Monday, July 25, 2005

Falcons to Claim the South


The NFC South will feature the most exciting player in the NFL in Michael Vick who should win this year’s MVP Trophy as well as great defenses by the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The South could also boast something else, the NFC Champion with the Atlanta Falcons. Here is a team by team look at the NFC South.

ATLANTA FALCONS Projected Finish 13-3 (1st)
KEY QUESTION: Has the passing game improved from last season?

Michael Vick is very dangerous make no mistake about it, but at times last season the Falcons passing game struggled and that is what ultimately cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. The Falcons drafted WR Roddy White with their first pick to push second year player Michael Jenkins who was a disappointment last season. Peerless Price will continue to be the go to guy at the receiver spot and will get some pressure taken off of him with a healthy Alge Crumpler at tight end.

At running back Warrick Dunn should still be the feature back. He will be good for a 1,000 yard season and is a great compliment to T.J. Duckett, who is a totally opposite style of runner. If the Falcons are smart they will find a way to involve Dunn more in the passing game.

Atlanta’s defensive line will be led by defensive end Patrick Kerney and tackle Rod Coleman, both should have a chance to go to the Pro Bowl, but there are some possible question marks on the line as well with new personnel. Look for the linebackers to be led by Pro Bowler Keith Brooking and the secondary to improve this season as everyone gets a year older.

KEY LOSSES: MLB Chris Draft, K Jay Feely, DL Travis Hall, NT Ed Jasper, LB Eric Johnson, P Chris Mohr.

KEY SIGNINGS: S Rich Coady, S Ronnie Heard, G Matt Lehr, DL Brandon Mitchell, K Todd Peterson, LB Ike Reese.

CAROLINA PANTHERS Projected Finish 10-6 (2nd)
KEY QUESTION: Can the running backs stay healthy?

Everyone knows that Jake Delhomme can pass the football after throwing for 29 TD’s and almost 3900 passing yards last season. However it was injuries to the running backs that forced the Panthers to be a passing team last season and the health of those same running backs will be the key to Carolina’s success this season. DeShaun Foster has the best chance to start at the running back position. Foster is a quick runner who could go the distance on every carry, but he has now had two major injuries in three seasons. If Stephen Davis can return to form after a major knee injury last season the Panthers could have a strong 1 – 2 combination at running back. If Foster or Davis go down look for Nick Goings and rookie Eric Shelton to step in.

Another big question mark for the Panthers is at the receiver position. Muhsin Muhammad, the teams leading receiver from last season, is gone, but the Panthers are expecting a healthy Steve Smith this season. If healthy, Smith is the Panthers best deep threat.

On defense Julius Peppers could be the defensive MVP for the conference. After a Pro Bowl season last year he could be the most dominant player in the NFL this season. Peppers will be the star on a defensive line that has the potential to be the best in the division.

Behind the line look for Pro Bowl linebacker Dan Morgan and linebacker Will Witherspoon (who lead the team in tackles) to provide solid sideline to sideline coverage.

In the secondary the Panthers signed Ken Lucas to play opposite corner of Chris Gamble. This gives the Panthers two very solid corners and these guys tied for the most interceptions in the league last season with six apiece.

KEY LOSSES: LB Brian Allen, LB Mark Fields, CB Artrell Hawkins, WR Muhsin Muhammad, QB Rodney Peete, S Travares Tillman.

KEY SIGNINGS: LB Chris Draft, TE Freddie Jones, CB Ken Lucas, P Tom Rouen, G Mike Wahle.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS Projected Finish 6-10 (4TH)
KEY QUESTION: Has the Saints defense improved?

The talent is there on the defense with Darren Howard and Charles Grant on the defensive ends along with second year man Will Smith who led all NFC rookies in sacks last season. The linebackers are a big question mark. James Allen has shown the most improvement among all the linebackers and Jim Haslett is hoping that Colby Bockwoldt and Courtney Watson progress quickly. Also, look for rookie Alfred Fincher to compete for a starting spot. Dwight Smith was signed at the free safety position and Tebucky Jones left after a disappointing two seasons. The talent is there on defense and the pressure is now on the coaches to make this defensive unit improve.

The Saints have one of the most talented quarterback, running back, receiver combos in the NFL. Aaron Brooks has passed for over 3,000 yards for four consecutive seasons and he has led the Saints on 16 game winning drives. Brooks’ main target has been Joe Horn who is a deep threat receiver and now Donte Stallworth has developed into a threat that opposing defenses have to take into consideration as well. Finally, at the running back position Duce McAllister is as quick as they come and has the toughness to play hurt as well. By signing free agent Jermane Mayberry and drafting Jammal Brown New Orleans gave their offensive line a boost as well.

The offense will have to be ready to score a lot incase the defensive problems don’t get fixed.

CB Ashley Ambrose, FS Tebucky Jones, WR Jerome Pathon.

T Jermane Mayberry, TE Shad Meier, FS Dwight Smith, RB Antowain Smith.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS Projected Finish 8-8 (3rd)
KEY QUESTION: Has the offense caught up with the defense?

Brian Griese may not be the answer at the quarterback spot (ask Denver and Miami), but he is the best answer the Bucs have. Brad Johnson is gone now and Chris Simms has yet to prove that he belongs in the NFL. The good news for the quarterback is that Michael Clayton set the club record for first year receivers last season and Joey Galloway will be able to stretch the field.

The bad news for the quarterback is that the offensive line has not improved. Tampa Bay drafted tackle Chris Colmer and guard Daniel Buenning who will have to be relied on as rookies and that could mean a long season for the QB.

The brightest spot on the offense could be rookie running back Cadillac Williams. Williams will be relied on to boost a running attack that hasn’t ranked higher than 24th in rushing since Gruden became coach.

The Tampa Bay defense will be solid as always with the line being the deepest and strongest unit led by Simeon Rice on the end and Anthony McFarland in the middle. The addition of Chris Hovan to the interior line is a key addition as well.

The linebackers are getting old but are still solid. Derrick Brooks is 32 which is one reason the Bucs used their second round pick on linebacker Barrett Rudd.

In the defensive backfield Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly can hold their respective sides of the field down from their corner positions.

WR Tim Brown, CB Mario Edwards, QB Brad Johnson, WR Joe Jurevicius, S Dwight Smith.
TE Anthony Becht, K Matt Bryant, DT Chris Hovan, QB Luke McCown.

Atlanta 13-3
Carolina 10-6
Tampa Bay 8-8
New Orleans 6-10