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August 25, 2012 / galatianssixnine

NFC South Predictions

Normally I do an all-encompassing NFL predictions facebook note, but seeing as how the NFC South is the division I know the most about, I thought I would write a separate, more in-depth blog that concentrates solely on my favorite division.

Plus, I’m about to make some bold statements, and they’ll need some explanation.

Don’t fret, though, the full NFL note is coming soon.

The NFC South is a division full of parity. No team has ever repeated as champion, and no team has ever repeated in last place.  For a while, it was a lock that the team that finished last would follow up with a championship run.

Thanks to (finally) consistency from the Saints and Falcons, the top two spots have belonged to them over the past few years.  But in true NFC Southern fashion, the Bucs and Panthers are well on their way to keeping up with the Joneses.  Add the fact that the Saints have been hit hard by the thundering hammer of Commissioner/Supreme Ruler/Demigod Roger Goodell, and things get even tighter.

While unpredictability has been the South’s M.O. since its inception in 2002, I have been darn near perfect every year when predicting the final standings of this division.

Exhibit Ahttps://www.facebook.com/notes/cory-draper/my-nfl-2010-season-predictions-revisited/478465671280

Exhibit Bhttps://www.facebook.com/notes/cory-draper/2011-nfl-regular-season-predictions-review/10150365067996281

I’ve been predicting this division for much longer than two years, but always to myself or my closest friends. So you’ll just have to take my word, I’m pretty darn good at it. 🙂

That said, every year I doubt myself incredibly. This year is no different. Is this the year I’m way off? First the prediction, then the team-by-team analysis…

1. Atlanta Falcons

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. New Orleans Saints

4. Carolina Panthers

Yep, I went there. But hear me out.

Last year I went solely on who had the best offseason, and that worked pretty well. I don’t think I can do that this year…well, not only that. This year is more about who’s the most stable.

I’ve won this many playoff games! (minus one)

The Atlanta Falcons are that team. They’ve been questioned up here on local radio about their decision to not be very active in free agency (aside from the Asante Samuel addition). They had no draft picks in the first two rounds (thanks to Julio Jones). Their offense was shut out in the playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl Champions. I understand frustration in a quiet offseason (especially as a Bucs fan), and I understand how it may look like they’ve done nothing to get better. But that may be enough to win this division, considering the other teams.

The Falcons have come a long way since Mike Smith joined the team. Before that, they had never had back-to-back winning seasons. They now have four. While they have yet to go far in the playoffs in that stint, one must give them credit for their consistency. Their nucleus is there: Matt Ryan is a rising young QB with a Hall of Fame TE, a top-five WR, and a top-ten draft pick at WR to throw to. Add to that a top-ten RB. The offensive line is questionable, but better.

Their defense was upgraded with Samuel at corner. The line isn’t great, and likely will be the most frustrating part, but the re-signing of John Abraham was necessary, and I believe will help a lot. Weatherspoon is due for his first big year as a linebacker.

It’s the Falcons’ division for the taking.

Now I know you think I am an insane homer for picking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to finish 2nd. Maybe that’s partially true. But consider this, when you think of how awful this team was last year- they are two years removed from a 10-6 season.

The Bucs were 4-2 before losing ten games in a row last season. Two of those wins came against the Falcons and the Saints.

Y’all…that was one of the worst Bucs teams I have ever seen. That is saying A LOT.

Why such a dramatic fall? The team had no discipline, no spirit, and no accountability. Enter Greg Schiano.

Immediately he has come in and established all of those things that were lacking. He has been the anti-Raheem Morris. He isn’t best friends with Ronde Barber. He isn’t going out and partying in Ybor with trouble maker Kellen Winslow.

“This uniform fits my style of play more accurately.”

Nope. He moved Ronde to safety and Winslow to Seattle. Along with GM Mark Dominik (the only person from last year’s staff that kept his job), they went out and had the best Free Agency period in the NFL, signing top WR Vincent Jackson, top OL Carl Nicks, and CB Eric Wright. And one of the best drafts in the NFL, with the first three picks (S Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin, LB Lavonte Davis) being instant starters and contributors.

Sure, the Bucs are still the youngest team in the league. But now they have a leader. Now they have an authority figure. Now they have a disciplinarian. They were slammed for hiring an unknown college coach…but most of these players are still fresh out of college. Schiano is the perfect person to follow up the Morris debacle.

Then there’s Josh Freeman. In 2010 he threw for 25 TDs and 6 INTs…and then follows that up with a 16 TD 22 INT stinker of a 2011 season. So which Freeman will we see? I firmly believe that he can be the ’10 Freeman. The reason is because of the extenuating circumstances from last year…

1.Freeman targeted Winslow WAY too much. Over half of his picks were thrown K2’s way. Winslow now is not on the team.

2.The Bucs’ defense was the worst defense in franchise history last year (again, saying a LOT). Freeman was forced to throw early and often, due to always being multiple touchdowns behind. His threw almost 80 more times than the year before, and his offensive line was just dreadful.

Neither of these will be a factor come 2012. Throw in the fact that he now has Vincent Jackson to throw to, and a new ground weapon in Doug Martin, this Bucs offense may shape up to be VERY good. The Bucs’ new offensive coordinator is former NY Giants QB coach Mike Sullivan, who is attributed for helping Eli Manning turn the corner. He has been working very closely with Freeman.

(All that said..he has looked pretty rough thus far in preseason.)

The defense is still suspect. In fact, I believe they’ll be the reason that the Bucs will still miss the playoffs. Also, the schedule is VERY tough this year, specifically at the beginning. But yes, I do believe they will finish better than the Saints and Panthers.

The New Orleans Saints is a team I have completely jumped ship from. Yes, I believe Sean Payton means that much to them. This team has gone through a whirlwind offseason, seeing their head coach and interim head coach get suspended…as well as one of their top linebackers. Drew Brees was in a contract dispute until very recently. There’s been a whole lot of drama in that locker room.

Why do I think Payton means that much? October 16th, 2011. The Bucs’ last victory.

“Will you be my coach?”

The Bucs were getting handled by the Saints. Then a freak accident occurred on the Saints’ sideline, when players collided with Sean Payton, causing him to be carted off the field and out of the game.

The offense immediately went anemic and the Bucs ended up winning. That’s right. The 2011 Bucs. The same team that I said had the WORST DEFENSE IN FRANCHISE HISTORY.

Sean Payton was their gameplanner and play caller. The guy is a great head coach and amazing offensive coordinator.

“Yeah, but they still have Brees!”

Brees is great, but he’s not Peyton Manning. Take away Coach Payton, and he’s very beatable, as evidenced by the Bucs game.

The Saints, with Brees and Payton, were 8-8 in 2008, in spite of the fact that Brees was 15 yards shy of the single season record for passing yards, and was named AP Offensive Player of the year.

I know that was four years ago…my point is that Brees isn’t the whole team. He can still be amazing while the rest of the team sucks.

How confident am I that the Saints will not do well this year? I traded Brees AND Jimmy Graham away in my keeper league. I’m out. I’ve bailed on the Saints. I see them being 8-8 at best.

And what about those up-and-coming Carolina Panthers?? Cam Newton is a football god, no? At least he thinks so…as he said himself that the team needs more Cam Newtons.

Do NOT fall into the Panthers trap this year. They will be the popular darkhorse pick solely because of Newton’s ability to make an exciting play. The problem is the fact that this team had a LOT of holes, specifically on defense, that they completely ignored in the offseason. Instead they decided to add to their already crowded backfield with Mike Tolbert, and their already crowded LB core by drafting Luke Kuechly. No safeties? No corners? No offensive linemen to protect your star QB? No thanks.

And let’s talk about that “star QB,” shall we? I have seen this over and over again. I saw it with Vick, I saw it with Young. You have this young stud with a cannon that can also make plays with his legs come in and have a stellar rookie season. Then the following year everyone is anointing him the savior of his franchise and the next great mobile quarterback.

“Wins? Who needs them with this winning smile?”

What happens the following year? They either 1. get injured or 2. can’t handle the defenses who now have a year’s worth of tape on them, and have adjusted accordingly.

This actually is a large reason why plenty of QBs struggle in their second year, not just mobile ones. They get very confident in their good rookie season and start to slack a bit…then they have a hard time adjusting as defenses adjust to them. After that, a quarterback can’t just depend on his athletic ability, and needs to actually change up his game and adapt…get better.

I have zero faith in Cam Newton doing this. To me it’s all about his attitude. He is one of the most cocky SOBs to come into the NFL in a while. You should have seen him during that event where EA announced its cover athlete. Cam was in his element. He was cheesing it up, absorbing all of the attention, hamming up his moment in the spotlight. Meanwhile Megatron stayed quiet and humble the whole time.

But don’t take my word for it, take a look for yourself:

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7855439/calvin-johnson-detroit-lions-wins-madden-13-cover-vote-carollina-panthers-cam-newton

Does that look like the attitude you want in a leader? What’s Cam gonna do once Cam hits yet another losing season? Do you think he’s the type of person that would shoulder all of the blame, instead of eventually throwing his teammates under the bus?

We’ll see…because I see the Panthers winning six games this year.

Now I realize that my hate for Cam Newton has very much to do with personal feelings about the man who stole a laptop at UF, then tried to get away with it by tossing it out the window of his dorm (despite the fact that he had written his name on it), and very little to do with actual football.

But trust me, folks. This is not the attitude of a winner. Not a long-term one, anyway. He has his head in the stars. The lights are bright. The attention is sweet.

I predicted the same thing about Vince Young. I was right. I predicted the same thing about Michael Vick after he got out of prison. I was right. There is no doubt in my mind that Cam Newton will suffer the same fate.

He may make a few playoffs in his career. He is a gifted athlete with a rocket arm. I just don’t think he has the mental capacity to go all the way…ESPECIALLY when he has very little talent surrounding him.

Final Thoughts

I think it should be said that I think the Falcons are the only team in the division that will make the playoffs. The schedule for the NFC South this year looks pretty brutal, and three of the four teams are unpredictable and unstable. The one that is stable still is extremely unproven when it comes to the postseason.  This division is very competitive and likely will be self-destructive. I see the Falcons going 10-6 or 11-5. I don’t see the rest of the teams finishing over .500.

 

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