Bob Glauber's NFL hot reads: Is there hope for Mark Sanchez?
Mark Sanchez played his way out of the starting job with the Jets and will likely be a backup next season, unless the Jets can find a trading partner (doubtful) or release him despite an $8.25-million guaranteed contract in 2013 (even more doubtful).
So the bigger issue is how effective Sanchez can be and whether there is any hope at all of a turnaround after a combined 52 turnovers the last two seasons, the most in the NFL.
Sanchez has an unlikely defender in former Colts, Panthers and Bills general manager Bill Polian, one of the most highly respected personnel men in NFL history. Polian won't go so far as to say that Sanchez will indeed snap out of an extraordinary slump, but the former executive said there is still reason to believe Sanchez can eventually turn things around.
"I think it's possible," Polian said in an interview with Newsday. "We have a body of work there that says he's a pretty darn good quarterback."
Polian was referring to Sanchez's first two years in the league, when he was a part of the Jets' two AFC Championship Game teams and had a 4-2 playoff record. One of those wins was against Polian's Colts, a 17-16 wild-card win in which Sanchez beat Peyton Manning with a drive that ended with Nick Folk's 32-yard field goal as time expired.
"I'll never forget that as long as I live, coming back with 45 seconds left to beat us, to do what typically we did, when people try and keep it close by playing great defense and winning at the end," Polian said. "We left Mark Sanchez too much time on the clock . . . and the kickoff returner [Antonio Cromartie, who had a 47-yard return to give the Jets excellent field position on the winning drive]. So when someone does that once, you say, 'Well, why can't he do it again?' And though something's gone wrong, who's to say it can't be corrected, if the wherewithal is there?"
Surely there is plenty of blame for Sanchez, but Polian said poor pass protection is also a factor.
"Obviously, lack of protection is one part of it," Polian said. "He took a lot of sacks, and then [Greg] McElroy, because he doesn't know what he's looking at, took 11 , and they took a beating. So it has to start there, no question about it."
Ray Lewis: Greatest ever?
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney would love nothing more than to ruin Ray Lewis' last game in a Ravens uniform with a win in Sunday's wild-card game in Baltimore. But that won't stop Freeney from admiring all that Lewis has accomplished in a 17-year career that is about to end.
Lewis told his teammates this week that he will retire once the Ravens are out of the playoffs.
"I would put Ray in the top five defensive players that have ever played the game," Freeney said. "Seventeen years in the league, 13 Pro Bowls, led his team to a championship strictly on defense. He's made play after play. He's a leader on and off the field."
Brady cherishes the moment
"I know it's meaningful for our whole team, what we're attempting to accomplish," Brady said. "You don't take these things for granted. It's a privilege to be in this position that we're in and certainly one of four teams to have played well enough over the course of the year to deserve the first-round bye."
The Patriots took advantage of Houston's late-season swoon to get one of two playoff byes in the AFC, and Tom Brady is thankful for the rest. It could come in handy, especially for a 35-year-old quarterback. But Brady knows the stakes climb exponentially this time of year, and that mistakes are magnified.
"Coach Belichick said, 'You make one mistake in this type of game and that's your season.' It's no more, 'I'll get it figured out next week and it's something we have to learn from and move on from.' No, it's your season," Brady said. "That's the kind of urgency you have in practice and certainly when we play here [next Sunday]. We've been working hard to figure out a bunch of things. There's a packet full of things we need to do better and things that we're really trying to work hard to improve on."
One of the many things that makes the NFL the most popular sport in North America is the fact that parity gives almost every team a legitimate chance for success over the long haul. And this year is no exception.
Consider: There are four new playoff teams -- Colts, Vikings, Seahawks and Redskins. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs every year that weren't in the playoffs the previous season. And we're actually on the low side this year; since 1995, there had been more than four teams to make it one year after not making it the year before.
The Redskins became the latest team to go from worst to first. Since 2003, at least one team that finished last one year went on to win the division the next.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is open to making changes in his staff, and that includes removing himself as the team's play-caller on offense.
Bruce Arians' best shot at a head-coaching position might come from the Bears, who have requested permission to speak to the Colts' offensive coordinator. Arians went 9-3 as interim head coach in the absence of Chuck Pagano, who had chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.
Joe Flacco is the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.