It’s that time of year again. As the dog days of August wind down and baseball pennant races heat up, the NFL is days away from the start of another season.
For local fans of the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox the football season is a welcome reprieve, as it appears that none of our teams are destined for the playoffs.
Are you ready for some football?
The NFL is in high gear. The first round of roster cuts take place in camps across the country this week and final cuts are Aug. 30.
For local fans of the Patriots, Giants and Jets a fresh season offers new hope for meaningful games come January.
For the Patriots — winners of five straight AFC East titles and 11 in the last 13 seasons — it appears to be status quo for the team that has gone 61-19 the last five seasons.
The Giants, a team with the third most wins in NFL history behind only the Bears and the Packers, have a rich tradition of success to go along with a 4-1 record in the Super Bowl. But they struggled to find consistency last season, finishing with a 7-9 record. A revamped offensive line is just the beginning of the troubles the Giants will need to overcome if they are to enter the playoff party.
The Jets are a team in transition looking for the glory years that have slipped them by. Only five times in the last 16 seasons have the Jets managed double-digit victories. A pair of 8-8 finishes in 2011 and 2013, sandwiched between a dismal 6-10 2012 campaign, shows a Jets team that has been left on the tarmac.
When it comes to coaches, Bill Belichick is the only one in NFL history to have served 20 years as an assistant and 20 years as a head coach. I know he looks like he just got up from a nap, but he is the master of the X’s and O’s. The 218-114 coaching career record ranks third all-time for percentage. The Tom Brady-Belichick era has been nothing short of phenomenal; the pair has compiled a gaudy 148-43 record in 14 seasons.
Brady led the Patriots to a 12-4 record, including five come-from-behind wins, and the AFC Championship game last season. Brady is a year older, but also a year wiser. I would expect much of the same Brady-Belichick magic now that they’ve found another go-to receiver in sixth year player Julian Edelman, who caught 105 passes last year to take over for the departed Wes Welker.
The production of Donta Hightower and Chandler Jones on defense showed the Patriots drafted wisely two years ago. And alongside veterans Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich and Patrick Chung, the defense may lead the way to another deep playoff run in January.
The Giants scored 294 points and allowed 383 points last season. So before you can figure out how they can turn the corner heading into the season, they will need to reverse those numbers.
The Giants’ running game was non-existent with just 11 rushing touchdowns last year. That put all kinds of pressure on Eli Manning as the team became very one-dimensional. Even with head coach Tom Coughlin, just the second head coach in Giants history to last over a decade with a franchise second best 90-70 record, the offense became too predictable.
The Giants looked to address the lack of production on the ground by drafting Andre Williams from Boston College. The top rusher in the NCAA last year, Brown churned up 2,177 yards of real estate. They also went out and obtained the services of Rashad Jennings from Oakland. But with three new starters on the line of scrimmage it may be a work in progress. New York can ill afford another 0-6 start like last year.
First round draft pick wide receiver Odell Beckham has game changing speed to give Manning another target along with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, and that should add to the offensive totals from last year. But the defense is not what it was in years past, especially up front with the loss of Justin Tuck. It all falls on the shoulders of Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Giants’ secondary is without a doubt the best in the NFC East bringing in Walter Thurmond from Super Bowl champion Seattle and adding Dominique Rogers-Cromartie to go along with Antrel Rolle. But if they can’t stop the run at the point of attack teams won’t even bother to throw the ball downfield. The Giants got better but did they get better than the rest of the division remains to be seen.
The Jets are in the same boat as their New York brethren. The Jets scored 290 points and allowed 387 points in 2013. They need to reverse that trend before they can even think about putting the next foot in front of the other.
Quarterback Geno Smith showed flashes of stardom as he became the first rookie passer in Jets history to throw for over 300 yards in a game in just his third start. But with an offense that put the ball in the end zone just 25 times the Jets were left grounded last season.
Enter Chris Johnson from Tennessee, a six time 1,000 yard rusher, and Eric Decker, a two time 1,000 yard 85 catch receiver from Denver, and the Jets have put two building blocks in place to rejuvenate a stagnant offense.
Defensive end Muhammed Wilkerson was the 2013 NFL defensive rookie of the year and the Jets will need to give him an awful lot of help to keep the team in the game. If the defense can’t hold opponents in check that will put added pressure on an offense that is suspect to begin with.
Entering his sixth year at the helm, head coach Rex Ryan brings with him a mediocre 42-38 record. The Jets are going to need a little more than a mediocre effort if they are to fly into January. Maybe Michael Vick will rejuvenate his career in the process.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.