The NFC South had a banner year last season producing their first Super Bowl Champion since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took it home behind a stellar game by Dexter Jackson in the 2002-2003 season. Jon Gruden was at the top of the coaching realm at that time. Now he is one of the best analysts that ESPN has to offer. But how about those Saints? What a heartfelt story and exciting team to watch. It was a very well deserved victory for the team and the entire city of New Orleans.
NFC South: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4th place): Things have not been the greatest in Tampa Bay for the past couple of years. This franchise has not made the playoffs since 2007, and that does not appear to be changing this year. They have both an abysmal offense and defense these days, that really struggles at defending the pass. First of all the problem for this team starts at quarterback. The 22-year-old, Josh Freeman, has a world of potential, but no business starting in the NFL yet. This is not a League that young guys can typically make an instant impact in such as the NBA. The running back combo of this team in Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward is mediocre at best. It is hard to run a ball on a team that will have such an anemic passing game. Which leads me to how much the loss of Antonio Bryant will hurt. The Bucs were towards the bottom of the League in the passing game last year, think what it will be like this year with Kellen Winslow as your only real receiving threat (he is a Tight End). On the defensive side of the ball, things get even worse. The only names you will recognize are guys like Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. You recognize Ronde, because he once was great, and Aqib because of his run ins with the law. Plus Ronde looks to be all but retired, and may actually be retired before the season starts. So there you have it, not much hope for Tampa Bay in 2010.
Carolina Panthers (3rd place): Next you have a Carolina Panther’s team that is coming off of a very disappointing 3rd place finish. Well expect the same this year. The one thing this team has going for them is a very strong defense. Jon Beason is rapidly becoming one of the best linebackers in the League. He is another great NFL linebacker out of none other than the U (Miami University). Chris Gamble is a gamer in the secondary and can come up with some big time plays. But the loss of Julius Peppers will sting. Regardless if the guy was overpaid, he still contributed big time and really was a guy that offensive lines keyed in on freeing up others on the Panther’s defense to run rampant. Can the Panther’s secondary still do well without a Julius Pepper’s attack coming at opposing QB’s? We will find out. Offensively, there is a brand new look with the sad departure of Jake Delhomme. It will be interesting to see how Matt Moore does with the pressure of being the starter and having a guy like Jimmy Clausen breathing down his throat. At least there is a great 2 headed monster at running back in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Oh yeah, they also have a guy named Steve Smith to throw to. But the loss of Muhsin Muhammad will hurt and somebody will have to step up as the number 2 receiver. All in all, this Panther’s team has a lot of question marks. But expect the rushing attack to be solid and do not be surprised to see this team win between 6 and 8 games.
Atlanta Falcons (2nd place): Atlanta will boast a solid offensive attack again this year led by their fearless quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is getting close to entering his prime and continues to develop into a very strong NFL quarterback. This team has targets for him to throw to such as Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and the future hall of famer, Tony Gonzalez. But make no mistake, this is still one of the NFL’s few run first teams. Between having a healthy Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, and the explosive Jerious Norwood, opponents should fear the rushing attack of Atlanta. Also word on the street is that Michael Turner has had a fantastic off-season and has a big time year forthcoming. On the other side of the ball, you may not have heard of many of these guys if you are not from Atlanta, but they are tough. Led by linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Erik Coleman, this defense is very solid. They work very well as a collaborative unit and this year should be no different. The only question is can this team improve in stopping the pass? If they are able to improve as a secondary unit, they could challenge the pass happy Saints for the divisional crown. Expect this team to come up just short of a Wild Card spot, but to have a very solid season.
New Orleans Saints (1st place): I know it has been a trap in recent history to pick the defending Super Bowl Champs to make any noise the next season. I know the past couple of years the defending champs have faltered in even making it back to the playoffs, but this team looks too good not to at least make the postseason. They are led by possibly the game’s best quarterback in Drew Brees. They have an outstanding receiving corps in Colston, Henderson, Meachem, and Shockey. Also they have probably the best receiving running back in the League in Reggie Bush. This team can hurt you in so many ways offensively. And with the way Drew Brees spreads the ball around, it does not really matter who you put around him or what defenses you throw at him. Brees will put up points. Also this team has the best run/pass balance in the League. They are old-fashioned, and though they appear pass happy at times, they are able to do this due to an established rushing attack. Though the loss of Mike Bell will hurt, expect Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush to carry the load just fine and really compliment each other well. Then on the defensive side of the ball, can Darren Sharper repeat his amazing performance of a year ago? Or at least half of the performance? For a Super Bowl Champion, the Saints did not have a great defense. They really lived and died on the bend and not break motto. But who cares. If you are putting up points the way this team does, all the defense has to do is hold opponents under 30 (sometimes 35). Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, and Roman Harper just have to ensure that this defense does not totally collapse. Due to the amazing scoring ability of the offense, they predominantly have to defend against the pass as teams try to catch up. Is the defense up to the challenge?
So the NFC South looks to be very good as usual. I see the Saints repeating as champions and the Falcons having a great season, but just missing a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The Saints will break the recent streak of defending Super Bowl Champions not making the playoffs.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.