bill-swift - September 5, 2012
Fantasy drafts are done, rosters are set, and the only thing left to do is wait for the season to begin. Thankfully we only have to wait one more day for that to happen. In the meantime there is only one thing left to do--make predictions baby!
We all have our different methods in doing so. Some study statistics and probabilities; I rub my crystal football that my grandfather gave me and ask the great Vince Lombardi for advice. When I can't get a hold of him I see if Tom Landry is around. After my latest rubdown (or was that milk I poured in my coffee bad?) the answers to the NFC South were clear.
All signs are pointing towards this being the year for 'Matty Ice' and the Atlanta Falcons, but I'm not so sure. I like Matt Ryan and think he has a tremendous receiving duo in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Michael Turner is still one of the more productive backs in football. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is one of the best to ever play the game and will do whatever it takes to make sure his final season is a good one.
The defense is good (not great; 12th overall in'11). They were at their best against the run (6th; 97 yards/game), but were not so good against the pass (20th; 236.6 yards/game). In a division that has Drew Brees in it that will not be enough to win. It will not matter how good Matt Ryan has the offense clicking. If they can't stop Brees they can't win the division.
New Orleans Saints:
Drew Brees and the Saints are being counted out by many after losing Sean Payton for the season and not getting Joe Vitt back till after Game Six, but the team still has all the weapons it needs and a capable leader (Brees). There is not a team in the league that wouldn't like to have wide receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore to throw to along with tight end Jimmy Graham.
The trio of running backs, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Mark Ingram, combine to give the offense a decent running game. Thomas and Sproles add a dangerous element to the passing game as well. The defense is not that good (30th against the pass; 12th against the run), but as much as they score that really doesn't matter.
Missing their head coach will hurt, but they still have the next best thing in Drew Brees.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Tampa Bay will be one of the leaders in the 'Be Bad for Barkley' sweepstakes this year. Vincent Jackson and tight end Dallas Clark were brought in to help the passing game, but what the team really needed was a change at quarterback. Teams will stack against the run in order to make Josh Freeman beat them through the air; something he has yet to show he is capable of doing.
If the running game can get going the Bucs might have a chance. Rookie Doug Martin won the starting job from LeGarrette Blount, but look for the team to feature both backs at times as Freeman struggles (but hopefully improves) in the passing game. New addition D.J. Ware will give the team depth at running back. If the running game can pull some pressure off of Freeman he may get the time he needs to get the ball down field.
The problem will be the defense. Last season the unit ranked 30th in the NFL giving up an incredible 30.9 points a game while only scoring just over 15 themselves. You will not win too many games like that. If the team is forced into passing in order to catch up, well--they won't (sorry guys; its true).
Carolina is going to be fun to watch. Cam Newton had an incredible rookie season with no training camp to learn the offense; now that he has had one opposing defenses should look out. He will still have the capable running duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to help him out as well as future Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Smith.
Tight end Greg Olsen is one of the better pass catching tight ends in the league, and figures to play a larger role in the offense this season. What will help make the offense great is if wide receiver Brandon LaFell can take the next step in his development and became a quality, dependable player across from Steve Smith.
If Carolina is going to win any games the defense has to improve. Part of the reason that Newton was in a position to rack up the yards that he did was because the 28th ranked defense had a hard time stopping anyone.The unit was without linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis; both are expected back and ready to contribute. They will get a helping hand by the leading candidate for defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Luke Kuechly.
Carolina will be exciting to watch with Cam Newton at the helm, but the defense is going to keep him constantly working from behind. Tampa Bay is going to be a non-factor in the division; they are simply lacking in too many places. The division will come down to either New Orleans or Atlanta.
The Falcons appear to be much better on offense this season, but there is no reason to believe that the Saints offense is not going to be better as well.
Division Winner: New Orleans