2010 NFC South Preview
New Orleans Saints
Projected Record: 11 – 5
If there has ever been a city or team that deserved to win the Superbowl it would be New Orleans. With the things that the city has had to endure since hurricane Katrina and now the oil spill, a Superbowl Champion is the least that the city deserves. I think what I like best about the Saints organization is the how the players and coaches have embraced the challenge to rebuild New Orleans both on and off the field.
With Drew Brees completing over 70% of his passes the Saints didn't need a whole lot of help offensively. But, the Saints were able to add rookie tight end Jimmy Graham from Miami who has the size and potential to be a big time play-maker in this league. Jeremy Shockey is near the end of his career but can still be productive when healthy. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem are a nightmare match up for secondaries around the league and will continue to produce big plays this season. Reggie Bush may have kicked it with the Kardashians last season, but Pierre Thomas kicked it into high gear rushing for over 5.4 yards a carry last season.
Defensively, the Saints thrived on turnovers. Their secondary routinely jumped routes and baited quarterbacks into making poor decisions. Veteran safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Tracy Porter return to lead a Saints secondary that made several game changing plays in the postseason. Linebacker Johnathan Vilma will continue to make plays and protect the middle of the field for the Saints defense. Will Smith led the team with 13 sacks last year and will continue to get pressure on the quarterback.
As far as the NFC South is concerned I don't think the other teams (Falcons, Panthers, Bucs) have caught up to the Saints just yet. Look for them to repeat as division champs. However, the big question is: Can The Saints Repeat As Superbowl Champs? I think they have the talent offensively, but I think their defense will give up more big plays and force fewer turnovers and that will cause them to fall short of repeating.
Projected Record: 9 -7
Last season the Falcons finished 9-7 which marked the first time in their franchise history that the team had back to back winning seasons. Unfortunately, for the Falcons their 9-7 record was not good enough to qualify for the postseason in the NFC. Quarterback Matt Ryan returns for his third season as the Falcons starter and is looking to make the leap to the upper echelon of quarterbacks. He was up and down last season and will need to improve his consistency, particularly on the road if the Falcons want to make the postseason.
The Falcons running game struggled last season due to injuries to starter Michael Turner and backup Jerious Norwoord. They should both be healthy to start the season so look for the Falcons to try to reestablish the ground game that brought them so much success in the 2008 season. Receivers Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and Tony Gonzalez give Matt Ryan a solid trio of targets at the wide receiver position.
The Falcons struggled a bit in the secondary last year and they are hoping free agent pick up Dunta Robinson will help with their secondary woes. The Falcons drafted linebacker Sean Witherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters with their first two draft picks in the hope of adding talent and depth to a defense that was plagued by injuries and inconsistency last season. Defensive end John Abraham can still rush the passer when healthy but his snaps have to monitored so he doesn't wear down over the course of the season.
The Falcons have enough talent to snag a wild card spot in the NFC. Their success will largely depend upon the continued maturation of Matt Ryan into an elite level quarterback and the improvement of a defense that gave up far too many big plays.
Projected Record: 7-9
I've always liked John Fox. But I think last season his loyalty to Jake Delhomme cost him a season where the Panthers could have been a playoff team. A year later Delhomme and the current quarterback, Matt Moore, and quarterback of the future, Jimmy Clausen, are ready to lead the Panthers into the 2010 season.
Matt Moore showed some flashes in his limited starts last season, so the Panthers are confident he can get the ball to their play makers. It should be relatively easy for him to hand off to DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart who are one of the best running back duos in the league. Steve Smith still remains a threat at wide receiver and can still take the short pass for big yards when his team needs it most. Carolina drafted, former Appalachian State star quarterback, Armanti Edwards. He will likely play receiver and potentially add more explosiveness to the position.
Defensively, Carolina lost defensive Julius Peppers via free agency. The Panthers drafted defensive end Greg Hardy, not to replace Peppers, but, to be part of a rotation that can collectively make up for the loss of such a dynamic player as Peppers. Linebacker John Beason still wreaks havoc against offenses and makes those around him better. The secondary still has talent with cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble roaming the defensive backfield.
It's tough to get a good read on the Panthers. They don't have a proven quarterback and their best player on defense left in the off season. Add that to the fact they don't have a solid receiving option behind Steve Smith lead me to believe the Panthers are not a playoff caliber team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected Record: 4-12
In his rookie season, head coach Raheem Morris did everything you weren't supposed to do. He fired his offensive coordinator right before the start of the season and he fired his defensive coordinator before the season ended. Morris may have saved his job with a late season win at New Orleans, as well the development of Josh Freeman, but he will need to hold on to his coordinators this season so that the Bucs can build some continuity for the future.
The Buccaneers really stocked up on defense in this years draft. They drafted defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with their first round pick. Many scouts have compared McCoy to a young Warren Sapp. They also drafted defensive tackle Brian Price with their second round pick. The Bucs are hoping McCoy and Price can anchor the interior of their defense for years to come. Ronde Barber is the elder statesmen in the Bucs secondary, but Aquib Talib is the younger more athletic corner who is starting to make a name for himself. Linebacker Barrett Rudd still makes plays all over the field and is one of the leaders on a Buccaneers defense looking to become dominant again.
Josh Freeman showed some positive signs last year as a rookie. He made the typical rookie mistakes, but he showed good leadership and decision making towards the end of the season. The Bucs drafted Arrelious Benn to provide Freeman with more weapons through the air. Michael Clayton and Kellen Winslow are veteran receivers who Freeman can rely to get open and make plays. Running backs Carnell Williams and Derrick Ward need to stay healthy so that the running game can keep all the pressure from falling on Freeman.
Last year the Bucs went 3-13. This year I could see them winning 1 or 2 more games. The Bucs are improving and if they can develop Josh Freeman into a playmaker at quarterback, and reestablish the identity of their defense, you could be looking at a legit title contender in a couple of seasons.