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NFL Pro Football 2014 NFC South Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC South

Rick Gagliano | July 25, 2014

NFC South

Carolina Panthers

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Expected Finish: 12-4

The Panthers got a great season out of Cam Newton, who threw for 3379 yards with 24 TDs and 13 picks, and was second on the team in rushing, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, for 585 yards.

Newton led the Panthers to the division title with a 12-4 mark, but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to San Francisco, 23-10.

Overall, however, the season was looked upon as a success, and spirits are high in the Carolinas for an even better showing in 2014.

When Newton isn't toting the pigskin, he can count of DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to carry the ball downfield. The Panthers may be rush-heavy this season, because they lost their top three receivers to free agency and will be using lots of double tight end sets with Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson. Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Kelvin Benjamin will likely be the wideouts, though those positions seem to be up for grabs. Any production in the passing game will be a plus.

What separates the panthers form the rest of the division is their awesome defense, which last season finished second in points allowed (15.1), yards per game (301.3) and rushing yards per game (86.9), while leading the league in sacks, with 60. The secondary will be improved with the signing of significant free agents, led by safety Roman Harper.

Carolina's defense and the passing offense will be keys to their success in 2014. If they can stymie the likes of New Orleans and Atlanta (they topped the Falcons twice and split with the Saints last season), the division is once again theirs for the taking.

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New Orleans Saints

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Expected Finish: 12-4

Despite losing Darren Sproles to free agency (Philadelphia), Drew Brees will likey throw for over 5000 yards again (5162 yards, 39 TDs in 2013), as the Saints have kept the core of the receiving corps intact, with TE Jimmy Graham, WR Marques Colston and RB Pierre Thomas. The pinpoint passing attack is complemented with running back Mark Ingram, a bruising up-the-middle type who will get many third down and red zone touches.

The Saints finished a game behind the Panthers in the division last year, going 11-5 and advancing through the wild card with a 26-24 win at Philadelphia, but lost the following week, 23-15, to eventual Super Bowl champs, Seattle.

A similar season can be expected from New Orleans, considering that they won all eight of their home games, and, other than a 34-7 pasting by the Seahawks and a 27-16 defeat at St. Louis, their road losses were by 3, 4, and 4 points.

Besides the high-octane offense, the New Orleans defense was a strong point, finishing fourth in points allowed (19.0), sacks (49) and yards per game (305.7). Rob Ryan, defensive coordinator, made few off-season changes, but brought in free safety Jairus Boyd and cornerback Champ Bailey to bolster a secondary that had just 12 picks in 2013.

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Advertising with Downtown Magazine is a great way to promote your business. Contact Rick Gagliano for rates and information. Atlanta Falcons

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Expected Finish: 8-8

Talk about a reversal of fortune! In 2013, the Falcons were just 4-12, just a year after almost making it to the Super Bowl, going 13-3 and losing in the NFC championship, 28-24, to the 49ers.

Atlanta had a serious case of the road blues in 2013, losing seven of eight away from the Georgia Dome. It wasn't much better at home, though, where the Flacons were just 3-5.

The biggest problem for the Falcons in 2013 was the overall lack of a running game. They finished dead last in yards rushing per game - a measly 77.9. Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers are a 1-2 punch that should produce but whether they will remains an open question. The offensive line also allowed their QB to be sacked 44 times, tied for 20th overall. Consequently, Matt Ryan had troubles. Despite throwing for an impressive 4515 yards and 26 TDs, Ryan also pitched 17 interceptions, a number which should go lower in 2014 with better protection and a rushing attack that will keep pass rushers honest.

When he throws, Ryan has capable targets in Harry Douglas, Roddy White and Julio Jones, who was injured much of last season. Atlanta will miss sure-handed Tony Gonzalez, who retired after the 2013 season, capping off a 17-year career.

Besides the running game, Atlanta's other big concern is their defense, which was 27th in points allowed (27.7), 31st in rushing yards per game (135.8) and allowed a completion percentage of 66.1 (28th).

It appears that Atlanta will have one of the better offenses in the conferece, though their division is a tough spot. The defensive issues have not been fully addressed, and will likely be the culprit that keeps the Falcons out of the post-season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Expected Finish: 6-10

The last time the Bucs were over .500 was 2010, when they finished the regular season at 10-6, but were denied the playoffs due to losing out on tie-breakers.

They matched the futility of their 2011 season with another 4-12 showing in 2013, after a hopeful 7-9 mark in 2012, but there are too many holes to fill and not enough capable bodies for the Buccaneers to make much progress in one of the top divisions in the league.

The Qb slot will likely fall to Josh McCown, but he is not what anyone would consider a long-term solution. The running game will be a rotation, but wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are sure bets to keep their jobs.

The offense finished 2013 30th in points scored, at a paltry 18.0 per game and yer last in yards per game, piling up just 277.0 on average.

Defensively, the Bucs improved last season, though they were still 21st in points allowed (24.3) and 17th in yards per game (348.0). Much of that has to do with having to play pass-happy New Orleans and Atlanta twice every year, but the Bucs may be able to steal a game from either or both of those teams this season and win a few of their meetings with AFC North teams.

In any case, Tampa will have to do better than last season's 0-8 start. Their 4-4 finish was hopeful, though they lost their final three games.

The NFC South is just too tough for the Buccaneers to be considered a factor.

Copyright 2014, 2015, 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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