Following on from the NFL NFC North lineup, Jon E. Bagg now checks out what’s going down in the South.
Don’t believe all the simplistic exaggeration about the inherent superiority of the Atlanta Falcons. As long as the New Orleans Saints have Sean Payton as head coach and Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator they too are in it to win it. The Carolina Panthers, like the Detroit Lions, seemed to undergo a renaissance at the end of the season, overwhelming both the Falcons and the Saints against all bookies odds. As for those Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Glazer family’s cheapo, cheapo value system saw them lose three of their better players to free agency. QB Josh Freeman was a victim of too much inadequate protection last season. Freeman’s biggest enemy is his own defensive line. Protecting him from hits and consequent concussions is truly essential.
Atlanta Falcons: Offensively speaking, the Falcons are awesome and may be just right for another trip to the Super Bowl. Steven Jackson, Julio jones and Roddy White are the best set of wide receivers in the game. With Tight-End Tony Gonzalez pulling back from retirement one more time, they are both exciting and dynamic. Their aging defense has been repeatedly problematic, however, and there hasn’t been much visible improvement over pre-season games. The likelihood is that injuries will tell on a decrepit defensive line and Peria Jerry will have to carry all the rookies on his broad back. Don’t believe the hype! Bagg’s prediction: 11-6.
New Orleans Saints: A little bit sleazy added to an overachieving arc of bravery, the Saints are back from the brink after coach Sean Payton served his year-long suspension over the ‘Bountygate’ scandal. Payton will surely smooth out his defensive coach Rob Ryan’s tendency to rely on the blitz. Having signed an excellent free agent in Keenan Lewis and drafted for a superb rookie safety in Kenny Vacarro, they should be able to cut down on last season’s tendency to give away way too many yards early in games. Bagg says 10-6.
Carolina Panthers: In their final four games last season, the Panthers were awesome, a machine that reminded me of the ’85 Bears. Their QB, Cam Nealey, can run and throw superbly. Last year he wowed us by taking over 4,610 yards and making 27 touchdowns of his own. Their superb defensive line features Kawann Short and his partner, the ruthless Star Lutuleilei and it is wise for running backs to fear them. If they can keep from giving up the huge amount of yardage their defensive line did last year, they will do well. Bagg goes for 8-8.
Next up: NFL NFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There are still some true believers high on the Bucs QB Josh Freeman. Players like Darrelle Revis, and Dashon Goldson say they signed up as free agents because he was so tough for them to play against. I hope that means, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Hmmmm! Along with rookie Jonathan Banks eating up the yards, if they can just get their line protection together and conspire to stop the pass, they really could be the surprise of the season. If you’re reading this Malcolm Glazer, “Spend some money, sucker, and you’ll win another Super Bowl!” Prediction 6-10.