After busy offseason, an early look at how the 32 teams stack up now
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla -- I'm playing the Stadium Course here at Sawgrass today, as part of the annual
Great, classic Coughlin scene last night at the dinner and auction at the Sawgrass TPC Clubhouse, as the Giants' head coach welcomed everyone. There were moving tales of brave kids and their families battling cancer. Coughlin had just told the story of a child looking up at his parents when the cancer diagnosis came in, saying, "Am I going to die?''
And from the back of the audience:
Someone's cell phone.
Without breaking verbal stride, Coughlin said into the mike: "All right. That's at least a $5,000 fine right there. Just write the check right now.''
Pretty good for Coughlin. Pretty good for anyone in the middle of something emotional.
So before I go out this morning, let me embarrass myself by ranking the NFL one through 32. That's not being overly modest -- just realistic. I stink at this. In fact, my recommendation if you really want to find out what's going to happen in the NFL this year is to take a bye on this column. Last year,
But I press on -- stupidly or intrepidly, not sure which, keeping one statistic in mind. Twelve teams make the playoffs each year. In the past five years, check out the turnover from the previous year. How many different teams made the playoffs compared to the year before:
So for five straight years there's been at least a 50-percent turnover in the playoff teams. Remember that as you throw crap at your computer when you see I don't have New England making the playoffs, but I do have Carolina in the big dance. There's not quite the same high number of playoff changes (I have five of 12 different from 2009), but I do have five of eight division winners changing.
As with Green Bay, I don't know where all the pass-rush will come from, but the Chargers are relying heavily on
I think Carolina will be better, and Atlanta might be, so this is not a mail-it-in division race for New Orleans. But when the Saints had to pick it up last year, they did, in a big way. Will complacency bite them? That's something you can never tell at this point of the offseason, but they're young at enough important positions to make another Super Bowl run.
The most important rookie in the league to a playoff contender, other than Ryan Mathews of the Chargers, could well be
"How many Raiders coaches ended real great? It's all
Kiffin also defended his itinerant self with Kramer, who said to him: "When you came into Knoxville, the first thing that you preached was loyalty and togetherness. Now you're leaving a year later and there's no loyalty.'' Sounds familiar -- if you read this column. Said Kiffin: "I never once told any of those players I would be there forever. I never made the statement, 'I'm coming here, this is my dream job, I'm never leaving.' I never made those statements ... It's part of the business. You know, and as they get older they understand.''
We'll see about that.
"I want fans to feel they can trust me and believe in me. The young, immature Finley, I thought he was foolish. And the new Finley, I think is going to do the work, do what he's supposed to do and be that player the Packers know I can be and all the fans out there too.''
Good reporting by Bedard, who discovered that in the past year Finley skipped out of training camp to sleep in his own bed consistently. The tight end missed curfew the night before Green Bay's playoff game at Arizona, changed agents and then changed back, partied so hard in Texas this offseason that his marriage was endangered and now has thrown himself on the mercy of the coaching staff and front office of the Packers, determined to prove he'll be good and responsible. When Finley's right, there aren't three tight ends in football better than him.
"I am no longer concerned about the offensive line at all.''
Well, he might be the only one who isn't.
The one thing about player movement that has befuddled me all offseason is when I hear fans and some in the media wonder, "Why isn't anyone going after Shawne Merriman? He's a restricted free-agent, only 25, and the Chargers would let him go.''
The answers: He may not be what you think he is, the Chargers put a compensation level of first- and third-round picks for him early in the offseason, he wants too much money, and ... well, that would just about do it.
But let's stick with the facts, and the numbers. It's been since 2007 that Merriman was good. Why would anyone pay a premier number for him? Divvying up the first five years of his career:
Merriman won the NFL's defensive rookie of the year award in 2005, then was suspended for four games for using performance-enhancing drugs in 2006, and then had another strong year in 2007. In 2008, he went against the wishes of the Chargers and eschewed knee surgery early in the offseason; he played one game, then had to have the same surgery the Chargers wanted him to have months earlier, a bad decision that led to him playing in only one game in 2008. Last year, he was a run-of-the-mill rusher, almost totally without impact.
So I ask: Why would any team pay significant compensation and give him the kind of contract he feels he deserves? Merriman turns 26 this month. If I were him (unless he knows he's washed up and just wants to get some guaranteed money before he goes on to his next career), I'd play for the one-year contract this year, stop trying to get a rich deal elsewhere that won't come, and prove again I'm a premier player.
Thought of this the other day: In the past three drafts, the Baltimore Ravens have drafted zero players from the University of Florida. The New England Patriots have drafted five Gators since 2006, the first offseason
I make the point because the two teams have good connections to the Florida football program, and they are using those connections in far different ways.
For instance, with the Ravens having such a major tight-end need this year, you'd think Florida's
New England has to hope its three Florida draftees -- defensive lineman
Our JetBlue flight from Boston to Jacksonville got us here just fine Sunday afternoon, but with nothing but hot air flowing through the cabin. Try that for three hours, when no one has the sense to close the window shades to cut down on the heat. About midway through the flight, the captain came on to apologize for the warm temps and said they were doing everything they could, but nothing ever changed, and it was a toasty 88 or so throughout the last couple of hours inside the boiling tube. When I got off the plane,
"Not to pile on, but the nickname JaCarcus seems especially relevant now that Russell's career with the Raiders is dead.''
1. I think the only things left to add on the Brian Cushing situation are these three points:
a. The Associated Press, the news agency that oversees the balloting, has to make some hard-and-fast rules for future all-pro teams and awards. This voting shows that too many of the 50 men and women who vote want rules and don't want to have to unilaterally decide whether to vote for suspended players or not. I was comfortable in drawing a line in the sand from this day forward, saying I'd never vote for another performance-enhancer. But obviously some of my peers were not. My feeling is we shouldn't be able to vote for any player or coach who has been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs or for masking agents for performance-enhancers.
b. I don't believe Cushing's tumor defense.
c. Voting for players suspended for other reasons (like Ben Roethlisberger) shouldn't be outlawed. I mean, it's difficult to see how a quarterback who misses 25 percent of the season could win an all-pro or MVP nod against passers who play. But Roethlisberger didn't tilt the field by taking a banned substance. What I oppose is a player who takes something to gain an unfair advantage over his peers.
2. I think the 80 Titans coaches, players and staff members deserve credit for going out in the storm-ravaged central Tennessee area to help friends, neighbors and strangers recover from a historic flood.
3. I think if the Colts had it to do all over again, they'd have activated
4. I think
5. I think it's almost as absurd to think ill of
6. I think I'll be stunned if the 2014 Super Bowl is not played in New Jersey. And I think the players in that game will be thrilled to know they're staying in the Jersey burbs, not Manhattan, with the practices in New Jersey (one team at the Meadowlands, where the Giants work out, and the other in Florham Park, 35 minutes to the west, where the Jets train). Logistics will be a mess, unless everyone commutes by chopper.
7. I think, neophyte program director that I pretend to be, I have one piece of advice for ESPN as it sets its NFL schedule for the year: Find a spot for the long-running "NFL Matchup'' show. The NFL has decided it won't seek sponsors for the show this year, meaning it's now up to ESPN whether it wants to air the show or let it die. It always has been an NFL Films production, since its inception in 1984: so ESPN would own and operate the show if it decides to take it on. I know this: My football Sundays would be severely diminished without the show, whenever it's on -- and in the past few years, I've had to chase it to odd times as ESPN moved it all over the schedule. But I found it. It's a bastion of great information for the real football fan, and it just has to survive.
8. I think this is my reaction to
9. I think it's sad to report the death of 37-year-old
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I'm not saying
b. If you want the World Cup to return to the United States in 2018 or 2022, go to
c. Thanks for your film recommendations last week. Will act on them in the coming weeks, then in July, post-World Cup. The only movie I watched last week was
d. Well, I'm 11th out of 12 teams in my Jersey-based rotisserie league (thank you,
e. Never live that down, Bruins. Heck of a job, Flyers. The Flyers are amazing. They expend all that energy to win four in a row, including coming back from a three-goal deficit in the decisive seventh game against Boston -- then wipe out the Canadiens 6-0 in the first game of the next round.
f. Stay in Cleveland,
g. Is it possible the biggest reason I had such disdain for the NBA the past 20 years is I lived in New Jersey? That Cleveland-Boston series was enough to make me interested in Boston-Orlando.
h. Coffeenerdness: Meaningless Non-Starbucks Stat of the Week: There are 1,151 places to buy brewed Dunkin Donuts coffee within a 50-mile radius of Boston.