NFC SOUTH PREVIEW
In my annual analysis to breakdown each NFL Division I find it only fitting to begin in the NFC South with the defending World Champions.
Over the months July and August, with my lead in to the regular football season, I will be contributing my in depth analysis of each division along with my early predictions that could assist you with your NFL futures wagering.Today I breakdown each NFC South team and give my overall considerations toward yearly wins and key games that they will face this season.
When I consider the Dirty Birds I think of the injuries that plagued Michael Turner and the lack of running game last year coming out of a 2008 playoff appearance. The disappearance of the run game from a previous year playoff team proves that running is still key success factor in this league. The healthy return of Turner will be a welcome stimulus and expect a more manageable game as a result.
Then I reflect on the horrendous play of their defensive secondary that ranked 5th worst in the league in a unit that was 21st overall. They shored up their defense some with Weatherspoon (1st Rd), DT Corey Peters and FA Dunta Robinson. The Falcons had a solid season from Babineaux, but they need an additional inside stopper that takes the pressure off the linebackers freeing them up to protect the ends in the secondary.
The early futures show that the oddsmakers and bettors see the Falcons making a run in this years playoff, they opened O/U total win at 9 with Over getting the early advantage (-140 / +120). The offense will only see improvement from the running game, which will make Gonzalez more effective in his role as Matt Ryan’s go to guy. Robinson will be an improvement but look for further issues in the pass defense.
Overall Defense has no where to go but up, and a schedule that ranks 20th overall (Week 8 Off) will still have a few key games down the stretch. Clearly they are positioned to compete in the South and are without question the second best team in the Division, (+175 to +145) to win the South. Prediction 10 wins; Key Wins San Francisco Wk 4, Cincinnati Wk 7 and New Orleans Wk 16. Key Losses @Philadelphia Wk 6, Green Bay Wk 12 and @Seattle Wk 15.
Taking an in depth look in Charlotte here is a team that didn’t fit the profile of a successful rushing team setting up a pass attack and therefore a successful winning season. A team that was virtually one game away from reaching the NFC Championship in ’08, Delhomme fell apart after the Cardinal defeat and it seemed to linger all last season. Now there is the argument that his protection was terrible, and youthful receiving corp that lead to some of the turnovers, but looking at the films he was inside his own head several times last year.
An offense equipped with two one-thousand yard rushers is a certain commodity, and may lead to some low scoring affairs. Matt Moore got the nod in 5 starts during the Delhomme meltdown and performed admirably down the stretch with wins against Minnesota, New York (N) and New Orleans, yes that’s right. The obvious exodus of Peppers will put a damper on a normally effective defense, however I think they will prevail without him, though a tough void to fill.
Las Vegas odds currently have the O/U wins at 7.5 with heavy movement on Under (+140 / -160). Panthers (Week 6 Off) do get the benefit of one of the easiest schedules coming in at #26 SOS, so this indicates some concerns as to the progression of this team. I think the Offense will manage better in the turnover area, but a few key losses set this team back. Question is will we see Clausen at the reigns after the Off-Week, I don’t think so, possibly after Baltimore (Wk 11) he’ll share some time under center.
Defense struggles midseason to develop a new chemistry in the absence of Peppers and the secondary turnover dominance will suffer with some lack of pass rush thus causing a few tough losses. Still better developed than their foes in Tampa no real threat to compete for second place a (+1400 to +1000) favored team to win the South they’ll battle to reach %.500. Prediction 7 Wins; Key Wins Tampa Wk 2, San Fran Wk 7 and Atlanta Wk 14. Key Losses Chicago Wk 5, @Tampa Wk 10 and @Seattle Wk 13.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
No more bags in Nawlins, two years straight the highest scoring NFL franchise, first team since the ’02-’03 Chiefs. If it weren’t the division they play I might suggest Green Bay would challenge them this season, maybe San Diego will turn that corner as well. I don’t see too much slowing this offense down, HC Payton has been nothing short of magical in his play calling roles everywhere he’s been. Will they be compared to the “Greatest show on Turf”? They’ll need to stiffen this defense though to close out some games that they relied too heavily on the offense to bail them out late in the 4th quarter.
There hasn’t been many departures from the Championship squad and this will be a year they constantly have a target on their back. Ask any Champion team how difficult it is when every week teams are amped up to defeat the premier team in the league. Last season New Orleans caught all the breaks in the right games and it seemed a destiny, I don’t see the repeat and I don’t see them playing in Dallas. Interestingly enough one of the easiest schedules in the league 26th overall, they are the favorite to win the NFC (+425 to +450).
The big board sees the Saints with an O/U of 10.5 wins (+100 / -120) there was some June action Under and the odds moved further, but has since moved back to the opening number. Hard to find any real holes here accept on defense that was a bit susceptible to the pass they made some movements to develop some youth. They’ll compete no question I just sense a bit of change from some of the Conferences other teams turning their own corners. However, if you just played the numbers they are the slight edge to play in February (+795) to win the Superbowl.
I actually fear a slightly slow start, call it Superbowl hangover 5 tough games right out of the gate I’ll be surprised to see them without at least one loss and yes possibly two. The Saints (Week 10 Off) no question in my mind win the South again, as they get a reprieve midseason with a favorable stretch at home and an Off week. However, look for Atlanta to give them a real threat all season. Prediction 11 Wins; Key Wins Atlanta Wk 3, @Arizona Wk 5, and Pittsburgh Wk 8. Key Losses Wk 2 @ San Francisco, @ Dallas Wk 12 and @Atlanta Wk 16.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Enter in the Josh Freeman era, this guy reminds me of a young Donovan McNabb out there, he managed the Bucs down the stretch to 3-6 and he is a winner. When I saw him play last preseason I knew this kid would get some wins for a team that desperately needs them. Long gone is the dominating Kiffin defense, so they’ll be faced with a major rebuild. This team will be better it’s just that their record may not show it. It’s hard looking at this team’s schedule because I know they’ll get some quality wins it’s just hard to see them getting 6 or more.
Youth is the theme and the draft was full of defensive moves that look promising toward their future. I expect this team to grow further this year as they continue the rebuilding efforts. Will they stay with Rasheem Morris through the efforts? They will of course over the next two season but pressures will mount in year four. Right now they have the unfortunate task of battling two of the Conferences better teams twice a season. We all know that winning intradivision is always a major task in the NFL and I see the Bucs getting one or possibly two of those situation upsets this season.
Oddsmakers disagree with my assessment and have installed the Bucs (Week 4 Off) on the season with O/U win total of 5.5 (-130/+110), bettors have moved this one further off opening numbers. Though Tampa faces the leagues 25th easiest schedule, we’re expecting them to double their win production from a season ago? Who have they added to the offense to score more points than the other team? Yes it is that simple sometimes and that’s what gets in the way of bettors occasionally, simplicity. I may not know everything but I think the road games in Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington seem a bit challenging for this years team.
The longshot of the South a 15-1 prospect to win it do get some some relief at home non-conference. They’ll have an even playing field with St. Louis, Detroit, Seattle, however Pittsburgh and Cleveland may be more daunting than thought even without Big Ben. The bye week early is not very beneficial, and the first five games will be extremely crucial to the success to the start of this season. Prediction 4 wins; Key Wins Wk 10 Carolina and Wk 16 Seattle. Key Losses Wk 1 Cleveland and Wk 13 Atlanta.