Finally, the NFC South

Now that everyone and their mother has a blog, every fool with an opinion can spout their NFL previews. And they have.


So you ask, how is this blog different?

Well it's not, kinda. I'm just another fool with an opinion sharing what little knowlede of the NFL I have. Except for the NFC South.

When it comes to the NFC South, I know more than many talking heads on ESPN. For example, a year ago, when I was in Vegas, I laid down a bet on the Falcons to win the Super Bowl at 25-1 odds. Obviously, I didn't win, but considering I made the bet before the season started, I like to think I know a little something about the NFC South.

Anyway, on to my idiotic predictions.

Carolina Panthers (Playoffs)
Two months ago I was able to sucker my brother into betting against the Panthers to win the division. He goes to school in Atlanta, and must have been drinking too much of the Kool-Aid 'cause he thought I was crazy to bet on the Panthers to win the division. Now, I'd be lucky to get the same bet from him.

I was on the Panther's Super Bowl band wagon until Sports Illustrated put the Panthers on the cover declaring Carolina would win it all. Talk about a jinx.

Now everyone likes the Panthers to win the Super Bowl, and I'm just another band wagon Carolina fan. Everybody is starting to realize what I knew 2 months ago, the Panthers learned from all of their injuries last season, and have more depth on their team than just about any team. The defense will return to a top ten ranking. And the offense is stocked with more weapons than last year despite losing Muhsin Muhammed.

Steve Smith is more talented that Muhsin, plus Smith brings more intagibles. The Panthers also have three runningbacks who could start for many team, and the addition of Rod Gardner adds depth and experience to the receiving corp. Throw in Jake Delhomme, the most underrated quarterback in the league, and the Panthers have more talent on both sides of the ball than every team except the Eagles and Colts.

But the key to the Panthers is their head coach, John Fox. If Fox was able to motivate his team to go 6-1 after starting 1-7, then surely he can get his team to the playoffs this season.

Atlanta Falcons (Playoffs)
Michael Vick, aka Ron Mexico, is the only guy besides Julius Peppers who scares me when he plays the Bucs. He can make plays with his legs many runningbacks could never even imagine, and he has a cannon for an arm. But what makes Vick scary is the fact that he KNOWS he's going to win.

He has the kind of confidence Jordan had in his three-peat days, when Vick walks on the field he expects to win. Vick's confidence is contagious, and you can tell his teammates (offense and defense) feed off of Vick, and bring their game up a notch when Vick is playing. To use another NBA analogy, when Larry Bird would walk into the locker room before the three point competition, he would look at all his competitors and ask them, "which one of you is going to finish second?" Vick exudes that type of confidence.

Right now, Vick's achilles heel is his decision making. As the NFC Championship game proved, Vick has to learn to sit in the pocket and make the correct throws. This is not someting you can learn in one offseason.

Good defenses (i.e. Eagles, Panthers, Bucs) will take advantage of this by forcing Vick to stay in the pocket by blanketing the field with corners and safeties. The strength of the Falcons is still their rushing game (mainly 'cause the receiving corp is a mess) but Vick is the key to the rushing attack.

Vick's poor decision making in the pocket and the overrated defense are the two major reasons I'm picking the Falcons not to repeat as NFC South champs. The Falcons have a talented defense but, similar to the Bucs, it is undersized. Falcons fans may brag that their team had one of the top ranked rushing defenses, but I'd like to point out the Chiefs scored 8 rushing touchdowns on Atlanta's defense last season. Atlanta's defense is not good enough that it can win games for the Falcons, and until Vick learns to pass in the pocket the Falcons can be beat by teams with a good defense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs will finish within a game of 7-9. You heard it here first.

In two years the Bucs will be able to compete for the Super Bowl. They have the components in place on the offense (Griese, Clayton, Williams). The o-line is still young and will have to become younger, which means a good amount of growing pains for the team. The defense is actually the bigger question.

The seconday, the strength of the team last year, will be a step slower this season. Jermaine Phillips will be a playmaker, but Dexter Jackson is not the answer at safety. The corners are still among the best in the NFL, but the corner position is like the runningback position, when you hit 30 you might as well retire. Ronder Barber is 28 and Brian Kelly is 29.

All of the starting linebackers are over thirty (although I expect that to change towards the end of the season), which is bad news for a defense that has relied on speed. I like the defensive line, and Chris Hovan is a very good pickup (all he needed was a change of scenery). Assuming Booger stays healthy (knock on wood) the Bucs will be able to pass rush the quarterback like they did in 2002.

This could be the best offensive season for the Bucs since 2000 (which by the way featured Shaun King). They finally have a rushing attack with the addition of Carnell Williams. Their runningback corp is deeper this season, and the receiving corp is stronger with the maturation of Clayton. Hate on Griese if you want to but he finished with the best completion percentage of any starting quarterback, 69.3. Quite simply, Gruden makes his quarterbacks better, exhibit A, Rich Gannon.

The offensive weakness for the Bucs this season will be the o-line, which is still a few years away from being competitive. The o-line has never been a strength for the Bucs but the inexperience of many of the new starters on the line will hurt them this season. Ask your self, so you really want an undrafted second year player (Anthony Davis) to start at left tackle, the most important position on the o-line? What happens when Davis is matched up against Julius Pepper or Jason Taylor? That will get ugly.

The Bucs still have two of the better coaches in a coach's league, and in a season or two they will be able to compete for the Super Bowl. But for now they have to many question marks for me to guarantee that they finish with a winning record. I hope I'm wrong and will be more than willing to admit it should the Bucs make it to the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints
A lot of people don't know what to make of the Saints this season. They could go 12-4 or 4-12, there really is no precedent for what they have gone through. Me, I think they will finish worse than their 8-8 record from last season.

Before Hurricane Katrina the Saints looked good, really good. For the first time in the Aaron Brooks era they finished the season strongly, winning their last four games, including the last one against the Panthers when the winner of the game could have made it to the playoffs. The Saints looked set to ride last season's success to a winning record this season.

Then Hurricane Katrina came along and changed many individual's fortunes, including the Saint's players and coaches. Now the coaches have to game plan from a makeshift headquarters and the player's have to workout and practice from a makeshift facility. Throw in the fact that everybody with the Saints has been busy trying to figure out their own personal situations, and I seriously doubt the Saints have put in the preparation necessary to win on Sundays.

Don't get me wrong, this is still a dangerous Saints team. They will win a lot of games early in the season people did not expect them to win. They still have one of the better offenses and a significantly improved defense highlighted by a upgraded secondary. Teams will not look forward to playing the Saints, but in the end I expect the Saints to finish within a game of the Bucs. Translation, they will finish with a losing record.

1 comment:

John F. said...

Gotta disagree that the Bucs are goign to be contenders within two years... With an aging defense and an aging staff that is forced to stay in town (Bucs will not allow them to seek jobs elsewhere) the unit will fade and the Defense is the part of this team that has always been the strongest... And when I say part of "This" team I don't just mean the Dungy - Gruden squads... I mean the Buccaneer franchise in general.

The focus of the draft has been on offense over and over again in hopes to improve what has always been woeful or mediocre. I won't suggest Williams and Clayton aren't impact players... I will suggest, however, that running backs and wide recievers are easier to find in the draft than dominating defensive players.

I feel like the current team is a group full of sound and fury but a shadow of their former self. Though the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2003, I still think the 1999 defensive squad is probably the most unrecognized (by NFL fans and historians) squad in league history... Dominating, suffocating, they made it so easy (while the offense made it so hard :p ).

Compare the current state of the team to 1997 -- two years away from their paramount -- or even 1995 (two years away from breaking through) and it just doesn't compare.

Also rans are also rans and the Bucs are part of that crowd right now.