NFL Season Preview Part 3: The NFC/AFC South
Halfway through our season previews, we now take a look at the NFC and AFC South divisions respectively. On the NFC side we have a rather confusing race for first place in the makings, while the AFC looks to be Houstons division to lose.
1. Atlanta Falcons
The Dirty Birds of Atlanta should have the top spot locked down if they play their cards right this season. The offensive weapons on this team alone could make a case as the “Greatest Show On Turf” if given the right match ups. Matt Ryan should continue to progress as a starter in this league, and with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez to throw to, they will help in his ascension to the elites. Defensively this team has always bailed out towards the end of the season, and two disappointing post season defeats should be a lesson that they won’t be able to just blow past teams every week. The secondary will probably struggle, but the front seven look to be sturdier than it has been in years.
Key Players: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White
2. New Orleans Saints
Following the aftermath of what we now know as “Bounty Gate”, all eyes will be on the New Orleans franchise. With the loss of their Head Coach Sean Payton, as well as their defensive leader Johnathon Vilma, the team will struggle to find footing. A playoff contender for the past several seasons, they are expected to return to form in that regard, but the road won’t be smooth. Drew Brees has earned the right to argue his place as one of the three best Quarterbacks in the game today, but lack of a featured running back will make his job difficult. Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas will all split duties, and none have proven that they can stay consistently healthy. Fortunately Drew Brees can make a play with any of his receivers, because he’ll have to carry the team on his back this season.
Key Players: Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Curtis Lofton
3. Carolina Panthers
Yes, we are well aware of the rookie season that quarterback Cam Newton had. We’re even willing to bet that he will surpass last seasons statistics as he continues to terrorize defenses around the NFL. We’re not willing to bet that the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with at all though. While they will certainly have some highlights, they won’t be sneaking up on any one especially not in this division. Steve Smith has proven to be the perfect compliment to Newton with a revived interest in playing. Unfortunately it’s the woes in the backfield that will haunt them as Deangelo Williams took his big pay day last season and chose not to show up on the field. If Carolina finally gives the full nod of running back to Johnathon Stewart they may be competitive, but they seem intent on keeping this two-man system going.
Key Players: Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Johnathon Stewart
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Don’t let the placing fool you, the Buccaneers are by no means a terrible team. In fact their last season collapse was combination of injuries, heart breaking losses at the final second, and an unwillingness to balance out their offensive strategy. LeGarrette Blount went from running back hopeful, to losing his starting spot to a rookie. This could be the fire he needs to reclaim his spot. Josh Freeman is certainly a capable quarterback, though he made some terrible decisions with his throwing last year. Keep in mind he’s still a young player learning on the go, and if ex head coach Raheem Morris had been given time to develop him, there is no telling how much this team could have rebounded. The defense doesn’t have any stand out players, but what makes it special is that they work in unison and cover each others steps on that field to make plays. Another wait and see approach should be taken here. Unfortunately, the NFL waits for no one and while the Bucs’ aren’t a terrible team, they will certainly look like one.
Key Players: Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin