2021 NFC South Previews & Predictions: Chance at Redemption

One year after Tom Brady parted with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, he won his 7th Super Bowl validating he had plenty left in his tank. Is it possible for lightning to strike twice?? After all this is the 1st team to return all 22 starters from a championship team in nearly 40 years. In most football circles the Bucs are the talk to make it to Super Bowl LVI out in Sofi Stadium.

Feb 7, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

However The Chancellor’s crystal ball is focused elsewhere in the division. For once upon a time there was a quarterback whisperer at coach who resurrected the career of a former starter who hadn’t met expectations. Yes we’re talking about Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints and no we’re not talking Drew Brees. We’ll get to that…

2021 NFC North Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints 13-4*
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12-5**
  3. Atlanta Falcons 6-11
  4. Carolina Panthers 4-13

Tampa has to absorb every team’s best effort as they were forced to in the 31-29 opener against Dallas. In the next 7 weeks Brady, Gronk, Evans and the Bucs face 3 of the top 11 defenses from 2020.  Two of which are on the road where they face last year’s #1 ranked Rams with Aaron Donald and the Saints defense which finished 4th. 

In two of others, they face the Patriots on the road who finished #1 in defense in 2019 before having 8 defenders opt out last year. The other is the Chicago Bears who sacked Brady 3 times and punished the offense on a Monday Night winning 20-19.  Ohhh… check that former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack sacked Brady on 3 occasions himself:

We had to remind you more than just Super Bowl LV was played and the Bucs offense has been bullied before. Other pundits have blinded you with ridiculous talk of the Bucs going undefeated but the fire breathing defenses the champs will face in these first 8 games will ensure 3 to 4 losses by the midway point. These teams will be taking their best shots when relatively healthy.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown and the offensive line will see former DPOY in Mack, Aaron Donald and throw in a Cam Jordan of New Orleans for good  measure. This offensive line has several sleepless nights coming this fall. These teams also reflect 4 of Tampa’s losses last year.

What will keep Tampa afloat and spur on a late season surge is Devin White and their 6th ranked defense. Between White (140 tackles/9 sacks) and Lavonte David (117 tackles /3 f.fumbles) this team has the most active set of linebackers in football. Once you combine DT Vita Vea, and interchangeable OLBs Jason Pierre Paul and 2019 Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year Shaq Barrett this might be football’s best front 7. The Achille’s Heal is the play and health of their secondary. 

Tampa will make the playoffs and have a chance to defend their title. 

However there is a serious threat within the division seething over the Bucs hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last year. Its the New Orleans Saints. Fueled with the knowledge they had swept Tampa last year and former Bucs LB Kwon Alexander and QB Jameis Winston had to eat it and watch their former team become champions without them. 

Furthermore this group still hasn’t gotten over the horrible non interference call in the 2019 NFC Championship vs the Rams, or the Minneapolis Miracle in another heart breaking playoff loss in ’18. Sean Payton, Winston and everyone within that organization believe the Bucs stole their trophy last February. Sending Drew Brees, the NFL’s all time leading passer into retirement without a 2nd championship. 

Yet when you really take a look back an older Brees just couldnt throw the ball deep anymore and that allowed Saints opponents to clamp down on all patterns under 25 yards. 

Its up to the quarterback whisperer Sean Payton to work his magic a 3rd time. A 3rd time?? Yes… a 3rd time. Payton’s greatest work in sculpting a championship quarterback came before Drew Brees. Remember Kerry Collins??

Collins teamed with KiJana Carter on an undefeated Penn St team from 1994 and Kerry was the 1st franchise QB for the Carolina Panthers. Their 1st ever draft pick. He had moderate stats playing for a defensive minded Dom Capers in a conservative offense. They made the ’96 NFC Championship led by the late Kevin Greene, Lamar Lathon and a blood thirsty defense. Collins only threw for 14TDs that season.

Collins flamed out and after a series of personal battles found himself with a young offensive coordinator named Sean Payton in New York. Under his tutelage, Collins went from averaging 2300 yards per season to 3800 over 3 seasons. The crowning gem was the 2000 NFC Championship Game where Collins who was never expected to be a great pinpoint passer, set records for 1st half points, passing yards and passing TDs with both 4 in a half & 5 in a game. It was Payton’s masterpiece as Collins threw his 5th TD with 12:52 left in the 3rd quarter and the Giants were up 41-0 and began to remove starters. Collins could have thrown for 11 TDs in that game it was that lopsided:

Only Collins and Sid Luckman have thrown 5TDs in an NFL or NFC Championship Game… from 1933-2021. 

We have to apologize as we had to lend visual context to understand how spectacular a passing performance Collins put on under Payton’s guidance. Then go through the NFL’s All Time leading passer in Drew Brees and now you come to Jameis Winston.

Winston is clearly a greater passer than Kerry Collins as he was a Heisman Trophy Winner at Florida State when he threw for 4,000 yards and 40TDs as a freshman. Yes a freshman. Remember him winning the National Championship in front of 110,000 out in the Rose Bowl to conclude that year?? Funny how the media …keeps forgetting to show that yet I digress. 

What will Sean Payton be able to sculpt as he has a 5,000 yard passer with 30TDs in his last full season from Winston?? If Payton could reach NFL record heights with Brees, championship heights with both Collins and Brees what can he do with … hold on…. wait a second… “this just in” *Ahem* Jameis Winston throws for 5 touchdowns in a 38-3 drubbing of Green Bay!

Where was I? New Orleans will win the NFC South and the question is how far can Payton go with Winston?? Alvin Kamara will have a 1,000/1,000 yard season now that Latavius Murray signed with Baltimore. By the time teams begin to figure out New Orleans Payton will decide what to do with NFL single season reception record holder Michael Thomas coming off injury.

Stacked and motivated!

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2021 Preview – The Truth About Dak Prescott

While writing about the teams of the National Football League there are certain values you assess certain players with. One here at Taylor Blitz Times is the description of the quarterback. Is the quarterback an Alpha or a Beta? In doing so Dak Prescott has been labeled a Beta Quarterback which has drawn the ire of Cowboys fans. Its a clash waged on social media between friends/readers for a few years now.

Cowboy fans have been waiting to see a healthy Dak Prescott hit the field.

To bring you up to speed lets take you back and define the line between the two distinctions:

The alpha infuses confidence in his football team through his play and leadership. His teammates are inspired through his verve, spirit, and fight which in turn raises their level of play to meet his.  You can see the confidence in their eyes when the game is tight. He doesn’t shrink when games are on the line or when the team is up against a superior opponent. This is what every coach covets each year in the NFL draft…

Then you have the beta quarterback that many teams seem to be afflicted with. He comes through with the physical gifts that scouts and coaches can see where he can improve, and can possibly sculpt a winner from. He shows promise and can win you a few football games yet isn’t a leader. This is the guy that looks to his teammates for confidence when they’re looking to him for theirs.

Subsequently when the situations get tight or they’re up against tough teams, he shrinks at the moment of truth.  Sure they win games they are supposed to win but the superior opponent he needs to beat to become a champion, he will always come up short. Late game interceptions, missed connections in crucial times, & mangled last minute drives which short ciruit his team’s efforts. Most important he always loses when an alpha quarterback is leading the other team. Constant big game heartbreak follows this guy….always.

Dak playing from behind…

In dissecting Dak’s play its been one where The Chancellor has described Dak as falling behind 20-7, then scrambles back gaining garbage yards against vanilla defenses. Only to lose 30-24 and Cowboy apologists blame everything but Dak. “Its the defense…. Its Mike McCarthy, the play calling etc.” Truth be told its Prescott’s fault struggling early in games although he has gotten better lately…. but still a beta quarterback. He feasts on his weak division and struggles against top defenses and contending teams.

For starters lets look at the 1st half of Prescott’s games in 2019 & 2020 before injury. We’re going to look at each with overall defensive ranking, defense vs pass ranking, Dak’s stats, whether the Cowboys were up and if they ultimately won the game:

Giants (25th / 28th v pass) 17 of 28 230yds 3TDs – up 21-7 at half /Win

Wash (27th/18th v pass) 12 of 18 – 86yds 2TDs – 1int / 1 sack up 14-7 at half/Win

Dolphins (30th/26th v pass) 9 of 19 – 95yds 1TD – up 10-6 at half/Win

Saints (11th/20th v pass) 11 of 15 – 88yds 0TDs 0ints -down 9-3 at half/Loss

Packers (17th/11th v pass) 8 of 14 -149yds 0TDs 2ints/2 sacks down 17-0 at half/Loss

Jets (7th/17th v pass) 13 of 20 – 125yds 0TDs 0ints down 21-3 at half/Loss

Eagles (10th/19th v pass) 12 of 16 -147yds 1TD 0ints /1sack / up 27-7 at half/Win

Giants (25th/28th v pass) 11 of 19 – 89yds 1TD 1int /up 13-12 at half/ Win

Vikings (27th/25th v pass) 12 of 19 – 185yds 2TDs / down 17-14 at half/ Loss

Lions (32nd/31st v pass) 16 of 25 – 274yds 2TDs/1 sack / up 24-14 at half/Win

Patriots (2nd/1st v pass) 10 of 15 – 88yds 0TDs 1 int/ down 10-6 at half /Loss

Bills (3rd/4th v pass) 16 of 24 163yds 1TD 1int/ 3 sacks/ down 13-7 at half/Loss

Bears (8th/9th v pass) 7 of 12 60yds 0TDs / 1 sack / down 17-7at half/Loss

Rams (12th/13th v pass) 9 of 15 158yds 2TDs up 28-7 at half/Win

Eagles (10th/19th v pass) 11 of 18 125yds 0TDs/ down 10-6 at half/Loss

Wash (27th/18th v pass) 12 of 19 120 yds 0TDs/3 sacks/ up 20-7 at half/Win

Of course the question will be raised as why just analyze the first half? Did you notice Dak was 8-0 when he led the Cowboys to a half time lead? What is glaring are none of these games showed him overcome a deficit to lead Dallas to a come from behind win. Also:

Did you notice Prescott was 2-6 against defenses that ranked in the top half in the NFL?? Or notice the 1-5 record vs playoff teams in 2019 with the lone win against the Eagles?? What about in 6 of those losses he didnt throw a TD in the 1st half of games?? I thought it was the defense Cowboy fans?? Why can’t Dak get leads on quality defenses or quality teams?? Where are his 4th quarter heroic comeback wins??

Troy Aikman’s 1st half of 93 NFC Championship Game

What made Troy Aikman a great quarterback is his 1st half consistency completing passes for 1st downs and touchdowns so he could turn it over to Emmitt and The Great Wall. In fact both Dallas and San Francisco in their yers of dominance came out passing. Notice the stat line where Aikman is averaging nearly 13 yards per completion. Dak needs to get leads and allow his defense to pass rush and line up in predictable down and distances.

This will also allow the Cowboys to turn it over to Ezekiel Elliott and what’s left of The Great Wall II as well.

Another graphic to contrast is this freeze frame from Joe Montana’s performance in the 1st half of the 1981 NFC Championship Game vs Dallas. Notice he is averaging 15 yards per completion??

The reason these are being shown is to get you to understand passing for 80 yards and 0TDs is why he is always behind. The other is Prescott signed a new contract for narly $40 million per year. You’re expected to win championships at these dollar figures.

Can Dak improve and play alpha quarterback football?? Of course he can but will he?? Its not been his norm nor a part of his mental makeup. Keep in mind Dak was only 1-3 last year and all 3 losses were to playoff teams to the Rams, Seahawks, and Cleveland Browns. By the way…he was playing from behind in the last 3 of his regular season starts.

Up ’til now Dak Prescott hasn’t been an alpha quarterback and hasn’t flashed any greatness. Several times during the season I had called him “Fools Gold” and a “Beta Quarterback” which drew the ire of Cowboys fans. Show me where he has exhibited greatness or a win against a marquee non NFC East team??

Now after a severe leg injury and several MRIs on his throwing shoulder keeping him out of the 1st 2 preseason games, Prescott is expected to be great?? This is a tall ask as he begins against Tom Brady and the Super Bowl Champion Bucaneers. Furthermore the Bucs defense ranked 6th last year. Oh boy! Dak… your mission, should you choose to accept it…

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2021 Preview – Time to Trade Aaron Rodgers

This has been a bizarre offseason for not only the Green Bay Packers but most of the NFL. Never before in NFL annals have we seen this much player movement and news with marquee quarterbacks. The saga surrounding the Texans and former 1st round draft pick DeShaun Watson. The Jets and Bears moved on from failed former 1st rounders Sam Darnold & Mitch Trubisky. Drafting their replacements Zach Wilson and Justin Fields to assume the reins in their rookie seasons.

Will Rodgers don a Packers practice jersey again?

Then you have Matthew Stafford. The Detroit Lions all time passing leader requesting a trade that landed him in LA in exchange for Jarred Goff. Although in the latter stages of his career Stafford is still in his prime while Goff had quarterbacked the Rams to the Super Bowl just 3 seasons before.

Now we have the standoff between Aaron Rodgers and Packers President Mark Murphy over the culture in Green Bay. Lets keep in mind this team has played in the last 2 NFC Championship Games, has a young and improving roster, just removed Coach Mike McCarthy who Rodgers was no longer in step with…. what is the problem?

Is it Coach Matt Lafleur? All along the body english between these two suggests an uneasy coexistence.

The Packers ranked 5th on offense, 9th in defense and just re-signed RB Aaron Jones who has accounted for 30TDs in the last two seasons. Budding star wideout Devante Adams (115 rec. 1374yds 18TDs) is another Pro Bowl performer who developed with Rodgers help. The cupboard isn’t bare in Green Bay and the front office has done its job. At what point does this emotional grind between Rodgers and Murphy negatively impact the rest of the team?

The time has come to trade Aaron Rodgers.

History repeats itself more than we care to admit & this is 2008 all over again but with a twist. Jordan Love doesn’t appear to be ready to take the helm and that is where Rodgers can help. Not by playing this season trading him for 2 number one draft picks in case Love isn’t the guy. Who knows you may be able to swing a 3 team trade and acquire DeShaun Watson who is in need of a fresh start.

The parallels between the Favre/Rodgers saga and the Rodgers/(who knows) go beyond the draft situation. Back in 2007 the Packers rode a solid running game and a renaissance season from Favre to finish 13-3. They had homefield advantage hosting the NFC Championship Game and were upset by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. What was Green Bay’s record last year? Didnt they lose to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers??

Keep in mind…teams with tumultuous offseasons don’t make it to the Super Bowl. Its not the norm. Now on the precipice of having fans in the stands at Lambeau fully for the 1st time in 2 years… do you really want to hear the hometown fans boo him?? Sentiment has turned during this offseason standoff and could happen if you bring him back.

Yes he is the reigning league MVP however he is 1-4 in championship games.

After this graphic Rodgers went on to lose the 2019 NFC Title to San Francisco 37-20. Then in 2020 he lost a week 6 matchup to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers 38-10 and we saw what happened last January. That is 7 times in a row!! Its one of the reasons Rodgers will not match Brett Favre’s legacy…when the Packers were against a superior opponent Rodgers never led Green Bay to that signature win.

My sentiment in response to the NFC Championship that evening was this:

Of course Rodgers could opt out or retire. There hasn’t been an NFL MVP who won the award then walked away from the game since….. *drum roll* Jim Brown in 1965. He retired due to Art Modell fining him for being late to training camp filming “The Dirty Dozen” If Rodgers does walk away ….both he and Jim Brown’s last NFL game were played at Lambeau Field in championship games.

So Mark Murphy the Packers would take a step back this year but 2022 and beyond the Packers will be serious contenders. The roster is stocked with young talent and you have the quarterback in Love or will be able to trade for the picks to acquire the next quarterback or get Watson in a swap. Your mission….should you choose to accept it…

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