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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC South

Rick Gagliano | July 27, 2011

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

2010 record: 13-3 (won division)

Predicted finish: 12-4

Head Coach: Mike Smith

Departed: G Harvey Dahl, DE Jamaal Anderson, WR Michael Jenkins, RB Jerious Norwood, P Michael Koenen.

Incoming: DE Ray Edwards; Rookies: G Andrew Jackson (Fresno St.), P Matt Bosher (Miami FL), DE Cliff Matthews (South Carolina), LB Akeem Dent (Georgia), WR Julio Jones (Alabama), RB Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon).

Strengths: Offense. The Falcons scored the 5th-most points in the NFL last season, checking in at 25.9 ppg and averaging 341.1 yards per contest. With Matt Ryan returning off a highly successful season, the Falcons have upgraded through the draft, signing Julio Jones out of Alabama and the speedy but diminuative Jacquizz Rodgers from Oregon, who will spell Michael Turner in the backfield and be a threat on third downs and in the wildcat.

Weaknesses: If anything, it was the defensive line's lack of sacks in 2010 (only 31) that prompted the acquisition of Ray Edwards, who will likely account for half the 2010 total all by himself. With John Abraham on the right end and Edwards on the left, the Falcons should be able to put more pressure on opposing QBs.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 18 vs. Philadelphia, Sun, Oct. 9 vs Green Bay, Sun, Nov. 6 at Indianapolis, Sun, Nov. 13 vs. New Orleans, Monday, Dec 26 @ New Orleans.

What if?: Rookies Rodgers and Jones get lots of playing time?

That would mean the Falcons are on their way to one of the best seasons in NFL history, employing all their offensive weapons, including the rookie stars. That predicted 12-4 could become 14-2 or better, especially if they manage to beat the Eagles in Week 2 and the Packers in Week 5.

New Orleans Saints

2010 record: 11-5 (wild card)

Predicted finish: 9-7

Head Coach: Sean Payton

Departed: RB Reggie Bush, S Usama Young, RB Lynell Hamilton, DE Tony Hargrove, LB Stanley Arnoux, DT Remi Ayodele, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, C Jonathan Goodwin.

Incoming: C Olin Kreutz, CB Trumaine McBride, OT Alex Barron, S Paul Oliver, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DE Turk McBride, FB Korey Hall, RB Darren Sproles, LB Curtis Johnson; Rookies: LB Nate Bussey (Illinois), DE Greg Romeus (Pitt), DE Cameron Jordan (Cal), RB Mark Ingram (Alabama), LB Martez Wilson (Illinois), CB Johnny Patrick.

Strengths: Drew Brees. One of the top QBs in the league, this team is nothing without their leader and the offense will need him more than ever with the departure of oft-injured Reggie Bush. Getting Darren Sproles from San Diego may fill that void, but having Pierre Thomas and Alabama stud Mark Ingram in the backfield should prove beneficial to the offense which finished 28th overall, with just 94.9 yards rushing per outing in 2010.

Weaknesses: Stopping the run. The New Orleans D-line and linebackers were sub-par for a Supr Bowl caliber team, though the secondary was a strong point. Teams racked up an average of 112.3 yards per game in 2010 and run-stopping has to be addressed. Between the draft and free agents - McBride and Franklin, especially - the Saints should be better against the run than in 2010.

Key Games: Thurs, Sept. 8 at Green Bay (season opener), Sun, Sept 18 vs. Chicago, Sun, Oct. 23 vs. Indianapolis, Sun, Nov. 13 at Atlanta, Sun, Dec. 4 vs Detroit, Mon, Dec. 26 vs. Atlanta

What if?: Sproles is not Reggie Bush?

If Darren Sproles doesn't fit into the roles Bush played the Saints will have to depend more on Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, which will slow down the offense. Sproles better fit well into his roles because he's the key cog for the Saints' rebuilding in one season.

--- Story continues below ---

Looking for the best NFL Handicapper? Good luck. Most of them suck.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2010 record: 10-6

Predicted finish: 9-7

Head Coach: Raheem Morris

Departed: WR Maurice Stovall, RB Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, LB Berrett Ruud, TE John Gilmore.

Incoming: P Michael Koenen; Rookies: DE Doug Worthington (Ohio State), DE Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson), DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), LB Mason Foster (Washington), TE Daniel Hardy (Idaho), TE Luke Stocker (Tennessee), S Ahmad Black (Florida), K/P Michael Koenen (Western Washington)

Strengths: Youthful offense. With Josh Freeman at quarterback and Aurelius Benn and Mike Williams at wideout the offense is loaded with young talent, including Kellen Winslow at tight end and powerful LeGarrette Blount replacing the departed Cadillac Williams at running back. Blount, a punishing runner out of Oregon, piled up 1007 ards on 201 carries last season, and will likely get 250+ touches this season.

Weaknesses: Run stuffing. The Buccaneers were 28th of 32 teams in run stopping effectiveness in 2010, coming in at 131.7 yards allowed per game. To address this issue, the Bucs drafted three defensive ends which they hope to turn into linebackers and Mason Foster from Washington. Whether the youth movement in the defense is enough to stop teams from running against the Bucs and using up the clock remains to be seen.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 11 vs. Detroit (season opener), Sun, Sept. 25 vs. Atlanta, Sun, Oct. 16 vs. New Orleans, Sun, Nov. 6 at New Orleans, Sun, Nov. 20 at Green Bay, Sun, Jan 1 at Atlanta.

What if?: The 10-6 record from last season was not a fluke?

It wasn't, even though the Buccaneers won some crazy games. In fact, after their Week 6, 31-6 blowout loss to the Saints, the Bucs four losses came by a total of 20 points, so they were in most of their games until the very end.

The schedule is very tough at the start of the season, but the last six weeks are easier, with games at Tennessee, Jacksonville, Carolina and Atlanta and home dates against Carolina and Dallas. If the Bucs are up to the task, a wild card slot could be theirs for the taking. Bad bounces and a lack of focus could make this potential playoff team a 7-9 squad, so they bear watching in 2011.

Carolina Panthers

2010 record: 2-14

Predicted finish: 4-12

Head Coach: Ron Rivera (1st Year)

Departed: DE Hilee Taylor, DT Derek Landri, TE Dante Rosario, QB Matt Moore, CB Richard Marshall, TE Jeff King.

Incoming: TE Greg Olsen, S Sean Considine, DT Ron Edwards. PK Olindo Mare, TE Ben Hartsock, S Kevin Payne, LB Omar Gaither; Rookies: DT Terrell McClain (South Florida), QB Cam Newton (Auburn), DT Sione Fua (Stanford), CB Brandon Hogan (W. Virginia), WR Kealoha Pilares (Hawaii), C Zack Williams (Washngton St.), CB CJ Wilson (Baylor), OT Lee Ziemba (Auburn).

Strengths: Defensive Line. Switching to Ron Rivera's 3-4 alignment should free up tackle Charles Johnson, who led the team in sacks, with 11.5 in 2010. Not surprisingly, the Panthers made many deals to acquire defensive players, prominent among them lineback Omar Gaither and deensive tackle Ron Edwards. They'll be better than last season when Carolina's defense allowed 25.5 points per game, near the bottom of the league.

Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart comprise one of the top backfield tandems in the league, but they need somebody to open holes for them and a passing game to complement their running skills.

Weaknesses: Scoring just 12.3 points per game, Carolina's offense needs serious retooling, and it's not going to get far in just one year. They snagged the top draft pick in Auburn's talented QB Cam Newton, though just how quickly he'll adapt to the NFL will be a work in progress as he was a dual threat - running and passing - in college. The draft brought in some talent at the high visibility positions, but the offensive line will be hard-pressed to make things work right away.

Key Games: None.

What if?: Cam Newton starts and is an instant sensation?

If Newton surprises everyone with a high degree of understnading to go with his considerable skill set, the Panthers could win 5 or 6 games and be set up well for the 2012 season, but this year looks like a rebuilding campaign with eyes on future glory.

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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