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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The 2018 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP Preview: The Case for Drew Brees

With only 5 weeks to go in the 2018 NFL campaign, its time to discuss the best offensive players who have helped shape this season. This year seems like a changing of the guard as new faces have emerged to lead the next crop of superstars beyond the NFL’s 100th season. However a few holdovers aren’t ready to relinquish their stature atop the pro football landscape. So let’s take a look at a few:

Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints: One of the few accolades that has alluded record setting quarterback Drew Brees is that of league MVP. At the advanced age of 39 he benefits greatly from the rule changes which greatly reduces the punishment quarterbacks take, however he is completing a whopping 76.4% of his passes. He has already thrown for 3,135 yards 29 touchdowns to just 2 picks yet it’s a little bit more.

Think of how he threw for just 171 yards yet connected for 4TDs as the Saints completed a season sweep (31-17) over the desperate 4-7 Falcons. Practically ending their season. How about the 30 points put up while only completing 18 passes in a 30-20 triumph against the Vikings #3 ranked defense??

What about the ease with which he scorched the world champion Eagles 48-7 finishing 22 of 30 for 363 yards and another 4 touchdowns. It was the worst beating a defending champion has taken in the Super Bowl era. All this before the 45-35 drubbing that knocked the Rams down a peg and from the ranks of the unbeaten.

When he faced the NFL’s 32nd ranked defense, on the road no less, he put up a 22 of 25 for 265 yards and 3 scores in a 51-14 pasting of the Cincinnati Bengals. The next day the Bengals fired their Defensive Coordinator. Not only has he not thrown an interception in any of the games mentioned, he’s shown his growth as a quarterback. He will audible and lean on his running game. Something he didn’t do in previous seasons.

Do you realize Brees is on pace to throw for just 4,560 yards this season?? Yet the Saints are 10-1 and streaking toward the playoffs. That was never the case in all of his 5,000 yard seasons and if you go back to when he won Super Bowl XLIX, he only threw for 4,338 yards. His 2nd lowest over the last 10 seasons.

Either Coach Sean Payton’s play calling has matured or Drew Brees is having a season for the ages. The Chancellor thinks it’s a little of both.

However….out in San Diego where Brees used to call home… (to be continued)

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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.

First Quarter Report Card: New Orleans Saints

It is totally amazing how in the game of football, a team can look nearly identical as it once did but the results are totally different. Take the 2014 New Orleans Saints. Here at Taylor Blitz Times The Chancellor of Football posed this question: When do you say when? What were the Saints about to sacrifice when they were about to commit heavily financially in Jimmy Graham??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Over the first quarter of the new season it looks like they sacrificed everything. When it was time to sign TE Jimmy Graham it was expressed he was the security blanket Brees needed. This isn’t true. He’s a weapon but the true chain mover of this offense was RB Darren Sproles.

Every time the Saints needed a first down they went to Sproles on screens, circle routes out of the backfield, draws, you name it. They haven’t had the same returns going to Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. A combined 6 receptions for 40 yards and no big plays. Last year after 4 games Sproles had 23 receptions for 277 yards and 1 touchdown.

Defenses are focusing in on this and the Saints first down totals 30, 27, 26, and 20 are diminishing per game. You won’t see it in Drew Brees totals but you see it here and in defensive statistics.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Last year, the Saints owned time of possession and wound up with the league’s 4th best defense. In 2013 the Saints were 3rd in time of possession where this year they are 16th. Couple that with poor tackling and free agent losses and they’ve plummeted to 30th on defense. Allowing 89 more yards and 27.5 points per game.

They have a chance to right the ship in the upcoming weeks against the Bucs, Lions, Packers, and Panthers. None are offensive juggernauts and Green Bay is ranked 28th. ESPN and their talking heads keep mentioning Aaron Rodgers like this is 2010.

However Brees is playing like its 2010 as he has completed 71% of his passes for 1,203 yards and 7 TDs. He leads the NFL’s #3 offense into battle with the 26th, 1st, 22nd, and 24th ranked defenses in this next quarter. To get back into this season the Saints need to go 3-1 in this next quarter to give themselves a chance. If they can get to 4-4 or even 5-3 by the midway point, they will put themselves in wildcard contention.

If Atlanta keeps backsliding with their 31st ranked defense, they can still grab the division.

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Salary Cap: When Do You Say When??

Let’s see if we have this right…. All Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham is up for free agency and if he’s franchised, he wants the money of a wideout, not that of the position he plays. Where does that logic come from?? Welcome to the lunacy that can be NFL free agency. For a team that has just $5.1 million of cap space, are the New Orleans Saints about to overpay for Jimmy Graham??

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Now that the Saints are coming off their first season with Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, they made it to 4th in total defense and 14th against the run. Yet the Saints let go of longtime defensive leader Jonathan Vilma and dangle starters Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, and both Safeties Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins for other teams to sign.

All this for a Tight End that disappeared in 2 games against Seattle last year?? He had a combined 5 catches for 49 yards. The Panthers and 49ers had success against Graham also. The Saints will have to rebuild their defense instead of gaining strength from the continuity they established last year.

That’s too much money for a player that can be taken out of the game by a stout defense.

Sure he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16TDs but now they won’t have money to field a legitimate defense. At the top of the conference sit the best defenses since the early 2000’s. So how is a Tight End worth $40 million, who is taken out of the game by tough defenses going to improve the Saints??

Stay tuned…

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NFL Wild Card Week: New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Now as we move on to game two of the National Football League’s playoffs, where the New Orleans Saints travel outside to The City of Brotherly Love. The first thing that jumps out at you is how poorly they have played on the road this year (3-5) and how they haven’t won a road playoff game in their history. Every pundit is talking about the battle between Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

The bigger issue is the Eagles field the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy while Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints. Brees and the offense needs some balance in this game. They have passed the football 68% of the time on offense. That doesn’t win road games and especially doesn’t win playoff games. If Mark Ingram can step up the Saints have a chance to win this game.

However Sean Payton won’t want to stay with the running game long enough to keep the Eagle offense out of rhythm. Drew Brees will have to carry the load as he throws 50 times on a windy night. Now would be a good time for the defense to force Foles and McCoy into a few turnovers to steal momentum from the Eagles.

Problem is Nick Foles has played as well any quarterback in the NFL this season. All the Eagles have to do is stay balanced and they should win this game. Mark Ingram will have the chance to leave his imprint on this game, however he will have to show some toughness as he takes hits going into the second half. Especially in the cold. The Eagles defense should make him turn it over late and secure a solid win 30-17.

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