The NFC South was once an intense battleground of up-and-coming quarterbacks with teams constantly picking themselves off the division floor and rising to instant greatness. Last season? It was a two-team race into the playoffs, with the bottom-feeders struggling to maintain any positive momentum. Can they rebound in 2014? Will a front-runner slip out of the postseason? It’s time to predict the NFC South!
I’m convinced head coach Ron Rivera is going to kill one of his “wide receivers” at some point season. They let go of Steve Smith, who, despite my criticism of his dickishness (he’s second to Floyd Mayweather), the dude can still play. The Panthers drafted Kelvin Benjamin, a 6’5″ raw talent who became the de facto number one receiver. After him? It gets fugly. Jericho Cotchery? Tiquan Underwood? Jason Avant? EWWWWW. I can’t wait to see how high the drop count is at the end of the season. So by week seven I think Rivera is going to choke out a receiver on the sidelines all the while screaming “THIS IS HOW YOU USE YOUR HANDS.” Cam Newton is back for another go-round as the NFC South quarterback with the absolute least amount of surrounding talent, including the massively overpaid tandem of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. These guys managed to overpay TWO mediocre running backs. Stewart is injured as we speak. (I didn’t fact-check that, but it’s probably true.) They had maybe the best defensive front seven in the league last year thanks to Charles Johnson and Luke Kuechly, but perhaps one of the worst secondaries. I don’t think anything has changed aside from the addition of Kony Ealy at defensive end. Well, that and Ron Rivera got a three-year contract extension. Who’s betting he doesn’t last to see the end of that contract? This guy.
Non-Record Prediction: See above choking prediction.
2013 Record: 12-4
2014 Prediction: 10-6
Don’t expect last year’s surprising success. I might even be giving them too many wins here.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans made it through the offseason without completely pissing off their All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who used to play basketball! They signed him to a new contract that compromised on the numbers in their franchise tag dispute, keeping Brees’ best weapon from hitting the market. What that does though (combined with Brees’ massive deal) is hamper the Saints going forward in terms of the salary cap. That didn’t allow them to get involved in the left tackle market, something they desperately missed last season. Sean Payton is really going through another season with Mark Ingram as the starting running back in this committee approach of his, even though he loves Pierre Thomas to pieces. Payton’s also hoping to get by with Marques Colston and second year receiver Kenny Stills as his top wide-outs. Hopefully rookie Brandin Cooks can avoid freshman receiver syndrome. If anyone has the cure for that, it’s Drew Brees… when he’s not throwing crazy interceptions. Seriously, the guy has one or two games a season where he just thinks he can do no wrong and lets the craziest throws rip into insane coverage.
The Saints made a splash in free agency (mortgaging future cap space) by signing safety Jairius Byrd, who comes in and starts alongside to Kenny Vaccaro. If the two of them can stay healthy, the back end of the Saint defense is actually something to be feared. With Cameron Jordan entering his second year at the outside linebacker spot in Rob “Swear to God I saw Him at a Movie Theater Recently” Ryan’s 3-4 defense, the Saints have the opportunity to legitimately improve for a second straight season! They were second in passing yards allowed last year, so even if they slip a little, the Saints can have a top ten defense if their gap coverage improves on running plays. That’s scary.
Non-Record Prediction: In a display of their newest thought-policing technology, Jimmy Graham will be fined by the NFL for thinking about dunking on a goal post.
2013 Record: 11-5
2014 Record: 12-4
They’re all loaded up for another postseason run.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lovie Smith is coming to back to the NFL! I missed Smith’s brand of quiet pretentiousness. Well, I missed it on the condition that he wasn’t the Bears’ coach. But I’m glad some other team picked him up so he could try to convince their fanbase that he runs more than just the Cover Two defense. I mean, he knows more about football than you. Why are you even questioning him? Doesn’t that southern Texas drawl just make your football concerns just melt away? No? Well FUCK YOU, he’s the coach now. And he’s bringing the best parts of his former teams with him. Well, maybe not the best. Josh McCown is following him from the Bears to be the journeyman starter in front of Mike Glennon, who is the most awkward-looking quarterback in football history. McCown had a great stint filling in for Jay Cutler last season, but those performances were way above his typical standards. Smith and new GM Jason Licht have acquired some insanely large targets for McCown in order to best replicate his success throwing to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Vincent Jackson is joined by rookies Mike Evans (receiver) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (tight end), all of whom are 6’5″. That’s heinously tall. That’s like, a total of 19 1/2 feet of receiver. The Buc offense may have been inept last season, but the defense was very middle of the road (!!!), even with Darelle Freaking Revis (who was constantly misused). So Revis was put on the market and subsequently cut, replaced with Alterraun Verner from the Titans. Michael Johnson came over from the Bengals to become Smith’s pass-rushing 4-3 end, but he’ll be too inconsistent for fans’ liking.
2013 saw a once “franchise” quarterback ruined, captain voting fixed, and general mass disarray. That nightmare leaked into this offseason, when former Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks decided to RETIRE at the ripe old age of 29. He, along with kicker Lawrence Tynes, were the two Bucs that suffered a MRSA infection in 2013. Those infections ended both of their respective careers. (Tynes even sued the team.) So this new season? It can’t possibly be any worse than the last one.
Non-Record Prediction: Lovie Smith has to pull out the “Josh is our quarterback” routine at least four times this year… until he has to start Mike Glennon.
2013 Record 4-12
2014 Prediction: 7-9
No staph infections! #WINNING
Coming off a historically disappointing 2013 campaign, the Falcons are in for a funky year. Matt Ryan is still under center of course, but how long until we can start judging him for his lack of postseason success? He’s supposed to be this great quarterback, but we’ve yet to see that translate into meaningful wins. And last year he didn’t help stop the unbelievable bleeding that his team experienced every game. So let’s maybe drop from that “elite” status, yes? The Falcons drafted tackle Jake Matthews sixth overall, which is basically the unsexiest thing you can do as an NFL franchise. So it fits the Falcons’ modus operandi. Tony Gonzalez retired from this team before they teased another 12-4 record/first round exit, leaving them with the faint hopes of a healthy Julio Jones on the outside (who is SO WORTH IT when he’s on the field) and a decrepit Steven Jackson in the backfield.
Like many other teams with shitty defenses (see: 2012 Saints), the Falcons are switching over to a 3-4 front, evidenced by their signings of end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai. They whiffed hard on their Ray Edwards signing, and last year tried to replace him with the aged Osi Umenyiora. That didn’t work. Their secondary is full of no-name’s or C+ players. Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is cool because BEERMAN. Otherwise we should all be non-plussed at this defense and continue ignoring the Falcons. If they get a playoff spot they’re just going to piss it away in the worst possible way.
Non-Record Prediction: Falcon fans will also ignore this team.
2013 Record: 4-12
2014 Prediction: 6-10
Sorry. They’re just not that good. Or entertaining.
There you have it! The Saints will be marching loudly towards the playoffs this season! SO SAYETH JOE, MASTER OF FOOTBALL. Stay tuned for more soothsaying!