2013 NFL Projections: The NFC SouthBREAKING NEWS, News, NFL Tuesday, August 20th, 2013
The NFC South suffered a lot of disappointment in 2012. The New Orleans Saints never recovered from the bounty gate scandal, and had one of their worst years in recent memory. Cam Newton regressed in his second season, and the Carolina Panthers were never in the playoff picture. Only the Atlanta Falcons took a step forward and asserted themselves as the dominate team in the division. A new year brings a fresh start for everyone though, and it may be difficult for Atlanta to repeat their dominance.
A lot of people were high on the Panthers before the 2012 season, but Carolina took a big step backwards and was one of the most disappointing teams in the league.
Cam Newton still put up decent statistics (over 4,600 total yards, 27 total touchdowns, 12 interceptions), but he hasn’t discovered what it takes to will his team to victory. Newton has won just 13 of his 32 starts, and only two have those wins have come from fourth quarter rallies. Newton’s attitude and leadership was called into question, as teammates like receiver Steve Smith were disappointed with how the quarterback moped and handled himself poorly whenever adversity came to call.
Carolina’s running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart is back for at least one more season. The two former first-round picks were really underutilized last year, with the two combining for just over 1,000 yards and six rushing touchdowns between them.
The Carolina defense has their ups and downs. The front seven is in pretty good shape. They’ve got two solid pass rushers on the defensive line in Charles Johnson (12.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (11 sacks). Three former first-round picks make up the linebackers, including Luke Kuechly in the middle. Kuechly was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis provide him with solid experienced support.
The secondary however, is a mess. Safety Charles Godfrey is the only competent starter. Former first-round pick Chris Gamble was a salary cap casualty, leaving a lack of quality talent behind.
Newton needs to grow up for this team to be a factor, its that simple. He’s got all the talent in the world; his physical skills are not in question. It’s all about what’s in his head. He’s going to need to have a big year to put this team back in the hunt, and to save the job of head coach Ron Rivera. I don’t see that turnaround happening, not this season anyway. I think Newton needs a fresh voice from a different coach in order to get himself straightened out.
Projected Finish: 6-10, 4th Place
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Under Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay took a step forward last season.
Josh Freeman benefited from Schiano’s presence, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. He developed a quick rapport with new receiver Vincent Jackson (1,384 yards, eight touchdowns), and showed some great promise at times. However, Freeman began to regress late in the year, as the quality of his performances slowly declined. His low point was four-interception performance against the Saints. Clearly Freeman has the talent to succeed, but the team can’t wait for him much longer. This is his make or break year.
Doug Martin had dynamic impact on the offense last year, picking up over 1,900 total yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. Martin has a unique combination of speed and power that makes him a special talent. He’ll be the focal point of this offense for years to come.
The return of injured Pro Bowl offensive lineman Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks is going to do a lot for this offense as well.
The Buccaneers ranked near the bottom of the league in defense last season, but they’ve added some serious talent to their secondary with the signing of Dashon Goldson and trading for Darrelle Revis. Goldson brings a physical presence and leadership to a young unit. Revis is a bit of a question mark after last year’s knee surgery, but Tampa must feel confident about his chances to regain his dominant form since they paid a first-round pick to get him.
They need playmakers to emerge in the front seven. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the one proven asset they have, as he developed into a disruptive force. McCoy needs a guy like Da’Quan Bowers to step up and give him some support.
Young linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster have talent but they need more seasoning. David has shown speed and instincts that have drawn some comparisons to former Buc Derrick Brooks.
Tampa Bay could be a fun team to watch. The offense is going to have their share of explosive moments between Freeman, Jackson, and Martin. The defense has a chance to improve dramatically with the added presences of Goldson and Revis. A playoff spot is still out of the question, but the Buccaneers will not be a team to take lightly in 2013.
Projected Finish: 7-9, 3rd Place
New Orleans Saints
The Saints had a rough 2012 season. Bounty Gate cost the team a year with head coach Sean Payton, and the team fell into disarray and disorganization. They never recovered from the early hole that they fell into, and missed the playoffs.
Now with Payton back at the controls, the Saints expect to be back in the hunt.
Drew Brees remains one of the league’s true elite quarterbacks, coming off of a 5,000-yard 43-touchdown campaign. He does however turn the ball over a quite a bit, throwing 19 interceptions including nine during a three-game losing streak. Payton’s return should help Brees reduce that turnover number this season.
The Saints could also help Brees reduce his turnovers by establishing a better ground game. New Orleans has some talented runners in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles, but the three have been underutilized. When you think about how one dimensional the Saints offense is, its all the more remarkable that Brees is able to put up the numbers that he does.
Brees also benefits from having one of the deepest receiving corps. in football. Marques Colston and Lance Moore both went over 1,000 yards last year, and Jimmy Graham came very close himself with 982. The three top receivers combined for 25 touchdown receptions. Its a very tough group to shutdown.
The Saints’ defense was one of the worst in football a year ago. They were burnt for over 440 yards and 28 points per game. That being said, the unit was not without its bright spots. Defensive end Cameron Jordan emerged as the team’s top pass rusher, picking up eight sacks. There’s plenty of talent at linebacker between Jonathan Vilma, David Hawthorne, and Curtis Lofton, and the team believes they’ll have much better year operating out of the 3-4. New Orleans tried to address their secondary by signing Keenan Lewis away from the Steelers to improve their pass defense.
The Saints are going to be back in the playoff picture because of their offense alone. Drew Brees and his receivers can burn up any defense, but the defense needs to improve. As good as the New Orleans offense is, they can’t win a shootout every week. If the defense can develop some kind of backbone, it will make the Saints considerably more difficult to defeat. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should be able to get some kind of improvement from this group, and the return of Sean Payton combined with the lack of any kind of distracting scandals should pave the way for this team to have a major bounce back year.
Projected Finish: 11-5, 2nd Place
Matt Ryan finally broke through last year, and cemented his status as a top quarterback in the league. Ryan threw for 4,719 yards with 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on his way to leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship game.
Ryan’s rapport with top wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White really grew last season. The two star wideouts caught a combined 171 passes for 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns. That’s elite production from a pair of elite receivers. The Falcons are one of the few teams in football that can legitimately claim to have two number-one receivers in their lineup.
Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez also returns for one more run at a ring. Gonzalez is simply incredible, coming off of another top season in which he caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight scores. 17 years in the league, and he’s still one of the best.
The Falcons said good-bye to Michael Turner, whose production hit a noticeable decline, and signed former St. Louis Ram Steven Jackson. Jackson is another running back with a lot of miles on him, but he should still be a noticeable upgrade over Turner, who the Falcons had run into the ground over the last couple years.
The Falcons defense has lost some key figures, including defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Brent Grimes. Abraham led the team with 10 sacks last year, and has been their only consistent pass rusher. Grimes was one of their best corners, but suffered an injury that caused the team not to retain him.
The team spent their first-round pick on cornerback Desmond Trufant, hoping to sure up one of their holes in the secondary. Veteran Asante Samuel remains the only proven commodity in this group.
The Falcons are very much like the New Orleans Saints. Matt Ryan and his weapons have supreme talent, and their abilities alone are what make this team special. The defense however is still in the bottom third of the league, and can’t be counted on to shut an opponent down. A year ago the Falcons didn’t make any significant changes to their team, and banked their improvement on the continued development of Matt Ryan, and they weren’t disappointed. As long as the young star continues to take strides, this is going to be a team to be reckoned with in the NFC.
Projected Finish: 11-5 1st Place
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