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 teams that line up and play smash mouth football and teams that spread you out and throw everything but 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. White will be complimented by rookie phenom Julio Jones who should make things easy for the best pass catching tight end in the history of the game in Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons also have 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 line backing core of the Falcons has taken a hit as of late but expect Sean Witherspoon to come into his own 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 (QB), Michael Turner (RB), Tony Gonzales (TE), Roddy White (WR), Julio Jones (WR), John Abraham (DE)
Projected Finish: First
The Carolina Panthers will be a team to watch this year in this division. The Panthers will start a new signal caller this season in Jimmy Clausen or Cameron Newton replacing Matt Moore. Both will battle it out this pre season for the job. Either way 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 missing some time 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 found their replacement for Julius Peppers in Charles Johnson and signed him to a long term deal. The defensive line has had the most overhaul and they will be the key to the Panthers success this season. 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 some names to surface that you haven’t heard as they look to find guys who can get the job done.
Key Players: Steve Smith (WR), Cameron Newton (QB), Jimmy Clausen (QB), DeAngelo Williams (RB), Jonathan Stewart (RB), Jon Beason LB), Armante Edwards (WR)
Projected Finish: Last
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are coming off a very disappointing playoff performance against the Seattle Seahawks last season. The 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 Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram in the backfield. They are also loaded with 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 Jimmy Graham 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 amongst 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 (QB), Mark Ingram (RB), Marques Colston (WR), Will Smith (DE), Alex Brown (DE), Jonathan Vilma (LB), Darren Sharper (S)
Projected Finish: Third
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the wildcard of this division. They have a young third year head coach and a third year quarterback in Josh Freeman. Freeman has a big arm and the weapons around him are getting better each year. The running game should be solid for the Bucs as Legarret Blount has emerged as an elite runner in the league after the devastating conclusion to his college career and being cut by the Titans. The wide receivers are pretty good but lack experience. Mike Williams will definitely be the go to guy for this group as he has playmaker written all over him. 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 top pick Gerald McCoy. Big things are expected of him this year and I think he will deliver. The linebackers are pretty solid as well with Rico McCoy and Dekoda Watson expect 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 (QB), LeGarret Blount (RB), Mike Williams (WR), Gerald McCoy (DT), Aqib Talib (CB)
Projected Finish: Second