NFC South NFL Preview

In preparation for the upcoming 2013 NFL season, we’ve put together a divisional analysis with a run down of every team along with the staff’s selections for how the division will play out. In this article we highlight the NFC South, which includes the Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers and Saints. 

New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton is back.  This was easily New Orleans biggest “move” of the off season.  His offensive play calling and leadership was greatly missed in 2012.  Drew Brees was still an elite QB last year, but not nearly as effective.  This offense should get back to its consistent high scoring ways.  Jimmy Graham is Brees’ best friend.  He’s always open even when covered well because of his jumping ability and the way he positions himself like a basketball player(see: Tony Gonzalez).  Colston and Moore are solid receivers and have the ability to get the job done, but neither are exactly a big game WR. The running game is deep but doesn’t have a clear cut lead back.  Sproles gets the catches and a Thomas/Ingram combo for the running downs.   The defense needs some help, um well maybe A LOT of help and maybe Rob Ryan will be the answer.  A switch to  3-4 defense might help out a bit with the players they have.  Not a whole lot to report on with player improvements.  In short, all the defense needs to do is be ok as compared to what they were last year- awful.  I’ll chalk them up to a wild card spot at the least and possibly give the Falcons a run for their money at the NFC South title.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers are an interesting unit. Former number one overall pick Cam Newton shined his rookie season, shattering the record books. But the Panthers still had a losing record. Last season, Newton started very slowly, but regained form towards the last half of the season. He struggles with leadership issues it seems, as evidenced by teammate comments and post game interviews following tough losses. When everything is going well, he is happy as can be. When everything is going bad, he crumbles instead of persevering, and working towards making sure it doesn’t happen again. That will have to change for this team to take the next step. What he also needs is more weapons. Steve Smith is still good for his age, but he is at the twilight of his career. Brandon Lafell and co. are not sufficient. However, Greg Olsen is perhaps one of the more underappreciated tight ends in the game, as he always quietly finishes among the top 7 at the position. Then, there is the crowded backfield. To this day, I have no idea why the Panthers decided to give both Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart big paydays. Once Newton was drafted, it became a pass oriented offense, with Newton even shouldering some rushing duties. Don’t forget about Mike Tolbert either. It has put this organization in bad cap situations. It has also robbed Stewart of ever showing what he can do as a feature back, although his health has held him back recently as of late too. And Williams has never regained his 2008 breakout form. How this offense runs this year will be something to watch, as they are supposedly going towards a more run heavy offense.

On defense, Carolina will need former stud Jon Beason to get his groove back and be dominant again. Once a rising star out of Miami, injuries have derailed his career. They still have Charles Godfrey wreaking havoc on the QB from the end spot, but they did lose solid cornerback Chris Gamble to a surprise retirement. Throw in rookie first round nose tackle Star Louteleli to clog up lanes, and the Panthers are hoping to regain balance to a once strong unit. In a crowded NFC South, I think the Panthers still remain behind the Atlanta Falcons, who are essentially Super Bowl or bust after Ryan’s mega extension. The Saints had one of the worst defenses in NFL history last year, and hired a new coordinator and installed a new scheme. It could be quite rocky. But they should still be better than Carolina with the return of guru Sean Payton. You also have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They possess a high octane offense and suddenly intimidating defense, with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson. This is a tough division to gauge. But I think Carolina remains the weakest of all these teams and stays at the bottom.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are just like their quarterback, average to above average. If Josh Freeman can continue to improve, then so can the team. He was one of eleven quarterbacks to throw for over 4,000 yards last year and that was in big part due a certain former Chargers receiver. Vincent Jackson put up the best numbers of his career last year and that should bode well for the 2013 season. They no longer have LeGarrette Blount (who was traded to the Patriots), but that is of no concern as Doug Martin was a standout performer last year. Martin had over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and scored twelve touchdowns in a year in which they only won seven games. They lost their starting tight end, Dallas Clark, to the Ravens. Which means they’ll rely heavily on Jackson and Martin again this year.

Defensively they’ve improved significantly at corner by trading their first round draft pick for Darelle Revis, who if healthy and able to perform will be a steal. He’ll be filling in where future Hall of Famer, Ronde Barber, left off after sixteen years. To continue shoring up a secondary that needs serious help they drafted Johnthan Banks in the second round. Their two leading tacklers were young linebackers, Lavonte David and Mason Foster, who each had over 100 tackles last season and helped to lead the league in rushing yards allowed per game. This young defense will keep getting better and will assuredly improve upon their lackluster passing defense that was the worst in the league. Even in a tough NFC South, the Bucs have a solid chance at being a very good team this year.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are favorites in the division for good reason. Matt Ryan is still throwing the ball to Julio Jones and Roddy White. While the offense did lose Michael Turner, he has been replaced by Steven Jackson who has been a better back over his career and probably has more left in the tank. The team is banking on Jacquizz Rodgers to continue his development to take some of the pressure off of Ryan and the passing game by improving the league’s 29th ranked run offense. Don’t forget to throw Tony Gonzalez back into the mix, and you see a loaded offense on paper.

Defensively, the Falcons were not impressive last year and they did a lot in the draft to address their weaknesses by drafting help in the secondary with their first two picks. Can cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford contribute right off the bat? The Falcons sure hope so. Their pass defense allowed 242.4  yards per game last season. With the Saints and Buccaneers improving, the defense needs to catch up to the offense for this team to make a Super Bowl run.

Falcons (10-6)Falcons (12-4)Saints (12-4)Falcons (12-4)
Saints (10-6)Saints (10-6)Falcons (12-4)Saints (10-6)
Buccaneers (8-8)Buccaneers (7-9)Buccaneers (9-7)Buccaneers (7-9)
Panthers (5-11)Panthers (6-10)Panthers (6-10)Panthers (5-11)
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