Divisional Breakdown : NFC West Teams

Hello, NFC West Teams! Today we’re going to visit with you.

The Arizona Cardinals

History: The Cardinals are the oldest existing team in the NFL. They were founded all the way back in 1898 in Chicago. They’ve since moved to St. Louis (1960) and Arizona (1988). For reasons known only to the NFL, they remained in the NFC East Division until 2002. The Cardinals most recent success came with their Super Bowl season in 2008, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Current Players to Know: Kevin Kolb/John Skelton at QB. Skelton won the position in training camp but was injured in the first game and Kolb has taken over to great success – a 3-0 start. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the history of the game; he can literally catch anything. Vonnie Holliday is a veteran defensive end.

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: The Arizona Cardinals are undefeated. And not by the grace of an easy schedule – they’ve beaten legit teams, the Patriots among them. And they don’t look like they’re about to slow down anytime soon. It will be interesting to see what happens when John Skelton is able to return from injury (any week now) – whether the Cards stick with Kolb or switch back to Skelton.

The San Francisco 49ers

History: The 49ers were founded in 1946. The name “49ers” came from those who flocked to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. They own the distinct privilege of winning every Super Bowl they’ve ever played in (five total). In the 80’s and 90’s they were a super power, home to iconic football figures Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice.

Current Players to Know: QB Alex Smith was the first player taken in the 2004 NFL Draft, but had yet to live up those expectations until the past two seasons under the mentoring of head coach Jim Harbaugh. Vernon Davis has also flourished under coach Harbaugh at tight end. Patrick Willis is a constant threat at Linebacker.

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The 49ers are good…a fact which, as a Packers fan, I know all too well. The 49ers beat the Packers decisively in the first week of the season. They trampled all over the Lions in Week 2, but were dealt a surprising loss by the Vikings last Sunday. Make no mistake, though – the 49ers are as good as they come, especially on defense.

The Seattle Seahawks

History: The Seahawks were founded in 1974 and played their first season in 1976. They were originally an NFC team, then became an AFC team in 1977, then switched back to the NFC in 2002. The Seahawks played in their first Super Bowl in 2005.

Current Players to Know: Russell Wilson is a surprise. He’s the shortest quarterback in the league (5’10”) and beat out the highly-sought-after free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job. Marshawn Lynch is a beast of a running back. Brandon Browner is troublesome at cornerback.

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

2011 Regular Season Record: 7-9

What to Watch For in 2012: The Seahawks just won a controversial game…which is a nice way of saying they were awarded a win for a game they had lost. But, controversial or not, the Seahawks are playing well this year, and they’re especially hard to beat at home. The continued development of Russell Wilson should be an asset for the Seahawks.

The St. Louis Rams

History: The Rams started out in Cleveland and lived there for about 10 years before moving to Los Angeles. They moved to St. Louis in 1995. In 1999 the Rams won the Super Bowl with “the Greatest Show on Turf” – a lethal combination of Hall of Fame talent: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Tory Holt among them.

Current Players to Know: Quarterback Sam Bradford was the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Steven Jackson could run through a brick wall…or ten. Danny Amendola is having a break-out year at wide receiver.

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-14

What to Watch For in 2012: Coach Fisher had a long and successful tenure as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. This is his first season with the Rams, and all signs point to him having a better season than last year’s 2-14 record. The Rams are definitely in a rebuilding phase, but with Coach Fisher at the helm, they’re likely to improve quickly.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC East Teams

If you’re confused about which teams are in the NFC East, just reminder that at one time, the Arizona Cardinals were part of this division. And really, nothing about Arizona says “east” – even less than Dallas, TX.

The Dallas Cowboys

History: The Cowboys (originally named the Steers, which is potentially the best worst first name ever) were formed as an expansion team of the NFL in 1960. Tom Landry was named as the head coach and led the team with integrity, innovation, and a long list of winning seasons as a result. Dallas dominated the NFL in the 90’s with Hall of Fame players and coaches such as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Jimmy Johnson. The Cowboys are synonymous with their hands-on owner, Jerry Jones.

Current Players to Know: Tony Romo has probably dealt with more criticism than most quarterbacks due to the fact that he’s the face of America’s most well-known football franchise. He’s often accused of being inconsistent. Jason Witten is Romo’s favorite target at tight end; DeMarco Murrary is having a great start to the season at running back. Sean Lee is making quite a splash at linebacker this season.

Head Coach: Jason Garrett

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: It’s been a rough start for Big D. They might be 2-1 at this point, but it’s an ugly 2-1. The Cowboys have a lot of work to do to gel as an offense, and it won’t get any easier this week against the Bears on Monday night. Sean Lee is probably the player to watch this season; he’s off to an incredible start.

The New York Giants

History: The Giants go way back. They were founded in 1925 by Tim Mara. The Mara family still owns the Giants. The team is well-known for the Bill Parcels/Phil Simms/Lawrence Taylor era in the 1980’s. They are also the current Super Bowl champions and have won two Super Bowls in the last 5 years.

Current Players to Know: Eli Manning is currently regarded as the best 4th quarter quarterback in the league. He has pulled out some unbelievable winning drives in the past few seasons. Victor Cruz is well known for this moves as a wide receiver…and for his moves as a salsa dancer during his TD celebrations. The Giants have a glut of talented defensive ends: Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul are the best known.

Head Coach: Tom Coughlin

2011 Regular Season Record: 9-7

What to Watch For in 2012: The Giants are probably the least talked about Super Bowl Champions in the history of football. Perhaps it’s the unassuming demeanor of Eli Manning, who has often been criticized for his low-key presence on-field, but one way or another it seems like no one takes the Giants seriously, despite their overwhelming success over the course of the past few seasons. They’re on pace to have another great one, too, with Eli playing better than even in the 4th quarter.

The Philadelphia Eagles

 History: The Eagles were actually founded in 1933 as a replacement team for another team (the Frankford Yellow Jackets) that had gone bankrupt. They’ve been to two Super Bowls but have yet to win one. Current head coach Andy Reid has held his position since 1999 and has led the Eagles to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. He is currently the longest tenured coach in the league.

Current Players to Know: Michael Vick, QB, who tends to spend more time on the ground getting hit than on his feet. DeSean Jackson (WR) and LeSean McCoy (RB) are his favorite offensive weapons. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hold down the fort on defense as cornerbacks.

Head Coach: Andy Reid

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: Philadelphia is notorious for it’s emotionally-charged treatment of the Eagles…especially when they are performing poorly. And they are indeed performing poorly. They’ve won two games by the skin of their teeth and lost by a landslide on Sunday. Andy Reid has been on the hot seat in Philadelphia for a few seasons now, despite significant success, but if the Eagles don’t improve quickly it could be his last season in Philly.

The Washington Redskins

 History: The Redskins were awarded a franchise in 1932 as the Boston Braves. The team’s name was changed to the Redskins a year later and moved to Washington in 1937. That was also the year the Redkins signed Sammy Baugh, who went on to become a Hall of Fame quarterback. Head coach Joe Gibbs had a long and successful history with the Redskins, coaching the team from 1981-1992 and then again from 2004-2007. Mike Shanahan, long-time Broncos coach, is the current head coach.

Current Players to Know: RGIII, or Robert Griffin the Third, is having the best season of all of the rookie quarterbacks in the league so far (though he’s had a rough two weeks after a stellar start in Week 1). This is wide receiver Pierre Garcon’s first season in Washington; he previously played in Indianapolis. London Fletcher is an inside linebacker and has played 224 consecutive games over the course of 14 seasons – never once missing a game.

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan

2011 Regular Season Record: 5-11

What to Watch For in 2012: The Redskins have been abysmal over the past few seasons. It looks like there is some reason to hope for more this season, though, with the addition of RGIII at QB and Garcon at WR. There are still plenty of kinks to work out, but Redskins fans have reason to believe that over the course of the next few seasons their situation in a difficult division might improve.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC South Teams

Today we’re heading south, as in the NFC south. Here’s a look into those teams:

The Atlanta Falcons

History: In 1965 the city of Atlanta built the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which ended up being the catalyst for their push for a football team. Both the AFL and the NFL were interested in placing a team in Atlanta (this was in 1965 – pre-merger) but the executives eventually chose to go with the NFL. The Falcons made a Super Bowl appearance in 1998 and had mostly successful seasons under QB Michael Vick, who, after serving time in prison for dog fighting, returned to the NFL to play with the Philadelphia Eagles (where he still plays today).

Current Players to Know: Matt Ryan, QB, is nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his calm and cool demeanor on the field. Michael Turner is a beast of a running back. Tony Gonzalez has played for 16 seasons as a tight end and really started the revolution of the position.

Head Coach: Mike Smith

2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6

What to Watch For in 2012: The Falcons have had their fair share of crushing playoff loses in recent years. This season, they believe they can go all the way. However, so does every team. But if they could make a run for it, this would be the year – likely Tony Gonzalez’s last.

The Carolina Panthers

History: In 1987 the NBA brought the Hornets to Charlotte. This created a buzz with local businessmen who wanted to bring an NFL expansion team to the area, too. In 1993 the NFL unanimously decided to award the Carolinas the newest expansion team. The Panthers played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII and lost.

Current Players to Know: Quarterback Cam Newton was the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He lived up to (and perhaps even surpassed) expectations by having a great season, even though the Panthers were 6-10. Steve Smith (WR) can catch anything. Jonathan Stewart (RB) is bringing some life back to the Panthers running game this year.

Head Coach: Ron Rivera

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-10

What to Watch For in 2012: Continued improvement is expected for the Panthers, who have a relatively new coach and new quarterback. They weren’t as bas as their 6-10 record indicates last year. I bet they’ll be at least 8-8 this season, maybe better.

The New Orleans Saints

History: New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise in 1966. The early years weren’t kind to the Saints, though they’ve had a rich history of players and coaches. The Saints were so bad at one point that fans wore paper bags over their heads while attending games. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Saints became a source of healing for the ravaged city. They won the Super Bowl four years later, spurred on by the passion of the city. However, they’ve been the source of much controversy as of late with a major scandal (allegedly putting “bounties” on players) that resulted in multiple suspensions – most notably head coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for the year.

Current Players to Know: Drew Brees (QB) is the heart and soul of the team. He leads the team in a specific pregame chant that changes every season. Jimmy Graham is a former basketball player who is continuing the trend of domination at the tight end position. Jonathan Vilma, who just had his year-long suspension overturned but will still miss half of the season due to injury and might even get re-suspended by the NFL, is the leader of the defense.

Head Coach: Sean Payton (Interim Head Coach: Joe Vitt) (Interim Interim Head Coach while Joe Vitt Serves His 6 Week Suspension: Aaron Kromer)

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The Saints have a lot to overcome this season. Along with the devastating bounty repercussions, they also had a lot of contractual issues to work out with Drew Brees this offseason. They have to play the first 6 weeks of the season with an Interim Interim Head Coach…and then the next 11 with an Interim Head Coach. All while the bounty controversy rages on. It’s going to be rough.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

History: The Bucs actually joined the NFL as an AFC team in 1976. They were moved to the NFC the following year. Jon Gruden coached the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 1992, a year after Tony Dungy had been fired as head coach.

Current Players to Know: Josh Freeman has been decent at quarterback ever since he was drafted in 2009. Vincent Jackson is a new Buc, having spent most of his career as a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. Ronde Barber has been a Buc forever, specifically since 1997. He plays cornerback/safety.

Head Coach: Greg Schiano

2011 Regular Season Record: 4-12

What to Watch For in 2012: The Bucs new head coach incited quite the controversy this weekend when he told his players to try to make a move to disrupt the ball on the last play of the game when the Giants were in the victory formation. Lots of people called it an unprofessional move…but at least he’s coaching to win the game. He’s teaching his players how to fight for 60 minutes. And that could definitely lead to good things in the future.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC North Teams

We’ve arrived at my favorite divisional breakdown: the NFC North breakdown. Featuring the best team in any division, named by a completely unbiased source who has not been a fan since age 10: the Green Bay Packers.

I’m so excited.

The Chicago Bears

History: Founded in 1919 and becoming a charter member of the NFL in 1920, the Chicago Bears have one of the longest histories in the NFL. They are often identified with longtime leader and football pioneer George Halas (“Papa Bear”) and iconic player and coach Mike Ditka. The Bears are known for their defense (especially in the ’85 “Super Bowl Shuffle” season) and their historic rivalry with the Green Bay Packers.

Current Players to Know: Jay Cutler, the oft criticized quarterback, doesn’t always have the demeanor associated with the position, but has the arm for it. Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver who just relocated back to Chicago after a brief stint with the Broncos. Brian Urlacher is the leader of the defense – and really, the whole team – as an 8-time Pro Bowler at the linebacker position.

Head Coach: Lovie Smith

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: As a Packers fan, the Bears make me nervous this year. The Cutler-Marshall connection was strong over the first weekend of NFL action…to the tune of 41 points in a 41-21 win over the Colts. Primarily known as a defensive team, this offensive explosion is really a revelation for the Bears.

The Detroit Lions

History: The Lions, originally the Spartans, were formed in 1929. Despite their long history, the Lions have never played in a Super Bowl (though they did win four NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era), and also lay claim to the unfortunate statistic of being the only team in the NFL to go 0-16: a completely winless season. Barry Sanders, one of the best running backs of all time, played for the Lions from 1989 – 1998.

Current Players to Know: Matthew Stafford is the Lions young but experienced quarterback. If you hear the name “Megatron” on a Sunday afternoon you haven’t accidentally been switched to a showing of Transformers – that’s the nickname of the Lions incomparable wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And holding down the fort with big plays and big penalities on offense is Ndamukong Suh, who plays defensive tackle.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6

What to Watch For in 2012: The Lions are kind of known as the punks of the league…and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Packers fan. Examples include last season’s head coach handshake debacle and Ndamukong Suh “unintentionally” stomping on a defenseless (Packers) player at the end of a play, resulting in a 2 game suspension. If they can get over themselves and be mature, they can increase the growth that has taken them from an 0-16 team to a playoff contender.

The Green Bay Packers

(Just so we’re clear, I’m going to be unapologetically biased while writing this review. I love the Packers more than almost anything.)

History: The Packers were founded in 1919 by Curly Lambeau. They were originally known as the “ACME Packers” as they were sponsored by the ACME Meat Packing Company. With 13 titles, the Packers have won more championships (not Super Bowls…yet) than any other team in NFL history, which is how Green Bay was issued the name “Titletown USA.” Eight of those titles came at the hands of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Prolific players include Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Paul Hornung, Ray Nietschke, Reggie White, and Brett Favre. The Packers are the only remaining publicly owned franchise in American sports. Fans are renowned as “cheeseheads” and are often referred to as the best fans in sports (an accolade with which I wholeheartedly agree.)

Current Players to Know: Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback and current league MVP. The blond beast at linebacker is Clay Matthews, who is already off to a great start with 2.5 sacks in Sunday’s game. Charles Woodson is the leader on defense; this season he’s transitioning from cornerback to safety.

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

2011 Regular Season Record: 15-1

What to Watch For in 2012: The Packers had an unbelievable regular season last year – 15-1!!! – despite having the 32nd ranked defense in the league. Unfortunately…they’ve already matched that loss total in Week 1 and the defense doesn’t appear to have improved much. The Packers were a popular preseason pick to make it all the way to the Super Bowl but with the NFC North as good as it is they’ll have a hard time making the playoffs if the defense doesn’t improve ASAP.

The Minnesota Vikings

History: The Vikings are the only team in the NFC North that wasn’t founded with the original NFL. Their franchise was awarded in 1960 and they’ve enjoyed moderate success ever since. You may remember the Vikings from the Metrodome collapse of 2010.

Current Players to Know: Adrian Peterson is the offensive name to know on this team. He’s been one of the league’s leading running backs ever since his rookie season. Jared Allen, famous for his post-sack celebrations, is the leader of the defense at linebacker. Christian Ponder is the quarterback.

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

2011 Regular Season Record: 3-13

What to Watch For in 2012: The Vikings were less than impressive last year…and that’s being generous. This season, AP is back with a fully rehabbed knee (torn ACL and MCL) and looks to be back in winning form. Their quarterback situation is far from rock solid, but Christian Ponder has been decent so far.

Divisional Breakdown : AFC West Teams

Today’s feature: AFC West Teams. And off we go:

The Denver Broncos

History: The Broncos were created as part of the original AFL and kept their identity throughout the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Their most famous player is former quarterback John Elway, who led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, won two back to back, and is now the Executive Vice President of the team.

Current Players to Know: Peyton Manning, ousted from Indy, landed in Denver. His continuing career in Denver is without a doubt the biggest story of the season. DeMaryius Thomas is the wide receiver who caught the game-winning pass in overtime in last year’s playoff win against the Steelers. Von Miller is an outside linebacker who was selected to the Pro Bowl last year – in his rookie season.

Head Coach: John Fox

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: Peyton Manning. Watch for his every move to be dissected relentlessly as everyone tries to figure out whether or not he’s still the player he once was.

The Kansas City Chiefs

History: The Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans, and actually had considerable success under that moniker. However, after the move to Kansas City and the AFL-NFL merger, things started to go downhill. Their one and only Super Bowl win came right after the merger in 1970.

Current Players to Know: Matt Cassel was a standout backup quarterback for the New England Patriots when Tom Brady was injured in the 2008 season. That earned him a starting spot in Kansas City, where he was traded in the 2009 draft. Dwayne Bowe is the team’s best wide reciever by a landslide and an essential component of their offense. Dontari Poe holds down the defensive fort at nose tackle.

Head Coach: Romeo Crennel

2011 Regular Season Record: 7-9

What to Watch For in 2012: Matt Cassel will be starting at quarterback again after losing his spot last season to Kyle Orton, who was traded by the Broncos when Tim Tebow earned the starting job there. Orton has since left to assume the backup role in Dallas. Cassel will now have the responsibility of reclaiming the team and his former prowess.

The Oakland Raiders

History: Oakland was selected as the 8th AFL team even though they had no stadium, no ownership, and had not asked for a team. After holding a local contest, the new team was named the “Oakland Señors,” but after a few weeks the name was changed to the Raiders because…well…that’s so much better. The Raiders moved from Oakland to LA 1982 and then back to Oakland again in 1995. The team is synonymous with long-time owner Al Davis, who, though eccentric, was essential to the history and progress of the NFL.

Current Players to Know: Carson Palmer, former Bengals quarterback, will get the to start his first full season as the Raiders quarterback this year. When he’s healthy, Darren McFadden is an excellent running back. And the whole Defensive Line is of note for the Raiders, who dominate in this area.

Head Coach: Dennis Allen

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: The Raiders have a new coach this year, but the Raiders have a new coach every year. Sometimes more often than that. Since they aren’t in the strongest division in the NFL they could have a decent shot at the playoffs if they could establish any kind of consistency.

The San Diego Chargers

History: The Chargers were part of the original AFL. They spent one season in Los Angeles before moving to San Diego in 1961. Surprisingly, since they are often playoff contenders, the Chargers have only been to the Super Bowl once (in 1963) and have never won.

Current Players to Know: Phillip Rivers has been the team’s quarterback since 2004. Ryan Matthews is an up-and-coming running back. Melvin Ingram was selected by the Chargers in the first round of this year’s draft and is expected to work wonders at the linebacker position as a pass rusher.

Head Coach: Norv Turner

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: In the 2000’s the Chargers won five divisional titles in six years. They are always good. But they’re rarely good enough, especially in the past few years. It’ll be tougher for them this year with wide reciever Vincent Brown out with a broken ankle for at least half of the regular season and star running back Ryan Matthews out with a broken clavicle for 4-6 weeks.

Divisional Breakdown : AFC East Teams

Today we’re traveling to the AFC East! Here’s the deal with the teams in that division:

The Buffalo Bills

History: Buffalo had a long list of teams with other minor football organizations prior to establishing the Bills with the AFL in 1960. O.J. Simpson was a star running back for the Bills in the 70’s. The Bills are also famous for going to the Super Bowl FOUR TIMES IN A ROW in the 90’s but never winning. That decline has carried over into the present era.

Current Players to Know: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a Harvard-educated quarterback. He was nothing to write home about until last season when he led the Bills on an excellent winning streak early in the season. He did not perform quite as well for the rest of the season. Mario Williams is a star defensive end who signed with Buffalo over the summer (he used to play for the Houston Texans). Fred Jackson is a running back who was having a great season last year before he was injured in Week 11.

Head Coach: Chan Gailey

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-10

What to Watch For in 2012: I don’t want to jinx it because I would love to see Buffalo succeed…but the Bills really could be good this year! While they lack depth in some areas they added a lot of talent in the off-season. Ryan Fitzpatrick received a big contract extension in the middle of last season but didn’t really live up to it, so he might perform on the basis of having something to prove this year. And always keep an eye on wide receiver Stevie Johnson, as he’s prone to drama and can usually be counted on for good press conference material.

The Miami Dolphins

History: Florida’s first professional football team was actually named the “Miami Seahawks,” a team that played for the AAFC. That team only lasted one season. Twenty years later, the AFL established a new team in Miami, and a fan vote decided that the team would be named the Dolphins. The ’72 Dolphins are famous for having the only undefeated season in NFL history (and for fervently clinging to that identity). Legendary QB Dan Marino established his legacy in Miami in the 80’s and 90’s.

Current Players to Know: The quarterback situation is still up in the air. It looks like Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill might beat out veteran David Garrard and incumbent Matt Moore for the starting job. Former New Orleans Saint Reggie Bush can always be counted on for a reliable performance at running back. Centers don’t always get a lot of love, but Mike Pouncey is one of the best.

Head Coach: Joe Philbin (former Packers Offensive Coordinator…we miss you, Coach!)

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-10

What to Watch For in 2012: Oh…Miami! They’ve really been unable to recover since the Dan Marino era ended…in 1999. This season is already off to a tumultuous start for the Dolphins, who have chosen to appear on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” A team that is already unstable is now under the microscope, and they just garnered even more media coverage with the Chad Johnson debacle over the weekend. Maybe it’ll be a great season, but I think it might be an uphill battle, especially with Buffalo looking better than they have in the recent past.

The New England Patriots

History: The Boston Patriots were established in 1959 and became the New England Patriots soon after the merger in 1970. They had one Super Bowl appearance in the 80’s and one in the 90’s but started dominating the league in the 2000’s. The team has flourished under the leadership of respected owner Robert Kraft and iconic hoodie-wearing coach Bill Belichick, not to mention the notable contributions of their star quarterback, Tom Brady. The Patriots are kind of the Yankees of the NFL – you either love them or you hate them.

Current Players to Know: Tom Brady, of course. Rob Gronkowski burst onto the scene last year as one of the league’s most valuable tight ends. Aaron Hernandez, the other half of a deadly tight end set, is poised to have another great season. (It should also be noted that New England is way ahead of the game as it pertains to the evolution of the tight end position. Which should come as no surprise with living legend Bill Belichick as the head coach.)

Head Coach: Bill Belichick

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The Patriots are coming off of a Super Bowl loss to the Giants – the second in 4 years. While the Patriots always have a great regular season, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since they won back to back in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. It’s hard to say that a team which consistently makes the playoffs is hungry for a successful season, but with the recent losses to the Giants they’ll definitely be fired up.

The New York Jets

History: The Jets began in the same fashion they represent today: with a bold statement. They were originally named the Titans because, as per then-owner Harry Wismer, “The Titans are bigger and stronger than the Giants.” They were renamed the Jets after being rescued from bankruptcy in 1962. Joe Namath, famed Jets quarterback, led the team to their only Super Bowl victory in 1969.

Current Players to Know: Mark Sanchez is the Jets’ oft-debated starting quarterback, and Tim Tebow, who led the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory last season, is the league’s most famous backup quarterback. Darelle Revis is one of the league’s best cornerbacks. (And this is completely unsolicited, but after going to the Jets training camp last week I think Stephen Hill, rookie wide receiver, could potentially have a notable season.)

Head Coach: Rex Ryan

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: The Sanchez-Tebow marriage. There is no controversy, per-se, as Mark Sanchez is the undisputed starter…but so was Kyle Orton in Denver last season, and that season ended with Orton being shipped off to Kansas City and Tebow leading the Broncos to a playoff victory against the Steelers. While it doesn’t appear likely that Tebow will replace Sanchez as QB1, the Jets have a great opportunity to use the unconventional backup in a variety of ways – especially in running situations, since Tebow is basically a human mountain and can run over professional linebackers like they are Pop Warner players. In a perfect world this two-quarterback system would work flawlessly, but in the Jets world, everything is complicated, especially as it pertains to locker room dynamics.