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.

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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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Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

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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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