Minnesota or New York? Helping L.T. find his best chance at ring
Advantage to Jets, as far as reliance on the running game
Advantage to Vikings, as far as the more explosive offense
Breaking it down, it appears Jets are the best fit for Tomlinson
Just wondering, but if my initials were L.T. instead of D.B., where would be the best place to extend my Hall of Fame career as a running back into a 10th NFL season -- Minnesota or with the New York Jets? Glad you asked.
Now that I look at it, it's a pretty tough call, trying to discern which of last season's conference title game losers represent the better situation for ex-Chargers icon LaDainian Tomlinson. L.T. reportedly loved everything he heard and saw during his two-day visit to the Twin Cities this week, but today's travel itinerary has him at the Jets' complex in New Jersey, where he will no doubt get the red carpet rolled out for him by the big-talking Rex Ryan and friends.
As a service to one of the game's good guys, let's break this contest down piece by piece, and help Tomlinson as he tries to discern where the path to that elusive and career-capping Super Bowl ring might lie:
Both the Jets and Vikings have quality, Pro Bowl-decorated offensive lines, which help power successful running games. But while the Jets rode their top-ranked ground game (172.2) to the third round of the playoffs last season with quarterback Mark Sanchez riding the rookie rollercoaster, the Vikings actually slipped all the way to 13th in rushing (119.9) as Minnesota's offense became more Brett Favre-centric as the season wore on. Chances are the Jets throw a bit more next season as Sanchez's game matures, and the Vikings force themselves to lean on Favre's arm a little less. Still ... Advantage Jets.
Minnesota's offense, though, is clearly more explosive and balanced than New York's. The Vikings were second in the league in points per game, with 29.4, trailing only Super Bowl champion New Orleans. Ryan's team finished a distant 17th in that category, scoring just 21.8 per game. Minnesota's offense ranked fifth overall, with 379.6 yards per game. New York was 20th (321.0), making its accomplishment of reaching the conference title game all the more remarkable. Advantage Vikings.
But Super Bowl teams usually play a little defense, too, and you have to give the thumbs up to New York on that front. The Jets defense ranked first in points allowed (14.8), yards allowed (252.3), passing defense (153.7) and passer rating (58.7), giving up just eight regular-season touchdown passes in a league where no other team surrendered fewer than 14. Minnesota was a respectable 10th in points allowed (19.5) and sixth in yards (305.5). But the Vikings pass defense -- and passing rules in the NFL these days -- was a mediocre 19th in yards (218.4), with an opposing QB rating of 92.5, and 26 touchdown passes allowed. Only nine teams gave up more scores through the air. Advantage Jets.
Wherever he goes, the 30-year-old L.T. is going to be a complementary back, not his team's primary ballcarrier. For San Diego last season, Tomlinson carried 223 times for just 730 yards (a paltry 3.3 average), with 12 touchdowns. He's probably in line for about half that many rushes this season.
In Minnesota, he'd be replacing the departed Chester Taylor as the backup for the great Adrian Peterson, whose fumbling problems in the playoffs really hurt the Vikings. In New York, he'd be taking over Shonn Greene's No. 2 role, after the rookie's strong late-season showing prompted New York to elevate him to the starting job and release the ultra-productive but aging Thomas Jones.
Last season in Minnesota, Taylor got 94 carries for 338 yards and one touchdown as the No. 2. In New York's offense, Greene ran 108 times for 540 yards and a pair of touchdown behind Jones. It's guesswork, but I think the odds are better that Tomlinson would get more work behind a second-year talent like Greene than in Minnesota, where he'd be sharing a backfield with the high-profile tandem of Peterson and Favre. Advantage Jets.
That brings us to the tricky No. 4 factor. We're counting on Favre returning for another season, but who really knows what Mr. Indecision will do? What if L.T. signs with Minnesota based on the belief the Favre-led Vikings are better championship timber than the Jets, and then finds out in August that his very small Super Bowl window of opportunity is now in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels? There's no such question in New York, where we're pretty sure Sanchez isn't retiring for a while. Advantage Jets.
Two more quick considerations to make: L.T. doesn't have the world's biggest ego, but he has been the biggest star on the Chargers throughout his nine-year tenure in San Diego. In Minnesota, he'd be eclipsed almost entirely by the spotlight on Favre and Peterson. That might sting more than he's willing to admit. In New York, he'd only be competing on that front with a pair of 2009 rookies in Sanchez and Greene. The caveat, of course, is that Ryan, the Jets' quote-machine of a coach, gets all the attention anyway.
Then there's the competition factor to weigh. In the AFC East, New England remains tough, but its dynastic era appears to have ended. The Dolphins are solid, but far from scary, and the disappointing Bills are starting over once again. In short, the division is there for the taking if the Jets can continue their rise. In the NFC North, the Vikings have won two consecutive division titles. But the Packers are loaded and still ascending, the desperate Bears just got better last week in free agency, and the Lions look ready to take a decent step up in weight class, especially on defense, if they can land one of the draft's top defensive tackles.
In terms of both L.T.'s ego and the level of competition within the division, I'd say New York has the advantage in both areas. Add it all up, and I think it's pretty clear. Like he did so many times during his prime in San Diego, Tomlinson should go coast to coast as he begins his career's second act. All the way from West to East, with no stopping over anywhere along the way. Just to make sure he understands, we'll spell it out: L.T. to the J-E-T-S.
NFL Truth & Rumors