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Chris Breaks Down the NFC South

New Orleans Saints 11-5, Division Winner Seed #3
The Saints, Packers and Patriots thrive off having both elite playcallers and upper-echelon weapons. The Saints and Packers have the most continuity -with New England having four key players in their first or second year in the system – and none of them have any players definitively past their prime. I like Green Bay’s running backs best. While Tom Brady gets a slight nod over Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback of the group, Brees plays games indoors and I predict – because of that – the Saints will finish with the most points in the NFL (besides, the Pats will be so far ahead in contests, they may just run out the clock).
Schedule/Predictions: @ GB L, ?vs. CHI W, vs. HOU W, @ JAX W, @ CAR W, @ TB L, vs. IND W, @ STL L, vs. TB W, @ ATL W, BYE, vs. NYG W, vs. DET W, @ TEN W, @ MIN L, vs. ATL W, vs. CAR L.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6, Wild Card Seed #6
Three Factors:
1. Continuity. The Buccaneers lost just two starters from last season and – due to injuries – have multiple starter-level players at some positions. When you add to that the fact that almost no player peaks in his first few years – and that Kellen Winslow is the healthiest he’s been in a long time, this team could be scary good.

2. Play-calling. I have Raheem Morris listed as the 3rd-best defensive playcaller. I have Greg Olson as the 9th-best offensive playcaller, as he was able to call a conservative offense for a unit full of rookies and still be able to maximize what they all did best.

3. Lack of elite offensive opponents. For the second straight season, the Buccaneers have very few elite offenses on the schedule. The Buccaneers play four games total against the Saints, Packers and Texans (I predict them to be 1-3 in those games) but generally play teams that either pass the ball well (Cowboys, Colts), run the ball well (Jacksonville, Minnesota) or are just bad. It helps that this already stout defense (9th with 318 points allowed; only one of their last 8 opponents scored more than 20 in regulation) of Tampa Bay gets Tanard Jackson back from suspension. They also added two of my top 7 pass-rushers in this past draft – Da’Quan Bowers and the electric Adrian Clayborn – , which is proven to be a role that rookies can fill right away (Orakpo, Matthews, Hali) with the right coaching.
Schedule/Predictions: vs. DET W, @ MIN L, vs. ATL W, vs. IND L, @SF W, vs. NO W, vs. CHI @ London W, BYE, @ NO L, vs. HOU L, @ GB L, @ TEN W, vs. CAR W, @ JAX W, vs. DAL L, @ CAR W, @ ATL W.

Atlanta Falcons 7-9
Atlanta won a lot of close games despite having an average defense. They lost RB Jerrious Norwood and T Harvey Dahl but added DE Ray Edwards. I expect the offense to be really good by the end of the year and Matt Ryan probably fits this scheme better than Freeman would but I think Freeman’s skills allow him to win in every situation. The weaknesses in the secondary shall be exploited by Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Josh Freeman and Donovan McNabb.
Schedule/Predictions: @ CHI W, vs. PHI L, @ TB L, @ SEA W, vs. GB L, vs. CAR W, @ DET W, BYE, @ IND L, vs. NO L, vs. TEN W, vs. MIN L, @ HOU L, @ CAR W, vs. JAX W, @ NO L, vs. TB L.

Carolina Panthers 4-12
Carolina’s entire season hinges on their offensive playcalling. They weren’t putting up monster numbers 2007-2009 (267, 414, and 315 points) but it was still odd to see how incredibly inept they were in 2010 (196 points) with mostly the same players. They brought all of them back – except for David Gettis on IR – and added Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey, and Kealoha Pilares. I’ll get zero credit if they go 11-5 but I honestly think that’s their ceiling. However, they will need to get consistent, aggressive play-calling – and that would have been hard enough to pull off with Moore or Clausen being asked to improve, too – which is going to be difficult with a raw rookie QB.
Schedule/Predictions: @ ARI W, vs. GB L, vs. JAX L, @ CHI L, vs. NO L, @ ATL L, vs. WAS L, vs. MIN L, BYE, vs. TEN W, @ DET W, @ IND L, @ TB L, vs. ATL L, @ HOU L, vs. TB L, @ NO W.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Russ Loede

    August 25, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Green Bay best backs? Ryan Grant is solid, yet, I really believe James Starks should be the go-to-guy. Watch him excel with a full year to play with.

    However, with that said, I still give the nod to the Saints backs. Mark Ingram is going to prove why he should’ve been drafted top-ten. Shall I say top-five? He’s going to be that outstanding right away. Immediate contributor – wouldn’t be surprised if he goes for 1,200 and 10 scores on the ground. His vision to cutback and find the open hole will be a smashing success story behind the best interior line in football. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are both above-average threats running the rock, but will they be healthy? If not, I still think Ingram plus Sproles is enough. Sproles is the perfect compliment to Ingram.

    Pats backs aren’t too shabby either. The versatile Woodhead is the real deal and does so much for you. He’s in an elite class similar to Wes Welker and receiver, where he can just create mismatches because of the Patriots ability to use him so well. BJGE is a bruiser and touchdown-machine down near the goal. Ridley, who I watched much at LSU, is in the same mold of Green-Ellis.

    As for Tampa, I’m a big Josh Freeman fan (better than Matty Ice), but that team is missing playmakers. Not as talented as the Falcons. It’s that simple. I was high on ’em last year because of their drafting ability and the stockpiling of young talent. Although they have assembled quite a core nucleus offensively, the defensive line has to stay healthy in order for them to succeed. Can Bowers hold up? McCoy? Price? I really only trust McCoy, but I don’t even trust him to be that difference maker for where he was drafted. Solid player, nothing spectacular. Adrian Clayborn, electric? He will be steady and consistent, but nothing sensational. Watch out for Winslow; I’m siding with you on that one. I wonder if Tanard Jackson will ever be the same…how about even Talib? Too many concerns on defense, but you have to count on Raheem to rally his troops.

    As much as I think the Falcons could miss the playoffs at 10-6, being 7-9 is such a significant drop-off. I just don’t see that happening. Dahl at guard was a key loss, but Jerious Norwood could never stay healthy for ’em, thus no loss there. I agree with the average defense take. I admire the courage to trade the house for Julio Jones – he could be in a special group or receivers and is needed to take some defenders away from Roddy. Harry Douglas helps, too. While the secondary is so-so, Will Moore is a rising safety who can make his fair share of plays.

    I expect the Panthers to be one or two wins better than your prediction. Can’t wait for Cam to prove the doubters/critics wrong. I really like the situation he’s in, with an excellent supporting cast, and on top of that, he has the right head on his shoulders. Unfortunately, the Beason injury really puts a damper on the D, even if he’s only out for a game or two. He’s the heart & soul of the team.

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