Ups and Downs for Those Bucs/Titans Fans

For those Buccaneers fans jumping off bridges after week one because your team chose Jameis Winston, I come bearing good news: The last quarterback to throw a pick six on his first NFL pass? Brett Favre.

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Oh. And lest you think I’ve forgotten you smug Marcus Mariota fans:

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Good luck riding those rollercoasters, boys and girls.

Quick Comments from Selected Late Sunday NFL Games

Some quick observations on some of the games that I caught late in the day after the Bears game was over.

Broncos – Ravens:

There was a huge question about Peyton Manning‘s arm before their game against the Ravens this weak. Manning has been struggling with his arm strength all preseason and has put up some ugly game tape. Pre-game reports that he’d been putting more zip on the ball after starting to wear a glove on his throwing hand, something he didn’t do in the preseason. However, I’m inclined to attribute more of it to the huge windup he’s developed in an effort to get more behind his throws. He was also much more inaccurate than he has been in the past.

Manning actually didn’t do too badly. But that long release may haunt him all season, as it did on a Jimmy Smith pick six on Manning’s first throw of the second half.

On the other side Denver constantly harassed Joe Flacco with a ferocious pass rush. Both Denver and Baltimore struggled to protect their quarterbacks and I’m now officially concerned about both of these offensive lines.

Finally, Terrell Suggs‘s torn achilles will keep him out for the year. That’s bad news for my Ravens Super Bowl pick.

Titans – Buccaneers:

The Jameis WinstonMarcus Mariota match up looked very much like you’d expect it it.

Mariota looked far more pro-ready, being in command of the offense the entire game against that nice, standard cover-two defense. He threw four touchdowns in the first half alone.

Winston was far more up and down, mostly down, as he was in the preseason. Winston has quit a way to go before he’s going to be a competent NFL quarterback and its going to be a long season for the Bucs.

Another thing to keep an eye on is that Buccaneer running game, which looked very effective. If Winston develops at all, he’s going to get a lot of help from some wonderful running by Doug Martin.

The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.

Chargers – Lions:

Preseason reports had people wondering if Chargers first round running back Melvin Gordon was headed towards bust territory. I wouldn’t say that Gordon looked bad so much as he looked disappointingly nondescript. But as expected, the Lions Ameer Abdulla was the guy to watch in this game. His tendency to accelerate through his cuts and continue to gain momentum is rapidly putting him into an upper class of running backs.

There should be concern about that Lions defense without Ndamukong Suh. The Chargers dissected them in the second half both in the running game and with the pass. They made it look far too easy for any Lions fan comfort. Or for the comfort of the Bears, who are going to be visiting San Diego in November.

I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with Matthew Stafford but he looked awful in this game. You might generously say that he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers but his accuracy was very suspect. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the competitive NFC North.

Cardinals – Saints:

The Bears next opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. My initial impression watching them beat up on the New Orleans Saints is that this is a rough, tough team up front on both sides of the ball. If the Bears run on this team like they did on the Packers in the first half, more power to them. I have my doubts.

The Saints looked completely flat. I’m really surprised as offseason reports indicated that they were muscling up to become more physical. If they did, they didn’t show it. Sean Payton didn’t have this team prepared to play in this game. The Saints have to pick it up.

Cowboys – Giants

Tony Romo had ages to throw the ball in this game. That Dallas offensive line is a wall. No one got close. And they road graders blocking the run. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better offensive line.

The Cowboys are a tough team. Which why I was shocked that the Giants were actually ahead at half. They were badly out played and the statistics were sick – they only had the ball for about 8 minutes of the half. But the Cowboys kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and but you have to give the Giants credit. They hung tough.

The Giants offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Cowboys but Erik Flowers looks like he’s going to turn out to be a pretty good pick at left tackle. And of course, they have Odell Beckham, who drew a safety rolled to his side all night. I was also impressed by their coverage teams on special teams. But they were out classed you figured that they were eventually going to lose – and they did.  But the Cowboys did everything they could to give it away.

Nowhere Is Safe Against the Packers. And Other Point of View.

Bears

  • Color me surprised that the Bears put quarterback Zac Dysert on waivers. It probably means that Jimmy Clausen will be OK for the Packers game but, still, I thought Dysert might have a chance to make the practice squad. It makes you wonder if the Bears might not try to sneak David Fales through instead and, more to the point, whether he’ll make it.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune on outside linebacker Willie Young surviving the cuts Saturday:

    “Young is now one of five outside linebackers left in Lake Forest, joining Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho.

    “Still, the 53-man roster the Bears established Saturday will face revisions in the coming days as [head coach John] Fox and general manager Ryan Pace scan the league’s waiver wire, searching for castoffs from other teams who might fill a need.”

    But they’re probably not going to find any decent pass rushers. Those just don’t shake loose and if they do, someone ahead of them in the waiver process will scoop them up. Young’s about as safe as anyone on the roster at this point.

  • You have to wonder, given Zack Miller‘s injury history, if the Bears aren’t going to be sorry they didn’t keep another tight end. They need to be able to run from the double tight end formation and rookie Khari Lee is the only other player opposite Martellus Bennett.
  • I’m also mildly surprised that the Bears didn’t try to sneak tackle Tayo Fabuluje on to the practice squad. They’ve only got one back up at guard: Vlad Ducasse.
  • Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times answers the biggest questions entering the season:

    “Biggest area of concern .?.?.”

    “The secondary. The Bears are looking at four new starters in the secondary, if you include nickel back Sherrick McManis. The depth is razor thin. The Bears need cornerback Kyle Fuller to be the player they think he can be and veteran safety Antrel Rolle to show off his old Pro Bowl skills at times.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m starting to suspect that Fuller isn’t the player we thought he was and I’m positive that Rolle has lost a step. Right now there isn’t a single player I have any confidence in and the secondary is weak at every position.

Elsewhere

  • The Giants have cut wide receiver James Jones. You have to wonder if the Bears ar desperate enough to give him a try.
  • The Vikings cut second year offensive lineman David Yankey. Yankey didn’t play much last season and didn’t survive an unsuccessful move to the tackle position. Patrick Omameh was a starting guard for the Bucs but couldn’t make the same transition. Once again, both are the type of player I have to think that the Bears are at least considering claiming. As a guard, signing him would move Kyle Long to right tackle. I’d say that former first round pick Derek Sherrod might be on this list of potential claims, as well.
  • Jo-Lonn Dunbar might look good in a Bears uniform.
  • The “independent” neurologist who evaluated RGIII has resigned from the neurological consultant program leading once again to the question: “What the hell is going on in Washington?”
  • Sounds like the Packers have yet another wide receiver to worry about. It isn’t fair.

    Can you imagine how good Alshon Jeffery would be with Aaron Rogers throwing to him? My guess is that he’d be right behind Calvin Johnson as one of the best in the league.

  • Once again, its not easy to be a Bears fan lately. But its nothing compared to being a Washington Redskins fan. Via Jerry Brewer at the Washington Post:

    “The lewd news is that Jessica McCloughan, the wife of the GM, had to apologize Wednesday night after it was discovered that she took to Twitter to accuse ESPN’s Dianna Russini, a former WRC (Channel 4) Washington sports anchor, of having an affair with her husband and exchanging sexual favors for news tips. When Jessica issued a statement via the team, it turned gossip into mainstream discourse and added more humiliation to the franchise’s farcical preseason.

    “It also should be used as a delicate precaution: Despite how much McCloughan has thrived in Washington the past eight months, his off-field behavior will always warrant concern and monitoring.”

    McCloughan has admitted to having a drinking problem, one that got him fired from the 49ers. Things like this won’t help.

One Final Thought

Having mentioned my feelings above about the defensive backfield, I should add that Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com has a point about the linebacker position:

“I believe the Bears should have cut Shea McClellin – as Fox has explained to us, there is absolutely nothing personal in this – and kept Mason Foster, because I’m convinced Foster is the better player.”

Vic Fangio went all in early on McClellin and now will continue to roll the dice even though he got progressively worse as the preseason went on, and that is complicated by Christian Jones’ youth and Jon Bostic’s multiple boo boos.”

I have to agree. My initial thought was that the Bears started McClellin and have kept him because he’s the younger player. But Foster is only 26 and he’s clearly the better of the two. I can only assume that the Bears believe that Foster has peaked whereas McClellin still has some upside. In any case, Arkush continues:

“With Jeremiah Ratliff out the next three weeks, and only Eddie Goldman seemingly able on the nose, if you’re Packers coach Mike McCarthy and you’ve got running back Eddie Lacy, where are you going to attack the Bears next Sunday?”

Everywhere, Hub. Everywhere.

Hub Arkush: Draft Information Worth Noting

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com rips the process of putting together mock drafts. Justifiably. But then gives out some information that he thinks is reasonably reliable based upon sources were willing to go on the record on:

“One team’s general manager told me Monday morning he’s sure it’s no better than 50-50 right now that the Bucs are taking Jameis Winston. They might, but don’t bet the farm on it.

“Another individual who will be picking for his team told me cornerback Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest is one of the fastest risers on a number of draft boards right now as we count down to draft day.

“And one highly respected offensive coach told me, ‘Todd Gurley will be the best offensive player in this draft.'”

For what its worth.

Bears-Bucs Philosophical Clash – Who Will Be More Competitive in 2015?

According to Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com the Buccaneers have thrown away $50 million on defensive backs over the last couple years:

“Friday’s trade of safety Dashon Goldson became the third time the Bucs have cut bait on a secondary player who had been an enormous investment for the Buccaneers. The Bucs signed Goldson to a huge contract two years ago, only to trade him to Washington for the paltry compensation of swapping a seventh-round pick for a sixth-round in the 2016 draft.”

“The Bucs also traded their 2013 first-round pick and 2014 fourth-round pick to the Jets for Darrelle Revis, paid Revis $16 million, and got one season of work out of him. After spending last season with the Patriots, Revis is back with the Jets.

“And the Bucs used the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft on safety Mark Barron, who lasted two seasons in Tampa Bay before the Bucs traded him to St. Louis for a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick. The Bucs paid Barron more than $10 million before getting rid of him.”

Of course the problem is that when the Bucs hired head coach Lovie Smith (below), they switched to a cover-two scheme that doesn’t call for a large investment in cornerbacks like Revis. Safety is one of the most important positions on the field. Goldson and Barron didn’t fit the scheme because it calls for a special type of safety that can quickly read the situation and cover a lot of ground to get into the right spot.

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What’s interesting is that the Bears are also in a position where they invested a large amount of money into players like Jared Allen and Willie Young – 4-3 ends that were meant to rush the passer with their hands in the dirt. They spent a third round pick on Will Sutton, a three technique tackle that arguably doesn’t fit a 3-4 scheme either.

But there are two factors that make the Bears situation different. First, the Bears will spend up to 60% of their time in sub-packages which call for a four man line. Though frequently mentioned, this factor is largely underplayed in the media. A guy like Allen could come in handy rushing out of such a formation in passing situations if he bounces back from a miserable season last year. All of their signings over the last couple years could play in these packages and be of great value there.

That leads to the second point – the scheme is more versatile and can use players with different talents to advantage. Not only can the scheme accommodate, to an extent, linemen who can penetrate rather than strictly playing two gaps. That may leave room for guys like Sutton if they can adapt. And lets not forget the advantage of letting last years signee Lamarr Houston (below) roll back to the position of outside linebacker which he should be far more comfortable in than the role of 4-3 defensive end that the bears slotted him into last year.

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Both the problem and the advantage of having a defensive coach like Smith is that they stubbornly insist that it be their way or the highway on defense. That keeps things simple but it costs both time and money as players who don’t fit are replaced.

Smith got a year’s head start over Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox. And though the record was the worst in the league I thought they were surprisingly competitive last year in most of the games I saw. But you still have to wonder if the Bears won’t rebuild faster and be better off in the end by being more flexible.

The race is on. It will be fascinating to see which philosophy wins.

Cutler Trade Good for Almost Everybody. Almost. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Elliot Harrison at nfl.com constructs his all-under 25 team. Guess how many Bears are on it?
  • Rob Demovsky, Green Bay blogger at ESPN, thinks the Bears signing of Pernell McPhee was the worst NFC North free agent move to date. Ben Goessling in Minnesota thought it was the Eddie Royal signing. Michael Rothstein in Detroit thought it was Ray McDonald. Clearly the Bears are making a great impression around the division.
  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune sets a fan who continues to make excuses for quarterback Jay Cutler straight as he answers your questions:

    “Will the Bears use more rollouts and bootlegs? It’s certainly a possibility. But the idea that the Bears didn’t do that under Marc Trestman, Mike Tice, Mike Martz and Ron Turner is flat out wrong. Everyone runs the boot game.”

    “To expect Cutler to change dramatically as a player with more bootlegs in the offensive scheme would be a miscalculation in my opinion. Look at how many offensive coaches he’s already worked with. Do you think every offensive coach the Bears have hired as been inept and incapable of coaching offensive football? The answer to that is no. Cutler is going to be who he’s been. If he can cut down on the number of turnovers, he has a chance to remain on the field.”

    I continue to be amazed by the number of fans who continue to make excuses for Cutler after six years of up and down play. Cutler was surrounded by about as much offensive talent as any quarterback in the NFL could reasonably expect to have. He had a head coach who believed in him at the beginning of the year and was as easy and as accommodating as any he’ll find to work with. He’ll never be any better than he was last year.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com likes Missouri defensive end/outside linebacker Shane Ray better than I do.
  • Arkush also sings the praises of Bears general manager Ryan Pace‘s free agency moves but wisely ends the article with the critical question: “Now, can Pace draft better than his predecessors?” Pace is using free agency to set up the draft but the draft is where you really have to execute.
  • I’m not entirely sure why Jeff Dickerson at ESPN thinks that Bears safety Brock Vereen doesn’t fit the “aggressive, hard-hitting mold that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell are known to prefer in safeties”.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune gets a little more information about the blocking scheme that the Broncos ran on the offensive line last year from new center Will Montgomery. It sounds like a little bit of everything depending on the situation.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

Chase Goodbread at nfl.com points out that the Bears trade for Cutler apparently benefited teams all over the league – seemingly everyone but the Bears.

Sometimes It Isn’t Rocket Science

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Sometimes value and need meet to make for the almost perfect draft pick. That’s what I think happened to me in the “Next Fan Up” mock draft, an exercise performed by the same group I participated with last year.

The Situation

Last year I hated the Bears spot at 14. They needed defensive linemen and safties but none were worth the pick. I ended up taking the best available player, linebacker C.J. Mosley. Not a bad pick in retrospect.

This year with the Bears picking at seven things were totally different. With needs all over the field the odds that a player that could fill one was going to be the best available were high. Here’s what happened with the first six picks:

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The Guy

Before the draft I pegged four impact players in the top ten picks:  Leonard Williams, Jameis Winston,  Dante Fowler, and Danny Shelton.  Some may justifiably criticize me for not including Amari Cooper and Kevin White.  But Cooper may have already hit his peak and White is a one year wonder that relies too much on physical abilities that may not be dominant once he gets to the NFL for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly take either one.  But I put them a tier below my top four.

To no one’s surprise, the first three of those four top players were gone.  That left Shelton as the best player on my board.  But I knew that few other draftnicks agreed with me.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper didn’t put Shelton in his five safest picks in the draft because his ceiling is too low. I think Kiper is under estimating him. Shelton reminds me just a bit of Vince Wilfork and I believe he may turn out to be more than just a clogger in the middle.  He’s never going to be a penetrator but Shelton uses his power and quickness to leverage offensive linemen and collapse the middle of the pocket as a pass rusher.  Even if Kiper is right and Shelton only turns out to be a plug in the middle he’d be valuable as the center piece of any 3-4 defense.  He never gets blocked back off of the line of scrimmage despite almost always being double teamed and he’s uncanny in the way he regularly shed blocks to stop the run.  And you can’t stop anything if you can’t stop the run.

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The Attempt to Trade Down

There was little doubt that Shelton (above) was my guy.  The question was could I trade back and still have a reasonable chance to get him and, if so, how far?

Ordinarily I wouldn’t think twice about this unless I had multiple players that I liked with no definite winner heads and tails above everyone else.  But most mock drafts that had Shelton getting past the Bears had him falling to somewhere  in the middle of the round.  The first team behind me that I had with defensive tackle as a need was the Cleveland Browns at 12.  So I figured anywhere in front of them might be relatively safe and was willing to risk going down farther.  With the third oldest roster in the NFL last year and more holes than a golf course full of gophers, heaven knows the Bears need young players.  So I thought it was more important to get more chances in the annual draft lottery and to take the risk losing Shelton, even as someone who I thought was clearly the best available.

But I didn’t trade back.  Why?  Because it take two to tango and no one wanted the pick.  One of the things that’s evident this year is that everyone wants to trade back but almost no one wants to trade up.  At least not into the top ten, especially with Marcus Mariota gone after the second pick.  Only one trade in the mock draft actually took place in that area and that was between the Jets and the Giants, who wanted White.  The tail end of the first round may include more action depending on how highly the teams involved value the quarterbacks that are left and how much they want to over draft to get one.  Other than that, I can’t see it happening.  Most draft experts actually don’t think there are much more than 15 players with first round grades in the entire class.  And I can’t see too many teams trading up into the first round to get second round talent.

The Pick

In the end my choice was clear and I gladly took Shelton at number seven.  I think his talent matches the pick and fills a need.  Perhaps the Bears biggest need.  Last year I said that playing general manager isn’t easy.  But sometimes all you need to do is keep it simple.

Time Is a Quarterback’s Best Friend. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears cornerback Alan Ball. Ball is a big defensive back at 6-2, 197 lb. You can’t have too many of them. Bears general manager Ryan Pace would seem to agree.
  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times goes down the Bears defensive depth chart. A couple thing become clear in this exercise. Defensive line is still by far the biggest need with Ego Ferguson backing up all three positions. The cornerback position is interesting with Demontre Hurts, Ball, Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller lining up to compete for two spots. The guess here is that Fuller is established at one outside spot and that one of the other three ends up playing nickel.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com is down right enthusiastic about the signing of linebacker Mason Foster.
  • The 49ers are continuing to stick with Blaine Gabbert (left) as their backup quarterback. Similar to Bears backup Jimmy Clausen (right), Gabbert got thrown into the fire immediately his first season and performed poorly. Also like Clausen, he never got another chance to prove himself.

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    There was a time when quarterbacks sat for years developing behind an established starter. Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once famously said that quarterbacks didn’t really pick up the offense until the THIRD YEAR. High round picks don’t get that kind of time anymore. But you have to wonder if both Gabbert and Clausen aren’t benefiting from their roles as backups in the same way that those quarterbacks of long ago did. If so, we may not have seen the last of either of them as starters.

  • Say what you want about former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, he apparently knew many of his players better then some would think. From John Mullin at csnchicago.com:

    “A footnote to the 2014 ‘leadership’ season: Trestman, who began naming weekly last season rather than the traditional team-vote method, appears to have had some sense of what he did and didn’t have as far as locker room leaders. Through 15 games, [Jared] Allen and [Jeremiah] Ratliff were captains six times each, Jay Cutler three times.

    Brandon Marshall was a captain just twice, the second and last time being the Miami game, after which Marshall erupted with a postgame rant at teammates.”

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com passes on that Mike McCarthy wants to put Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers in the pistol more often next year. The formation has most of the advantages of being in the shotgun but puts the runningback behind you, allowing for runs and making play action effective. I don’t see much of a downside.
  • Orr assesses the effectiveness of the NFL general managers in the draft by looking at the percentage of their picks that make the all-rookie team.

    “Jags GM Dave Caldwell is only two years in, but there’s no doubt he’ll need to hit on one this year. Three years without an All-Rookie selection is unheard of for gainfully employed GMs.”

    Carolina’s Dave Gettleman ranks at the top of the list. Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t ranked as he hasn’t made a pick yet.

  • Chris Wessling, also at nfl.com, comments on the staff’s division power rankings. The NFC North ranked third amongst the eight divisions:

    “Even with the acknowledgment that the Lions and Vikings are potential wild-card teams, the NFC North’s third-place ranking reflects respect for the Packers as the primary threat to the Seahawks’ NFC hegemony. Nobody knows what to think of Chicago, mirroring the Bears’ puzzlement at quarterback.”

  • Texans owner Bob McNair defended their signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork by saying that players are more likely to lose speed than strength with age. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com calls the notion “a bit simplistic”. I call it dead wrong.
  • Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is returning to his familiar ways, limiting himself to free agents he either knows (Henry Melton, Chris Conte) or that people he knows know (Bruce Carter and Sterling Moore). That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed as head coach of the Bears when hiring assistants and, like the players he’s signing now, that meant he was drawing them from a very limited pool. There’s always going to be a cap on how much success coaches like Smith have. From the Tampa Tribune.
  • Still wondering why teams don’t spend high round picks on running backs anymore? The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of 2012, took Montee Ball in the second round and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Guess which one is going into OTAs as the starter? Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.

One Final Thought

A reminder to everyone not to forget to register to get tickets for you and a guest to the NFL Draft in Chicago at NFL.com/DraftTown. As long as I get the second ticket.

Can’t Blame a Guy for Trying

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Dan Hanzus at nfl.com writes that Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith is looking at more than quarterbacks in the draft:

“‘I just know I can see why people would assume that we are going to take a quarterback,’ Smith told NFL Media’s Steve Wyche in an interview that will air on NFL Network on Monday. ‘There are two excellent quarterbacks that are available at the top. And when you get a chance to draft someone like that most of the time people do. But there are other good players in the draft also. I think it’s a deep draft.'”

Translation: We like Winston but if you want to offer us four first round picks we’ll be glad to take them and stick with Mike Glennon.

Not very likely.  Smith is almost certainly going to have to nut up and make this pick.  Good luck to him.

That Thing That New Head Coaches Bring

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Dan Hanzus at nfl.com answers your questions (again):

“I’m making the Jets (4-12 in ’14) my early favorite. There are a lot good vibes around Florham Park right now, with the additions of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Antonio Cromartie and more. New coach Todd Bowles has a real secondary to work with — something Rex Ryan couldn’t claim last year — and I can easily see the Jets making a four-to-six win jump with better quarterback play, whether that be from Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick or, yep, Marcus Mariota.

“Also look out for the Buccaneers (2-14), who will get better in a hurry if they hit on Jameis Winston.”

I’ve commented extensively now about teams winning in March not winning in January. But having said that, there is something about having a new coaching staff that rejuvenates a team. No one’s job is safe and everyone focuses a little more and competes a little harder that first year. So its not out of the question that that Jets – or the Bills – bounce up with a good record this year.

I’d like put the Bears into this class.  They’ve got plenty of skill position players on offense.  They added an ascending pass rusher in Pernell McPhee.  You could argue that Jared Allen simply has a down year and could be much better rested rushing in subpackages.  Lamar Houston was slow to adjust to defensive end in a 4-3 and will almost certainly be more comfortable in a 3-4.  But unfortunately with Jay Cutler returning as quarterback and a transition to the 3-4 going on defensively, the guess here is that most of the benefit that new Bears head coach John Fox brings will be for the long haul.