Previewing the 2010 Season – NFC SOUTH EDITION

In this segment I am going to preview every team in the NFL, division by division, and predict their level of success throughout the season.  Today, I will cover the NFC South and over the next several days work my way to the AFC East.

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

(Notable games: Week 1 – September 9th vs. Minnesota, Week 2 – September 20th at San Francisco, Week 3 – September 26th vs. Atlanta, Week 8 – October 31st vs. Pittsburgh, Week 12 – November 25th at Dallas, Week 15 – December 19th at Baltimore, Week 16 – December 27th at Atlanta)

As you can see by my large list of notable games above, the Saints have a pretty difficult schedule for the 2010 season.  Certainly two games against both Carolina and Tampa Bay will help the Saints out, but having to play Seattle, Dallas, Cincinatti, Baltimore, and Atlanta in five of the last seven weeks of the season will prove to be a difficult task for New Orleans.  I don’t expect the regular season to be as good as last year’s 13-3 campaign, but 11-5 will be enough to secure them a division win.  Drew Brees will be looking to put up his fifth consecutive 4,000 yard season, and with a healthy Marques Colston and assistance provided by Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, and Jeremy Shockey, I don’t see much getting in his way.  I am looking for Pierre Thomas to have a huge year by getting more touches in goal line situations now that Mike Bell is out of the picture.  At this point I think that we all realize what we are getting with Reggie Bush, explosiveness on special teams, and an occasional big play in the running and passing game.  The Saints’ defense is still a question mark, and looks to be the area that may hold them back this season.  The addition of Patrick Robinson in the first round will provide some depth in the secondary, but Darren Sharper’s knee is still a mess, and their tendency to make the big play is always something that can easily go in the other direction.  Atlanta isn’t ready just yet to dethrone the Saints, but they certainly are getting closer.  I can see the Saints somehow getting their way into the NFC Championship game on adrenalin alone, but that’s as far as they go.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

(Notable games: Week 1 – September 12th at Pittsburgh, Week 3 – September 26th at New Orleans, Week 10 – November 11th vs. Baltimore, Week 12 – November 28th vs. Green Bay, Week 16 – December 27th vs. New Orleans)

The Atlanta Falcons are a team on the verge of becoming elite.  Their key offensive players (Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner) are all heading into, or are already in the prime of their careers.  There is no slowing down Tony Gonzalez, he looks like he can play until he is 50.  Matt Ryan is primed for a huge season.  Last year he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last season while battling a turf toe injury for a portion of the season, and that isn’t even taking into account the “sophomore slump” that all quarterbacks supposedly undergo.  Curtis Lofton leads a young defense that is certainly improved in comparison to last year’s unit.  Peria Jerry has one year of experience under his belt, while the additions of Dunta Robinson and rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon look to make the Falcons much faster and more athletic on that side of the ball.  Overall team inconsistencies may hinder the Falcons in a few games over the regular season, but 10-6 will certainly get them into the playoffs.  I look for the Falcons to make some noise during the postseason as well, making their way into the divisional round and maybe sneaking into the NFC title game.

3. Carolina Panthers (5-11)

(Notable games: Week 1 – September 12th at New York Giants, Week 4 – October 3rd at New Orleans, Week 9 – November 7th vs. New Orleans, Week 11 – November 21st vs. Baltimore, Week 16 – December 23rd at Pittsburgh, Week 17 – January 2nd at Atlanta)

How the Panthers came across eight wins last season is beyond me, but I don’t see them getting close to that this year.  Carolina could easily finish at the bottom of this division is Tampa Bay pulls out a few surprising wins.  I’m sorry but I just can’t see Matt Moore getting it done as a starter.  He’s basically just the bridge to Jimmy Clausen.  DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both top tier running backs, and I’m basing my five win expectations on them carrying the team to five victories.  No other aspect of the Panthers scares you as a defensive coordinator.  How intimidating are Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and Brandon LaFell with Moore delivering them passes?  The defense, led by Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason, isn’t terrible, but I can’t see much of a pass rush with the loss of Julius Peppers and the lack of development from Everette Brown.  I guess the positive thing is that the Panthers 2011 first round pick should be in the top 10…

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

(Notable games: Week 3 – September 26th vs. Pittsburgh, Week 6 – October 17th vs. New Orleans, Week 9 – November 7th at Atlanta, Week 13 – December 5th vs. Atlanta, Week 17 – January 2nd at New Orleans)

Like I said, squeaking out a few unexpected wins could help the Buccaneers move out of the basement of the NFC South.  Unlike a lot of “experts” out there, I actually see a good amount of promise in this young Tampa team.  Head coach Raheem Morris, a defensive guy at heart, has started putting the pieces together to build this defense into an intimidating unit.  2010 first round pick Gerald McCoy looks to bolster a defensive unit that plays a fast Tampa 2.  They are certainly young and athletic, but I’m sure inexperience will lead to a good amount of mistakes.  But, Morris has some defensive pieces in place that he can certainly build around (McCoy, second round pick Brian Price, Barrett Ruud, Geno Hayes, Aqib Talib, and Tanard Jackson).  As for the offense, Josh Freeman is looking to take his game to the next level (beware of sophomore slump!) and can certainly look to grow alongside a young receiving corps featuring rookies Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.  If Cadillac Williams could ever return to his rookie form, this offense would be much better, but until he can stay on the field it looks like another tough season for the Bucs.  But, don’t sleep on Morris and Tampa Bay coming into the 2011 season and beyond.  They have some young pieces in place that, with a little bit of seasoning, could blossom into very good NFL players.

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