CSP’s 2011 NFC South FEARLESS PREDICTIONS!!!

Posted: September 2, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in Uncategorized
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On many accounts, the NFC South was the strongest division in football last season. It was the only group that featured three teams with 10 wins or better. The Falcons were healthy again, and picked up where they left off in 2009. The Buccaneers improved by eight games behind an impressive young core. On top of that it brought back the defending Super Bowl Champions in New Orleans.

However, after all of its success the first sixteen weeks, the division did not win a single playoff game. Also, it’s fourth team in Carolina, had the worst record in the league. So where does this leave them at headed into the 2011? Will postseason success return to the division? Will it feature another breakout team or will one of its mainstays take the next step to either finding or reclaiming Playoff success? Here’s how the geographic bottom of the NFC is shaping up this season…

 

All-Division Team

QB: Drew Brees RB: Michael Turner, LaGarrette Blount FB: Ovie Mughelli WR: Roddy White, Marques Colston, Mike Williams TE: Tony Gonzalez OT: Jordan Gross, Tyson Clabo OG: Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks C: Todd McClur

Brees threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.

DE: John Abraham, Charles Johnson DT: Aubrayo Franklin, Gerald McCoy OLB: James Anderson, Mike Peterson MLB: Jon Beason, Jonathan Vilma CB: Dunta Robinson, Chris Gamble S: Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper

K: Jon Kasay P: Justin Baker Returner: Eric Weems

 

ATLANTA FALCONS (13-3 in 2010; division champs)

Offense: M. Ryan-QB, M. Turner-RB, R. White-WR, T. Gonzalez-TE (A)

Defense: J. Abraham-DE, D. Robinson-CB, C. Lofton-MLB, W. Moore-S (B-)

 

The Good: The offense is going to be deeper than ever, and that’s saying a lot for a team that sent seven guys to the Pro Bowl last season. However, for much of the season Roddy White was the only receiving threat downfield (his 179 targets led the NFL, as did his 115 receptions). But with the return of Harry Douglas and addition of Julio Jones on the outside, along with the versatility of fifth round pick Jacquizz Rodgers, Matt Ryan’s road to joining the elite at quarterback will reach its destination this season.

The Bad: John Abraham has long been a terror on the defensive line, but an extra pass rusher still eludes them. No one outside of Abraham topped four sacks a year ago, and nothing was able to be done to change that. This lack of aggressiveness from the D could continue to keep this team from breaking through once again.

Ryan looks ready to take the step to elite status this year, and could be a dark horse MVP candidate.

X-Factor-Julio Jones: They gave up a lot (five draft picks) to move into place to select him, but was the type of move a team on the brink of major success needed to make. While he will definitely make plays on his own, his biggest immediate impact could be drawing attention off White and Tony Gonzalez, as well has forcing defenses to put more emphasis on coverage, which Michael Turner will feast on.

Fearless Prediction: @CHI (W), PHI (W), @TB (L), @SEA (W), GB (L), CAR (W), @DET (W), @IND (L), NO (W), TEN (W), MIN (W), @HOU (W), @CAR (W), JAX (W), @NO (L), TB (W)

In The End: They’ll play as tough a relentless schedule. After four in-division matchups with the Bucs and Saints, they see the Eagles, Colts, Packers and Bears outside it. But this is a team that can handle it and while they won’t reach the 13 wins they did a year ago, they stand a chance of hitting the Playoffs and taking it by storm from the Wild Card position, similar to what the Packers did last year. Record: 12-4

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-14 in 2010)

Offense: D. Williams-RB, S. Smith-WR, C. Newton-QB, J. Gross-OT (D+)

Defense: C. Johnson-DE, J. Beason-MLB, C. Gamble-CB, J. Anderson-OLB (C)

 

The Good: They kept their impact guys from jumping off board. After as bad of a season as they are coming off of, Charles Johnson , James Anderson and DeAngelo Williams could have cashed their chips in via free agency and headed out of town. Likewise, Steve Smith also could have pressured his way out of Charlotte after suffering through his worst season due to the horribleness that manned the QB position last year. They dedicated big money to keep the talent they have in-tow, and it should provide a bridge back to respectability much quicker than many other teams that picked first overall.

The Bad: This is still a team that only won two games a year ago and was the worst in the NFL. The offense averaged a 143 yards in the air a game, and injury has already hit the group this season, making the thin seem anemic. The offense could at least count on to being bailed out by kicker Jon Kasay in the past, but he’s jumped ship to division rival New Orleans now.

Rivera doesn't inherit the usual 2-14 rebound team in his first year as a head coach.

X-Factor-Cam Newton: if there is an “X-Factor” in the league, it’s Cam. He has the big play ability to bounce back from a string of bad plays, with one big one either running or passing. And this trend will most likely be what’s on repeat in his rookie campaign. He was named week one starter and much of what the team is based around how he adjusts in the pocket. How much he is allowed to take on out of the playbook will likely expand throughout the year, but on the ground, when paired with Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, Newton could be a part of a nice ground attack early on.

Fearless Prediction: @ARI (L), GB (L), JAX (W), @CHI (L), NO (L), @ATL (L), WSH (L), MIN (L), TEN (W), @DET (L), @IND (L), @TB (L), ATL (L), @HOU (L), TB (W), @NO (L)

In The End: New coach Ron Rivera is an aggressive defensive mind that cut his teeth in San Diego and Chicago, and inherits a defense that he’ll be able to take to a new level this year. But there is only so far this team can rise in such a tough division. While they’ll be better, they’ll be far and away still the bottom feeder in the South for now. Record 4-12

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5 in 2010; Wild Card)

Offense: D. Brees-QB, M. Colston-WR, M. Ingram-RB, J. Evans-OG (A)

Defense: W. Smith-DE, J. Vilma-MLB, A. Franklin-DT, M. Jenkins-S (B+)

 

The Good: This is no longer a one-sided show, with Brees and the offense providing all of the sparks. The defense took big steps forward with, Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers and rookie Cameron Jordan joining the team. Each will be able to punish the run and pressure the passer, finally giving Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma some assistance. Malcolm Jenkins stepped into the safety role last season in a major way, and stands to become a disruptor in the fashion Darren Sharper was before him at FS.

The Bad: Brees was pressured far too much from the outside last season. As a result, he threw a career high 22 interceptions. His interior line with Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Olin Kruentz is the best in the league; but tackles Zach Strief, Charles Brown and Jermon Bushrod have to step up this year. No matter what else happens around this team, it only goes as far as Brees is enabled to take them.

Jenkins is a major player in a Saints defense that won't be playing second fiddle for much longer.

X-Factor-Darren Sproles: The Reggie Bush experiment is over, and the Sproles joins the team to do much of the same things Bush offered: be an explosive pass catcher out the backfield and draw the attention of the defense down. But Sproles offers the team a much stronger speed option, and he will join a diverse running attack with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram as the yardage eater to open this offense back up in the way it was during its Super Bowl Run.

Fearless Prediction: @GB (L), @MIN (W), ATL (W), HOU (W), @JAX (W), @CAR (W), @TB (L), IND (W), STL (W), TB (W), @ATL (L), NYG (W), DET (L), @TEN (W), @MIN (W), ATL (W), CAR (W)

In The End: An already impressive offense will get better with a likely upswing from Brees and with a healthy and improved running game. At the same time the defense is set to take big strides forward. This perfect storm will take the Saints back to the top of the division and to the best record in the NFC. Record: 13-3

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (10-6 in 2010)

Offense: J. Freeman-QB, M. Williams-WR, K. Winslow-TE, L. Blount-RB (B+)

Defense: G. McCoy-DT, A. Talib-CB, R. Barber-CB, G. Hayes-OLB (C+)

 

The Good: A young team that took amazing strides forward a year ago will get a chance to continue their emergence this season. However, they’ll be have the benefit of confidence in themselves and a chip on their shoulder to make the playoffs after their 10 wins a year ago were still not enough. Josh Freeman is one of the most creative quarterbacks in the league, and does a fantastic job of not creating trouble for his team with bad passes. Combine that with LaGarrette Blount’s punishing ground attack, and you’ve got an offense that still has the potential to get better.

The Bad: The defense is terribly young overall. None of the projected starters on the defensive front will have more than one year of experience. The team had a lot of money they could have used to add some much needed veterans to the mix, as well as keeping the glue of the defense for the last five years, Barrett Ruud, in town. Young talent is important, but it is best served when on-field experience helps mold it.

Freeman took major steps forward last year, but will be carrying a much heavier load this time around.

X-Factor-Mason Foster: He was the third player the Bucs drafted this year, but he’s by and far the most important one. He steps in at middle linebacker to fill in for one of the most active tacklers in the game in Ruud. He’ll have to mature quickly in the role, as many of the other recent draftees will need his support to take their play to the next level.

Fearless Projection: DET (L), @MIN (W), ATL (W), IND (L), @SF (W), NO (W), CHI (L), @NO (L), HOU (L), @GB (W), @TEN (W), CAR (W), @JAX (L), DAL (W), @CAR (L), @ATL (L)

In The End: This will be a team in flux, and could prove to be one of the most confusing offerings in the league. One that is capable of winning every week, but not always doing so. They will continue to grow this year and show flashes of the team that took the league by surprise in ’10, but with a defense that is learning on the job everywhere and a tougher schedule, they’ll have some hard knocks this season, and take a step backwards. Record: 8-8.

 

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360.

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