NFL Crystal Balls: Buccaneers rise as Panthers fall down South


Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Panthers fall from first to worst? Can both Atlanta and Tampa Bay rebound to victory? Our NFL Crystal Balls get blurry down South. Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate in part two of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.

[Part one – Saints reclaim the South]


It’s not unthinkable in the NFL for a team to flip-flop in the standings, especially in the NFC South division. It happens more routinely than people think in fact. I see the Carolina Panthers going from first to worst and dropping to last place in this division.

Their offense should be a hell hole this season. If they aren’t able to run the ball at will, they won’t score any points. Unless Cam Newton turns into Randall Cunningham 2.0 and Kelvin Benjamin plays like Randy Moss, this team will struggle. Combined with an almost certain regression from the defense (Greg Hardy “distraction” partially to blame), a large drop in the standings seems evident.

That’s not to say Carolina will be awful. I like the South overall this year. That’s because I see sizable leaps from both Atlanta and Tampa Bay. The Falcons will be better by default. While their record will improve though, their place in the standings won’t rise higher than third. The Buccaneers will be the team from the South vying for playoff contention and breathing down New Orleans’ neck all year.

I like Mike Glennon at quarterback, but even if they decide to go with the newly acquired Josh McCown, the weapons on this team are impressive. It also seems plausible that this team’s defense could make a jump similar to what Carolina was able to pull together last year. No one thought the Panthers would be anything special before the season. And Tampa has playmakers at every level of its defense.

Of course, good defense no longer beats good offense in the NFL. Only great defenses (or in Seattle’s case last year, historically elite) have a chance of slowing down great playcalling and great offensive execution. Because of that, the New Orleans Saints will regain their crown atop the South. Drew Brees, even with the departure of Darren Sproles, has as many weapons as ever at his disposal. I don’t know quite what you meant to accomplish with your phrasing, but New Orleans will indeed be Party City, both on and off the field.

More from NFC South


Normally agreeing on 75% of something is pretty good, but in the case of the NFC South we are on opposite ends of that final 25%. Yes New Orleans will be back on top and yes both the Buccaneers and Falcons will show vast improvement this season. But dumping the Panthers from first to worst is way out of bounds.

I dub you king of the backhanded compliment. Dumping Carolina into last place, while praising the strength of their division, is the ultimate slight against last season’s division champ. I’m guessing you simply need to see more from Cam Newton. He had a solid rookie season, a barely average second year, and an excellent third season in 2013. The funny thing about that last sentence is that it’s based completely on how his team fared.

Cam Newton has been the epitome of consistency in his three seasons. He has thrown nearly 20 TDs in each season, put up a 60% completion rate, with an 85 passer rating (I rounded, but not very far). Yes his yardage totals have dropped, but I love this trend.

Quarterback play is the penultimate barometer of NFL success and Cam Newton is on track to lead Carolina past the likes of Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 2014. Anything less would be a huge regression.

I want to round back on the Buccaneers for a final thought. I agree that they have the talent to really jump up the standings and make a splash this season. But with a new head coach and an uncertain quarterback situation, this team is probably a year away.

It’s funny how so many teams can look great as the pre-season gets going. Someone has to finish in last place in the South, unless they all tie at 8-8. Now that would be a show.

[If you missed Part one – Saints reclaim the South]