Today, we'll take a look at the teams on the Jets' schedule whose stock could see a notable rise or fall, compared to 2012.
Rise: Clash of the
Titans Good Teams
The Bengals' second appearance on HBO's Hard Knocks, in the past four seasons of the show, could yield equal or better results than their 2009 stint. In '09, the Bengals finished the regular season with a 10-6 record, the AFC North division title, and made the playoffs, losing to your New York Jets in their AFC Wildcard matchup.
In 2012, the Bengals finished the year also 10-6, making the playoffs, to lose against the Texans in their wildcard game.
A 10-6 record is tough to improve upon, but this season's Bengals team is stacked on paper. After an extremely successful draft, adding TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovanni Bernard, and DE Margus Hunt, among others, the Bengals should be respected.
QB Andy Dalton will be entering his 3rd season with Cincy, and will be expected to continue to improve. A sophomore slump wasn't in the works for the "Red Riffle," as his stats improved from his freshman year. Dalton's completion percentage went up by approximately four percentage points to 62.3%, while increasing his passing attempts by 10, his TDs by 7 (compared to 3 extra INT's), and rushing for three more TDs than 2011.
Bengals & more after the jump…
Dalton is accompanied on offense by superstar WR A.J. Green (he was my fantasy team), who received for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs, in 2012. RB BenJarvus Green-Elis, who played respectably last season, also returns. Green-Elis had over 1,000 yards on the ground and 6 TDs. His numbers compare very closely with those of former-Jet Shonn Greene, who was essentially cast-off by fans. Luckily for Cincy, RB Gio Bernard looks to be a do-it-all back, that should help to confuse defenses and create more room for Green-Elis.
Finally, the Bengals defense cannot be forgotten, a squad who finished 6th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (319.7) and 8th in points allowed per game (20), in 2012.
This offseason, the Bengals signed Goodell's favorite player, LB James Harrison. Harrison is in his last legs in the NFL at 35, but is a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and two-time Super Bowl champion.
The Bengals defense will also, essentially, get to really see their 2012 first-round pick for the first time, as CB Dre Kirkpatrick played sparingly in just five games last season, as he battled injuries.
Some believe this Bengals defense will be towards the top, if not the very top defense in the NFL, in 2013.
That was a lot of gushing, but the Bengals are a true team to watch in '13, in my opinion.
New Orleans Saints:
Welcome back, Sean Payton.
After a fair or unfair—I'll let you be the judge—dealing of suspensions in 2012, for their involvement in 'Bountygate,' the Saints will be able to get back to football in 2013.
The value of a team's head coach is hard to measure, but the removal of one who helped a team win a Super Bowl in 2010 ('09 season), has to leave a bad aura throughout the organization.
Drew Brees' production saw a slight decline in 2012, but he still surpassed 5,000 yards on the season and had 43 TDs to 19 INTs, so I'm sure we all can forgive him.
The Saints finished their 2012 campaign 3rd in the league in points scored per game (28.8) and 1st in the league in passing yards per game (312.3).
So what was the problem?
Well for starters, on offense, they struggled to maintain a run game that would keep defenses honest. Their depth at the running back position was heavy, with new-Jet Chris Ivory in the mix, but the Saints seemed to lack the right gameplan for Pierre Thomas and company. All backs had a decent enough ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, so I believe with Drew Brees as your quarterback, the Saints put the ground game on the back burner.
The rushing game saw a decline of 550 yards from 2011, and I believe that Sean Payton will correct the play balance when he's back on the sidelines.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints were…terrible. The 'defense' gave up 440.1 yards per game, to lead the the NFL, and 28.4 points per game, which was 2nd in the NFL. It's extremely difficult to get any worse than that.
New Orleans did look to alleviate some worries in the offseason, however, notably adding OLB Victor Butler in free agency and S Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas, with their first draft selection. Unfortunately, Butler tore his ACL in OTAs, which was a huge blow to the team. Vaccaro adds aggressiveness to the backfield—a player I was high on for the Jets—bringing big hits and great coverage.
Finally, the Saints did also draft DT John Jenkins out of Georgia, with the 82nd overall pick in the 3rd round. Jenkins is a strong and quick tackle, who was projected as early as the end of the first round in some mocks. In my book, it was a steal of a pick, and should add some toughness to a defensive line that gave up an average of 5.2 yards/attempt on the ground.
With the return of Brees' best buddy in Head Coach Sean Payton, running game adjustments, and defensive improvements, I believe we'll see a much better Saints team than the 7-9, 2012 team.
Honorable Mention: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs added former-Jet CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson, and drafted CB Johnthan Banks with their first pick (2nd round). Needless to say, the Bucs' 'weak' secondary is much improved.
The Bucs will need fifth-year QB Josh Freeman to be consistent to find success in 2013. Last season, Freeman's completion percentage plummeted to 54.8% from 62.8% in 2011, although he greatly improved his TD-to-INT ratio.
Tampa Bay has the pieces to 'win now,' but it will take execution for that to happen.
Fall: It's not always sunny in
The reigning champs won't play like it in 2012, in my opinion.
The Ravens have lost a great chunk of their Super Bowl team this offseason, and could even be thought of as a team that's very close to completely rebuilding. It's smart, because the Ravens weren't getting any younger, but it won't help their 2013 squad.
S Ed Reed, S Bernard Pollard, LB Ray Lewis, LB Paul Kruger, LB Dannell Ellerbe, WR Anquan Boldin—all gone.
Sure, their franchise QB Joe Flacco remains, after receiving a $120.6 million, 6-year contract, the most expensive contract in NFL history. And there's also that running back named Ray Rice you may have heard of. Lastly, I'd be remiss to leave out WR Jacoby Jones out of this mix, who had 855 yards and 8 TDs last season, which is very respectable but not flashy.
Yet, outside of that trio, the Ravens really aren't that scary on offense. They are middle-of-the-pack. Last season, the Ravens finished 16th in yards per game (352.5) and 10th in points per game (24.9).
There were times when the Ravens just didn't seem SB-worthy in 2012, losing to the Eagles (4-12) in Week 2 and nearly (should've) lost to the San Diego Chargers in Week 12—saved by a ridiculous 4th-and-long dump-off to Ray Rice.
On defense, the Ravens were just as 'so-so,' finishing the regular season 17th in yards allowed per game (350.9) and tied with the Giants for 20th in points allowed per game (21.5).
This, when the Ravens had their staple players and motivation via Ray Lewis.
In the offseason, Baltimore has added DT Chris Canty, S Michael Huff, and DE Marcus Spears. However, the Ravens have failed to get much younger on D, as all three are 30 years of age.
They have their championship, so now may be the time to build for the future, so HC John Harbaugh can see another.
Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders
I'm sorry Black-and-Silver faithful—I mean it, please don't injure me.
But let's be honest, your probable QB is the definition of unproven, Matt Flynn, who has started just two games in his career. His only real competition is a 4th round selection from a draft with a weak QB class: Tyler Wilson.
With Carson Palmer, the Raiders actually finished 18th in yards per game (344), yet 26th in points scored per game (18.1). The defense was just as bad: 18th in yards allowed per game (354.5) and 28th in points allowed (27.7). Yes, the Raiders finished just 4-12, but I believe this season could be even worse.
This is just a roster that lacks talent; their one saving grace in RB Darren McFadden can't stay on the field long enough to make an impact.