NFL 2013 FEARLESS PREDICTIONS – NFC South Edition

Posted: September 5, 2013 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL
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Down bottom in the NFC is home to some of the finest QB play in the league. Between Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Cam Newton, there are a combined 11 Pro Bowls. It has also home to some of the most dynamic young playmakers in all of football, in names such as Newton, Julio Jones, Doug Martin and Luke Kuechley. There should be exciting times at each stop in the division for years to come.

Yet for the last two seasons, Atlanta has enforced its will throughout the first 16 games of the season, relentlessly, and after being dogged by the constant notion of not being able to get over the playoff hump, they finally did that as well before giving in to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. A season of progress for one club, but that could hardly be said of the others. The bounty gate scandal dogged the Saints from the gate, the Panthers rebuilding continued and after a string of early season injuries and suspensions, the Bucs transmission stayed in neutral.

Now each team is looking to break their respective molds. The Falcons are looking to make the final step, while the Saints are looking to climb back among the NFL elite. Meanwhile, the Bucs are hoping that a superstar arrival pulls them to the top, and the Panthers hope their superstar in the wings takes full flight.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Drew Brees, RB: Doug Martin, Steven Jackson, WR: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson, TE: Tony Gonzalez, OT: Sam Baker, Jordan Gross, OG: Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph C: Ryan Kalil

DE: Osi Umenyiora, Charles Johnson DT/NT: Gerald McCoy, OLB: Sean Weatherspoon, Jon Beason, MLB: Luke Kuechley, Jonathan Vilma CB: Asante Samuel, Darrelle Revis, FS: Dashon Goldson, SS: William Moore

K: Matt Bryant, P: Thomas Morstead, KR: Darren Sproles PR: Darren Sproles

 

Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for over 2,500 receiving yards in 2012, and were the most productive tandem in the NFL. And could see even more space to work this fall.

Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for over 2,500 receiving yards in 2012, and were the most productive tandem in the NFL. And could see even more space to work this fall.

ATLANTA FALCONS (13-3 in 2012)

The Good: The offense will regain a consistent ground threat via the acquisition of Steven Jackson. The long-time Ram will be running with a purpose for the first time in years with the looming chance of not just the playoffs, but a Super Bowl as well. The Falcons run game struggled most of last year, leaning on the declining Michael Turner, and they turned to the air nearly exclusively. But with the still-lively running of Jackson in the fold, defenses will have to pick their poison more carefully.

The Bad: It is still not a defense that creates much pressure on the QB. This gives teams a chance to sit back and pick their shot far too often, and has last year showed, eventually wear down even as talented of a secondary as they possessed. If they are to truly make the full step into up to Super Bowl Sunday, the blitz will have to improve from somewhere.

X-Factor—Osi Umenyiora: As a part of their mission to add some punch to their defense, the Falcons added the veteran defensive end over the summer, and the owner of 75 career sacks brings a much needed element to help change their game. However, he also an owner of two Super Bowl rings as well, and for a team that is in the Falcons’ position, what Osi brings in experience could be just as important.

Schedule: @NO (W), STL (W), @MIA (W), NE (W), NYJ (W), TB (W), @ARI (W), @CAR (L), SEA (W), @TB (L), NO (W), @BUF (W), @GB (L), WSH (W), @SF (W), CAR (W)

Prediction: With an overwhelming offense that features three legit 1,000 potential receivers in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, a quarterback in Matt Ryan that has gotten his big payday and now only has a Super Bowl left to validate him among the league’s best, it’s clear what class the Falcons are in. Even with their defensive uncertainties, they will be in the middle of the Super Bowl picture once again. 13-3

Cam has carried the Panthers on his quite capable shoulders for his first two seasons, but if the Panthers are going to move up in the South, he'll need help in a few places.

Cam has carried the Panthers on his quite capable shoulders for his first two seasons, but if the Panthers are going to move up in the South, he’ll need help in a few places.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10 in 2012)

The Good: Finally, the defense is finally beginning to come around. Luke Kuechly was a revalation at middle linebacker in route to winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, running up 164 tackles. Now Jon Beason will join him on the strong side to give the team a formidable group in their defensive front for the first time in a while.

The Bad: Was enough done to bring out the best in Cam Newton? While his 2012 was far from a failure (4,600 all-purpose yards, 27 TD), it wasn’t the ride that his record-setting debut was. Much of this was due to a still inconsistent running attack, as well as an offensive line that brought way too many contact and hurried passes. Considering his physical style in the open field as is, keeping Cam upright has to improve.

X-Factor—Star Lotulelei: Luck smile upon them by helping them land the 6’2, 312 pound defensive tackle. His stock saw him fall from a top 3 pick down to the 14th pick after concerns about a mysterious heart disorder came up. But that didn’t detour the Panthers, and now they have added an athletic big man that can meet runners quickly off the line.

Schedule: SEA (L), @BUF (W), NYG (L), @ARI (L), @MIN (L), STL (L), @TB (L), ATL (W), @SF (L), NE (L), @MIA (W), TB (W), @NO (L), NYJ (W), NO (W), @ATL (L)

Prediction: There is still a disproportionate amount of responsibility on Newton to make everything happen for the offense. With the loss of Jonathan Stewart, there could yet still be even more on his shoulders to produce for the team. There has to be someone to step up on offense to share the load, and considering its much of the same cast back from last year, that doesn’t seem likely. 6-10

Brees became the first QB to ever have consecutive 5,000 yard passing seasons, but saw his interception and completion numbers take downward turns as well.

Brees became the first QB to ever have consecutive 5,000 yard passing seasons, but saw his interception and completion numbers take downward turns as well.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9 in 2012)

The Good: Often, either too little or too much gets made of the difference a coach can make on a team, but in the case of Sean Payton, never can his relevance in NOLA be disputed again. After an early season spiral set them back out the gate, and a historically bad defense kept even a Drew Brees-led offense from leading a comeback, the Saints have their leader back and could make 2012 a huge mulligan year.

The Bad: Has enough changed on the defense to make a difference? Just a year removed from being the first team to surrender 7,000 yards in a season, the Saints have made some changes to their defensive approach, bringing in coordinator Rob Ryan and switching to a 3-4 scheme. But an adjustment period could be yet another stumbling block that overloads responsibility onto the offense again.

X-Factor—Kenny Vaccaro: NO caught some good fortune by the clear cut best coverage safety in April’s Draft landing in their grasp. The athletic former Texas Longhorn will be a much needed centerfielder for a defense that got beat deep seemingly at will a year ago. His development is key the entire defense settling into their roles easier.

Schedule: ATL (L), @TB (L), ARI (W), MIA (W), @CHI (W), @NE (L), BUF (W), @NYJ (L), DAL (L), SF (L), @ATL (L), @SEA (W), CAR (W), @STL (W), @CAR (L), TB (W)

Prediction: While it won’t quite be a night and day transition for the Saints, they will be much improved from a year ago. It is a team that finished out 5-4 in the second leg of the year, and became a threat to spring into the playoff picture momentarily. That is likely their role again this year, with trips to Chicago, New England and Seattle both tough and likely the decisive match ups of their season, besides the two face offs with Atlanta. A return to the playoffs is within their grasp. 9-7

Freeman has been steady over the past three years in Tampa, but for a team that has been aggressive with their checkbook the past two years, a leap forward is expected, now.

Freeman has been steady over the past three years in Tampa, but for a team that has been aggressive with their checkbook the past two years, a leap forward is expected, now.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (7-9 in 2012)

The Good: Doug Martin was far better than anybody could have imagined last year, and still has some room to grow. In his first year, he topped 125 yards four times, including a 251 yard blitzkrieg on Oakland which was the 10th best game in NFL history. Add in the 49 catches he netted out the backfield, and the Bucs have instantly one of the most versatile weapons in football.

The Bad: Will a quarterback controversy be forced into the picture? Despite throwing for over 4,000 yards a year ago, the pressure is building for third year QB Josh Freeman to get the club back over the hump and closer to the 10-win success they enjoyed his first year as starter in 2010. If the team slows out the gate, there could be an itch to give rookie Mike Glennon a chance at completing that task. If that risk pays off, mission accomplished. But if not it could cause an awkward dynamic that sets the team back years.

X-Factor—Darrelle Revis: Adding arguably the best defensive player in the NFL is always a good thing….if that is who they truly get. Revis’ pedigree needs no introduction; his presence alone changes the entire way that an offense operates. But if he cannot rebound from the ACL injury that kept him out of all but two games last season and all of the preseason this year, the Bucs will have made a huge gamble that led nowhere.

Schedule: @NYJ (W), NO (W), @NE (L), ARI (W), PHI (L), @ATL (L), CAR (W), @SEA (L), MIA (L), ATL (W), @DET (L), @CAR (L), BUF (W), SF (L), @STL (L), @NO (L)

Prediction: Tampa has a roster that has potential on both sides, but has nearly as many question marks as it has impact players. The progression of its young playmakers such as Martin, Marc Barron and Mike Williams is exciting, but the reliance on questionable veterans such as Revis, Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks makes it tough to invest too far in them. Be afraid Josh Freeman, be afraid. 6-10

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