Saturday, August 29, 2009

NFL 2009 Preview - NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Last Year:11-5, Wild Card.

This is a rare case where I think the O-line will be fine, but the rest of the offense causes implosion. Michael Turner led the league in carries last year, and that's probably not a good thing. The Falcons plan on grinding with him again, and he'll surely wear down, be less effective, and probably get hurt. And if Turner gets hurt, the running game is really in trouble. Jerious Norwood is the immediate backup, and while he has ridiculous speed, he's probably not capable of handing a full load.

QB Matt Ryan had a great rookie season, but sophomore slumps are usually attributed to defenses being more "prepared," and with a weaker run game, Ryan probably won't be able to handle it. This will have a ripple effect on his weapons. Roddy White has become a very good receiver but probably won't get the numbers he got last year. Michael Jenkins isn't as talented and will likely suffer more than Roddy. You have to feel sorry for new Falcon TE Tony Gonzalez, if Ryan and Turner struggle as I expect. Ring or not, he's had an amazing career.

The Falcons front 7 was mostly mediocre last year except for John Abraham's pass rush. Brooking and Boley are being replaced by Mike Peterson and Coy Wire, small improvements. The secondary was awful last year and lost their 2 best members: Foxworth and Milloy. Good thing it's hard for the secondary to be much worse.

If the offense collapses like I expect, and the defense stays just as bad, this is going to be a terrible team.

2009 Projected Record: 5-11

Carolina Panthers

Last Year:12-4, NFC South Champs

You know what you're getting from Jake Delhomme at this point. Decent most games, but terrible in a few. Unfortunately for Carolina, "decent Jake" never saw the field in the playoffs. The Panthers rode their running game to the playoffs last year. DeAngelo Williams broke out as a bona-fide stud. They also featured Jonathan Stewart, another talented runner who has trouble staying healthy. While it will be hard for the running game to be so excellent in 2009, there shouldn't be a huge dropoff. Jake Delhomme's primary receivers are showing growing old with him. Steve Smith is 30, but he's still one of the most dangerous and underrated players in the game. Muhsin Muhammad is 36 and is just a decent possession receiver (and good blocker) at this point.

The Panthers pass-rush should be fine, keeping Peppers and drafting Everette Brown. The secondary is pretty good too, but will miss Ken Lucas. There's a huge problem here though. The Panthers were already thin at DT, and lost starter Kemoeatu for the season. This is going to cause the excellent Jonathan Beason to get blocked much more often, and could lead to the Panthers getting run all over.

Overall the defense will struggle compared to last year, which means the Panthers will have to pass more, which is not a good thing. No playoffs for Carolina.

2009 Projected Record: 7-9

New Orleans Saints

Last Year:8-8

Sean Payton has built a great system around Drew Brees. That's not to suggest Brees isn't a great QB, but Payton is maximizing his talents. The talent around him doesn't hurt, either. Injuries last year kept Marques Colston off the field or ineffective for most of the season, a return to full health will be a huge boost. Lance Moore emerged as another solid option in the Saints short-pass attack, and they hope Jeremy Shockey will live up to his Giants days as well. Pierre Thomas looks like a decent replacement for Deuce. Reggie Bush has been a bust as a runner so far, but he's been great as a receiver out of the backfield. I think he can live up to his talent (although not his draft pick) this year if he just stays healthy.

On the other side of the ball, things aren't so good. Gregg Williams is a good defensive mind, but all he has to work with is Vilma and possibly Ellis. They signed Darren Sharper many years too late.

Overall, the defense can't get a ton worse, but it can't get better until they add better players. But the offense could be even better with a healthy Bush and Colston.

2009 Projected Record: 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last Year:9-7

Ahh, the Bucs. They're picked by most to finish last in the NFC South, but in past years, this has been a good thing. I'm going to do the Bucs projection "backwards" and try to prove that the consensus has this team backwards.

The defense is making a drastic switch in leadership from "Tampa 2" to Jim Bates' schemes. It seems like this should be an obvious "transition year" for the defense, but I think you're going to see the good qualities of tampa-2 personnel mixed with good ideas from Jim Bates (who, granted, did fail completely in Denver). Ronde Barber has lost a step, but he's a physical corner who won't be terrible at bump & run. The Bucs have two other very promising corners in Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack. At safety they'll have a solid rotation of Will Allen, Tanard Jackson, and Sabby Piscitelli, at least after Tanard's 4 game suspension. Until then, Jermaine Phillips will play safety (he might eventually be moved to LB).

Speaking of linebacker, Ruud is a stud in the middle, and the team replaced Cato June with Angelo Crowell. Geno Hayes will hold down the other OLB position, at least for the first 4 games. Ryan Sims and Roy Miller fit Bates's scheme perfectly and Hovan adds depth. The Bucs are set on the outside with Gaines Adams and Jimmy Wilkerson. For all they lost (Derrick Brooks, Cato June, Kevin Carter, Jovan Haye, Philip Buchannon) the Bucs have no glaring holes on defenses, and still have quite a few playmakers.

The offense is another reason the Bucs are expected to collapse, but it's not like they were great last year. Antonio Bryant was great though, and he's still around. Talent's never been a question with Bryant, it was injuries and off-the-field events. Whoever the QB is, he'll be the go-to guy. Michael Clayton is a good blocking receiver but probably shouldn't be starting. The team added Kellen Winslow II who, like Bryant, is a great talent when avoiding health-related and off-the-field issues.

In the backfield, the Bucs have the potential for a very strong 3-back system. Earnest Graham is a bowling ball inside runner and Derrick Ward was the quintessential outside runner for the Giants last year. Carnell Williams is a wild card, he's a talented runner but it's hard to expect anything after the terrible injuries he's had. Jeff Jagodzinski is implementing zone-blocking, which fits the O-line well. Then there's the QB situation. Byron Leftwich was named the starter but Josh Freeman might take over at some point. Leftwich was obviously pressing in a recent preseason game, but is probably the best choice for now. Whoever it is will enjoy decent weapons and average pass protection.

2009 Projected Record: 9-7, NFC South champs

Current Division Future Odds:

(Disclaimer: I don't bet futures or suggest you tie up money for that long)

Atlanta Falcons +225
Carolina Panthers +225
New Orleans Saints +165
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +625

Put 100 turnips on the Bucs!

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