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.

Early Moment of Truth: Buccaneers v. Cardinals

For every championship football team, there are signature wins where one must prove to themselves they are among the league’s elite by beating a quality opponent. Another psychological building block on the way to the playoffs or a championship season is to conquer a desperate quality team that knows you’re coming. Such will be the case Sunday when the 1-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to an 0-1 Arizona Cardinals team that has Super Bowl aspirations.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

Last year Tampa finished with a top ten defense which figures to be one again this year. Leading the way is a linebacking corps where Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander might be the best set of linebackers in the NFL. These two combined for 251 total tackles, 6 sacks, 5 interceptions returning 1 for a touchdown. Alexander is off to a torrid start with a 17 tackle 1 sack performance in a week 1 win over Atlanta. This is going to be his breakout year where he will join David in the Pro Bowl and is an early favorite for Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

This is the breakout year for Kwon Alexander.The Cardinals live and die on the intermediate routes of Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson as Carson Palmer works the crossing routes underneath 15 yards over the middle.  They have to establish the run to suck these athletic linebackers up and clear those areas.

Last week the Cardinals were able to establish the run early but when G Evan Mathis left the game with a foot injury they lost offensive continuity. He will be back this week and has to deal with Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy in Tampa’s defensive line rotation.

johnsonAfter a lackluster postseason Carson Palmer had a good game in the opener against the Patriots. They can’t get off to the slow start they did when they lost to New England. It took the ball out of David Johnson’s hands and half the Cardinal playbook was moot when they fell behind 10 Sunday Night. Inevitably Johnson wound up with 92 yards on 16 carries in the game but they need to get him running right at Tampa’s defense and keep Jameis Winston on the sideline. His bruising style can wear down the Bucs athletic defense and open up passing routes later in the game.

This could be the coming out party for Jameis Winston as he has the chance to pull off a second straight upset and establish the Bucs as a team to be reckoned with if they go 2-0. Last week he outplayed Matt Ryan throwing for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns while completing 71.9% of his throws. He had more TD passes (4) than incompletions (3). As long as he is supplemented by Taylor Blitz Times favorite Doug Martin, he will throw against a balanced defense that will resort to blitzing if they can’t get to him.

The strongest suit for the Cardinals is to lean on their passing game late. If they come out and fast break they allow the Bucs defense to clog the passing lanes and force turnovers and 3 and out series. The Cardinals need to have the “Red Sea” make noise and help make it uncomfortable for Winston.

Who will win this game?

Don’t forget these two teams were picked to be the NFC Wildcards in Taylor Blitz Times NFC preview. Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians likes to show off his passing attack and will play right into the hands of this Buccaneer defense. The Cardinals won’t stay with the running game long enough to sustain offense early. Winston and his tall receivers will expose the surprising Achille’s Heel of the defense and that is their secondary.

Tampa wins this one in an upset and establish who they are in 2016 with a 34-24 win…

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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