By: Monte Perez
The NFC South was by far the worst division in the NFL last season, the Carolina Panthers, basically made it into the playoffs by default.
Tampa Bay 2-10.
For all their incompetence on the field, this weak division was rewarded by losing their best player. New Orleans TE, Jimmy Graham signed with the Seattle Seahawks. There is a bunch of talented players on these teams…but as a collective, these organizations have under achieved. Below is my preview for the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons (Last season 6-10… This year… 9-7) I am picking the Atlanta Falcons to win this division but I am not happy about it. There is only one reason why I like the Falcons… in an offensive league, they have the two of the best wide receivers in the conference. Julio Jones had 104 receptions, 1,593 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. Roddy White is 33 years old but he can still dominate a game when he has to. Last season he had 80 receptions and 7 touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Ryan has played in every game since 2010. He continues to put up good numbers. Last season Ryan threw for 4,694 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Gone is veteran running back Stephen Jackson. Look for Devonata Freeman out of Florida State to provide a spark in the running and passing game.
The Falcons fired head coach Mike Smith and brought in Seattle’s defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Atlanta’s does not have the talent right now to duplicate the Seahawks “Legion of Boom” but with Quinn on the sideline’s they should be better situationally. Atlanta drafted Vic Beasley, a pass rusher from Clemson who is sure to provide the pressure that the Falcons have lacked in recent years. Quinn also brought in Brooks Reed and Adrian Clayborn to add to the defensive depth.
New Orleans Saints (Last Season 7-9… This year…8-8). In 2011 quarterback Drew Brees set the NFL record with a 71.2 completion percentage. What did the Saints do to reward their quarterback? They got rid of all his offensive weapons.. Gone is multi-purpose back Darren Sproles, and their best deep threat Kenny Stills. In two seasons with the Saints, Stills had 95 receptions, 1,572 yards and 8 touchdowns. As if losing those two players weren’t enough, New Orleans traded away, arguably the best TE in the Game. In five years with the Saints Graham had 386 receptions, 4,752 yards and 59 touchdowns. He was the ultimate “safety net” and Red Zone playmaker for Brees. The Saints acquired running back C.J. Spiller but the bulk of the carries should go to former Alabama star Mark Ingram, Jr. In 13 games last year. Ingram rushed for 964 yards and had 9 touchdowns.
At what point do we start looking at Rob Ryan, the Saints defensive coordinator, and say… He is just not that good! Ryan got fired by Cleveland, fired by Dallas and New Orleans struggled last year big time on the defensive end. Good offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators don’t get fired, they get hired as in become a head coach. Ryan doesn’t even seem to be getting quality interviews for head coaching jobs. A lot of Ryan supporters will say, he doesn’t have the talent on defense but I am not buying that. Bill Belichick has used wide receivers to play defensive back at times. If the Saints don’t make the payoffs Ryan will be fired again.
Carolina Panthers (Last season 7-8-1…. This year 7-9) In 2014, the Panthers became the first team in the history of the division to win back-to-back division titles. There were a ton of question marks coming into last season on offense. For the first time in his career Cam Newton was paying without Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Smith. The Panthers went younger, Smith went to Baltimore and Kelvin Benjamin grew up before our eyes on National TV. In his first year, Benjamin caught 73 passes, had 1,008 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. The Panthers expected huge things from the talented wide out this season. Unfortunately for Carolina, the Former Florida State WR will miss the entire season with a torn ACL. Behind Newton will be featured running back Jonathan Stewart. Last season Stewart started 8 games and rushed for 809 yards. There is not of offensive game breakers on this roster. They are going to be methodical and rely on ball control. TE Greg Olsen will have to surpass his numbers from last year 84 catches, 1008 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns if this team wants to compete for a division title.
DE Greg Hardy is no longer with the Panthers but as long LB Luke Kuechly is on the field, Carolina is always in good hands. Last season Keuchly has 153 total tackles. In a division that has Atlanta and New Orleans who can light it up offensively, this unit needs to be elite. I think they will keep the Panthers in games but ultimately will wear down as the season goes on. The Panthers may lead the division in 3 and outs this year and that will hurt the defense long-term.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last season 2-14… This year 5-11) In my NFL pre-season preview last year I wrote, “The Bucs should have a slogan… Strive for Five!” I got a lot of heat from Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ fans but I knew the team would be awful and they were. Winning 2 games reminded Tampa of John McKay’s early years. (As the head coach of the Bucs, McKay went 0-14 and 2-12 in his first two years 1976 and 1977). For the Bucs incompetence they were rewarded the #1 Pick in the NFL Draft. As predicted by many experts, Tampa Bay chose Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions last season with FSU. Those numbers were down from the preview year (40 touchdowns 10 interceptions). I have watched a ton of film on Winston. He was 2nd in the country last year in interception on balls thrown over 20 yards. He locked on to one receiver and didn’t look off the safeties at all. Winston went to the combines about 20 lbs over weight. This was the most important day of his professional life and he comes to Indianapolis out of shape. People want to buy stock on Winston go for it. I am selling my stock. He has talent yes but he reminds of Allen Iverson. Winston for his whole life was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone in high school and college. Well this is the NFL which stands for “Not for Long” if you don’t put the time in watching film and weight training. Winston is a million dollar talent with a 10-cent brain. He has dominated up until this point based on talent. But as we saw last year, when teams get the scouting report on him, they adjusted, he didn’t. Hence the 18 interceptions. Unless his mind changes, The Bucs will regret taking him instead of Marcus Mariota (my pick for rookie of the year).
This is a division that is screaming mediocrity. The Atlanta Falcons should win this division but it won’t be pretty.
Follow the Sports Whisperer on Twitter: Montetjwitter11 and look for my Radio show.. The Monte Cristo Sports thing Thursday Sept 10th at 7pm on