CHICAGO, July 7, 2013 — The NFL season is still awhile away, but with most minicamps and workouts due to start any day now, the majority of teams have already made the major personnel moves that fans demand every year (if they’re going to).
The NFC South is an extremely competitive division each year, but some teams have more to look forward to than others come September.
Last year, Atlanta once again looked dominant during a 13-3 regular season with only a disappointing playoff run to show for it. The Falcons hope to turn the page on an era of postseason disappointment, a sentiment expressed by the release of veterans Michael Turner and John Abraham. In the Falcons’ eyes, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
Curiously enough, they also made an addition by the name of Steven Jackson, a 30-year-old running back, to their new-look backfield. While this would contradict their hopes of getting younger, at least they’re getting him at a bargain price.
Atlanta also found a replacement for John Abraham, signing Osi Umenyiora away from the New York Giants. With the talents and ages of these two defensive ends in mind, it’s probably safe to say that you won’t notice a huge difference on the field. Umenyiora won’t be worse than Abraham, but it’s hard to argue that he’ll be much better considering his age.
These notable free agent signings, as well as the solid draft orchestrated by the Atlanta brass, point to another year of regular season excellence for Atlanta. They should finish with around 11 or 12 wins (13 is rarely sustainable), but it remains to be seen if Mike Smith and Matt Ryan can get a dominant team to live up to its potential come January.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees will be quite a happy camper when he finally sees Sean Payton strolling about on the sidelines again. Last year, New Orleans struggled without their head coach, who was suspended for his role in the infamous BountyGate scandal, and they sputtered into the offseason with a 7-9 record.
This year, however, the Saints look like they’ll be able to go back to their winning ways, if for no other reason than the return of their ringleader. The only notable transaction that took place after the season’s end for New Orleans was the trading of Chris Ivory, who was always a slight boost to their run game.
However, Sean Payton knows how to properly run a balanced offense (already going on record this year saying that the team will emphasize the run game), Drew Brees is happy with his new contract, and the franchise won’t be distracted by getting a new head coach every five weeks. A new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan should let a team with a 5,000-yard quarterback win a few more games. Expect New Orleans to snatch up one of the NFC’s wild card spots.
This coming year, in the eyes of many fans, is Cam Newton’s last chance to prove that he’s a winner. Last year’s Panthers team was supposed to excel with their defensive upgrades, as standout rookie Luke Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-ly, believe it or not) led the team in tackles by a margin of 59 and showed Carolina that he was a keeper.
Newton, however, doomed his team’s chances when he produced three good games out of his first nine. Simply put, playoff teams need better quarterback play than what Newton gave Carolina at the beginning of last year.
Fortunately, it started to turn around, towards the end of the year, as each of Newton’s last seven starts were respectable. The Panthers’ 2013 destiny hinges on the play of their young quarterback, which might not be a good thing.
Carolina should be better in 2013, but Newton won’t have what it takes to lead a team on a playoff-caliber campaign over the course of 17 weeks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Now here’s a team that wanted to make a splash in free agency.
The Buccaneers finished with a 7-9 record after seeing none of the development they were looking for in quarterback Josh Freeman; however, a superhuman debut from Doug Martin (1454 yards on the year) gives Bucs fans plenty of reason for optimism this year.
However, so far this summer they’ve picked up a man by the name of Darelle Revis, who essentially reduces the game to 10-on-10 on the defensive side of things, Dashon Goldson, an incredible safety, and Vincent Jackson, a tremendous vertical threat on offense.
Unfortunately, the problem for Tampa will remain its passing game, a problem amplified by the fact that nobody outside of Minnesota wins in the NFL on the ground anymore. Quarterback Josh Freeman has been wonderfully average ever since his “breakout” sophomore 2010 campaign and Jackson has a history of never really being happy with his situation.
This could potentially be the year that Tampa Bay breaks into the playoff scene, but it’s more likely going to be the year that defense carries them to a few wins, Jackson throws a hissy fit every third week and the Tampa Bay front office get tired of putting all their hopes in Josh Freeman.
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