Well, we are getting damn close to the start of the NFL regular season. Preseason is underway, Madden 2008 has shipped and Brady Quinn is 4th on the Browns depth chart. In honor of Ookie Vick's impending plea deal and subsequent banishment from pro football, we are going to start our NFL preview in the NFC South. We'll say something about each each team, offer up a projected record that is sure to be wrong and try to predict the order they'll finish in. It's our first crack at something like this and we are writing off the top of our heads. Any overlap between our analysis and other shit floating out there on the internets is purely coincidental.
1. Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Two years removed from a trip to the NFC Championship game, the window is closing for John Fox and the Panthers. What was once the best Defensive Line in football is a shell of its former self, while Jake Delhomme is coming off of a shitty year. The guy who was Charlotte's favorite gunslinger has to improve his decision making, and he has to get Steve Smith the ball more often. Smith is too good not to be putting up monster numbers every year. The Panthers have a talented running back duo in DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster. If they can both stay healthy, the Panthers should feature a potent rushing attack. David Carr was brought in to back up Delhomme, and ostensibly push him, but look for Delhomme to hang on to the job for dear life this year. The O-Line isn't great, but rookie C Ryan Kalil was a great addition and will anchor the unit for years to come. On paper, the Panthers are the most complete team in this division, and a legitimate contender for the NFC Championship this year. I think they'll have just enough to hold off the Saints for the division title, and will be a tough out come January.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-6)
The 2006 New Orleans Saints were the feel good story of the NFL season. Defying all expectations, the Saints made their first trip to the NFC Championship game, and gave the Bears all they could handle for 3 quarters. This year, the expectations are sky high down in Nawlins. Head coach Sean Payton is one of the best in the business, and the offense is loaded with talent. QB Drew Brees, stud RB Deuce McCallister, and 2006 rookie sensations Marques Colston and Reggie Bush give the Saints some serious firepower. They are going to score a ton of points. The big question mark is the D. Charles Grant and Will Smith anchor a solid D-Line and the Saints should be tough against the run. That secondary is a big concern, however, and will cost them some games. Reggie Bush is going to absolutely explode this year, as he learns to run more effectively. I'd be surprised if he caught 100 balls again, but he should rush for well over 1,000 and be a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Brees will be damn good again, especially if rookie WR Robert Meachem develops into a viable thret opposite Colston. If does, the Saints will be absolutely stacked with young talent at the skill positions and in a position to dominate this division in the coming years. As it stands, they aren't going to surprise anyone this year. I give them 10-6 and a wild card berth. Like last year, they are going to be dangerous in the playoffs, especially in the weak NFC.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
After Chris Simms's appendix exploded last year, and the Polish Rifle Bruce Gradkowski didn't light the world on fire in relief, Jon Gruden brought in veteran Jeff Garcia to compete for the starting job. He also traded for Jake Plummer, but the Snake would apparently rather stay retired than play for the Bucs. Can't blame him. Garcia is ancient, Simms injury plagued and Gradkowski just not that good. Gruden has been trying to revamp the offensive line, but its a work in progress at best, especially if LT acquisition Luke Petitgout misses serious time with his latest injury. RB Cadillac Williams simply vanished after his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005. It's a problem when Joey Galloway is your best reciever and your former first round pick (Michael Clayton) is in danger of not even making the team. The once proud Bucs D is toast, as is former All-Pro DE Simeon Rice. It's not gonna be pretty in Tampa this year.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Wow. Where to begin? I guess with the obvious-Ookie. It can be argued that Mike Vick was entering his last season as the Falcon's QB anyway. New coach Bobby Petrino is an offensive guru who designed the dynamic attack that helped vault the University of Louisville into college football's elite. I'm not sure Vick would have ever fit his system. Now that Vick is out for the year, Joey Harrington has the reigns. We know what he did in Detroit. We know that he was shaky at best for the Dolphins last year. There is little reason to expect any more from him in Atlanta this year, but I think Harrington will surprise some folks. He has a damn good running game behind him, a bunch of former # 1 picks at WR, and money TE Alge Crumpler. Reports out of camp indicate DE John Abraham is poised for a monster year, and the secondary is damn tough with DeAngelo Williams and draft steal Chris Houston holding down the corners. DB Jimy Williams is making the move to safety and should be an upgrade there. Overall, the Falcons D should be more than respectable this year. If the offense can score with any consistency, they'll be a tough team to play this year. Nevertheless, a playoff appearance is just too much to expect with all the Vick bullshit surrounding the team. Petrino will be keeping one eye on the 2008 draft and a possible reunification with his Louisville protege QB Brian Brohm.
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