ers had the NFC West clinched by the start of December en route to a 13-3 mark and home-field edge in the NFC playoffs. All of the way, in fact, to the NFC title game, where the 49ers took the Giants into overtime before bowing in a bitter 20-17 decision.

No matter those specifics, it looks as if Harbaugh has answered what few critics he might have had before last season. Harbaugh, apparently, knows what he’s doing.

Not so sound too snarky, however, but let’s see Harbaugh do it again this fall. Although the 49ers are the clear favorite in the NFC West, history tells us that replicating the perfect storm of 2011 and the corresponding 13-3 regular-season mark could be difficult.

In truth, Harbaugh probably didn’t inherit as desperate a situation at Candlestick Park as many seemed to believe. The 49ers had a pre-cooked, playoff-ready defense by the time Harbaugh arrived. San Francisco’s problem in the previous few seasons was that defense-minded head coach Mike Singletary – no surprise in his emphasis on the stop until after a Hall-of-Fame career as a linebacker for the Bears – had absolutely no understanding or feel for the offense, putting his various coordinators under needless strain as they tried to replicate a Woody Hayes-style offense that was the fantasy of Singletary. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

Harbaugh, however, had an offensive background, and his former life as a QB allowed him to relate to holdover QB Alex Smith who had been victimized by a string of different coaches, coordinators and offensive philosophies. Harbaugh’s offense would also focus on developing a physical infantry diversion, but Smith also had a bit more direction in the passing and simply leading the team, which was never easy in the previous years.

For year two of his regime, Harbaugh has added some more weapons to the offensive mix that he hopes might push his side over the proverbial hump and into the franchise’s first Super Bowl since the days of Steve Young in 1994. Harbaugh, however, took a while in the offseason before re-committing to QB Smith, even toying with the idea of making a run at Peyton Manning before the ex-Colt signed with Denver.

Harbaugh went offense-offense in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, adding Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins and Oregon RB LaMichael James. The key free-agent additions were also offensive skill weapons, as wideouts Mario Manningham (ex-Giants) and Randy Moss (ex-everywhere), plus beastly ex-Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, have been added to the attack end mix. Re-signing big-play Ted Ginn, Jr. should be a plus for the kick return teams.

James and Jacobs, in particular, should reduce the wear and tear on physical RB Frank Gore, who has been prone to injury throughout his career, and in whose limited absences the 49er infantry bogged down a year ago. The rugged, veteran offensive line has a few holes (and pass protection for Smith wasn’t great a year ago, when SF ranked 26th in sacks allowed), but by and large is able to help execute the power-ground element of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s version of the West Coast offense.

The 'O' could certainly have a more-menacing look this fall, especially with holdover TE Vernon Davis having elevated to All-Pro status. Moss, if nothing else, still has secondary-distorting speed and most sources believe remains a viable deep threat. Third-year WR Michael Crabtree might also be ready for a breakthrough.

The hard-hitting stop unit, which ranked tops in the NFC when allowing barely 300 ypg in 2011, should continue to be robust in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s version of the 3-4. And a classic 3-4 it is, with linemen adept at tying up opposing blockers so a heat-seeking group of active linebackers can fly around the field and make all assortment of plays.

All starters return on the platoon (a rarity in the days of free agency), so we don’t expect much drop-off. It’s worth noting, however, that Fangio’s stop unit was blessed with good health last year, as a only a handful of games were missed due to injury; LB Patrick Willis missed four games, FS Dashon Goldson two and DE Ray McDonald just one. That’s it.

The stop unit also forced a whopping 38 turnovers last fall that were converted into 108 points. The platoon was not only dominating, but opportunistic with its big-play bent.

Concerns for this fall? Not many, save keeping the lineup healthy and in action as it was for almost the entirety of 2011. It was a bad offseason, however, for OLB Aldon Smith, charged with a DUI in late January and then a stabbing victim in June, so keep an eye on that situation. Goldson, protesting the franchise tag, avoiding offseason workouts and could be a training camp holdout due to contract issues.

Though Aldon Smith’s situation warrants some scrutiny, the LB corps remains dynamic. Especially since one of the more-unsung members of the quartet, NaVorro Bowman, might have even outplayed the perennial All-Pro next to him in the alignments, Willis, a year ago. So many 49er defenders were off career years, and seemingly in their primes, that we hardly foresee a drop-off for this platoon unless the injury plague rears its head.

Lastly, Harbaugh has proven a handicapper’s best friend the past few years, fashioning a 12-5-1 spread mark in his 49er debut last fall. Since midway in the 2008 season at Stanford, Harbaugh’s teams are 31-15-1 vs. the line.

Summary: On paper, the 49ers look a lot better than they did a year ago, but that’s understandable because nobody (except maybe Harbaugh) foresaw last year’s breakthrough. Smith’s emergence as a competent game-manager keyed a more-efficient offense, and now he has some real weapons at his disposal after several offseason additions. This looks like a team that shouldn’t regress, and ought to have a very good shot at reaching the Super Bowl (especially since it is hard to identify a serious challenger in the NFC West), but the 49ers are not going to sneaking up anybody this season.

Expect some heavy pointspread premiums to be placed upon the 49ers this fall, and replicating last year’s perfect storm won’t be easy. Nonetheless, expect to see Harbaugh and his scowl on the sidelines come playoff time next January.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/21/2012 04:13 PM

Patriots Remain AFC East Team To Beat

Let's take a look at what could be the strongest division top to bottom in the NFL: the AFC East, possibly equal to the NFC South that we will preview next week in our final NFL "early look" preview.

Starting from the bottom according to the oddsmakers, we have the Miami Dolphins. The Fish have a new head man in Joe Philbin and drafted a quarterback in the first round for the first time since they selected a guy named Dan Marino 29 years ago. The selection of Ryan Tannehill was not all that popular though, and they could damage him for life if they throw him into a "Blaine Gabbert" type situation in his first year. David Garrard also comes into camp fighting for a roster spot, despite missing the 2011 season.

The Dolphins have several weak spots along the offensive line and little in the way of quality at wide receiver. They shipped Brandon Marshall off to Chicago very cheaply, mainly due to his personality disorders. That leaves little talent at the wideout spot for Matt Moore or Tannehill to throw to in 2012. Miami brought in Chad Ochocinco, who was rather unproductive for New England last year. This group may be decent but only if the Dolphin quarterbacks have the time to throw, as Miami allowed 52 sacks last year. Only the Cardinals and the Rams allowed more.

Despite these troubles, the Dolphins still managed to win six of their final nine games last season, firing of Tony Sparano with three games left on the schedule. Moore played well down the stretch in those nine games, bringing a 97.8 Passer Rating along with a 61 percent completion rate to go with his 15 TD passes and only five interceptions. Moore may not be the big name QB that some other teams have, but he put up similarly excellent numbers filling in at Carolina in 2009 when Jake Delhomme was hurt and led the Panthers to a 4-1 finish.

It is glaringly obvious, however, that the brass doesn't look at Moore to be a long-term solution. That is why the risky selection of Tannehill from Texas A&M was made, and Philbin will rely on a very decent defense until they can get their top pick ready for game action.

The defense ranked fifth against the run and has a stout front. That being said, star Cameron Wake has a contract issue and Jason Taylor, who was second in sacks behind Wake, has retired. Miami also let safety Yeremiah Bell walk away rather than pay him what he was due in 2012, largely because of his age (34).

The Dolphins didn't have an outstanding draft, with few names that are looked at as instant starters, and free agency was unimpressive as well. If the Dolphins can pick up where they ended 2011, they could be a .500 team in 2012. That, however, is a very big "could."

The Buffalo Bills once again got their fans all worked up to begin the 2011 season, starting 3-0 including a win over the New England Patriots for the first time in 15 tries. They continued on to a 5-2 record that included a complete demolition of the Washington Redskins in Toronto, 23-0. After that though, the wheels came completely off and the Bills lost seven straight.

The loss in Week 9 to the Jets was bad enough, but they followed that up with an absolute stinker in Dallas where Buffalo was blown out, 44-7. The Bills defense made Tony Romo look like Tom Brady, allowing him to complete 89 percent of his throws for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick contributed his own mess with a 46.6 Passer Rating on three interceptions and a 4.7 Yards per Pass number. Buffalo's slide continued, losing four games by three touchdowns or more.

Pass defense was the primary culprit. The unit ranked near the bottom in Defensive QB Rating and Yards per Attempt. Only the Vikings and Buccaneers were worse. The way they went about a quick fix was to sign Mario Williams, one of the bigger names in free agency, to increase pressure and help out the secondary. Along with Marcell Dareus, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams and a 2012 draft largely dedicated to defense, new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is switching to a base 4-3 to help take the load off the back seven.

Depending on the growth of Fitzpatrick at quarterback, the Bills could have a very good offense in 2012. They were able to run the ball well with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but failed to take advantage of the pair by throwing the ball at a 2:1 ratio over the run. Chan Gailey has had little overall success as an NFL head coach and these irrational ratios fall at his feet. The Bills were uncompetitive within their own division, losing all the rest of their games against AFC East rivals aside from Week 3 win over the Pats.

Buffalo lost Roscoe Parrish to the Chargers and went heavy on defense in the draft, so a .500 record would be considered a good season in upstate New York while the new talent merges with the established players. The Bills paid a ridiculous price to take Williams away from the Texans, so if he doesn't produce early you can expect the boo birds to be at top volume by midseason.

The New York Jets have signaled a desire to return to the "ground and pound" style that was successful for them in 2009 and 2010. They brought in former Miami head coach Tony Sparano to be offensive coordinator and that is what he loves to do, establish the running attack and smash it between the tackles. Part of this could be a reaction to what many believe is a lack of trust in Mark Sanchez with the football in his hands. They better hope that right tackle Wayne Hunter shows some sort of improvement, because he allowed 8.5 sacks and was charged with 11 penalties in 2011, not to mention that he couldn't stop any type of speed rush from the outside.

Tight end Dustin Keller is a good receiver, but doesn't match up well in blocking formations with linebackers or safeties. It will be curious to see what types of formations Sparano and Rex Ryan use Tim Tebow in this year, because the consensus of the New York media seems to be that Tebow will be starting games for the Jets before midseason arrives.

The defense is considered above average still, but they had a very rough time against opposing tight ends and do not do well in man-to-man coverage. The Patriots destroyed them with the two-headed monster of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. LaRon Landry was signed as a free agent, but his Achilles situation may not allow him to play a full schedule and several teams passed on him after medical exams.

New York also decided not to re-sign Jim Leonhard after ending the last two seasons on IR. The draft grade before seeing any of their eight overall selections hit the field would have to be a "C" in my opinion, and free agency was nothing special unless offensive tackle Stephon Heyer can hold that line together and help them improve the run game. Otherwise, it is essentially the same core of players that have collapsed under pressure in the past and could conceivably do so again. This could be an emotionally fragile team that is in a state of flux, and if the Sanchez/Tebow experiment blows up in their faces, the entire team could implode with them.

The New England Patriots played in and lost another Super Bowl, basically recreating the same game as in 2007 when they lost to the New York Giants as favorites. The issue always seems to be the same; New England puts up gaudy offensive numbers during the regular season but never are able to duplicate it in postseason play. Brady has posted a Passer Rating of over 100 in only two of his past 10 playoff contests, despite having done so in 24 of his last 32 regular season games.

Outstanding offenses with poor defenses do not succeed in playoff football. The Pats have scored 500+ points three times in the past five years, but have zero rings to show for it. Defense wins championships, and New England seems to have its stop unit exposed annually come playoff time. The Patriots have seemingly brought in marginal starters to fill holes on the defensive side of the ball with the occasional superstar in there somewhere, but the offense is filled with Pro Bowlers on an annual basis. You would think that that would go against the very fiber of head coach Bill Belichick's being, having made his name as a defensive coordinator with the Giants.

Yet while the NFL becomes a passing league, the teams that win championships have enough of a stop unit to slow teams down at crunch time in the biggest of games. The Patriots defense, particularly the secondary, was unable to do that on the road to Super Bowl titles. They lack playmakers on that side of the ball and gave up nearly 5,000 yards through the air last season.

Still, the names that made the splash in the offseason were receivers Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez (since released), along with the return of Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator. Expect another year of huge offensive numbers, but another season without a ring for Mr. Brady. The Patriots are the cream of the AFC East, no doubt, but until they decide to return to the early days of Belichick and Patriots football, this train ride ends before they hoist the Lombardi Trophy again.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/25/2012 11:48 PM

AFC East Preview


July 16, 2012

The NFL season is sneaking up on us rather quickly with training camp a few weeks ago. We'll take a look at all eight divisions, starting with the AFC East. This division has been owned by the Patriots over the years, as Bill Belichick's club has claimed nine of the last 10 AFC East titles (Dolphins in '08 the only other team to win it). New England came up three points short in the Super Bowl against the Giants, but there's no reason to think the Pats will fail to get to the postseason once again.

The bigger questions that linger within the AFC East are whether the Jets can bounce back from a mediocre season and if Miami and Buffalo can turn into threats this season. The Dolphins are undecided at the starting quarterback position between veteran David Garrard, incumbent Matt Moore, and rookie Ryan Tannehill. The Bills look to dig out of the cellar after a promising start in 2011, while offseason acquisition Mario Williams hopes to beef up a Buffalo defense that allowed an average of 371 yards and 27 points a game.

The Jets picked up the second-biggest storyline as far as a player goes with Tim Tebow heading to New York from Denver. Tebow's mechanics and game can be questioned, but the former Broncos' quarterback led Denver to a division title and a playoff victory over Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round. For betting purposes, the Broncos began 6-1 ATS before stumbling to a 1-5 ATS finish in Tebow's starts. However, Mark Sanchez put together a dreadful 6-10 ATS record as starting quarterback of the Jets last season, including an 0-5 ATS ledger against playoff teams.

We polled several other VegasInsider.com handicappers with their thoughts on the AFC East and if the Patriots can be knocked off the mountain. Brian Edwards believes Bill Belichick's club will come out on top once again in 2012, "Barring a rash of injuries, New England might be favored in every game it plays this season. A potential exception is Week 3 at Baltimore, but the two other toughest non-division games come at home in December against teams that aren't from cold-weather cities (49ers and Texans). I think Tom Brady and Company win the division rather comfortably."

Micah Roberts feels that Buffalo is an undervalued team in this division, "I think the Bills have the talent in place to make a run for the playoffs, but it all hinges on the results of their first two games to kick off the year: vs. Washington in Week 1 and at Minnesota in Week 2. And then hope that momentum carries over into at least a split against Pittsburgh and Detroit."

A slow start for the Bills will no doubt kill their season 'over' play according to Roberts, "The big problem, obviously, will be if starting 1-3. Momentum is everything and starting successful, which I think they will, will be the key to the Bills season. I like the Bills to get OVER 7.5 wins quite easily, which makes it easy deciding on what the other teams will do."

The Dolphins play only one team at home (New England - Week 13) that made the playoffs last season, while drawing the Raiders, Rams, Titans, Seahawks, and Jaguars in South Florida. Miami has an excellent opportunity to finish with 'over' 7 ½ wins, as the Fins lost four games by three points or less last season, while putting together a 6-10 mark. From an ATS perspective, Miami cashed nine of its final 10 games in 2011, while hitting the 'under' in 12 of the last 15 contests. However, it's tough to predict this team's win total when either Garrard, Moore, or Tannehill can be the quarterback this season.

New York will be tested out of the gate, with consecutive road contests at Pittsburgh and Miami (Week 2/3), while hosting division champs San Francisco and Houston in Weeks 4 and 5. The back-end of the schedule for Rex Ryan's squad eases up with only one playoff team from last season (Patriots on Thanksgiving) following a bye in Week 9.

The Patriots don't exactly have an easy road to start the season since the defending AFC Champions will be away from Foxboro in five of its first eight games. Granted the only tough away test is at Baltimore in Week 3, the Pats have to travel to Seattle in Week 6, while heading to London two weeks later to face the Rams. After the bye week in Week 9, the Pats won't leave the Eastern Time Zone the rest of the regular season with road games at the Jets, Dolphins, and Jaguars.



Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/25/2012 11:52 PM

AFC North Preview

July 24, 2012

The AFC North turned in three playoff teams last season, but one of them was a complete surprise. The Steelers and Ravens are usually automatic postseason clubs in the AFC, while the Bengals and Browns are just playing it out with young quarterbacks. However, Cincinnati leaped out of the gate with a 6-2 record and the teams' third playoff appearance in Marvin Lewis' nine-year tenure as head coach. The division race seems like the same old story this season with Pittsburgh and Baltimore fighting it out first, while Cincinnati likely places third and Cleveland finishes fourth.

John Harbaugh and the Ravens finally got over the hump to win a division title for the first time in his four years as head coach, while finishing the regular season at 12-4 SU and 8-7-1 ATS. Baltimore is the only team the last four seasons to win at least one playoff game, but the Ravens have failed to get to the Super Bowl during this span. From an ATS standpoint, the Ravens took care of their business against a division opponent by cashing in four of six games, while pulling off a season sweep of the rival Steelers.

Pittsburgh (12-4 SU and 7-9 ATS) is still trying to get over the disappointing Wild Card defeat in overtime at Denver, in spite of a third 12-win campaign in four seasons. The Steelers didn't help backers in 2011 away from Heinz Field by posting a 2-7 ATS record, including an 0-3 ATS ledger when laying points on the highway. Mike Tomlin's defense took care of business at home with a 6-2 mark to the 'under,' while allowing 17 points or less in seven home contests. The Steelers and Ravens don't meet up until Week 11 at Heinz Field (November 18), but then face off again two weeks later in Baltimore.

The Bengals turned heads after Carson Palmer refused to report to the team and had to rely on rookie Andy Dalton. The former TCU standout led Cincinnati to nine victories, including a five-game winning streak from late September through the end of October. Cincinnati also helped out backers by cashing in seven of its first eight contests. The Bengals knocked off plenty of non-playoff teams, but were exposed in four losses to the Steelers and Ravens, while also losing to playoff squads Houston, San Francisco, and Denver in the regular season. There is a good chance the Bengals can start hot, as they face only one team that made the postseason in the first six weeks (at Baltimore - Week 1).

And then there's the Browns. It doesn't sound ultra-convincing, but Cleveland has failed to win more than five games in a season since 2007, when the Browns put together a 10-6 campaign. The Browns tried out Colt McCoy as their quarterback, but the offense never got going by scoring 17 points or less in 14 games. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden was selected late in the first round of April's draft to help the passing game, while Alabama's Trent Richardson hopes to help out a ground game that finished 28th in the league last season. The only bright spot for the Browns in 2011 came in the underdog role in which Cleveland cashed in six of 10 opportunities, including a 6-1 ATS record in the final seven games.

Several VegasInsider.com handicappers weighed in on this division and some of the responses are very interesting. Bruce Marshall believes there can be a resurgence in northern Ohio this season, "The most intriguing storyline could be written in Cleveland, where the Browns remade their sluggish offense in the offseason. Remember, Cleveland played playoff quality defense last season for coordinator Dick Jauron, and has upgraded the one area that needed a bit of work, the defensive line, with a couple of free agent additions (DE Frostee Rucker and DT Juqua Parker). Most of the significant changes have come on offense, however, where Brad Childress has been enlisted as Pat Shurmur's new O.C., and the Brownies went offense-offense-offense with their first three draft choices, all among the top 37 picks in the draft."

On the south side of Ohio, Micah Roberts says to keep an eye out on the Bengals once again, "The AFC North looks to be the toughest division to figure out with the Bengals being the biggest variable. How they perform this season will ultimately decide the fate of the rest of the division. Last year, we saw the Bengals beat up on a lot of bad teams and struggle against team with winning records. Dalton did a fine job last season with A.J. Green turning into one of the more explosive playmakers in the league, but I'm not sold on their running game, most notably, BenJarvis Green-Ellis."

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/25/2012 11:54 PM

AFC East Outlook

July 25, 2012

The East is the NFL Beast when it comes to conference championship game appearances this new millennium.

With NFL ‘East’ division teams leading the charge with a combined total of 16 games played in conference title tilts since 2000, including a league high six championship game appearances games by squads located in the AFC East, it speaks to the strength of this group.

Like turn signals on an automobile, coaches and ownership are major indicators when determining which direction teams in this division are often headed.

Leading the charge is Mr. Personality himself, Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots. While his persona is creepy, his manhandling of AFC East division foes that are off back-to-back losses is downright sinister, going 22-3 SU and 21-4 ATS in his NFL career in these affairs.

The Jets managed to win 24 games in Rex Ryan’s first two years at the helm. That total was severed to 8 last season as they spent the holidays at home for the first time in Ryan’s tenure. They will need to sweeten a sour 1-7 SU and ATS mark in games off a double-digit loss under Ryan should they look to gain their winning ways.

Meanwhile, Miami’s continue under owner Stephen Ross as the Dolphins are a dismal 9-15 SU and ATS in games at Sun Life Stadium since Ross became majority owner of the squad in 2009. As a result Tony Sparano was dispatched in favor of Joe Philbin as Miami’s new head coach.

And then there’s Buffalo, a team that has enjoyed only one winning season since 1999. Chan Gailey’s 10-22 straight up win-loss record with the Bills put him on the hot seat in 2012.

When it comes to deciding which road to travel with this division, it would serve you well to remember this powerful stat from our database: Since 2000, the AFC EAST division’s 159-107-5 ATS mark away from home in games versus sub .667 opposition, including a sterling 18-5 ATS record in this role when taking eight or more points.

Designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

BUFFALO
Team Theme: WANNA TASTE

A defense that has declined each of the last three years – and allowed a league-high 5,938 yards last season – got the message and took major steps to rectify the situation this offseason. New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt was brought in to orchestrate a makeover. It started with the signing of pass rushers Mario Williams (Texans) and Mark Anderson (Patriots) and continued with four defensive player selections in the first five rounds of this year’s draft. Additionally, continued improvement from DL Marcell Dareus, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft, is also being anticipated. With the offense making huge strides in yards gained and points scored under head coach Chan Gailey, retaining WR Stevie Johnson was critical to its success. None of it works, however, unless the offense finds a way to better protect Ryan Fitzpatrick, the human piñata playing quarterback. It’s been 12 years since the Bills last had a taste of playoff water, the longest dry spell in the NFL. With the positive offseason moves, fans are drinking the Kool-Aid in Buffalo this year.

PLAY ON: at NY Jets (9/9)

Stat You Will Like: The Bills own four divisional wins the last four seasons.

IN THE STATS: The Bills allowed more than 400 yards in half their games last season.

MIAMI
Team Theme: SHUFFLE THE DECK AND DEAL
To understand the importance Don Shula and Dan Marino had on this franchise, mull this over: since Shula retired in 1995 and Marino in 1999, the Dolphins have had eight head coaches and 16 different starting quarterbacks, while going 1-3 SU and ATS in four playoff games. Talk about a once proud program badly in need of stability. The latest coach is Joe Philbin, most recently OC with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The newest quarterback is (take your choice) David Garrard, Matt Moore and/or Ryan Tannehill. Philbin’s new offensive coordinator is Mike Sherman, former head coach with the Packers from 2000-05, and most recently Texas A&M where he worked with Tanneyhill. The backfield features Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and rookie speedster Lamar Miller from Miami Florida. On the defensive front, former coordinator Mike Nolan headed off to Atlanta, with Kevin Coyle replacing Nolan’s 3-4 defense with a 4-3. While it’s doubtful Philbin and Tannehill will ever be mentioned in the same breath with Shula and Marino, those are the cards this team has been dealt. Go Fish.

PLAY ON: at Cincinnati (10/7)

Stat You Will Like: The Dolphins host only one team this year that made the playoffs last season.

IN THE STATS: The Dolphins are 11-7 ‘ITS’ in their last 18 road games.

NEW ENGLAND
Team Theme: EASY DOES IT
Last year the Patriots advanced to their 5th Super Bowl in 12 seasons under Bill Belichick (thanks to QB Tom Brady’s 5,235 passing yards) and they came within a whisker of hoisting the trophy despite a defense that was as bad as the offense was good. Through it all, the Pats were rewarded with the softest schedule of all teams this season with 2012’s foes going 116-140 (.452) overall last season. Better news is the return of OC Josh McDaniels, who will be reunited once again with Brady where together they were last seen constructing an NFL record 18-win season in 2007. He’ll work with Pro Bowl WR Wes Welker, record-setting TE Rob Gronkowski and fellow TE Aaron Hernandez. Add newly acquired free agent WR’s Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, and the Pats own as lethal a passing attack as the league will allow. With McDaniels on hand, look for Belichick to take a more hands-on approach with the defense. With only one road game against a playoff team this season, the Pats are looking to take an easy road back to the playoffs.

PLAY ON: at Miami (12/2)

Stat You Will Like: Tom Brady is 11-1 SU and ATS as a dog off a loss in his NFL career.

IN THE STATS: The Pats allowed season-high, or 2nd-high, yards to six opponents last season.

NY JETS
Team Theme: NO HARD KNOCKS
After reaching the AFC title game each of the previous two seasons, the Jets were home for the holidays last year. That’s not to say they weren’t in position to attempt the hat-trick as they were the wild-card leader with three weeks remaining in the season before a 0-3 collapse sealed their fate. A big part of the cave-in was a sharp decline in the passing game (QB Mark Sanchez, in particular). Further complicating matters was the decline (38 YPG) of the ground game as opponents generated more rushing attempts than the Jets last year. FYI: Rex Ryan’s teams had 189 and 126 more rushing attempts than the opponent in his first two years with the team. Rex recognized the deficiencies and immediately acquired the services of backup Broncos QB Tim Tebow the day after Peyton Manning tied the knot with Denver. It wasn’t a knock on Sanchez, winked Ryan. Instead, it was the opportunity to address glaring weaknesses and iron out dissension among the ranks. It remains to be seen whether Sanchez or Tebow becomes the big apple, but much like when Adam took the first bite, nothing was the much the same thereafter.

PLAY ON: at Miami (9/23)

Stat You Will Like: The Jets allowed 127 more points last season than they did in Ryan’s first year with the team.

IN THE STATS: The Jets held five foes to season-low, or 2nd-low, yards last season.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/27/2012 06:45 PM

Buffalo Bills Seek End To Playoff Drought

Remember the Music City Miracle in the 1999 AFC wild card playoff round? Frank Wycheck’s cross-field lateral to Kevin Dyson, who took the ball and ran 75 yards for a kickoff return TD on the final play of the game to allow the Tennessee Titans to score a “miracle” 22-16 win over the Buffalo Bills?

Well, as much as they remember that play in Nashville, they’ve tried hard to forget it in Buffalo. That’s because the Bills have yet to return to the postseason since, the longest current playoff drought in the NFL.

Perhaps “Music City Nightmare” might be more appropriate in referencing that unforgettable play in Buffalo’s mind.

We can’t say the Bills aren’t trying to turn things around and get back to the postseason, as GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey endured a very active offseason which saw Buffalo emerge as a major player in the free-agent sweepstakes. Moreover, if analysts are to be believed, the Bills might have fared better than any in the April NFL Draft.

Thus, enthusiasm is hardly in short supply on the Niagara frontier. Whether that turns into disappointment again in December remains to be seen.

Las Vegas wagering outlets have reportedly been taking more 'over' action on the Bills’ season win total which has floated between 7-7½ wins, depending upon the sports book. As noted on the DonBest.com NFL odds page, future spreads on early-season games, such as the opener at the Jets, have also moved in Buffalo’s direction over the summer. Originally posted as a 6-point favorite, most outlets now have the Jets laying 3½ or 4 points in the 2012 regular-season kickoff on September 9.

Last season was a tale of two campaigns for Buffalo, which rushed from the gate to a 5-2 start with a collection of thrilling wins (including the first over Bill Belichick’s Patriots since 2003), and only a pair of losses, each of those by a mere three points.

But just when our favorite local TV celeb, Maria Gennaro, and other Buffalonians were making playoff plans for the first time in a dozen years, the roof caved in...completely so. The Bills lost eight of their last nine games and in the process allowed a whopping 5,938 yards and 434 points, each the most ever permitted in franchise history.

Considering some of the bad teams in Buffalo’s past, including those coached by Harvey Johnson, Jim Ringo, Hank Bullough, and Mike Mularkey, that defensive low-water mark is ignominious indeed.

As for Gailey, suspicions that he might not be up to the task are a favorite topic on Bills chat rooms and blogs. Although we think Gailey has always received a bit of a bad rap, as his two years as head coach in Dallas are often confused with Dave Campo’s subsequent regime, which fared far worse, in an era in which Jerry Jones was hitting eject buttons on his coaches as George Steinbrenner once did with the Yankees. Gailey also didn’t do too badly at subsequent stop Georgia Tech, enjoying modest success before the Yellow Jackets began to regress late in his Atlanta tenure.

But last season’s developments are a red flag for Gailey’s critics, who suspect that the introverted mentor lacks the fire to ignite a team when the going gets tough, as it certainly did a year ago when injuries decimated the roster and the team collapsed in the second half of the season.

Obviously, defensive upgrades were the first order of business in the offseason. Veteran coach Dave Wannstedt, who has always fared better in an assistant’s role than a head coaching one in his career, was promoted from LB coach to defensive coordinator after last year’s coordinator George Edwards had to walk the plank after last season’s stop unit meltdown.

But it was on the personnel side where the Bills made their biggest moves in the offseason. Beyond Peyton Manning, Houston DE Mario Williams might have been the top prize of this year’s free-agent class, and the Bills lured him to orchard Park with a high-priced, multi-year deal. Ex-Patriots DE Mark Anderson also enlisted, and the two bring an immediate upgrade to what was an anemic pass rush that generated only 29 sacks last term; Williams and Anderson have 88½ career sacks between them in their young careers.

The Bills also went for “D” at the top of the draft when tabbing South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore with the tenth pick in the first round. Gilmore, rated alongside LSU’s Morris Claiborne as the top available corner in the draft, is expected to step right into the starting role on the right side, opposite Aaron Williams.

Buffalo added more intriguing defensive pieces later in the draft, selecting mobile Florida State LB Nigel Bradham and LSU CB Ron Brooks (considered a huge sleeper by many) each in the fourth round, while adding TCU LB Tank “Mr. Intangible” Carder in the fifth round. All could make contributions this fall.

The upside looks considerable for the platoon, especially with the DL appearing as if it could be overwhelming with the new additions at the end spots and the potential at defensive tackle. First of all, however, Wannstedt has to make sure DT Kyle Williams is back to 100 percent after foot surgery curtailed his 2011 participation. Then, second-year DT Marcell Dareus, the No. 3 pick in the entire 2011 draft, has to continue his maturation process after playing only in fits and spurts last fall.

Still, let’s not forget how this stop unit disappeared a year ago. All of the newcomers, plus holdovers such as Dareus, Shawne Merriman and Nick Barnett, have to mesh, while a rejuggled secondary now featuring a rookie at the corner must upgrade.

Whatever improvements the Bills make on defense might not matter, however, if the offense misfires as it did in the last half of 2011. Injuries, especially along the OL, didn’t help down the stretch last fall, but QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s effectiveness waned so considerably in the latter stages that Buffalo backers are no longer confident they have finally found their QB.

Fitzpatrick’s numbers during the second half of the season confirmed the meltdown, with 17 picks over those last nine games after the quick start. By the time the smoke cleared, Fitzpatrick had tossed an NFL-worst 23 interceptions in 2011.

More disturbing to the blue-collar Bills backers is that Fitzpatrick’s performances began to head south almost immediately after signing a huge contract extension. Several AFC East sources considered that big-money deal to be ridiculously premature, given that Fitzpatrick had delivered big numbers in only a handful of games.

Still, the ex-Harvard man enters 2012 as “the man” at QB. Ex-Titan and Eagle Vince Young has been added as an alternative, with journeyman Tyler Thigpen also still in the picture should Fitzpatrick continue his downward spiral.

But during the first half of 2011, the Bills were percolating, and their final stats which include drastic leaps in yards gained (from 25th to 14th) and scoring (from 28th to 14th) suggests there is real potential within the strike force and that longtime offensive mastermind Gailey has an idea what to do on the attack end.

There are some weapons in the Buffalo arsenal. Keeping RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller healthy might prove a challenge, but each gained better than five yards per carry in 2011. Re-signing WR Stevie Johnson, who caught a team-best 76 passes last season, was crucial. The Bills were so enamored of NC State rookie wideout T.J. Graham that they traded up to nab him in the third round.

Still, it was no coincidence that the offense commenced its downturn last fall when the OL began to have injury problems. In particular, key C Scott Wood, without whom the Bills struggled in 2011 and whose full recovery from serious ACL surgery is not guaranteed. It is hoped that second-round pick Cordy Glenn from Georgia will at the least provide improved depth, while at the most emerging as a solid and dependable starter for years to come.

Of course, the Bills’ pointspread efforts mirrored their straight-up pattern from a year ago, with the first half of the season positive, and the second half negative. Buffalo dropped seven of its last nine vs. the number after covering five of its first seven. Despite the late fade, Gailey still managed spread covers in six of 10 as an underdog.

Still, if the Bills can stay healthy on offense and get Fitzpatrick back in gear, pointspread dynamics in the fall could be similar to the first half of last season. With ample firepower, Buffalo could again provide interesting value once more in the underdog role.

Conversely, the Bills were a very unreliable favorite last season, dropping five of six spread decisions as chalk. Buffalo is also just 2-7 as a favorite since 2010.

Defensive shortcomings resulted in a 10-6 'over' mark, but the first reaction regarding totals in 2012 is that any stop unit upgrades might change that dynamic. If Williams, Anderson and Gilmore indeed help the “D” as much as some might expect, Buffalo might not be involved in as many shootouts as it was a year ago.

As mentioned earlier, the Bills’ season-win total has been seeing some buy action on the 'over' as the total has risen from seven to 7½ at some Las Vegas sports books. Apparently the majority of customers have chosen to overlook Buffalo’s (and Fitzpatrick’s) late-season fade from a year ago; we’re not sure we would do the same.

Summary: Because of the quick start last season and apparent significant upgrades made by the defense in the offseason, we are hardly about to write off the Bills as a potential factor this fall. But Fitzpatrick’s credentials as a playoff-worthy QB are still rather dubious, and for all of the defensive upgrades the Bills might have made, they won’t matter if Fitzpatrick struggles as he did the last half of 2012. And while the AFC East might not look quite as menacing with the Jets fading back to the pack and Miami in rebuild mode, note that Buffalo has also won just two of 12 division games the past two years.

We’ll watch the Bills closely, but we’re also not about to get carried away. At least not yet.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/27/2012 06:47 PM

Miami Dolphins To Bring Up AFC East Rear

They’ve been trying to recreate the early ‘70s in Miami for the past four decades. Can it be that long ago since Don Shula was winning Super Bowls with the Dolphins?

Post-Shula, however, Miami has found the winning recipe to be quite elusive. The fact the era also roughly coincided with Dan Marino’s retirement has been another factor in a mostly-forgotten decade-plus of Dolphins football.

Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron and Tony Sparano have all tried and failed to recreate the Shula magic in South Florida. Now Joe Philbin, most recently the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, gives it a stab as the 10th head coach (including a couple of interims) in the franchise’s history that began as an AFL expansion franchise in 1966.

Expectations are rather optimistic in Miami despite the Dolphins’ 6-10 finish a year ago. The AFC East doesn’t appear to be quite as menacing these days, especially with the Jets loaded with trip wires and the Bills still struggling to gain traction. Which might be why most Las Vegas sports books have posted the Miami 2012 win total at 7½, with many bettors not blinking before casting their 'over' preference. The DonBest.com odds screen already has posted a number on the Dolphins’ September 9 opener at Houston, with the Texans installed as an early 7-point favorite.

Philbin made sense as the culmination of the Miami head coaching search after last season, mainly because of his offensive credentials from his decorated stint on the Packers staff. Philbin is also considered a sage play-caller and QB tutor after helping Aaron Rodgers achieve greatness in such a short period of time at Lambeau Field.

He has never been a head coach at any level, however, and the list of high-profile coordinators who have failed as head coaches is long and distinguished. As usual, we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude before considering Philbin the right man for the job at Sun Life Stadium.

Philbin insists he is not rebuilding anything in Miami, and the Dolphins did close with a rush last season, winning six of their last nine games. The only problem was that the uptick occurred after Miami broke 0-7 from the gate.

Offensive woes were the main problem a year ago; among other things, inconsistent work along the line proved problematic in protecting Dolphin QBs, who were sacked 52 times.

Philbin’s first order of business is to install an up-tempo West Coast offense similar to the one he coordinated in Green Bay. Finding a pilot to fly the new plane, however, figures to extend throughout the preseason.

Miami took its first step in its remake at the April Draft when tabbing Texas A&M’s QB Ryan Tannehill as its first-round selection. Tannehill had moved up the draft boards dramatically in the preceding weeks after further impressing in the pre-draft workouts. A one-time WR at A&M, Tannehill seems to possess the athletic intangibles necessary to succeed in the NFL. Whether the fundamentals and other factors develop as needed remains to be seen.

It is also regarded as a plus that Tannehill’s former A&M coach, Mike Sherman, is also Philbin’s new offensive coordinator. The Philbin version of the West Coast is similar to what Sherman was running at College Station. The adjustment phase for Tannehill, goes the thought, might be smoother because of these unique dynamics.

Still, many AFC East scouts believe that Miami can win with holdover Matt Moore at QB as the Dolphins did late last season when Moore proved a better option than Chad Henne, whose injury problems ironically triggered a mild turnaround with Moore at the control. Moore passed for 2427 yards with 16 TDs and 9 picks a year ago and became more comfy at the controls as the season progressed.

But the QB derby remains undecided, as not only did Miami add Tannehill, but also added veteran free agent David Garrard, who figures to compete for the job in August as well.

A development to monitor is Tannehill’s contract status, which had yet to be resolved at the end of July. Tannehill missed the start of training camp and would figure to have to be in the fold soon if he has designs on the starting role for the opener at Houston.

Several AFC East observers, however, believe that Philbin will likely go with Moore until Tannehill is ready, with Garrard as a fall-back option. Stay tuned for further developments.

Whoever is in the lineup at QB will have plenty of skilled weaponry to utilize...at least in the running game. Reggie Bush experienced a long-overdue breakout campaign in 2011 when rushing for 1,086 yards, and 2nd-year ex-Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas flashed plenty of upside last fall when gaining another 581 yards Explosive Miami Hurricanes rookie Lamar Miller, a 4th-round draft choice, adds another dimension to the infantry.

More serious questions offensively have to do with the receiving corps and the forward wall. In particular the former, which looks to lack a game-breaking threat after Brandon Marshall (who led Dolphins receivers by a wide margin last year when catching 81 passes) was traded to the Bears. The late-spring addition of Chad Johnson, formerly Ochocinco, who from all indications is past his sell-by date, appears a desperate roll of the dice. Holdovers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline certainly lack the home run dimension Marshall provided.

Meanwhile, the offensive line, nicked by injuries a year ago, remains filled with questions. Sources say the line lacks top-flight athleticism, and might not have the sort of mobility that Philbin prefers for his zone-blocking schemes. Although LT Jake Long and C Mike Pouncey are solid, the entire right side of the line is undergoing another rebuild. For what seems like an eternity, the Miami offensive line again remains a work in progress.

Philbin, however, does inherit a capable defense from the previous regime. Miami’s stingy defense ranked sixth in points allowed a year ago, and prospects are encouraging for continuing that pattern.

Still, some adjustments are being made, and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will be switching the Dolphins to a 4-3 base from their previous 3-4 looks. The most important offseason development was retaining Pro Bowl NT Paul Soliai, who will anchor from a more-traditional DT spot this fall.

Coyle, however, might be asking a lot of 3rd-round draftee Olivier Vernon, another former Miami Hurricane but already penciled into a starting role opposite Cameron Wake, who has 28 sacks the past three seasons.

Coyle is also hoping that the alignment modifications will help to better unleash the potential of LBs Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who each recorded 100-plus tackles last year but whose ceilings suggest more upside is possible.

Meanwhile, although 4th-year CBs Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have collectively matured into a pair of competent corners, and the FA addition of CB Richard Marshall provides extra options, especially in nickel looks. There are, however, some questions at the safety spots, especially at free safety where someone has to emerge to complement emerging SS Reshad Jones.

Special teams-wise, the Dolphins have Pro Bowl-caliber kickers in P Brandon Fields and PK Dan Carpenter, but the return units have lacked pizzazz in recent years.

The Dolphins developed several extremely interesting spread patterns in the Sparano years, including a year ago when their spread performance (not surprisingly) reflected their straight-up pattern that reversed at midseason; Miami was 7-1 vs. the line its last nine games in 2011 after covering just one of its first six outings.

Sparano’s Miami was also one of those rare “inside-out” teams that performed better vs. the line on the road than at home. Over the past two seasons, the Dolphins posted an eye-opening 12-4 spread mark away from Sun Life Stadium but were just 5-10-1 vs. the mark at home. Correspondingly, Miami was 13-7 as an underdog and just 3-8-1 as chalk.

With the recent inconsistencies on offense, and the solid defense, it was also no surprise that Miami recorded a 12-4 'under' mark last season, and is 'under' 16-5 in its last 21 games since late in the 2010 campaign. Philbin’s arrival, and his offensive emphasis, could change those dynamics.

Summary: Perhaps Philbin is right; maybe Miami isn’t in a rebuilding phase, as the Dolphins were playing playoff-quality football for the last half of the 2011 campaign. But we’re not sure the uptick continues into this fall with Philbin and his new staff making several adjustments and hardly endorsing Matt Moore, under whom the Dolphins won down the stretch last season, as the starting QB. The thought persists that whether it be Moore or Garrard at QB, either is simply holding the position until Tannehill is ready. But if Tannehill gets on the field this fall, it’s probably because the Dolphins are not progressing into the playoff mix. And whoever is at QB will be looking over their shoulder.

There are other issues at the receiver spots and along the line on the offensive side and the defense, while good, probably can’t carry the team to the playoffs. We suspect we’ll have a better read on the direction of the Philbin Dolphins at this time next summer.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/27/2012 06:53 PM

Patriots Highlight 2012 AFC East Preview


Don Best kicks off a look at each division in the NFL with a preview of the AFC East, and any first glance of the division has to begin with the New England Patriots.

The Pats are once again prohibitive favorites to capture the AFC East title, a crown they have worn in eight of the last nine seasons along with five conference championships in the last 11 years. Head coach Bill Belichick bolstered his staff in the offseason by adding former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels as the new offensive coordinator.

All four teams in the division underwent changes to the brain trust down on the field, including the Miami Dolphins who brought in Joe Philbin to assume head coaching duties. Philbin was most recently the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, and hired former Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman to assume those duties in Miami.

Former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano wasn't out of work long after being canned in Miami last season. Sparano found new work in New York as the Jets' offensive coordinator, while Dave Wannstedt was hired by Buffalo to run the Bills' defense.

Buffalo Adds Defensive Standouts Via Free Agent Market
Wannstedt is tasked with turning around a very porous Bills defense that surrendered 434 points in 2011, most in the AFC and third-highest in the NFL. Helping Wannstedt out will be a pair of pass rush specialists Buffalo picked up in the offseason, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.

Williams, the top pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, marking the second straight season he had been relegated to injured reserve. Anderson, who played with Williams at Houston in 2010, recorded 10 sacks for the Patriots in 2011. Buffalo also should have tackle Kyle Williams back from an injury-marred campaign, and teams with fellow tackle Marcell Dareus to make for a formidable defensive line.

"It's going to be scary," Don Best analyst Kenny White said of the Bills defensive front. "It's going to be very, very good. This Buffalo defense will be one of the tops in the NFL."

Other notable offseason additions in the AFC East include WR Brandon Lloyd signing with New England, former Jacksonville QB David Garrard going to Miami and the Jets adding QB Tim Tebow along with safety LaRon Landry. White believes Garrard will win the Dolphins' starting QB job and that Tebow will be limited to a few snaps per game in Sparano's wildcat formation at New York.

Several Rookies Should Get Immediate On-The-Job Training
Buffalo also used the draft to upgrade its defense, selecting South Carolina DB Stephon Gilmore with the 10th overall pick. Both he and 2nd-round pick OT Cordy Glenn are expected to start for the Bills.

Whoever the quarterback turns out to be in New York, they will have a speedy rookie to look for downfield after the Jets selected Stephen Hill out of Georgia Tech in the 2nd-round. New York spent its 1st-round pick (No. 16) on North Carolina DE Quinton Coples.

New England hopes to make up for the loss of Mark Anderson to Buffalo after selecting Syracuse DE Chandler Jones in the first round. The Patriots also drafted Arkansas DE Jake Bequette with the 90th overall choice in Round 3.

Patriots Begin '12 With Easiest Schedule In Division
The rotating schedule in the NFL should be a plus for all AFC East squads, but it could really help New England who heads into the 2012 campaign with the easiest schedule in the league. The Patriots only play four teams that won nine or more games in 2011, the toughest of those contests being a road trip to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3.

Buffalo has the third-easiest schedule in the NFL, and that is one reason why the Bills should be improved with Kenny White predicting them to finish second in the AFC East ahead of the Jets. The Bills open the season at the Jets in a crucial Week 1 clash, and travel to face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 for their toughest non-division road tilt.


TEAM DIVISION AFC SUPER BOWL
Buffalo Bills 7/1
25/1
50/1

Miami Dolphins 12/1
25/1
75/1

New England Patriots 2/7
3/1
13/2

New York Jets 6/1
12/1
28/1

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/27/2012 07:03 PM

AFC North Outlook

July 27, 2012

If you've ever wondered why the Pittsburgh Steelers are particularly disliked by foes in the AFC North, the answer is simple.

The three other teams in the division all have connecting histories.

Cincinnati and Cleveland are in-state rivals founded by Paul Brown. And as you're well aware, the Baltimore Ravens and the Browns have their own unique relationship. Only the Steelers, who are older than the original Browns, have no direct history involving Paul Brown.

The AFC North is also the only division in the American Football Conference that does not contain a charter team from the original American Football League. They were the only division in the NFL to claim three berths in the playoffs last season.

While tons of history and pedigree abound in this division, it's been the Ravens and Steelers that have dominated of late. With only four losing seasons between the dynamic duo since 2000, the two have combined to go 265-153-1 SU and 225-184-10 ATS (55.0%) this new millennium.

On the flip side, the Bengals and Browns are 147-240-1-1 SU and 178-197-13 (47.4%) collectively over the same span.

And, despite Cincinnati's appearance in the postseason last year, it appears there is no changing of the guard looming in the near future.

A word to the wise: teams from this division travel exceptionally well in competitive games, going 35-31 SU and 39-21-6 ATS as road underdogs of three or less points since its inception. When seeking revenge in these games they zoom to 22-10 SU and 23-7-2 ATS, including a mind-boggling 16-3-1 SU and 17-1-1 ATS if they own a .500 or greater record.

For teams residing in the chilly AFC North, those are some nice numbers to warm up to.

Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.

BALTIMORE
Team Theme: PREYING FOR MORE
En route to sweeping the division for the first time in franchise history last year, the Black Birds fell only a chip-shot field goal (Billy Cundiff), or a dropped touchdown pass (Lee Evans), short of taking on the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI last year. Some might find solace in the fact that Baltimore is the only team in the NFL to win a playoff game each of the last four years. Not the Ravens. Not for a team that ranked 1st in the league in red-zone defense and 2nd in third-down defense. The loss of LB Terrell Suggs, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, to an Achilles injury hurts more for the moment. That puts the onus squarely on OLB Courtney Upshaw, the Ravens' top pick in the draft, (a 2nd round steal) from Alabama. With MLB Ray Lewis beginning to show his age it's imperative the defense steps up this season. Meanwhile, star RB Ray Rice, who led the NFL in all-purpose yards with 2,068 last season, joins under-appreciated QB Joe Flacco to lead the offense.

PLAY ON: vs. New England (9/23)

Stat You Will Like: Flacco is the only quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs each of his first four years.

IN THE STATS: The Ravens held four foes to season-low yards in 2011.

CINCINNATI
Team Theme: TWO'S COMPANY
Little did the Bengals realize when they drafted WR A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton with their top two picks in the 2011 draft that both would rewrite NFL history by becoming the first rookie wide receiver-quarterback tandem to make the Pro Bowl. Dalton also became the first quarterback not drafted in the 1st round to start all 16 games and take his team to the playoffs as a rookie. Anxious to improve on last year's playoff success, Cincinnati went to work in the offseason signing seven free agents and re-signing seven players. A rock-solid draft, including five players on both sides of the ball, garnered high grades as well. The key to returning to the playoffs this season will be two-fold: (1) avoidance of sophomoric blues by Dalton and Green and (2) continued improvement from a defense that has finished in the league's Top 10 each of the last two seasons. Surprisingly, the Bengals surrendered more than 24 points only twice during the regular season last year. A repeat performance will go a long way toward usurping the stat below.

PLAY ON: at Baltimore (9/10)

Stat You Will Like: The Bengals have not had back-to-back playoff appearances since the 1981-82 seasons.

IN THE STATS: The Bengals were 0-6 'ITS' in their final 6 games of the season last year.

CLEVELAND
Team Theme: NO ORDINARY JOE
When the Browns acquired the services of Alabama RB Trent Richardson with the 3rd pick in this year's draft, a lot of eyebrows were raised. Not over his potential to be a star in the league, but rather the fact they traded three later-round picks in order to move up ONE SLOT in the first round to insure his services. For the record, Cleveland had a bevy of late round picks but were more interested in Richardson than whatever the slugs had to offer. More important, Hall of Fame RB Jimmy Brown went on to label Richardson just 'ordinary'. Motivation cemented. New offensive coordinator Brad Childress, former Vikings head coach, worked with Browns head coach Pat Shurmur when the two were on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron brings 26 years of NFL coaching experience, including 10 as a head coach, to form a savvy coordinator tandem. If co-1st round pick Brandon Weeden is able to bring the best out of either himself or incumbent QB Colt McCoy, Richardson will not go down as an ordinary back. Book it, Jimmy.

Stat You Will Like: The Browns are 1-41 SU off a loss versus greater than .666 opponents since returning to the NFL in 1999.

PLAY ON: at Cincinnati (9/16)

IN THE STATS: The Browns scored more than 20 points in only one game last season

PITTSBURGH
Team Theme: CURTAINS FOR THE AFC
Were it not for a last-second loss to the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers would have been the AFC's top-seed in the playoffs last year and, as a result, would have avoided another Tebow-miracle. Behind a creaky offensive line, Big Ben had his bell rung over and over last season. Despite injuries to his ankle, shoulder and thumb, Roethlisberger somehow managed to toss for more than 4,000 yards, mostly to a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. A monster draft included OG David DeCastro and OT Mike Adams as they filled out their biggest needs with a pair of mainstays. LB Sean Spence, DT Alameda Ta'amu and RB Chris Rainey completed a draft coup. The purge of aging players (Hines Ward and James Farrior) for younger replacements is not only on, but having a major impact. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley welcomes all the help, and he got plenty. Coupled with the top-ranked defense in the loop last year, the Steelers have another Super Bowl glow about them.

PLAY ON: vs. Baltimore (11/18)

Stat You Will Like: Teams who are favored in games after facing Mike Tomlin's Steelers are 10-28 ATS.

IN THE STATS: The Steelers are 41-11 'ITS' in all games since 2009.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:25185 Followers:33
07/27/2012 07:05 PM

AFC North Preview

July 24, 2012

The AFC North turned in three playoff teams last season, but one of them was a complete surprise. The Steelers and Ravens are usually automatic postseason clubs in the AFC, while the Bengals and Browns are just playing it out with young quarterbacks. However, Cincinnati leaped out of the gate with a 6-2 record and the teams' third playoff appearance in Marvin Lewis' nine-year tenure as head coach. The division race seems like the same old story this season with Pittsburgh and Baltimore fighting it out first, while Cincinnati likely places third and Cleveland finishes fourth.

John Harbaugh and the Ravens finally got over the hump to win a division title for the first time in his four years as head coach, while finishing the regular season at 12-4 SU and 8-7-1 ATS. Baltimore is the only team the last four seasons to win at least one playoff game, but the Ravens have failed to get to the Super Bowl during this span. From an ATS standpoint, the Ravens took care of their business against a division opponent by cashing in four of six games, while pulling off a season sweep of the rival Steelers.

Pittsburgh (12-4 SU and 7-9 ATS) is still trying to get over the disappointing Wild Card defeat in overtime at Denver, in spite of a third 12-win campaign in four seasons. The Steelers didn't help backers in 2011 away from Heinz Field by posting a 2-7 ATS record, including an 0-3 ATS ledger when laying points on the highway. Mike Tomlin's defense took care of business at home with a 6-2 mark to the 'under,' while allowing 17 points or less in seven home contests. The Steelers and Ravens don't meet up until Week 11 at Heinz Field (November 18), but then face off again two weeks later in Baltimore.

The Bengals turned heads after Carson Palmer refused to report to the team and had to rely on rookie Andy Dalton. The former TCU standout led Cincinnati to nine victories, including a five-game winning streak from late September through the end of October. Cincinnati also helped out backers by cashing in seven of its first eight contests. The Bengals knocked off plenty of non-playoff teams, but were exposed in four losses to the Steelers and Ravens, while also losing to playoff squads Houston, San Francisco, and Denver in the regular season. There is a good chance the Bengals can start hot, as they face only one team that made the postseason in the first six weeks (at Baltimore - Week 1).

And then there's the Browns. It doesn't sound ultra-convincing, but Cleveland has failed to win more than five games in a season since 2007, when the Browns put together a 10-6 campaign. The Browns tried out Colt McCoy as their quarterback, but the offense never got going by scoring 17 points or less in 14 games. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden was selected late in the first round of April's draft to help the passing game, while Alabama's Trent Richardson hopes to help out a ground game that finished 28th in the league last season. The only bright spot for the Browns in 2011 came in the underdog role in which Cleveland cashed in six of 10 opportunities, including a 6-1 ATS record in the final seven games.

Several VegasInsider.com handicappers weighed in on this division and some of the responses are very interesting. Bruce Marshall believes there can be a resurgence in northern Ohio this season, "The most intriguing storyline could be written in Cleveland, where the Browns remade their sluggish offense in the offseason. Remember, Cleveland played playoff quality defense last season for coordinator Dick Jauron, and has upgraded the one area that needed a bit of work, the defensive line, with a couple of free agent additions (DE Frostee Rucker and DT Juqua Parker). Most of the significant changes have come on offense, however, where Brad Childress has been enlisted as Pat Shurmur's new O.C., and the Brownies went offense-offense-offense with their first three draft choices, all among the top 37 picks in the draft."

On the south side of Ohio, Micah Roberts says to keep an eye out on the Bengals once again, "The AFC North looks to be the toughest division to figure out with the Bengals being the biggest variable. How they perform this season will ultimately decide the fate of the rest of the division. Last year, we saw the Bengals beat up on a lot of bad teams and struggle against team with winning records. Dalton did a fine job last season with A.J. Green turning into one of the more explosive playmakers in the league, but I'm not sold on their running game, most notably, BenJarvis Green-Ellis."

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: