2019 NFC South Previews & Predictions: Chasing Ghosts

With the season underway it’s time to take a look at the NFC North where the most loaded division in the conference exists. In the last 10 years, 3 of the teams representing the NFC in the Super Bowl have come from here. The Saints in XLIV, the Panthers steamrolled to Super Bowl L and the Falcons are still reeling from the comeback they gave up in LI. Last January many felt the most egregious non call in NFL history prevented a 4th with seconds to go in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints have said they have gotten over the debacle of the NFC Championship….have they?? What about the Minneapolis Miracle on the last play of the ’17 NFC Divisional loss to the Vikings?? Not since the Cleveland Browns of the late 80’s have we seen an NFL team so snake bitten with bitter endings in playoff games.??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5*
  2. Atlanta Falcons 10-6**
  3. Carolina Panthers 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs 5-11

The most competitive divsion in football just solidified with Julio Jones inking a 3 year extension which will keep him in Atlanta. The beauty is he stayed in the fold working and he and Matt Ryan should be firing away from the start of the season. However Deion Jones needs to return to form and their defense has to improve from a ranking of 28th.

Will Vic Beasley ever return to his 2016 All Pro form when he had 15 1/2 sacks and terrorized the division?? Matt Ryan has to get the Falcons leads and over the last 2 years he hasn’t had the rushing attack of the Super Bowl season of 2016. He’s been mired in games where he has been forced to throw to bring the Falcons back in games.

Can Freeman carry the load in ’19?

Last year the rushing attack plunged to 27th after dipping to 13th in 2017. Ever since the loss of Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling (’16) and Tevin Coleman’s departure (’17) and Freeman’s injury, Atlanta has left that defense on the field and they’ve suffered too many breakdowns.

Matt Ryan has to become the QB that can overcome play deficiencies and deliver. He has to be able to take over games when the attack is sputtering. Might not be fair but as a Super Bowl franchise quarterback, he has to held to that standard. This is Matt Ryan’s 12th season he isn’t a kid anymore and has to take over in games that mean something for Atlanta.

In Carolina and Tampa each will be held back by their quarterbacks and could both be looking for new ones next April. Since this game has been founded nothing has derailed a quarterback’s career like shoulder injuries. Cam has been recovering since off season surgery and hasn’t looked right.

Will Carolina develop other weapons to take the heat off McCaffrey.

His delivery was always a problem but earlier in his career he could power the football with his shoulder strength. He hasn’t developed throwing on time where he doesn’t have to and loft over the underneath coverage. Newton throws a lot of interceptions to Linebackers undercutting his routes.

Newton has been hesitant to let the football go and the offense relies way too much on Christian McCaffrey. Without the threat of attacking defenses downfield McCaffrey is an easy key and will be worn down by season’s end. Carolina has an aging defense that will short circuit their best efforts as Newton learns to trust the system and throw on time. He also can’t run and accumulate punishment on it either. This is a recipe for disaster as most of the Panther’s offense revolves around Newton running and throwing.

As for Winston and the Bucs… they brought in the QB whisperer in Bruce Arians. The question is will Jameis Winston pick up on the nuances of reading defenses and delivering the football on time to all of his receivers?? Winston is locked in on TE Cameron Brate but he has to be able to complete all his throws… deep digs, posts, post corners and get the ball out on time. Much like Newton he tries to gun the ball in late and sees a lot of interceptions by defenders cutting under his routes.

jameisIt’s one of the reasons DeSean Jackson connected with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and emerged as a deep threat for Philly in game 1. However 2 of the Bucs former head coaches are on the Falcons coaching staff where Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter are employed.  Tampa is in another coaching rebuild and will struggle. Tampa will struggle as will their quarterback. Will Winston make improvements to the point Tampa picks up his 6 year option?? Or will he fall by the wayside where the Buccaneers officially enter the Jalen Hurts sweepstakes??

The Chancellor of Football thinks it will be the latter.

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2017 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Last year the Atlanta Falcons won this division and broke a 3 year strangle hold the Panthers held over this division. With their coming up short in the Super Bowl as the Panthers had the year before, will they plummet this season?? Will the Panthers rebound with rookie weapon Christian McCaffrey providing a spark??

When 2016 concluded no offense looked more predictable than Cam Newton and the Panthers. A season after scoring a team record 500 points as one of the top scoring units in NFL history, they could only average 18 points as they went 2-3 in their final 5 outings.

Not only is McCaffrey an all around threat, he can break big plays in the open field where Jonathon Stewart and Tolbert struggled mightily last season. Those of us out west watched him break huge plays in all phases of the game in Pac 12 competition. With Newton, TE Greg Olsen, and WR Kelvin Benjamin, Christian should be a serious wild card on 3rd downs and spread formations. Will it be enough for Carolina to win their 4th division crown in 5 seasons??

 

2017 NFC South Predictions

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5*
  2. Carolina Panthers 10-6+
  3. Atlanta Falcons 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 5-11

In a division that sent 3 teams to the Super Bowl in the last 8 years which includes the last 2 consecutively, Tampa has taken their lumps and grown within the division. They are young and hungry & every time they take on a division rival they are playing teams who have made the NFL elite. So they know it’s in range. Last year they were 4-2 against their brothers in the NFC South and finished the season 6-2 over the 2nd half.

With the addition of DeSean Jackson and 1st round selection TE OJ Howard out of Alabama, Jameis Winston will have serious speed to stretch the field deep. Which should completely open up the intermediate areas where Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson thrive. It will back Safeties out of the box which would allow Doug Martin a superb chance at a bounce back year.

This is a big year for Martin who is in the 2nd year of a $36 million deal yet had an on again /off again season with only 429 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has been a Taylor Blitz Times favorite for many years and he has had 2- 1,400 yard seasons showcasing his talent. However Jacquizz Rodgers 560 yards and 2 scores flashed promise. Martin will get the chance as Rodgers is not an every down back. If he has another subpar season it will be his last in Tampa.

Quick question….how well did “Matty Ice” and the Falcons pick up the pieces after that meltdown in the NFC Championship in 2012?? Now they are supposed to do it after blowing a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl??

Weren’t the waning moments of the 4th quarter where Matt Ryan made his bones over the last 9 seasons?? He is about to enter his 10th season and well into the latter half of his career. 2016 saw Ryan achieve career highs in completion percentage (69.9%), 4,944 yds, 38 TDs, and interception low of 7 along with a passer rating of 117.1. He will have to adjust to the loss of Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan. They were in a comfortable groove all year and will be tough to replicate with Steve Sarkisian.

The Falcons did have the NFL’s leading sack artist in Vic Beasley with 15 1/2 sacks, however upon further review you can see where the defense needs improvement. The Falcons finished with a ranking of 17th against the run. Not bad until you remember this team had several double digit leads that forced their opponents to take to the air. So going into 2017, opponents will look to run the football and keep Ryan and Julio Jones off the field. Call it good self scouting but the Falcons have to improve on their 25th ranking allowing 4.5 yards per carry as they did last season.

This team will suffer a hangover all year and it will be imperative to see how they react in the 2nd half when opponents seize momentum. They will see the ghosts of Super Bowl LI all year and will need to recover in 2018 once they see a shrink.

The New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees will have a long year. They brought in Adrian Peterson to split time with Mark Ingram however this team will struggle with their identity and took a big loss with WR Brandin Cooks going to New England.

So the NFC South in 2018 will go to the young, hungry and lethal Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will have the best young LB crew with Kwon Alexander, LaVonte David, and LSU rookie Kendell Beckwith. The Carolina Panthers will make the postseason as a wildcard.

2015 Divisional Playoff: Panthers v, Seahawks

Now we get the big boy pads on as the 15-1 Carolina Panthers host the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Over the last few years these have been the most physical teams and defenses in the NFC. Seattle finished #2 in defense to the Panthers finished just outside the top five ranked 6th. Against the run Seattle finished #1 and Luke Kuechely’s unit is right behind at #4.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

 

This game will be won on the line of scrimmage in an old fashioned, slobber-knocking physical way. No easing into a street fight as Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are powerful backs. We won’t know if Lynch can carry the load coming back for the first time since mid November. Both backs were kept from the average of 4 yards per carry in the October meeting won by Carolina.

This is Newton's chance to shine in the playoffs.

This is Newton’s chance to shine in the playoffs.

However we don’t want to overlook two of the great young quarterbacks in the game. Taylor Blitz Time’s MVP Cam Newton has had a great season passing for 3,837 yards 35tds with just 10 ints. He won it on the basis of his leadership, those passing numbers and adding 636 yards and 10 more touchdowns.

In his last two games against the Seahawks he ran for 30 and 37 yards respectively. The Seahawks are athletic enough to keep him contained and get to him whether in pass rush mode or when Newton takes off. He needs the running game to be more productive then it’s been. They get back Jonathon Stewart but he’s been out the last 3 games.

Russell-Wilson-Seattle-SeahawksNow we get to one of the TBT MVP runner-ups in Russell Wilson. He has had a tremendous season with 4,024 yards 34 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. This season has seen further maturation as he developed his downfield touch with WR Doug Baldwin and his receiving corps. He has run efficiently this year with 553 yards and his penchant for not turning the ball over is why this team has been in the last two Super Bowls.

Baldwin (78 rec. 1,069 yds 14 tds) lines up everywhere and we have to see if Panther CB Josh Norman is going to shadow him.

Where this game changes is the fact the Panthers are missing CB Charles Tillman (IR) from the beginning of the season and they have plugged in Cortland Finnegan and retreads in the secondary. With Wilson playing lights out from week 9 on…this will be where the difference will be.

The winner of this game will also go on to win the Super Bowl. Seattle will win this game today by the way they have been playing lately and their experience… 29-24.

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The 2015 MVP Candidates Not Named Brady

As the NFL season winds down, talk invariably turns to awarding the top players for peak performance. The national pundits have clamored all year how Tom Brady will be NFL MVP as though it’s been decreed on high. Completely overlooking deserving candidates turning in career seasons.

Carson-PalmerCarson Palmer: Do you realize Palmer is 19-3 as the Cardinals starting QB dating back to the beginning of 2014?? Of course the MVP is for this year’s performance, yet show The Chancellor who has outplayed him. The Cardinals have the NFL’s #1 offense and the #4 passing attack. With today’s performance, Palmer leads the NFL with 29 TDs to just 9 interceptions and 3,693 yards of real estate gobbled up this season.

The Chancellor has always said it isn’t just about the numbers.. it’s about leadership, performance vs expectations, and how would his team fare without him? For Palmer we saw last year when Arizona collapsed after a 9-1 start when he went down. Before he did, he spearheaded a win on the road in Seattle. The signature win of this season came in the 39-32 win in Seattle on Sunday night a few weeks back. They knocked down the NFC West bully when the world was watching. Then followed up with a 34-31 win over a Cincinnati team vying for home field advantage in the AFC.

With the Cardinals fighting tooth and nail with Carolina for home field in the NFC, you can start the MVP conversation with Palmer.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

Antonio Brown: Absolutely the best receiver in football. Unlike Julio Jones, he has had to perform with 3 different quarterbacks and has amassed 85 receptions for 1,192 yards and 5TDs. Keep in mind we’re talking about 5 complete games with Landry Jones and Michael Vick under center. Those stats and there are still 5 games for Brown to play!! He’s on pace to catch 123 receptions for 1,723 yards as the Steelers make a late season playoff push. He’s currently 2nd in receiving yards. Keep your eye on him making big plays down the stretch.

Adrian Peterson: Although he is leading the NFL in rushing, today’s 8 carries for 18 yards in a 38-7 home blowout loss to Seattle hurts his MVP cause. This was a big game against a good defense in a game with wild card playoff implications. These are the games an MVP has to show up in. Just two weeks ago in a battle for 1st place in the NFC North, he disappeared with a 13 carry 45 yard day. The defenses cascaded in and killed a young Teddy Bridgewater without a running threat. These two losses are the difference between leading the NFC North and being embroiled in a fight for a wildcard. Peterson is still leading the league with 1,182 yards rushing.

From?? Boise St!

From?? Boise St!

Doug Martin: With Peterson coming back to the pack, light has been shed on the league’s #2 rusher with 1,133 yards and has protected his young QB. Martin exploded back into a nation’s consciousness when he destroyed the Eagles with a 230 yard performance a few weeks ago. It was the best single game rushing performance since…well Doug Martin‘s 264 yard masterpiece in 2012.

Jameis Winston is growing during this rookie season and one of the players he has to thank is Martin. Doug is only one of two running backs averaging over 5 yards per carry at 5.0. The other isn’t Adrian Peterson by the way. As a team the Buccaneers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing , just 39 yards behind Seattle. He’s on pace to have a career 1,500 yard season as the 6-6 Bucs make a wild card push. Five of their six wins are against NFC teams and their last 4 are all within conference.

Cam Newton: Now you would think the starting quarterback for a 12-0 football team would be an automatic. In Cam Newton’s rise many pundits have been reluctant to admit his candidacy on the level of other elite QBs, just as they don’t believe in the Carolina Panthers ability to keep winning. When the Panthers lost WR Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, no one thought the Panthers would even equal last 7-8-1 division championship last year. Newton has emerged as a true leader who now has 25 TDs passing to just 9 interceptions for 2,797 yards. By the time you add his 476 yards rushing and 7 more touchdowns this is the MVP of the league.

camThe fact that most of his touchdown passes have come in the 4th quarter can’t be underscored. It was his 4th qtr go ahead TD that slayed Seattle 27-23 on the road. This was a big game and the Seahawks 1st loss with Kam Chancellor back avenging their playoff loss in ’14. Cam killed them from the pocket. Today he out-dueled the NFC South’s preeminent quarterback in Drew Brees in a 41-38 shootout. He was almost knocked out of the game, yet stayed and threw for 5TDs where the lead changed hands 4 times in the 4th quarter alone. It felt like a changing of the guard as Brees couldn’t hold off the young lion.

When Taylor Blitz Times offers our first NFL MVP… we have to include Tom Brady in the mix but our front runner leads the Carolina Panthers.

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Is Cam Newton Having an MVP season??

One old adage that comes to mind when I’m watching football is: there comes a time where you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. There is a propensity to stay with preconceived teams and players you predicted would do well. All the while ignoring what is actually happening in front of you on a week to week basis. Enter Cam Newton.

camWhen the news came down wideout Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season, immediately most pundits wrote the Carolina Panthers off for 2015. Newton and the Panthers are 6-0 with the 22nd ranked offense and 9th ranked defense. What the stats won’t tell you is the physical will they are beating out of their opponents.

Newton has matured into Carolina’s undisputed leader  which was on full display last Sunday in Seattle. The confidence emanating from him filled the rest of the football team. Four 80 yard touchdown drives in the 2nd half in Seattle against the league’s most feared defense.

This had been the house of horrors dating back to last year’s 31-17 divisional playoff loss. Or if you’re keeping score at home, Carolina was 0-3 against Seattle in the last two years. So when a confident Cam rifled the winning touchdown to TE Greg Olsen with less than 2 minutes left, it marked a possible changing of the guard in the NFC. The preeminent power rushing defensive minded team that has been to the last two Super Bowls looked helpless as Carolina won a signature game.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2With Steve Smith having been in Baltimore for 2 seasons, DE Greg Hardy gone to Dallas, it’s Cam’s locker room and his team. The team has fed off his confidence and solid play. For the season he’s only completed 55.8% of his passes for 1,275 yards 9 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. However without Benjamin, who has done more with less?? With DeAngelo Williams gone he has pitched in with 245 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Thanks to wins over Tampa, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Seattle they have head to head tie breakers even if they slip to the wild card round.

However with a 6-0 record, Newton and the Panthers are eyeing a division title and would like to be home for the playoffs. There is a lot of football to be played but with a win tonight over Andrew Luck and the Colts, even Newton’s biggest detractors have to put him in the NFL MVP race.

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2015 NFC South Predictions

When the Carolina Panthers lost wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, everything changed for Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton. Instead of coming into a second season with Benjamin and fellow 1,000 yard receiver in Greg Olsen, the offense regresses with Ted Ginn Jr becoming a starter. Ginn doesn’t fight for the football and hears footsteps on in routes. This further stunts Newton’s growth as he will have to run for his life again with a pedestrian receiving corps.

Falcons-590x9002015 NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons 10-6 *
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

The heat is on for Jameis Winston especially after that first game performance losing 42-14. He was badly outplayed by Marcus Mariota and his head is definitely out of the clouds now. Yet he can turn and give the ball to the shifty Doug Martin and settle into a balanced offense.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Tampa has weapons in WR Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson also. Two big physical receivers that will collect all of the intermediate passes if Winston is inaccurate. The biggest lesson Tampa should have learned is to not give Winston too much of the playbook yet. Lean on the running game and expand the sophistication of the passing game as the game and season wear on. Doug Martin had a great preseason and needs to be reestablished.

New Falcon Head Coach Dan Quinn will get more out of the defense than former coach Mike Smith. Offensively this team has had the firepower to make a Super Bowl run yet came up short on the other side of the ball. Matt Ryan is in his prime and needs to mature fully as a quarterback. What is keeping him from being great are his 3rd quarter flame outs that necessitate 4th quarter heroics. Great quarterbacks keep the pressure on the opponent to keep scoring with them. The Falcons rarely get up 2 to 3 scores on opponents.  So now its up to Quinn’s defense to make up the difference.

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