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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 27: New York Jets

Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith AP

This could be Rex Ryan’s last stand.

Ryan survived a purge this offseason that claimed a general manager, both coordinators and several veteran players, including cornerback Darrelle Revis, but there’s not much strength to his position. General Manager John Idzik will surely be using this year to evaluate whether or not he can or wants to work with Ryan in the future. Ryan hasn’t been given a cupboard stocked with talent to use to make his case, which doesn’t do much to build confidence that he’ll be back in 2014.

One of the biggest questions the Jets need to answer is whether Mark Sanchez will get one more chance as the starting quarterback or if Geno Smith will grab the job without looking back. Self-preservation normally means going with the vet, but Ryan may be able to build a better argument for himself if Smith plays well enough to give hope that he’s the long-term answer at the position.

Even if that happens, a winning record might be a stretch for a team that hasn’t replaced enough of the talent that helped them to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010.

Strengths.

Revis is gone, but the Jets still have a very good cornerback at their disposal in Antonio Cromartie. He sometimes gained more notice for his progeny and his run support allergy early in his career, but Cromartie was excellent in 2012 as the top corner after Revis fore his ACL even as the team crumbled around him. He’ll be back in that role this year and there’s no reason to think he won’t thrive once again.

Muhammad Wilkerson isn’t the flashiest player in the league. He’s awfully effective, though, and stood out as one of the top three or four 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL last season. More growth will give the Jets defense an anchor that they hope to mirror on the other side of the line with 2013 first-rounder Sheldon Richardson.

Jeremy Kerley set an NFL record with 36 fair catches as a punt returner last year, so you can definitely count fair catches in the strength column.

Too backhanded? Fair enough. For all his foibles, Ryan has always been able to put together competitive defenses and he’ll likely be able to do the same with this year’s group. As for the other side of the ball…

Weaknesses.

You can choose the epithet you like, but we’ll go with horror show for the 2012 offense. They scored 281 points all year and turned the ball over 37 times, which is why Marty Mornhinweg is now the coordinator and why Smith was taken in the second round. They made changes at running back and on the offensive line, but the receiver group is heavily reliant on Santonio Holmes getting healthy, Stephen Hill improving rapidly and Kellen Winslow Jr. rebounding. None is a bet you’d want to make with the mortgage payment.

Of course, it wouldn’t help all that much if Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham were running patterns as long as the Jets don’t get at least average play from their quarterback. There are no guarantees that either Sanchez or Smith will provide it.

In Ryan’s first couple of years, the Jets were able to disguise their lack of an elite pass rusher with a variety of packages and blitzes that relied on having a shutdown corner on one side to confound offenses. That wasn’t the case last year and the lack of Revis means it may not be the case this year, which is troubling because they are still missing that special player off the edge. They signed Antwan Barnes in hopes he’s over last year’s hamstring issues and moved Quinton Coples from defensive end in hopes of finding something close to one.

Mike Tannenbaum is gone from the front office, but the roster continues to bear his thumbprints. Developing players was put on the back burner in favor of going with expensive vets. Clearing out those older players this offseason has left them without players who may not be ready to step into bigger roles and short on cap space to bring in quality replacements.

Changes.

We’ve already mentioned Tannenbaum’s ouster, Idzik’s hiring, Smith’s arrival and the Revis trade. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though.

Shonn Greene was bid a less-than-fond farewell and replaced at running back by Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, who at least assured the Jets some more unsavory headlines thanks to his offseason arrest. Dustin Keller signed with the Dolphins, giving Winslow a chance to resume his career after playing just one game in 2012.

Braylon Edwards remains unsigned, although there are intermittent indications that the Jets would be up for a third go-round with the wide receiver. The Jets will have two new starting guards, with Brandon Moore and Matthew Slauson leaving and Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman and rookie Brian Winters arriving.

On defense, the Jets said goodbye to defensive end Mike DeVito, defensive tackle Sione Pouha and linebackers Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott, leaving them with several holes to fill. Demario Davis will be expected to step in for Scott, which could wind up as an upgrade given the step that Scott clearly lost in recent years.

Safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell played well last season. Eric Smith didn’t, but he’s gone too and the Jets are left with Dawan Landry and untested Josh Bush as their prospective starters at safety.

Some fellow named Tim Tebow, who saw most of his action on the punt team, was also released this offseason. Smaller story, but we’re sure you’ve been following it.

Camp Battles.

The Sanchez/Smith competition will be the headline grabber, but there are plenty of other things to watch when the Jets gather this summer. Colon is ticketed for one guard spot, but Peterman, Winters and Vladimir Ducasse will compete for snaps at guard with Ducasse a strong candidate for release if he can’t show more than he has through his first three seasons.

Ninth overall pick Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson are both options to start across from Cromartie. Wilson is better suited for nickel work, so the rookie should get the job if he’s healthy.

Calvin Pace was re-signed after being released and could wind up starting at outside linebacker if Coples can’t handle the transition or if Barnes is a better fit in a situational role. 2011 third-round pick Kenrick Ellis will battle Damon Harrison and veteran Antonio Garay to replace Pouha on the nose.

Prospects.

There’s a fair chance that the Jets won’t be as bad as most people think.

Unfortunately for the Jets, not being as bad as conventional wisdom isn’t the same thing as being good. When you look at the talent on the roster, predicting much more than last year’s 6-10 finish is very difficult and a drop to the bottom of the barrel is hardly unthinkable.

If that happens, Ryan and Sanchez will almost certainly be gone and the Jets will turn the page on an era that started with a lot of sound and fury before ultimately adding up to nothing all that different than the other seasons that have followed Joe Namath’s guarantee made good.

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Andy Dalton throws pick-six as prime time nightmare continues

Andy Dalton, Billy Winn AP

Andy Dalton in prime time is a disaster. Again.

On the Bengals’ second possession today against the Broncos, Dalton threw a bad pass that A.J. Green leapt into the air to try to bring down. Green couldn’t catch it, but Aqib Talib made a great diving catch and got the interception.

Then Talib got up, untouched, and raced to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. That gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead.

Even worse for the Bengals, when Green had to reach up for Dalton’s bad pass, he exposed himself to a hard hit from Broncos safety T.J. Ward. That hit appeared to injure Green, and he didn’t return to the field when the Bengals’ offense came back out on the next possession.

But Bengals running back Jeremy Hill made a spectacular 85-yard run on the first play of that next possession, allowing the Bengals to tie the score at 7-7.

It’s been a great start to tonight’s game. Even if Dalton in prime time is anything but great.

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Blandino: No way to say if Graham scored a touchdown

graham AP

The Saints had a crucial call go against them on Sunday when tight end Jimmy Graham thought he scored a touchdown, only to have the officials rule that he had fumbled just before the ball crossed the goal line.

A day later, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino says he still doesn’t know whether they got that call right or wrong.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “We really struggled with this one because it’s so close.”

Blandino said no replay angle conclusively showed whether the ball crossed the goal line before Graham lost possession.

“Where is the ball in relation to the goal line?” Blandino said. “You really can’t tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the gaol line. The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane. Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn’t clear cut, it wasn’t obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood.”

Ultimately, Blandino said, when there’s no conclusive angle, the replay just has to stick with what the officials called on the field.

“Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,” Blandino said.

Maybe some day we’ll have microchips in footballs that can tell us the instant a ball crosses the goal line. But with the replay system we have now, there was no way to say whether Graham scored or not.

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Reggie McKenzie talks up the Raiders’ rookie class

Reggie McKenzie AP

Amid speculation that the Raiders could make sweeping changes and General Manager Reggie McKenzie could be on the chopping block, McKenzie would like to point out that he drafted some pretty good players this year.

McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that first-round pick Khalil Mack and second-round pick Derek Carr have proven themselves to be the kind of players a franchise can be built around.

“Derek and Khalil stopped being rookies a little while back,” McKenzie said. “Now they are veteran players. They can carry this into next season and help build this team into winners. They’ve shown their teammates who they are as players and men off the field, and they’re definitely guys everybody can count on.”

McKenzie believes he has done the heavy lifting to get the Raiders into the right place, and they’re heading in the right direction.

“The foundation has been built,” McKenzie said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more young guys play, the more comfortable they get . . . and now they’re making plays. And we continue to grow that.”

McKenzie has every right to be proud of the players he’s drafted. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his job is safe. If a new coach (like, say, Jim Harbaugh) is willing to come to Oakland only on the condition that he gets final say over the roster, owner Mark Davis might push McKenzie aside. But McKenzie has made a good case for himself with this year’s draft.

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Lovie Smith on high draft pick: If you’re down here, you have to get something from it

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers are closing in on the top pick in the draft for the fifth time in franchise history, which gives the team something to look forward to as they put the finishing touches on an abysmal season.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that adding a good player at the top of the draft next year is something to be excited about, especially since he likes what he’s seen from this year’s rookie class.

“From a 2-13 record right now, I think that we’ve found out our draft class, we’ve played them and we like some things we’ve seen from the draft class,” Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “Of course, Mike Evans, it goes without saying, Charles Sims, we’re seeing flashes from him, Austin Seferian-Jenkins — you know, our top three picks, amongst others. So that part is good. And if you have to be down here, you need to get something from it. We are going to get from our position — wherever it might be — we are going to get to add some more, we have a full allotment of draft picks, we have an excellent staff that evaluates guys. We are going to add some more players to the mix. We need some more players added to the mix. I am excited about that part. And again, if you have to be down where we are, why not get your choice of a few of the best players in the draft.”

If the Buccaneers were to find a quarterback with that top pick, it would probably help others join Smith in getting excited about what’s to come for the Bucs. That won’t fix things on its own as the Bucs need to sort out their offensive line and offensive coordinator as well, but Smith’s right about the need to make your pick count if you’re handing it in during the first hour of the draft.

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Report: Aldon Smith was drinking at scene of alleged assault

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers have already dealt with Ray McDonald for his part in a new sexual assault investigation.

But now they may have a bigger problem to deal with.

Part of an affidavit outlining allegations against McDonald includes a section in which the victim said she spent the day drinking with McDonald and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

That’s only a problem as it pertains to Smith’s suspension for a 2013 DUI, for which he’s still on probation.

According to Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News, the woman claimed McDonald sexually assaulted her at his home after she passed out by his pool. But she them claimed to have stayed at the house, drinking with Smith and McDonald.

Police have also seized home surveillance cameras and McDonald’s cell phone as part of their investigation.

While the 49ers finally had a moment of clarity and cut McDonald (shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs), they’ve stood firm by Smith throughout a series of transgressions.

There was some dispute at the time of Smith’s reinstatement that he hadn’t fulfilled his counseling requirements.

But if police place him at the scene of a crime drinking, it will put the 49ers in the uncomfortable position of making more excuses for a star after making an example of McDonald.

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Brandon Marshall on Dominic Raiola: Dirty player, worse person

Chicago Bears Brandon Marshall Addresses The Media After Accusations Of Domestic Violence In His Past Getty Images

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Lions center Dominic Raiola will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

Marshall said after Raiola was suspended for stomping on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson that cheap shots are par for the course from Raiola.

“This guy is a dirty player, and he’s a worse human being. He has no respect for himself,” Marshall said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

Marshall said his issues with Raiola go far beyond just one incident. According to Marshall, who has long been open about seeking treatment for mental illness, Raiola has approached Marshall on the field to insult him about his mental health issues. Marshall says that before a game two years ago, Raiola walked up to Marshall and made jokes about Marshall taking medication.

“I’m just warming up, just standing there. He’s like, ‘Go take your medicine. You freaking weirdo, you freaking crazy guy,’” Marshall said of an encounter with Raiola.

Raiola has a laundry list of incidents that have gotten him in hot water over the course of his NFL career, and the NFL noted in announcing his suspension that stepping on Ferguson was far from his first offense. Marshall thinks it’s past time that the NFL does something about Raiola.

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Johnny Manziel ruled out for Week 17

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel’s rookie season is officially over.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Monday that the quarterback has been ruled out of the team’s season finale against the Ravens because of the hamstring injury he suffered against the Panthers on Sunday. Pettine called it a “pretty significant” injury that would have kept Manziel out for several weeks if the Browns season had several weeks left in it.

Pettine also said that Brian Hoyer’s shoulder injury would continue to be evaluated over the course of the week and that Connor Shaw would get first-team reps to prepare him for the possible start.

“If he does [play], I wouldn’t be surprised he plays well,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pettine added that the team was considering other quarterback options in the event they need to add another player to the roster before Week 17.

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Jim Harbaugh works hard to keep it on the high road

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh seemed to the heading for the curb, but managed to steer back onto the high road.

The soon-to-be-former 49ers coach seemed to come close to talking about his own status with the team, something he’s avoided so far.

Via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Harbaugh was asked if it was hard to resist responding to the anonymous reports about him.

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Harbaugh said, before laughing. “That’s a good question. . . .

The high road’s the only road I know. I’ll keep on that.”

When reporters tried to follow up, Harbaugh replied: “I think we’ve covered the ground pretty well.”

Sadly, we have not.

Harbaugh also declined to elaborate on a report from Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who said Harbaugh’s status would be known within 48 hours of the end of the season.

“Well, as you know, I’ve not participated in any of these speculations and unnamed sources, the rumors, I would ask you to have Jay Glazer go back and ask his sources for more clarification,” Harbaugh said. … “I haven’t participated and I don’t intend to now. And this has been a good 12 months of this kind of thing. No reason to start now.”

Oh, there’s plenty of reason, Jim. The truth shall set you free. It’ll be cathartic for you.

You do get the feeling (or maybe it’s hope for a Festivus miracle) that at some point the tightly wound Harbaugh is going to snap, and a stream of truth so torrential will be unleashed, that we’ll all be drenched.

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Cowboys won’t rest starters this week

Tony Romo, Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and they still have a shot at grabbing a first-round bye.

They’ll need to get some help from the 49ers and Rams (or a Lions-Packers tie) to make that happen, but even getting those results in the NFC West won’t help if they don’t beat Washington. If they were to win and get all three games to break their way, they’d wind up as the top seed in the conference.

On Monday, coach Jason Garrett said that the Cowboys will do their best to take care of what they control. With all three other games with bearing on their possible slot in the playoffs kicking off later in the day, the Cowboys won’t have the option of altering their lineup based on scoreboard watching and Garrett said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, that the Cowboys would play their starters their usual amount in Week 17.

We’ll see if that holds come Sunday for running back DeMarco Murray and other players with current injury concerns, but the Cowboys have every reason to play anyone without such worries because of the benefits that would come with getting the bye.

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NFL to suspend Raiola for one game

Raiola Getty Images

Lions center Dominic Raiola said his stomp on the leg of Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was inadvertent. There will be nothing inadvertent about the NFL’s reaction.

Per a league source, Raiola will indeed be suspended one game for the infraction. Raiola will get the official word later this afternoon.

Raiola was fined $10,000 last month for striking Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore in the back of the head. In that same game, Raiola escaped punishment for deliberately diving at Moore’s legs during a kneel-down play.

Raiola will have immediate appeal rights, with the hearing held quickly and a ruling coming as soon as Wednesday.

If the suspension is upheld, the Lions won’t have their starting center for Sunday’s NFC North championship game against the Packers. But they will have him for the first game of the postseason.

Three years ago, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for a post-play stomp on the arm of former Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.

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Steven Jackson undergoing further testing on quad

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons didn’t need much from running back Steven Jackson to knock off the Saints on Sunday and it’s not clear yet whether they’ll have him in the lineup at all when they try to do the same to the Panthers in Week 17.

Jackson left the win over the Saints in the first half with a quad injury and didn’t return, finishing the day with four carries and one reception. Coach Mike Smith said Monday that Jackson was having further tests done to evaluate the injury, which means we’ll be waiting until later in the week for an idea about whether or not he’ll play against Carolina.

Devonta Freeman was the most effective back in New Orleans, running five times for 36 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 48 more yards.

Smith said Safety William Moore is also having tests done on his injured shoulder after leaving Sunday’s game. Moore was on injured reserve with the designation to return for an injury to the same shoulder earlier this season.

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Hoyer, Manziel are both hurt, so Connor Shaw may start

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins Getty Images

All season we’ve been asking whether the Browns would start Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel. At the end of the season, the answer may be neither.

Undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, a member of the practice squad, may be called up to the active roster and forced to start Sunday’s season finale against the Ravens. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that Manziel’s hamstring injury, which forced him out of Sunday’s game, and an injury to Hoyer’s shoulder suffered after Manziel went out, could leave Shaw as the only option.

A three-year starter at South Carolina, Shaw was signed by the Browns in May and had some good performances in the preseason this year. Perhaps he can have another good performance in the season finale, and add a new element to the Browns’ inevitable quarterback controversy in 2015.

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Jay Cutler will start season finale for the Bears

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Meet the new Bears starting quarterback, same as the old Bears starting quarterback.

Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Lions and the Bears ruled him out for Week 17 on Monday, leaving the team in need of someone to lead their offense against the Vikings. Coach Marc Trestman’s options were Jay Cutler, benched a week ago after a string of poor games that have led to plenty of questions about the future of the coach, quarterback and General Manager Phil Emery, and rookie David Fales.

Trestman has opted to go with the devil he knows.

“Jay gives us the best chance this week. So that’s why he’ll be out there,” Trestman said, via ESPNChicago.com. “Jay said ‘I’ll be ready to go.’ He empathizes with what Jimmy had gone through last night. He’s ready to go. He’ll be in this afternoon to get started.”

Going with Fales would have given the Bears a chance to see the sixth-rounder in action while also protecting Cutler from the possibility of an injury that could hamper attempts to trade him this offseason, although no one’s really sure at this point if that’s the route the Bears will go or who will be making the decisions about such moves. They went the other way, though, and the season will end with the same starting quarterback that took the field in Week One.

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Chip Kelly not miffed about playoff structure

Kelly Getty Images

The Eagles will finish with a winning record, but they won’t make it to the playoffs. The Panthers or Falcons will secure a spot with a losing record. That doesn’t bother Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

“Should we move to the [NFC South] so we can get in a different division?” Kelly said to reporters on Monday when asked about the situation. “No, that’s just the rules. People that complain about rules that are already in existence. . . .
We didn’t do enough. We didn’t win enough games against the right opponents to put ourselves in the playoffs. We knew the rules of engagement before the season started. To sit here after it is over and say, ‘Let’s change the rules so this can happen,’ that’s just the way it is. There may be a year where we’re in a situation where we’re not in great shape and we win our division and we get a chance to go. People said it about Seattle a couple years ago, and then Seattle won their wild-card game.

“It’s still about winning each week and doing what you’re supposed to do. We already knew the rules before the season started. That’s the way it expressed itself. We didn’t do enough to win to get ourselves in the playoffs. That’s on us. That’s not on anybody else, or what the structure of setup is.”

It’s the right attitude. The rules are the rules, and the Eagles knew the rules. Everyone knew the rules. Until they change, one team from each of the eight divisions will host a playoff game, whether they “deserve” it or not.

The Eagles may deserve it in relation to Carolina or Atlanta. But that doesn’t matter, because one of those teams will become the best in its division, regardless of the final won-loss record.

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Panthers add Frank Alexander to 53-man roster

Frank Alexander AP

The Panthers have one game to extend their season, and they’re adding a pass-rusher who might be able to help them.

The team announced that defensive end Frank Alexander had been added to the 53-man roster. He takes the place of wide receiver De’Andre Presley, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion last week.

Alexander spent the first 14 weeks suspended for a pair of substance abuse policy violations, which he said were triggered by his poor handling of grief over the illnesses of family members.

The former fourth-round pick had shown some promise as a pass-rusher, and getting after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will be critical in Sunday’s win-and-in NFC South title game.

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