The NFC South is a division of hope, but our NFL Crystal Balls see only one playoff berth in its future. The New Orleans Saints look to reclaim their crown. Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate in part one of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.
The NFC South was top-heavy and even heavier at the bottom last season. There was no middle, literally, and its tough to see how things might change heading into the new season. New Orleans and Carolina have proven quarterbacks. Tampa Bay and Atlanta… the jury is out on their futures. Before we tackle 2014, here’s how the division fared last season.
Carolina Panthers 12-4 (division title)(playoffs)
New Orleans Saints 11-5 (playoffs)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12
Atlanta Falcons 4-12
Optimists will write off Atlanta’s awful season as an anomaly. A rare misstep in a stretch of winning season’s spanning Matt Ryan’s career. One could easily do the same for Tampa Bay, a team who collectively did not care for their coach the last two seasons.
It’s infinitely more challenging to spin the superb seasons of the Saints and Panthers as anomalous. They weren’t. Both teams were and still are excellent.
This leaves the division at a crossroads. Unlike the NFC East which seems to have stepped back and the NFC North which is standing still, the South is full of hope and potential. I’ve rubbed my crystal balls and although hope reigns supreme, it will ultimately fall short for three of four teams in this division.
The Bucs and Falcons will each take a step forward this season, but that won’t be saying much after only putting up four wins a piece in 2013. They improve in the wins category, but not enough to matter. It’s a positive trend for Tampa Bay, but a continuation of Atlanta’s downward spiral. I’m not saying it will cost Matt Ryan his job, but he’ll be on the hot seat by season’s end.
Both New Orleans and Carolina will be good, but with so much talent in the NFC, only the division winner makes the postseason. I love the strides Carolina has made with Cam Newton and they will certainly finish over .500, but they aren’t as good as the Saints. Losing talent at wide receiver will hurt them late in the year. But more importantly, if last season was New Orleans’ coming out party after league punishment for their ‘targeting’ scandal, then this season is party city. I know, poor analogy, but the Saints made THE biggest move of the offseason, locking up Jimmy Graham. Expect New Orleans to win this division.
Once again, I have to disagree with your sentiment on the division. While you see Atlanta’s poor 2013 and Carolina’s good 2013 as signs of things to come, I find them both to be abnormalities that should reverse back to the mean in 2014. Atlanta was destroyed by injuries. This happens to a number of losing teams every year, but the trend of injuries overwhelming a team is not apparent; it seems to be rather random. Just getting average luck in that regard will win the Falcons a few more games.
They will still have problems with depth and on defense, rushing the passer. This should prevent them from getting back to their elite status of recent years, but a vast improvement on 4-12 seems almost guaranteed.
Likewise, a big drop for Carolina seems imminent. The Panthers defense was inexplicably good even though the same unit was well below average the year before. Dropping back to the mean, even if the defense doesn’t become bad again, just regressing towards average makes this team a whole lot worse.
This is especially true considering the huge holes on the offensive side of the ball. Cam Newton will have his work cut out for him this season. The team lost all its receiving weapons outside of Greg Olsen. It also had its starting left tackle retire in the offseason, leaving the offensive line scrambling to recover. FYI, they still haven’t.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is sitting there with an organizational overhaul and question marks at the quarterback position. I feel like this team should have been better in 2013 than its record ended up being. I also feel like they could be good in 2014…if they get a plan and stick with it. There should be no quarterback rotation here and no babying of their rookie contributors. Get Doug Martin back on track. This defense already has one of the best players in the league at every level: Gerald McCoy on the line, Lavonte David at linebacker and Alterraun Verner in the backfield. In fact, the entire defense is young and potentially explosive. I’m expecting big things for the Buccaneers.
Of course, not big enough to unseat the New Orleans Saints from their prolonged excellence.