Farley’s Forecast- AFC East

Good to be back here on NTCF. I’ve been reading all of the great content however I haven’t done much to contribute. I want to get back into the mix here so i am introducing my first edition of Farley’s Forecast where the slogan i just made up is, I’m right more than your local weatherman (person for you sensitive types).

Its a very boring period in the NFL season (there is no off-season), OTA’s mean very little because its played in short and t shirts. Pay no mind to local reports of who has impressed in OTA’s or minicamps. The main goal for coaches during this period is to get the rookies and newly acquired free agents acclimated to how practices will be run and what to expect from the coaching staff.

Allow me to delve into the AFC East and forecast how I see it playing out this season. Shocker here, New England wins the division. I’ll get to them later, though. I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up.

New York Jets

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Now, when the most newsworthy story for your team is that the butt fumble has been #1 on the not top ten for half of the year, there are some problems with your franchise.  The New York Jets are in a world of trouble folks. They just traded away the best player on their already talent-starved roster, and while Revis may never reurn to form its still isn’t a smart football decision. Which, if you’re keeping track at home occurs about as often as Rex Ryan opting for a salad. I can assure you that Dee Millner is not the second coming and what was a strength for them has become yet another problem area. The best quarterback on that roster just retired due to injury and the battle of Sanchez and Smith should be, well, irrelevant. Smith just doesn’t project as a solid NFL starter in my opinion and he had more weapons in West Virginia. I expect Sanchez to win the job is Rex has say, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m calling a 32nd ranked offense this season. Listen, if you think I’m bashing the Jets you’re right, but am I wrong? With  Rex in seemingly a lame duck period as the coach of this team and a questionable lockeroom to be kind, can you honestly see this team competing in this division? This team should come apart by the halfway mark with all the great character in the locker room and the only thing to look forward to from them is the occaisonal meltdown in front of a microphone.

Win range- 2-6

Buffalo is a team that will be interesting to monitor leading up to September. Did they draft EJ Manuel too high? Of course they did, but I think he was the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft and I’m not sure he will win the job right away. Say what you want about Kevin Kolb but the offensive line in Arizona will make every quarterback in the NFL struggle. I think Kolb will be much improved in this new system and the change of scenery should serve him well. CJ Spiller will have a breakout year because he finally has a coach who believes in him being an every down back. I think Buffalo’s offense will be exciting to watch this season and they will need to be to keep the Bills in the hunt this season. The best defensive addiiton the Bills made was reatining star safety Jaruis Byrd. Byrd will need more help this season and it starts in run support. The Bills allowed 5 yards per carry last season, thats just terrible. If they can make improvements in stopping the run they’ll be able to pin their ears back and maybe get something from their investment in Mario Williams. I can see the Bills having a similair season to years past where they show flashes of brilliance but ultimately fail to compete for a full 16 games.With a rookie head coach and too many holes to fill in one year i see them finishing third in the division this year.

Win Range- 4-9

Miami wins the Dan Snyder award for over-spending in the offseason. General Manager Jeff Ireland saw the writing on the wall and spared no expense revamping the mediocre roster he created in a final attempt to save his job. Alot of the moves Miami made make sense on paper but for now all they seem to be doing is blowing hot air down in south beach. The seventh ranked scoring defense seems to be improved  from last season. Miami struggled to create turnovers in 2012 and that was the point of emphasis from the coaching staff when discussing the new look roster. Drafting Dion Jordan should help Cameron Wake on the opposite side of the line in passing situations however I don’t see him as an every down end just yet. He will have time to develop and fill out his thin frame while serving as a rush specialist early in his career similair to Bruce Irvin in Seattle. The secondary is still the biggest weakness for this team and when you play Tom Brady twice a year thats a problem. The offense also added alot of pieces but I would like to talk about one that was on the roster last season. Lamar Miller is set to take over for Reggie Bush and I love his potential. The offensive line needs to create more holes but if they do Miller can be a big surprise this season.Miami has made alot of moves but they won’t mean a thing if Ryan Tannehill doens’t take a significant step forward this year. He showed flashes and you one could point to the lack of weapons, but that is no longer the case. The Miami Dolphins will go as Ryan Tannehill goes this season and that will determine where they end up this season.

Win Range- 6-10

New England will win this division, but when you’re the Patriots, (at least in the last decade) winning the conference is the goal. The division shouldn’t be a struggle but the AFC looks to be tougher than in years past. The storyline with New England lately is how do they get back to the Super Bowl? Time and again they seem to have a let down in the playoffs and this post-postseason saw alot of players leave. Welker is the most noteworthy departure however as long as Amendola stays healthy (huge if) they will get more explosive plays from the slot this season. While the Gronk surgeries should cause some concern it won’t jeopordize training camp let alone the seaosn opener. While we are on the subject Gronk could miss the entire regular season and the offense would still be top ten. What New England needs is him to be healthy in the playoffs. The offense will always be in good hands so long as Tommy ballgame is under center. The defense needs to either get to the quarterback at a record pace, or change something up on the back end. The Pats were middle of the road in the sack department tying for 15th in the league. The secondary however finished 29th in the league and therein lies the problem. Bill Belichick needs a new perspective for his schemes in the secondary. You can point to his super bowl trophies and say how completely ridiculous that statement is but after you settle down think back to those super bowls. When New England was winning super bowls they had at least one pro bowl corner on one side of the field.

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Bring on the Penguins

Has there been any series that has had more story lines or more hype than the upcoming Boston Bruins-Pittsburgh Penguins jagr-lemieuxseries? With the Bruins eliminating the New York Rangers and the Penguins doing the same to the Ottawa Senators, the matchup is set for the Eastern Conference Finals.  There are enough story lines in this series it can easily be confused with a WWE pay per view.  Since I am illiterate when it comes to the x’s and o’s of hockey, I am allowed to sit back and enjoy the drama filled series.  Here is a quick peek at what this series has to offer over the next two weeks.

If you told me in 1991, I would be writing about Mario Lemieux vs. Jaromir Jagr going up against each other in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, I would have laughed.  I would also remind you I was six years old and thought 2013 meant hover boards and teleportation. (I would have also been petrified you were talking to me). Lemieux and Jagr were teammates in Pittsburgh from 1990-1997 and again in 2000-2001.  Jagr is still playing at 43 years young while Lemieux is now a co-owner and chairman of the Penguins franchise.

The historical ties between the two franchises do not end there.  Bruins all-time great and franchise president Cam Neely had his playing career cut short by Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelson in 1991 with a dirty check to the knee of Neely.  To this day, Neely is vocal about his lack of respect for Ulf Samuelson.  With it being a cheap hit that helped end Neely’s career, Bruins fans can look no further than Matt Cooke as a modern-day Samuelson.  Like Samuelson, Cooke is the cheap player who ended Marc Savard’s career.

Adding to this drama is the hypocrisy of Mario Lemieux.  As a player, Lemieux was a notorious cry baby, whining about being ulfneelygrabbed, pushed and hit.  As opposed to being a cry baby in a uniform, he now cries in a designer suit high above ice level.  Lemieux has made a lot of noise about the thugs of hockey taking out his players like Sidney Crosby and Evengi Malkin.  The problem is Lemieux employs and has captained the biggest thug in the game, Matt Cooke.  Give any Bruins fan 5 minutes of your time, bring up Mario Lemieux, and be ready for the verbal onslaught you will receive.

Now that the historical ties of the series have been brought up, let’s not forget perhaps the most intriguing story line this series has to offer.  Jarome Iginla utilized his no-trade clause after Bruins general manager, Peter Chiarelli believed a deal was in place with the Calgary Flames to acquire Iginla.  It was reported my numerous media outlets the Bruins had acquired Iginla prior to the trading deadline for Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khoklachev, and a first round pick.  Iginla nixed that trade and asked to go to Pittsburgh.  When the news of this broke, Chiarelli famously said, “Well, they are a lock now, right?”  Keep in mind how valuable Bartkowski has been to the Bruins with the injuries to Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ferrence, and Wade Redden.

Make no mistake about it.  The Penguins are a machine.  The amount of talent on their roster is second to none. Crosby, Malkin, Dupuis, Letang, Iginla, Morrow, Sutter, Orpik, and Kunitz.  They are a high-flying power house.  It is easy to say the Bruins are outmanned heading into this series.  Any Bruins fan that is honest with themselves can’t possibly EXPECT the Bruins to win this series.

What do the Bruins have? Grit and balls.  This is what has made this Bruins team so likable.  Milan Lucic is back to his blue collarimages self, pasting the opposition to the boards when the opportunity presents itself.  Shawn Thornton won’t put up with an opposing player’s flatulence. Be on the lookout Mr. Cooke.  Brad Marchand is The Little Ball of Hate.  The rookie defenseman Torey Krug and Bartkowski have endeared themselves to Bruins nation.  David Krejci has ice water in his veins during the playoffs.

Pittsburgh can’t expect to coast by the Bruins.  The Bruins will put up a fight.  They are the definition of BostonStrong.  Boston loves facing powerhouse teams.  Ask the 2001 St. Louis Rams.  Ask the 2004 New York Yankees.  Ask the 2008 Los Angeles Lakers.  Hell ask the 2011 Vancouver Canucks.

BRING ON THE PENGUINS!

I can be followed on Twitter @ScottieNTCF

 

Boston-New York Rivalry Rekindled

The Boston-New York rivalry get played up quite a bit in the NBA and especially in MLB circles, but on Thursday night, the Bruins and Rangers prepare for a big 2nd round series in the NHL. After a stunning comeback in Game 7 to get to this point, will the Bruins have enough left in the tank to take care of the Rangers?

Early Monday night, most fans of the Bruins thought the season was over. Trailing 4-1 in the third period, it looked as though the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to win their first playoff series this decade. However, the Bruins put together a masterful comeback and won in overtime. Now, they will play the role of the team with nothing to lose as they face the Rangers.

Technically speaking, the Bruins enter as the higher seed with home ice advantage during the series. The Rangers are also tired themselves, wrapping up a seven-game series against the Capitals. However, many feel that New York underachieved all season long. They entered the strike-shortened season as the Eastern Conference favorites, but they had to finish strong in the regular season just to get into the playoffs.

The key to this series for the Bruins will be the play of their non-first lines. Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton in particular have been fantastic, but they need help from other offensive players to truly make a deep playoff run. Their defense is a bit banged up, with Wade Redden and Andrew Ference in particular missing Game 7 against the Leafs. Without a strong defense, the Rangers can rack up goals in a hurry.

Tuukka Rask had just as good of a season and Henrik Lundqvist this year, but a look at the percentage played in any fantasy hockey league will show that most still trust the veteran in goal for the Rangers. In reality, this is about as good of a 2nd round matchup one could ask for. Both teams probably wouldn’t mind a short series, but this should go at least six or seven. The Bruins are more consistent, and they have home ice for a possible Game 7 if it comes to that. For that reason, they get the slight edge.

-Rachel Myers

2013 New England Patriots Roster Breakdown – May Edition

In this post, I’m going to take a look at the potential 53 man roster for the New England Patriots for the upcoming 2013 season.  Obviously, it is May so many things will change between now and the beginning of the season.  However, if the season were to start today, this is how I see the roster shaking out.  For each position, I will list the players in order from starter to backup (i.e. 1) starter, 2) backup, etc.).  Let’s do it…

QUARTERBACK: 2 (2)

1)    Tom Brady

2)    Ryan Mallett

Analysis: This one is a no brainer.  Brady is the man, and no one in the league could compete for his position.  The thing to watch at quarterback for the Pats this offseason is the  performance of Ryan Mallett.  While some believe Mallett was drafted to be groomed as Brady’s potential replacement, I think Mallett was brought in 1) Because they saw great value when they selected him in the 3rd round in 2011 and 2) They saw him as a potential trade chip for a higher draft pick than he was originally selected.  If Mallett performs this preseason, he could get dealt to a team that has a big need at QB.

RUNNING BACK: 4 (4)

1)    Stevan Ridley

2)    Shane Vereen

3)    LeGarrette Blount

4)    Leon Washington

Analysis: Ridley earned the starting spot after his performance throughout the 2012 season, however some late season fumbling issues forced the Pats to bring in some insurance at the running back position (Blount) to at least compete with Ridley for the top spot.  Shane Vereen will pick up where Danny Woodhead left off, and will produce at a higher level than Woodhead did.  Ridley’s biggest area of improvement needs to be in pass protection, where Woodhead excelled.  Leon Washington is kept on as a return specialist/emergency/change of pace back.  Blount beats out Brandon Bolden for a spot on the roster and will look to be used in short yardage and goal line situations.

WIDE RECEIVER: 6 (5)

1) Aaron Dobson [outside]

1) Josh Boyce [outside]

1) Danny Amendola [slot]

2) Julian Edelman

2) Donald Jones

3) Matthew Slater

Analysis: This is by far the toughest position to predict the roster breakdown for on the 2013 Patriots.  With so much change that has occurred at the position, determining the direction that Pats will go is tough.  In my opinion, this is how the depth chart will stack up in September.  I think that Dobson and Boyce will both make a smooth transition and earn starting spots on the outside, while Amendola is already penciled in as the starting slot receiver.  Julian Edelman makes the team for two reasons: 1) Familiarity with the system and 2) Depth in the slot (although Boyce can play the slot as well.  The position battle to watch here will be between Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and newly signed Lavelle Hawkins.  I think Jenkins’ skill set has diminished to a point where he won’t produce on this team.  Hawkins had some issues with coachability and offensive knowledge in Tennessee, which is the recipe for being cut here in New England.  That leaves Jones, who has proven he can produce in the division and has good speed and size.  Slater isn’t going anywhere.  He is a lifer with the Pats.

TIGHT END: 4 (4)

1) Rob Gronkowski

1) Aaron Hernandez

2) Jake Ballard

3) Michael Hoomanawanui

Analysis: The top two spots here are set in stone for the next 5-6 years.  Gronkowski is still dealing with forearm issues, which now has me concerned that he will not be ready for the start of the season.  Here’s my prediction: Gronkowski starts the season on the PUP list in an effort to get that forearm back to 100% (and because they know they can afford to miss Gronk for 6 weeks).  With that said, the Pats are utilizing the two tight-end set more than any team in the NFL, so they are forced to carry 4 (at least) on their roster.  After Gronk and Hernandez, the next two spots are up for grabs.  The Pats made a great move and grabbed an injured Jake Ballard off of waivers from the Giants, and the greatness of that move will be realized this year.  Ballard is a mammoth of a human (6’6″, 275 lbs), but is as a good receiver (2011: 38 rec, 604 yards, 4 TDs) as he is blocker.  The Pats re-signed Hoomanawanui to a one-year, $1.323 million contract this offseason, so I think that gives him a leg up over Daniel Fells for the 4th tight end spot.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Nate Solder [LT]

1) Sebastian Vollmer [RT]

2) Will Svitek

2) Marcus Cannon

Analysis: The top two spots here are filled by returning players in Solder and Vollmer.  After that, I see Svitek as a near lock to make the roster considering he is guaranteed to make at least $500,000 this season even if he is cut.  Svitek has the versatility to play both tackle positions and has been a good back-up for several years in the NFL, while also having started 16 games throughout his career.  Marcus Cannon will be the other backup tackle.  Cannon played decently in limited action last year, and should continue to develop this offseason.  Some believe the Pats will look to move Cannon inside to guard, which could shift the depth chart at tackle a bit.

OFFENSIVE GUARD: 3 (4)

1) Logan Mankins [LG]

1) Dan Connolly [RG]

2) Nick McDonald

Analysis: I see the Patriots only needing to keep 3 guards on the active roster for a couple of reasons: 1) McDonald has the versatility to play both guard positions and 2) Cannon can bump inside and play guard as well.  Mankins and Connolly are locks at both starting guard positions, while McDonald has been a good, versatile backup over the last couple of seasons.  Over his career, McDonald has lined up at all 5 offensive line spots, and worked a lot on playing center last offseason.  This is a great advantage for the Pats, considering that they usually only keep one center on the active roster (Connolly has also played center in the past).  Nick’s brother Chris will push him for a spot on the 53-man roster, however I think Chris makes his way onto the practice squad.

CENTER: 1 (1)

1) Ryan Wendell

Analysis: Not much analysis required here.  As mentioned previously, McDonald and Connolly have both played center in the past, so if Wendell happens to go down, the Pats have options.

DEFENSIVE END: 5 (6)

1) Chandler Jones [Right DE]

1) Rob Ninkovich [Left DE]

2) Jermaine Cunningham

2) Justin Francis

3) Jake Bequette

Analysis: For consistency purposes, I am creating this depth chart based on the assumption that the Pats will primarily play a 4-3 defense in 2013.  Obviously, they often switch between defenses, however, I’m projecting all players as they fit into a 4-3.  At defensive end, Jones and Ninkovich get the starting nod, just as they did in 2012.  The battle at defensive end starts with the second string guys.  Unlike some other positions where the second stringers don’t see the field much, back-up defensive lineman are becoming much more important in the NFL.  High-powered passing attacks are forcing defenses to rotate lineman to keep fresh bodies on the field that can get to the quarterback.  For the Pats, pressuring the quarterback is a top priority in 2013.  There will be a battle for the back-up spots at defensive end this off-season.  Jermaine Cunningham showed flashes of the player expected when he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.  A 4-game suspension derailed some of that success, however I think his performance last season warrants him making the team in 2013.  Justin Francis went from being an undrafted free agent signing to top back-up performer for the Pats in 2012 (10 tackles, 3 sacks).  Jake Bequette only played in 3 games last year, however he was awarded practice player of the month in October of last season and is expected to make a bigger impact in 2013.  A prospect to watch here is 7th round pick Michael Buchanon.  Buchanon has the athleticism to rush the passer in the NFL, however he needs to ass some bulk in order to hold up in the run game.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Vince Wilfork

1) Kyle Love

2) Tommy Kelly

2) Armond Armstead

Analysis: The surprising release of Brandon Deaderick a couple of days ago makes me think that the Patriots have something in one of their young defensive tackles that we don’t know about yet.  Vince Wilfork is considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, and will remain a staple on the New England defensive line for years to come.  I believe that Kyle Love has earned a starting spot on this team.  Love has a Wilfork-like build (6’1″, 320 lbs) and is in the game on 1st and 2nd down to simple take up blockers.  On third down is where Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead come in.  Kelly is a formidable pass rusher from the defensive tackle position (14.5 combined sacks between 2010-2011) and will hopefully fill a Gerard Warren-like role for the 2013 Pats.  Armstead comes from the CFL through USC.  Armstead had a heart attack as a senior at USC and was never cleared to play college football again.  Therefore, he had to go through the CFL to make his way to the NFL.  Armstead had 44 tackles and 6 sacks in the CFL last year.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Jerod Mayo

1) Dont’a Hightower

2) Jamie Collins

Analysis: Jerod Mayo, one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers, make the transition to the outside in the Pats 4-3 defense in 2012, and seemed to not miss a beat.  Mayo amassed 147 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.  Opposite Mayo, 2012 1st round pick Dont’a Hightower had a good first season in New England, ending with 60 tackles and 4 sacks.  I expect Hightower to become a more efficient pass rusher in 2013 and be most effective on first and second down.  Then there is 2013 2nd round pick Jamie Collins.  As mentioned in a previous post, I think Collins can contribute most on 3rd down as a rookie.  As a former safety, Collins has fluid hips as an outside linebacker and should be able to cover backs, tight ends, and slot receivers more effectively than the bigger Hightower (Collins: 6’3″, 250 lbs; Hightower: 6’2″, 270 lbs).  Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, former contributors for the Pats, will be competing primarily with inside linebackers for a roster spot as none of the aforementioned outside linebackers will be released.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Brandon Spikes

2) Dane Fletcher

3) Mike Rivera

Analysis: 2013 is a huge year for Brandon Spikes.  Spikes is in the 4th year of his rookie contract, and needs to prove he is worth the next contract he will get from either the Patriots of another team.  Spikes has already displayed great run-stopping ability in the NFL.  The problem is that Spikes is considered by some to be a 2-down linebacker.  2-down linebackers don’t usually get big-time money in the NFL.  Dane Fletcher was cementing himself as a good backup and possible future starter for the Patriots before he tore his ACL last season.  The Pats thought highly enough of Fletcher to re-sign him (he was a restricted free agent) this off-season.  Mike Rivera his filled in well for the Pats over the last couple of seasons and will be competing with rookie 7th round pick Steve Beauharnais for the 3rd spot on the depth chart.

CORNERBACK: 6 (7)

1) Aqib Talib

1) Alfonzo Dennard

2) Kyle Arrington [Nickel Corner]

2) Ras-I Dowling

3) Logan Ryan

3) Marquice Cole

Analysis: Unlike 2012, I’m projecting that the Pats only carry 6 cornerbacks in 2013 simply because they are overloaded at safety (and I believe a couple of their safeties could play on the inside at corner).  The Patriots got lucky this off-season when Alfonzo Dennard got sentenced to only 30 days in prison (starting in March 2014).  Dennard will look to build on a successful rookie campaign and start opposite of the $5 million man (Talib) in 2013.  Newly resigned Kyle Arrington played well enough over the past few seasons to earn 4-year $16 million deal this off-season.  Arrington will play, and is most effective in the nickel.  After than, the battle begins.  Logan Ryan is essentially a lock simply because of the position that he was drafted this season.  2013 is a make or break season for Ras-I Dowling.  If he is able to stay healthy and contribute, we may begin to realize some of his talent.  However, another injury may lead to Dowling’s release.  Marquice Cole gets the nod as the 6th corner because of his special teams prowess.  Rookie free-agent Brandon Jones could push for Cole’s roster spot if he proves that he can perform on special teams.

SAFETY: 5 (4)

1) Devin McCourty [FS]

1) Adrian Wilson [SS]

2) Tavon Wilson

2) Duron Harmon

3) Nate Ebner

Analysis: As I mentioned earlier, the Pats have an overload of safeties on their roster.  I project that 5 safeties will make the final 2013 roster, which is one more than last season.  I believe it is time that Devin McCourty makes the official switch to safety.  McCourty has performed well as a part-time safety over the last couple of seasons (although he was basically full-time last year), and it looks like the Pats think he may be a long-term solution at free safety.  I still think McCourty could be a good corner in the NFL, however I don’t get paid to make those decisions.  Adrian Wilson will get the start opposite of McCourty and will provide a physical presence that the Pats have lacked since the Rodney Harrison days.  At 6’3″, 230 lbs, Wilson has lost a step over his career, but McCourty’s responsibility will be to cover, Wilson will be asked to hit.  Behind those two, 2012 second round pick Tavon Wilson earns a roster spot after showing some promise in his rookie campaign (41 tackles, 4 interceptions).  Wilson also has the ability to drop down and play over the slot receiver, which will be useful as the Pats are only keeping 6 corners.  2013 3rd round pick Duron Harmon makes the roster over 2012 starter Steve Gregory.  Gregory was serviceable in 2012, although I think the Pats will decide to move in a new direction in 2013.  Special teams standout Nate Ebner gets the nod as the 3rd string safety due to his special teams ability (him and Slater are essentially the new Larry Izzos).

SPECIALISTS: 3 (3)

PK) Stephen Gostkowski

P) Zoltan Mesko

LS) Danny Aiken

Analysis: No change here from 2012.  The Patriots have brought in 2012 Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen to compete with Zoltan Mesko, however I expect Mesko to win that battle.  Some believe Allen may make the practice squad, which speaks to his talent as punters don’t often take up a spot on the 7-man practice squad.

PRACTICE SQUAD: 7 (7)

1)    Michael Buchanon, DE

2)    Matt Stankiewitch, C

3)    Chris McDonald, OG

4)    Brandon Jones, CB

5)    Steve Beauharnais, LB

6)    Jason Vega, DE

7)    TJ Moe, WR

Analysis: At this point in time, practice squad predictions are nearly impossible considering that training camp hasn’t even started yet.  However, in true Mattyoshow fashion, I’m giving it a shot.  Michael Buchanon is a raw talent out of Illinois that needs time in the weight room to bulk up.  I truly think Buchanon will push Jake Bequette for a roster spot at defensive end, but will wind up on the practice squad.  Matt Stankiewitch was a 25-game starter at Penn State at center, and certainly benefitted from Bill O’Brien’s tutelage during his last year at Penn State.  Stankiewitch is determined to learn to play guard in the NFL to improve his versatility and subsequently his odds of making the active roster.  Chris McDonald, younger brother of the aforementioned Nick McDonald, was a 39 game starter for the Michigan St. Spartans and will look to carve a position out at guard in the NFL.  Brandon Jones, yet another Rutgers product, will compete for an active roster spot this season, but will most likely end up on the practice squad.  Steve Beauharnais is an instinctual linebacker that ha a nose for the football.  Beauharnais doesn’t project as a 3-down linebacker, but a year in the weight room could lead to him competing for a roster spot in 2014.  Jason Vega is another CFL product signed this offseason.  Vega is a former Northeastern product (via Brockton) that amassed 66 tackles and 12 sacks in the CFL in 2012.  Missouri product TJ Moe draws comparisons to Welker simply based on his skill set and skin color.  Moe is bigger than Welker (6’0″, 200 lbs), stronger (26 reps at the combine), and maybe even more agile (Combine best 6.53 3-cone drill).  Moe could use a year of seasoning on the practice squad, however in 2013 he could look to replace Julian Edelman on the roster.

Red Sox Hit First Rough Patch of 2013

The Red Sox were not going to play .720 baseball all season long.  For the first time in the 2013 season, the Red Sox have hit on hard times.  The injury bug has stung the back-end of the bullpen.  They have not been able to hit with runners in scoring position.  These have been the two main factors in the Red Sox going an abysmal 4-9 since the last time I wrote on this very site.

Joel Hanrahan is done for the season after experiencing tightness in his forearm.  He will undergo season ending surgery at someimages point in the near future.  Andrew Bailey has also been out with arm trouble.  An anticipated strength coming into the 2013 season is now a massive question mark.  John Farrell has named Junichi Tazawa as interim closer, until Bailey comes off the disabled list.  The only other candidate was Koji Uehara.

Having Hanrahan down for the count and Bailey on and off the disabled list is frustrating for Red Sox fans.  The Red Sox traded Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey last offseason.  That trade has been one-sided to say the least.  Reddick launched 32 home runs last season and shockingly won a Gold Glove last season.  Yes, he is off to a slow start this season.  By comparison, Andrew Bailey has appeared in just 32 games for the Sox.  Joel Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox this past off-season with Brock Holt for Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus, and Stolmy Pimental.  All I need to tell you about this trade? At the time of this writing, Mark Melancon has a 0.47 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP in 19 innings.  Hanrahan likely ends his Red Sox career with an 0-1 record and a 9.82 ERA in 7.1 innings.

My outside the box cure for the Red Sox closing woes?  Move Ryan Dempster to closer.  Bring up Alan Webster and put him in the rotation.  Dempster has had success as a closer before.  He also features two pitches you want your closer to have; a slider and a split finger fastball.  This keeps Uehara and Tazawa in their 7th and 8th inning roles, allows Webster on to the major league roster, and is insurance for the man made of glass, Andrew Bailey.

I blame the lack of offense of late right at the top.  Jacoby Ellsbury’s on base percentage is .311.  I am not looking for Ellsbury to Unknownrepeat his 2010 video game numbers.  I am not asking Ellsbury to hit over .300, steal 70 bases, or even hit 10 home runs.  I am just asking him to get on base.  What good is a dynamic player like Ellsbury if he can’t get on base?  Too often this season Ellsbury has led off the game either swinging early in the count and popping up to the shortstop or second baseman; or swinging at a bad pitch with a 3 ball count.  It’s truly maddening.  Ellsbury needs to do a better job of getting on base.  The Red Sox have an exciting lineup that has been dull due to Ellsbury incompetence at the plate.  They will go as he goes.  Right now, he is going nowhere.

On a side note, Stephen Drew is hitting .228.  In my last post I guaranteed he would be at .230 the next time I sat at this laptop.  Way to do me proud, Mr. Drew.  The bold prediction this time around?  Dustin Pedroia currently has 1 home run on the season.  He will hit 5 more between now and June 3.

The Red Sox now play 20 days in a row against sub par teams.  (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York.) I believe this stretch will be a true test to see what we have going into the summer.  I am hoping to see a resilient team that can shake off this bad stretch and get back in the win column.  I really believed they were the antithesis of last season’s disaster.  These next 20 days will show an awful lot about the 2013 Red Sox.

I can be followed on Twitter @ScottieNTCF

AFC East 2013 NFL Draft Grades

Now that I have completely reviewed what the Patriots did in the 2013 NFL Draft in my previous post, I will take a look at each team in the AFC East and review their drafts as well.  I will assign draft grades for each team so we can see how they all stack up.  Many believe (including myself) that you can not determine the success of a draft until after 3 years, however with a lull in football news, this is a way to pass the time.  Let’s do it…

BUFFALO BILLS

Best Pick: Robert Woods, WR USC

Worst Pick: EJ Manuel, QB Florida St.

Analysis: The Buffalo Bills made arguably the biggest splash in the 2013 NFL Draft by selecting EJ Manuel with the 16th overall pick, making him the 1st quarterback selected.  I think that Manuel was the worst pick for the Bills for a couple of reasons.  First, by selecting a quarterback with the 16th pick, you are making the statement that you expect this guy to contribute in the upcoming season.  Whether that means starter in Week 1 or a replacement at some point in the season, EJ needs to make a difference for the Bills to justify that 1st round pick spent on him.  I don’t believe Manuel has the consistency or the refinement in his game to produce for the Bills this season.  Also, the Bills signed Kevin Kolb to a 2 year, $13 million contract this offseason.  Are you really going to pay a guy $13 million to be a backup?  Second, Manuel’s consistency, or lack thereof, isn’t at the level it needs to be to become a productive NFL quarterback.  He has a great arm, good mobility, and elusiveness in the pocket, however his accuracy isn’t always there and he sometimes misjudges how much zip to put on the ball.  That is a recipe for disaster in the NFL.  On the flipside, I think the Bills did a great job of filling out their roster throughout the rest of their draft.  It was a battle for me in regards to the best pick between Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso.  Although undersized, Alonso has unbelievable instincts in both the run and pass game.  The Bills haven’t had a middle linebacker since losing Pauly P a couple of years back.  In the end, Woods got the nod as the best pick because of his raw talent opposite of Steve Johnson.  Much like Johnson, Woods can go deep, but isn’t afraid to go over the middle.  Marquis Goodwin will be a good 4th option at wide receiver.

Grade: B-

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Best Pick: Jamar Taylor, CB Boise State

Worst Pick: Will Davis, CB Utah State

Analysis: Jamar Taylor gets the nod as the best pick for the Dolphins for two reasons: 1) He was a great value pick in the 2nd round and 2) he fills a huge need for the Dolphins.  The Dolphins signed Brent Grimes this offseason, but after losing Vontae Davis and Sean Smith over the past year, they still had a major hole at corner opposite of Grimes.  Taylor is a fast, strong corner that excels in press coverage.  Sounds like a guy that would knock the Patriots’ little receivers off of their routes.  After all, every AFC East team is chasing the Pats.  Will Davis is considered the worst pick because I don’t see the fit in the Dolphins defense.  Davis is tall and not overly quick, which means I don’t see him being very successful in the nickel, which is where he is slotted in the Dolphins scheme right now.  I would be considered crazy if I didn’t address Dion Jordan, right?  Jordan is an athletic freak that is already being compared to Jason Taylor.  Time to pump the breaks Miami!  Jordan isn’t the strongest guy out there, but has much more fluidity in his hips than most 3-4 outside linebackers do.  I don’t think Jordan will be a 15 sack per year guy, but I think he gives the Dolphins a lot of versatility considering he can drop into coverage very easily.  A couple other picks that I really liked were Dallas Thomas, OT out of Tennessee and Jelani Jenkins, OLB from Florida.  The biggest knock on the Dolphins is that they didn’t draft a top-end left tackle.

Grade: B+

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Best Pick: Josh Boyce, WR TCU

Worst Pick: Jamie Collins, LB Southern Mississippi

Analysis: Here’s my bold prediction for the 2013 NFL season, Josh Boyce will be the Patriots’ 2nd most productive receiver, behind Danny Amendola.  Boyce suffered a foot injury supposedly just before the combine, and many believe that caused his stock to drop a bit.  Considering that Boyce ran a 4.38 40 (and put up a very impressive 22 reps on the bench) at the combine, after injuring his foot, should give you some indication that he can run pretty well.  Boyce is fast, strong, physical (5’11”, 205 lbs), and runs great routes.  Sounds like a round 4 steal to me.  My proclamation of Jamie Collins as the worst pick isn’t meant to be a commentary on the type of player that Collins is or will become.  Contrarily, I am critical of the Collins selection because the Pats’ first pick in the draft didn’t address a major need.  Yes, the Patriots could use to improve at rushing the quarterback, and they need some linebackers with better coverage abilities, but wide receiver and cornerback were much bigger areas of need than a rush/coverage linebacker.  Surprisingly, much criticized 3rd round pick Duron Harmon isn’t considered the worst pick because I believe in Belichick’s ability to find gems when he selects these “never heard of” players, and from everything I hear about Harmon’s character and instincts, I think he’ll fit in well with the Patriots.

Grade: B

NEW YORK JETS

Best Pick: Dee Milliner, CB Alabama

Worst Pick: Geno Smith, QB West Virginia

Analysis: I think we were all under the impression that once Mike Tannenbaum got canned, the Jets would cease the ridiculousness.  Well, looks like the Jets are keeping it going for a little longer!  Let’s start with what went right.  Dee Milliner is a stud.  There were concerns about his “5 surgeries” coming out of college.  I am willing to bet my entire bank account (which is exceptionally empty at the moment) that 50% of the players drafted in 2013 have had 5 or more surgeries throughout their career.  College football is evolving more and more into an NFL-like game, meaning players are having routine off-season surgeries nearly every year.  Milliner won’t be Revis (nobody may ever be Revis), but he will slide into the corner spot opposite of Cromartie and compliment Kyle Wilson in the slot.  Sheldon Richardson was another solid pick for the Jets.  His skill set fits very well into a 3-4 defensive end position and will provide some good pass-rush opposite of Muhammad Wilkerson.  Now, on to Geno Smith.  The only way this works is if Mark Sanchez is not a member of the New York Jets once training camp begins.  It will be a Tebow-like distraction all over again.  For every incomplete pass Mark Sanchez throws, there will be 50,000 Jets fans screaming for Geno Smith to come in.  Aside from the media firestorm, Smith doesn’t strike me as a franchise guy both talent wise and mentally.  He crumbled in big games throughout his senior season, and he reportedly hasn’t been the most professional guy throughout pre-draft workouts.  When you draft Geno Smith in the 2nd round, it is assumed that he will eventually take over as the starter, and I just don’t see it.  Aside from Smith, I thought that two huge areas of need for the Jets were at tight end and wide receiver.  The Jets weren’t bad because of their defense (their first 2 picks were defensive players), they were bad because of their offense.  They did little to improve their offense in this draft.

Grade: C

New England Patriots 2013 NFL Draft Review by: “The Better Looking Mel Kiper”

Since the 2013 NFL Draft concluded last Saturday, the New England Patriots have faced a mass of scrutiny regarding their draft philosophy, player selections, navigation of the draft board, etc.  Considering that I am in the middle of final exam week, and when I study I always have talk radio going in the background, I figured it’s about time that I weigh in and drop a little knowledge on the NTCF Faithful.  Let’s do it…

Draft Philosophy:

-I’m not a Belichick worshipper.  I don’t think that every move he makes is uncriticizable.  You can ask my usual draft day crew, I wasn’t high on Jermaine Cunningham.  I ripped them for the Tavon Wilson pick.  Seeing Terrence Wheatley go in the 2nd round made my blood boil.  I blasted the Patriots for their draft day misses, particularly between 2006 – 2009.  With that said, the Patriots have a philosophy, and they stick to it.  For every Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, there is a Matthew Slater and a Julian Edelman.  For every Ron Brace and Darius Butler, there is a Brandon Deaderick and a Marcus Cannon.  Whether or not you like what the Pats do, they are one of the better drafting teams in the NFL.

-This season, the biggest criticisms that I am hearing about the Patriots draft is that they traded out of the 1st round, they selected Aaron Dobson, and they picked Duron Harmon way too high.  Let’s examine these moves a little more closely.

-Bill Belichick said in a press conference following the draft that, if the opportunity presented itself, the Patriots would have moved out of the first round last Wednesday.  That tells me one thing, they saw no scenario where a player they wanted was going to be available at 29.  They didn’t think they could find an impact player that filled a need at the spot they were supposed to pick in the 1st round.  So, they went ahead a made what I consider to be the best trade in the draft.  The Patriots received a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round pick from the Vikings in exchange for their 1st round pick.  When you consider that the Cowboys exchanged 1st round picks with the 49ers (moving from 18 – 31) and only received a 3rd round pick in addition, it looks like the Pats made a great move.  The Patriots saw that they had needs to fill, didn’t see a player that they believed was worth 29th pick value, and instead amassed 4 picks.  I have absolutely no problem with that move.

-Aaron Dobson makes sense.  He isn’t a burner.  He didn’t produce exceptional numbers at Marshall.  He has small hands.  I get it, he has flaws.  But, here’s what I know.  Dobson is a very bright kid that has the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level and the drive and will to get the job done.  This isn’t a Taylor Price burner that has a questionable mental makeup.  This isn’t a Chad Jackson burner that has a questionable mental makeup.  This isn’t a Brandon Tate burner that has a questionable mental makeup.  DO YOU SEE THE THEME?  They believe Dobson can learn their offense and produce.  I love the pick!

-So Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, and all the other draft gurus had Duron Harmon as a 7th round pick in the draft.  Who cares?  Logan Mankins was supposed to be a 3rd rounder, Kiper said it was a reach when the Pats plucked him at pick #32 in the 2005 draft.  Several pro bowls later, Belichick won that one!  Chandler Jones was labeled as a “developmental prospect” by McShay and Kiper.  A season after being arguably the Pats’ most effective pass rusher, Belichick wins again!  Sebastian Vollmer wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine.  The Pats took him in the 2nd round, got crushed by Kiper and company, and the dude winds up being a Pro Bowl tackle.  Belichick wins once again!  The moral of the story is to have faith in a guy that makes a living WINNING NFL football games, not guys that make a living talking about NFL football having never played.

-Now, let’s get into the picks…

Round 2 (#52 Overall) – Jamie Collins, OLB Southern Mississippi

Collins is an intriguing selection for the Pats, considering the talent and draft picks already invested at the linebacker position.  There is confusion surrounding Collins’ position.  Is he a 3-4 OLB, 3-4 ILB, nickel linebacker, or a primary rusher?  Here’s my thought.  The kid started his career at Southern Miss playing safety before moving to linebacker.  He has the feet and quickness to cover tight ends, running backs, and even slot receivers over short distances.  I think the Pats utilize him in a Jerod Mayo type roll, meaning he will primarily play the middle (Brandon Spikes’ contract is up after next season) but has the flexibility to shift outside and rush.  He will begin working mainly in the nickel package, to utilize his coverage skills, but with some seasoning could look to replace Brandon Spikes when he leaves in free agency.

Round 2 (#59 Overall) – Aaron Dobson, WR Marshall

As I mentioned previously, I love this pick.  Aaron Dobson has great size (6’3”, 210 pounds), decent speed (40 yard dash in the 4.4 range), and he is an exceptional route runner.  His production at Marshall wasn’t great, but thankfully you don’t succeed or fail in the NFL based on your college production.  Dobson will slide right in to the starting X receiver position on opening day.

Round 3 (#83 Overall) – Logan Ryan, CB Rutgers

The biggest benefit to Ryan’s game is his aggressiveness in the running game.  Logan has decent size (5’11”, 191 pounds) and good strength for his position (14 reps on the bench).  Ryan doesn’t have great speed (4.56 40 yard dash), but his speed is good enough that he can play slot receivers, and his strength will be a huge asset in knocking inside receivers off of their routes.  Ryan fits well into the Pats scheme at corner.  I expect Ryan to challenge Ras-I Dowling for the 4th corner spot.

Round 3 (#91 Overall) – Duron Harmon, SS Rutgers

Devon McCourty speaks very highly about Duron Harmon, especially regarding his work ethic and competitiveness.  Harmon is ready to learn from McCourty for the 2nd time in his life.  Harmon roomed with McCourty as a freshman at Rutgers, and has stated several times that Devin tried to teach him everything possible.  Only a couple of hours after Harmon was drafted by the Patriots, McCourty reach out to him and invited him up to Foxboro to start going through the playbook.  Harmon is supposedly a great locker room guy and has the versatility to play safety, but also drop down and cover slot receivers.  Harmon’s main competition is Stephen Gregory for a roster spot.

Round 4 (#102 Overall) – Josh Boyce, WR TCU

We can be sure about one thing regarding Josh Boyce, he is a physical freak.  At 5’11”, 206 pounds, Boyce ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and put up 22 reps on the bench, both top tier marks for wide receivers at the combine.  Boyce has the capability of playing on the outside and the inside, and could provide some great depth for the Patriots at receiver.  Boyce had great success at TCU with Andy Dalton tossing him the ball, however he struggled this past year due to inconsistent quarterback play and a foot injury.

Round 7 (#226 Overall) – Michael Buchanon, DE/OLB Illinois

Michael Buchanon was expected to pick up where Whitney Mercilius left off for Illinois this past season, however is never really worked out that way.  Heading into this past season, some had Buchanon projected as highly as a 1st round pick.  An offseason bar fight, leading to an all-liquid diet and a loss of 20 pounds, and a not-so-amazing 2012 campaign all caused Buchanon to drop to the Pats in the 7th round.  Buchanon needs to get stronger, but he has the talent to stick and could develop into a nice piece for the Pats.

Round 7 (#235 Overall) – Steve Beauharnais, LB Rutgers

There is no better way to describe Beauharnais that simply as an inside linebacker.  He has a nose for the ball.  Athletically, Beauharnais isn’t going to wow anyone.  He doesn’t have great size for the position.  But, Steve knows how to play middle linebacker and it shows on film.  Beauharnais needs to work on his technique and strength, but he is a willing and able special teamer, and could land a roster spot if he shows some improvement this offseason.