Day 6 of breaking down the divisions takes us to the ever popular NFC South, where the food is better than the teams and the teams are pretty darn good. The NFC South hosts the best combination of football that you can ask for. You have two teams that line up and play smash mouth football and two teams that spread you out and throw the kitchen sink at you. However they all have one thing in common “defense”. Every team in this division will hit you in the mouth and hit you in the mouth hard.
The Atlanta Falcons are the most revamped team in the division the past few years. They went from a team that just wore you down running the ball to a wide open attack. They have a good mix of speed and toughness at about every position. The signal caller Matt Ryan is entering his third year. Year three usually tells us if they will be great or at least have the potential to be great. We know Ryan can make all the throws and he will have plenty of weapons around him to get the ball too. The backfield is headed by Michael Turner. Turner is a speedy big back who can do it all. Outside the wide receivers are headed by Roddy White. White’s career started slow but has now taken a major turn upwards as he has become one of the elite receivers in the game. The Falcons have the best pass catching tight end in the history of the game in Tony Gonzalez and an offensive line that was built to be versatile.
Defensively the Falcons are lead by defensive end John Abraham. Abraham when healthy is almost unblockable. The linebacking core of the Falcons has taken a hit as of late but expect first round draft pick Sean Witherspoon to step in an make an instant impact. The secondary is solid. Although they are a little short in stature, they can match up with just about anyone in the league.
Key Players: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzales, Roddy White, John Abraham
Projected Finish: Second
The Carolina Panthers will be a team to watch this year in this division. The Panthers will start a new signal caller in Matt Moore. Moore will battle with second round draft pick Jimmy Clausen for the job early. Either way it will
be an upgrade as the Panthers finally gave up on “Big Mistake” Jake Delhomme. The running game will be the strength of the Panthers. They feature two of the best in the game at running back with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both backs are capable of 1500 yard seasons. The wide receiver core needs help and with Steve Smith being out early with a broken arm is doing nothing to help that situation. The offensive line is built to run but a few changes and a solid run attack should help with play action passing for the Panthers.
Defensively the Panthers took a major hit when Julius Peppers opted out and took his act to Chicago. The defensive line has lost two major pieces the past two seasons with the departures of Chris Jenkins and Julius Peppers. Although they will still be pretty solid, losses like those are hard to absorb. The linebackers are still in good shape as Jon Beason has established himself as an elite linebacker in the league. The secondary of the Panthers should hold its own but the job gets tougher as pressure decreases so expect guys like Chris Gamble to struggle early but pick it up as the year goes on.
Key Players: Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jon Beason, Chris Gamble
Projected Finish: Last
The New Orleans Saints are coming off their first ever Super Bowl championship and I don’t see them letting up very much. WHO DAT Nation is very well coached and have an elite quarterback in Drew Brees. Brees is surrounded with more weapons than the national defense of Iran with guys like Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas in the backfield, and a wide receiving core led by Marques Colston and Robert Meachem. The tight end position is loaded as well with a one-two punch of Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas. The offensive line returns in tact and their special teams units are amongst the best in the league.
Defensively the Saints were the best in the league last year in points scored and takeaways. I expect more of the same as the Saints return in tact for this year with a few new additions like Alex Brown at defensive end to help guys like Will Smith out in the pass rush. The linebackers are probably the most underrated in the league with Jonathan Vilma leading the way for the hard hitting bunch. The secondary is no slouch either. They are a little seasoned but with guys like Darren Sharper in the mix, they always seem to be in the right place at the right time.
Key Players: Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Will Smith, Alex Brown, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper
Projected Finish: First
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the wildcard of this division. They have a young second year head coach and a second year quarterback in Josh Freeman. Freeman has a big arm but he will be limited in the weapons around him. The running game should be solid for the Bucs as Cadillac Williams has re-emerged as an elite runner in the league after the devastating knee surgeries he has suffered the past two seasons. Cadillac will be helped out with the explosive Derrick Ward formerly of the Giants and Earnest Graham. The wide receivers are pretty good but lack experience. Mark Clayton will be the only receiver with significant minutes played in the NFL but they will expect big contributions from Syracuse rookie Mike Williams. The tight end position is probably the most solid on the team as Kellen Winslow Jr. holds down the fort (no fun intended no his “I’m a soldier” reference). The offensive line was a mess at pass blocking last year but they were as strong as any in the league run blocking. Expect a lot of running from the Bucs this season.
Defensively the Bucs are pretty solid. They feature a defensive line headed by rookie Gerald McCoy. Big things are expected of the rookie and I think he will deliver. The linebackers are pretty solid as well but two rookies Rico McCoy and Dekoda Watson will be expected to contribute early and often. The secondary will be pretty solid led by savvy veteran Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. Ironically as good as Barber has been throughout the years, if he doesn’t get beat out that is a bad sign for the Bucs defense.
Key Players: Josh Freeman, Cadillac Williams, Mark Clayton, Gerald McCoy, Aqib Talib
Projected Finish: Third