Sunday, September 5, 2010

NFL Predictions Part III: NFC South

Matt Ryan. That's right, Matt Ryan. It seems like only yesterday a hell-bent New Orleans team took over the reigns as NFC South champs, led by Drew Brees and his all-over-the-field, mutli-receiver attack. Well it should be a short lived life at the top for Brees and company. This young Atlanta team is ready to make moves and has the playoffs in sight this season, even if it is only wildcard weekend this year. Here's what I see in the NFC South:

1. New Orleans Saints 11-5
2. Atlanta Falcons 11-5
3. Carolina Panthers 6-10
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-13

The Saints put up amazing numbers last year, scoring 510 points over the course of the season, best in the league and 40 points ahead of second place Minnesota, but the big difference last year was their defense. They managed to score 5 touchdowns and accumulate 652 yards off interceptions alone. This statistic alone should raise some eyebrows as something like this is quite difficult to repeat. I still see them winning a bunch of games based on the strength of Drew Brees and his receiving core, but they will have a tough battle for the NFC South title with Atlanta getting better each year. At 11-5 I can still see them making the playoffs, ousting a Dallas team that is declining at a much faster rate, but to repeat as Super Bowl champs? Unlikely.

The Falcons on the other hand seem ready to make some moves and become the team to beat not only in the NFC South, but the NFC in general. They have young talent and after a somewhat of a disappointing year in 2009 after their 11-5 season in 2008 (a huge improvement from their 4-12 season in 2008), look for Atlanta to settle down under Matt Ryan and make another run at the NFC South title. The big issues will be health at running back and defense. Turner and Norwood missed much of last season due to injury, and several of their key defensive players were also lost for 2009. They should hope to get some of these players back, but besides drafting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon they didn't add much value to the defense via incoming rookies. It'll be a good year if players can stay healthy and Atlanta should be able to regain some of the magic of 2008 and become a playoff contender immediately.

I don't know about the Carolina Panthers. I feel like the running back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams should result in some wins, but the question at quarterback is so hard to ignore. Their defense was way above par last season, but they've lost several of those guys and there is a difficult schedule ahead of them. I doubt they'll be a playoff team, and maybe I am underestimating Moore (how bad can he be replacing Jake Delhomme), but I see them as being an average team facing some tough competition, and it's hard to give them much credit until they decide to plug in Clausen or Pike, which may not be until 2011.

The Buccaneers are in Josh Freeman's hands. Sadly... one of his thumbs is broken. He should be back for the regular season and rookie Jevan Snead out of Ole Miss is the backup just in case, but I still don't like what I have seen from Freeman even when he was healthy. Add in the absence of his key wide receiver Antonio Bryant, gone to the Bengals and now injured, and it's difficult to figure out a game plan for this Tampa Bay team. Throw in the fact that their defense was less than stellar last year and probably won't improve an inordinate amount this season, and I don't see the Bucs making much headway in 2010. They should be the doormat of the NFC South for the second straight year and will need to figure out something in the offseason to improve in 2011.

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