2013/14 NFL Preview: NFC South
With the National Football League teams going through their preseason schedules, determining their rosters and getting ready for the start of the NFL season on September 8, it is time to start taking a look at the upcoming regular season.
In this segment, we’ll take a look at the NFC’s South Division. The Atlanta Falcons dominated this division in 2012, roaring out of the gate on their way to a 13-3 record and the number one seed in the NFC playoffs. While the rest of the teams (and their 7-9 records) watched from home, the Falcons came up just short in their pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy, losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. This year, expect much of the same out of the NFC South, but one team may be able to, at the minimum, give the Falcons some headaches.
Not a team to rest on their laurels from the 2012 season, the Falcons seemed to reload for this year rather than start over. Although they let defensive lineman John Abraham depart the squad, they were able to replace him rather nicely with former New York Giant defensive end Osi Umenyiora. On the offensive side of the ball, Falcons brass was able to talk future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales back into the fold and, to replace warhorse running back Michael Turner, picked up former St. Louis Rams running back (and a warhorse in his own right) Stephen Jackson.
People have been wondering about this team for years, however. While quarterback Matt Ryan has excelled in the regular season, he has come up a bit short when it comes to the playoffs (witness the 24-2 drubbing the Falcons took against the New York Giants in 2011). It could be stated that head coach Mike Smith lacks the ability to “go for the kill” when the situation calls for it, but he has navigated the NFL waters for the past five years now with the Falcons and seems to be entrenched in the position.
The Falcons are in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, however, so they should have no problem cruising to another NFC South crown. What will be interesting to see is if they can take that extra step and push onto the Super Bowl come 2014.
Prediction: First (Record: 13-3)
New Orleans Saints
After one of the most turbulent years a team underwent, the Saints are ready to rebound from 2012 (and “Bountygate”) and attempt to reassume their position atop the NFC South. Even with the issues that befell them (head coach Sean Payton gone for the year, other coaches for several games and general manager Mickey Loomis suspended also), the team rallied around quarterback Drew Brees and managed to be an interesting team.
The problem in 2012 was with the defense. Giving up the most yards in NFL history, the Saints D wasn’t improved during the offseason either through the draft or free agency. Although the offense still has the weapons to put up points like a pinball machine (Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Marques Colston and running back Mark Ingram), if the defense turns around and gives them back to their opponents it is difficult to win.
Having Payton back in the fold will improve the Saints in 2013 and, simply through that move, they should be looked at as a playoff contender. Brees isn’t getting any younger, however, so if the Saints are to do something, it will have to be now.
Prediction: Second (Record: 11-5)
The Panthers are one of the “Jekyll & Hyde” teams of the NFL. With an offense led by quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith, it was expected that they would challenge for supremacy in the NFC South. Newton, however, slumped during the early part of the 2012 season and wouldn’t equal his outstanding performance of his 2011 rookie year.
Smith will have some new partners in the wide receiving corps, with Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon joining the Panthers for 2013, but those two men aren’t exactly going to be focal points for opposing defenses. The running back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams has shown flashes of brilliance, but injuries have slowed them down for a couple of years. Newton will have to – for lack of a better term – grow up a bit if he is not only going to be a quality NFL quarterback but also to lead the Panthers to any success.
Head coach Ron Rivera has quietly built an adequate defense in Charlotte and adding Chase Blackburn at linebacker isn’t going to hurt them. If the Panthers offense can’t come together, however, then it could be a long 2013 season in the Queen City.
Prediction: Third (Record: 8-8)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After their 7-9 season last year, the Buccaneers went for a total revision of the squad for 2013. The team traded their first round draft pick to pick up disgruntled cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets, but surgery on his ACL (the injury that ended his 2012 season) might keep him out of the lineup come the start of the season (head coach Greg Schiano says Revis will be ready, however). If he’s ready to play, Revis will give them the same quality of player that they had in DB Ronde Barber, who retired during the offseason.
The offense looks to have remained the same from the 2012 season, with quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin ready to return for another shot. Freeman is the potential issue here; while highly regarded coming out of college, he has yet to really step up and be the leader that the Buccaneers need. This could be the “make it or break it” year for Freeman and, if he is successful, might push the Bucs up the NFC South ladder. I don’t expect it to happen, however.
Prediction: Fourth (Record: 6-10)
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