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 Atlanta Falcons Preview

Now as the dust settled you heard QB Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons saying all the right things. “We had a great year and we’ll be back to take another shot next year.” The sting of getting to this point and letting one they should have won get away was a painful elixir. The team was young and intact in most of the key spots so why wouldn’t they be back?? Huh…wait a minute… you thought we were talking Super Bowl LI?? Oh no…these were the sentiments right after Navorro Bowman knocked down their desperation pass at the goal line at the end of the 2012 NFC Championship. Why are we reaching that far back?? Keep reading…

When Alford returned Brady’s interception 82 yards for a 21-0 lead, it seemed the Falcons held an insurmountable lead.

Did you know when Alford broke out with his 82 yard interception return for a TD, it was the first in Super Bowl history returned for a score by a team that lost the game?

The turning point last February was Freeman’s whiff and Donta Hightower’s sack of Ryan.

Well a sense of de ja’ vu fell along with the confetti in Houston last February where there was a seismic shift from near Super Bowl champion to one of fallen prestige. This wasn’t an ordinary loss. It was historic and how this team can pick up the pieces and move forward offers the first questions to what they will do in 2017.

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 have had several coaching changes as Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith and DLine coach Bryan Cox were let go. New DC Marquand Manuel will inherit the 26th defense in football and will assume play calling duties. Quinn had stripped Smith of play calling duties as the Falcons foundered early in the year. Former 49er great Bryant Young will take over DLine coaching in Cox’s absence. Although Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks, as a unit they only compiled 34 as a team.

Now you see why the defending NFC Champions traded up to select Takkaris McKinley in the 1st round. You can clearly see Dan Quinn wanting to recreate the Cliff Avril / Chris Clemons twin DE pass rush when his Seahawks became champions back in 2013. If he can develop quickly this team is built to play down hill with a lead. Pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

Can Beasley repeat his 2016 season sack total with offenses geared to stop him in ’17??

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.

No CB can handle Jones 1 on 1. Patrick Peterson found that out the hard way.

Offensively the Falcons are built to be a juggernaut and the catalyst is All World wideout Julio Jones. A younger quicker version of Terrell Owens & truly the best receiver in football. After averaging 120 rec. for 1,732 yards over the 2014 & 2015, his numbers fell to 83 catches 1,409 yards and 6 scores. The attention he garnered allowed Mohammad Sanu & Taylor Gabriel to combine for 95 rec. 1,232 yds and 10 scores.

The offense blossomed into one of the highest scoring in NFL history with 540 points. Yet when you look at Jones, he is the one the Falcons couldn’t target enough. Just like T.O. in his only Super Bowl appearance,had the Falcons gone to him more in the 2nd half against New England they would have won. His size, speed, hands, and ability to toe tap on his sideline receptions makes him impossible to guard one on one.

If the Falcons are to repeat as NFC Champions and make it to Minneapolis, the team psychologists will be the MVP. Make no mistake the demons from Super Bowl LI are being relived in the minds of all the Falcons. It will be imperative to see how this team reacts to 2nd half momentum swings that go against them. We have to see if the team’s fight or flight mechanism has  been damaged.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the Falcons should glide right back to the Super Bowl. The psyche of this team coming back from blowing a 28-3 lead will haunt them in 2017 and they won’t make the playoffs. Go back to all the great upsets and collapses in NFL history and you’ll see the majority of the teams follow with a disappointing season. If you have read my Missing Rings articles you’ll see The Chancellor has chronicled this over the generations.

Deion Jones seen here putting the wood to Cam Newton is a force.

A Falcon fan or sympathizer will say “yeah…but that happened to those teams”…. and those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Remember when Navorro Bowman knocked down Ryan’s 4th down attempt in the 2012 NFC Championship?? What happened?? Well…the 2013 Atlanta Falcons collapsed to 4-12 where they had been 13-3 with homefield throughout the playoffs the season before. No significant injuries and they coaxed TE Tony Gonzalez to not retire and signed RB Steve Jackson.

So here we are headed into the 2017 season… where is the psyche of this football team and what will happen this season??

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