By Kenny Warren
So I’m sitting here playing with my beautiful daughter, listening to Barenaked Ladies, and watching Sportscenter. A typical morning for Daddy Day Care!!! As I stare at my baby girls beautiful smile and begin to realize how much I’m going to miss her when I go to Korea for a year I still can’t help but to have football on the mind. More specifically I’m sitting here wondering just how good the NFC South will be this year, and how I can get the word underwear in this post. My colleague and I were rating the divisions a few weeks ago and I had the NFC South as the third worst division in the league. Like many other times before we disagreed because he didn’t think that the division with the defending Super Bowl champs could be the third worst division. As I look back now I think that he may be right. As it stands right now I see the South with two potential playoff teams, the Saints and the Falcons. Lets take a more in depth look at each team and where they can potentially finish in this division.
New Orleans Saints
Looking at their schedule I could easily see the Saints being 9-0 going into their bye week. They have a tough game in Week 1 against the Vikes, but that game could easily go either way. Other tough games before the bye include Atlanta and Pittsburgh, but both games are at the Superdome. Week 2 could be a tough one as they travel to San Francisco for a showdown with an improving 49ers team. This team didn’t lose much from last season, but I have a feeling they could suffer from the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. Nevertheless they still have Drew Brees and that highpowered offense. Lets just hope that Brees doesn’t catch the Madden Curse cause then this team will be in real trouble. The QB’s behind Brees shouldn’t bring much confidence to Saints fans. You have Patrick Ramsey, Chase Daniels, and seventh round draft pick Sean Canfield out of Oregon State. Speaking of the draft its typically hard to draft well when you’re picking 32nd in each round but I do like the pick up of Patrick Robinson. He should be able to come in and contribute immediately for this defense. All and all I would have to say the Saints are the best team in this division. Will they finish 13-3 again, I doubt it, but 12-4 or 11-5 will be good enough to win this division.
Finally!!!!! The Falcons have finally finished two consecutive seasons with a winning record. So now its time to attempt to answer the big question: Can they make it three? I answer that question with an emphatic YES. Some would say that Michael Turner had a down year last season. Sure he only rushed for 879 yds but he averaged 4.9 yds per carry and had 10 touchdowns. I look for him to bounce back well over the 1000 yd plateau this season. Their schedule this season isn’t the toughest out there but it isn’t a cakewalk either. They get to play Tampa and Carolina twice. Atlanta is better than both teams but those division games can go either way. They also have the luxury of playing the Steelers without Rapelisberger. Add in games against Cleveland, St. Louis, and Seattle and that could be 8 wins right there, but we all know teams don’t’ always win the games they should so look for Atlanta to stumble in 1 or 2 of those games. I believe Matt Ryan is the real deal and will put up Pro Bowl numbers this season. So is Atlanta good enough to win this division? They can be. I did say 12-4 or 11-5 could win it. They will need to finish 11-5 and finish with a better conference record than the Saints to win it. Will Atlanta win this division? I’m going to say no here, but there’s always next year.
I just opened up a dictionary and looked for a definition of lameduck and I saw a picture of John Fox. Coach Fox has become the Poster Boy for lameduck coaches. The sad thing is that this team could be taking a step in the right direction but Fox probably won’t be there to see the job completed. Carolina is a team who I thought did very well in the draft this year. They picked up young talented receivers in Brand Lafell and Armanti Edwards. Steve Smith isn’t getting younger and Dwayne Jarrett has become synonymous with bust. The Panthers also drafted two quarterbacks, Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike, and odds are one of them will pan out. Clausen didn’t throw during the underwear Olympics, (I just made you say underwear) because of a foot injury, but that injury seems to be in the past. Matt Moore will probably be the Week 1 starter and rightfully so. This team did finish 8-8 last season and Moore didn’t look that bad at times last year, but if they get off to a slow start Clausen will get the nod. Depending on how the first 5 games go, and they could go bad, Clausen could be playing after the Week 6 bye. Finishing 8-8 again would have to be considered a success for Carolina this season. They are definitely moving in the right direction they just need more time to get there.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No team in my opinion had a better draft in this division than the Bucs. They drafted 4 players who should be in the starting line up this season. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price should both be starting on the defensive line this year. Although Arrelious Benn is having a rough camp thus far I fully expect him to be starting across from Mike Williams come Week 1. Mike Williams has been turning heads at his first camp. If Williams and Benn play to there potential that would give Josh Freeman two young legit receivers. Tampa could be a young team that could be scary this season. Mark Dominik did a good job during this years draft and now its up to Raheem Morris and his staff to coach them up. The defense still could use some help at linebacker and cornerback. Aqib Talib has looked like a stud, but Ronde Barber is starting to show his age. With another draft like this years, and Josh Freeman proving he can be a starter in this league the Bucs could be back to competing by next season.
So in case you couldn’t tell here’s my prediction for the NFC South this year:
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I think I just did a pretty good job of convincing myself that the South isn’t the third worst division in the league. Stay tuned my AFC South preview will be coming out next.
Kenny Warren is a Writer and Senior Editor for Special Team Sports