In preparation for the upcoming 2014 NFL season, Just A Guy has put together a team-by-team run down of every division. Today we highlight the NFC South, which includes the Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Saints.
The Falcons have to bounce back from the horrid year last season. Injuries crushed this team last year, with Steven Jackson, Julio Jones and Roddy White all missing time. Those three should be back and save Matt Ryan. Ryan’s safety blanket, Tony Gonzalez, is gone and there doesn’t seem to be a clear replacement for him at the TE spot, but offensive additions Devonta Freeman and Jake Matthews should take some of the pressure off, both in the running game and on the offensive line. The defensive side of the ball remains a work in progress, but it’s clear that the team will only go as far as Ryan and the offense can take them. No one stays down for long in the NFC South, so expect the Falcons to bounce back this year. – Steve
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith returns to the head coach seat. Smith will inherit some very solid defensive players (his specialty) in DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, safety Dashon Goldson, and prized CB free agent Alterraun Verner. They should all thrive under Smith’s trademark Tampa 2 defensive scheme. On offense, the Bucs hope for Doug Martin to regain his rookie year form, after an atrocious and injury shortened second season. They drafted 6’5 specimen Mike Evans to pair alongside 6’5 Vincent Jackson to form the twin towers at wide receiver. They also drafted 6’5 plus TE Austin Sefarian Jenkins, one of the top prospects early last draft season. With these behemoths, new QB Josh McCown, also a former Bear, shouldn’t have too difficult a time finding them. 8-8 record – Frank
The Panthers are looking to make another run into the playoffs in 2014. Cam Newton will again more than likely be the reason they do. But who’s he going to throw to with his favorite target in Steve Smith gone? Cotchery, Olsen, Avant, and rookie Kelvin Benjamin? Maybe but it’s not ideal. Cam and the running game will have to shoulder the load and make plays happen a lot. However, there’s hope on defense. The Panthers field one of the best front sevens in the NFL. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are one of the best pass rushing duo’s out there. Now add a stud line backing group led by 2013 defensive MVP Luke Kuechly and it’s a nasty bunch to go up against. The secondary is more of a question mark. Thomas Decoud was a nice add tho, but they’ll still have to make plays. In a tough division I don’t see the Panthers being as successful as last year. Put them down for 8-8 and a miss for the playoffs in 2014. – Chris
New Orleans Saints
The Saints high powered offense is led by the man at the helms, Mr. Drew Brees. The success of Brees at quarterback directly correlates to the number of wins the Saints will have this year. Odds dictate they will do well as Brees is a premier quarterback that spreads the ball around. Mark Ingram could have a big year at running back as he’s fully recovered from 2013 toe injury. Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson could also see sometime carrying the ball. The loss of Darren Sproles hurts in the receiving department as he racked up over 70 catches last year, but with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and company the passing game will be just fine.
Defensively the line is solid with Cameron Jordan and Brodrick Bunkley backed by linebackers David Harthorne and Curtis Lofton. Lofton was the leading tackler for the Saints last year and is quietly one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. The signing of Jairus Byrd was big news free agency splash that should help at safety as he replaces Roman Harper. They also picked up the ancient Champ Bailey to play some nickel corner. If the defense can keep it close, the Saints have a solid shot at a playoff spot in the wide open NFC South. – Ryan