Monday, February 08, 2010

Rex Ryan will lead New York Jets to Super Bowl XLV against Cowboys in Dallas

By Gary Myers

MIAMI - They say everything is bigger and better in Texas, so Super Bowl XLV will have an all-time first: The Cowboys will be the first team to play the game on their home field.

And their opponent? The J-E-T-S.


Now that the 2009 season is over, it's time for our annual day-after look at what's going to happen next season.

It would be just the Jets' luck that after a 41-year Super Bowl drought they finally make the game and then have to deal with playing in Jerry Jones' billion-dollar palace in Arlington with 80% of the 100,000 fans rooting against them.

What happens in one NFL season in the free-agent era usually is not a good forecaster for the next year - the Saints finished last in the NFC South in '08 - but with the restrictive changes in free agency in the upcoming and presumably uncapped year, player movement is going to slow down. That would allow teams a better opportunity to keep their rosters intact and build on strong finishes. Since free agency began in 1993, rosters have turned at about 30% per year.

The Jets and Cowboys each finished the regular season on a hot streak. The Jets won five of their last six games, then beat the Bengals and Chargers on the road in the playoffs and had a 17-6 lead two minutes before the half in the AFC Championship Game before Peyton Manning stepped on the gas.

That gives Rex Ryan something to build on as long as he can control himself and not flip off any more fans in the offseason. Mark Sanchez took a giant step in the playoffs and if Leon Washington is able to rebound from his broken leg and Mike Tannenbaum can find Sanchez a big-time receiver in the draft (Notre Dame's Golden Tate or USC's Damien Williams), then the Jets should be able to open up the offense.

If it's not the Jets, then I like the Steelers and Colts in the AFC next year.

Dallas finished the season by getting blown out in the divisional round by the Vikings, one week after winning its first playoff game since 1996. The Cowboys ended the regular season by spoiling the Saints undefeated season in New Orleans, then shutting out the Redskins and Eagles before beating Philadelphia again in the wild-card round.

The Cowboys are loaded with talent and if Tony Romo can play like he did in December, the Cowboys could be big-time players next season.

"I can dream that our team has a chance, and I don't think it's an empty dream, to be a big part of the process what the Super Bowl is about next year," Jones said.

If it's not the Cowboys, then I like the Packers and Falcons next year.

Super Bowl XLV prediction: Cowboys 31, Jets 20.

COACHES' REPRIEVE: Coaching turnover runs in cycles. Going into the 2009 season, there were seven new coaches plus two interim coaches were retained. This year, there are only three: Mike Shanahan (Redskins), Pete Carroll (Seahawks) and Chan Gailey (Bills). There are several coaches who enter 2010 needing to win, but there's one thing that can save them: The uncertainty of a lockout in 2011.

Unless there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place by next March, the threat exists that the owners could lock out the players, which could potentially run into the regular season. Owners are going to be reluctant to fire coaches who are owed money on their contract and then spend money on replacements when a lockout will hurt their cash flow (season tickets, sponsorships deals, etc.) even if they will still have the network television money coming in.

Labor problems aside, here are the coaches who need to win:

Tom Cable, Raiders: Only Al Davis knows why he kept Cable, who has been an embarrassment to the organization. Maybe because nobody else wants to work for Davis.

Tom Coughlin, Giants: After the playoff disappointment of '08 and the collapse of '09, Coughlin needs to show he hasn't lost his fastball getting his players motivated.

Jack Del Rio, Jaguars: They've been a big disappointment the last two years and the stadium has too many empty seats.

John Fox, Panthers: He didn't get fired after a very strong finish to a bad season, but he didn't get an extension, either. He's going into the final year of his deal, a rarity in the NFL. Carolina can fire him after the season with no financial repercussions.

Eric Mangini, Browns: He's on a one-year trial with Mike Holmgren.

Josh McDaniels, Broncos: He's made a mess by trading Jay Cutler and alienating Brandon Marshall.

Raheem Morris, Bucs: The OT victory over the Saints in the 16th week saved his job. He looked overmatched in his rookie year.

Wade Phillips, Cowboys: His deal now runs through 2011, which means the job security questions will come up again by November if the Cowboys underachieve.

Steve Spagnulo, Rams: Spags took over a terrible team and deserves time after his 1-15 rookie year. But the team is for sale, which often leads to big changes.

Lovie Smith, Bears: He's put Cutler in the hands of Mike Martz, one of the best offensive minds in the league.

MARKET PEEKING: The free-agent season opens March 5, but with the unrestricted requirement jumping from four years to six in an uncapped year, the market would not be quite as rich as in past years. Restricted free agents can shop the market, but their own team retains right of first refusal with draft-choice compensation as long as they tender one-year contact offer.

Top five UFAs: Panthers DE Julius Peppers, Patriots DT Vince Wilfork, Raiders DE Richard Seymour, Colts LB Gary Brackett, Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby.

Top five RFAs: Broncos LB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos WR Brandon Marshall, Cowboys WR Miles Austin, Texans LB DeMeco Ryans, Saints G Jahri Evans.