I will be starting a new “column,” if you will. It will consist of a couple of predictions and notes before and after the NFL draft. Hence, in the title it says “Pre-Draft.” I will probably post about two or three items before the draft, and then will post some after the draft if anything has changed. Please feel free to leave me feedback. It’s ok, you can tell me if the column is terrible. The first one will be my NFC South predictions as of right now. Obviously, this may or may not change after the draft. Also, keep other factors such as strength-of-schedule in mind as well. In short, take these predictions with a grain of salt.
NFC South Predictions:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 11-5
The scoop: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished dead last in the NFC South last season with a record of 4-12. They ended the season on a 10-game losing streak after starting the year 4-2. However, this offseason the Glazers finally opened up their wallets and spent big money. The key additions this offseason include Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Eric Wright, Dan Orlovsky, and Amobi Okoye. The only key loss that I can point out is center Jeff Faine. The Buccaneers definitely have the talent to win the division. The roster consists of many young prospects with some established, veteran players sprinkled in. In case you’re wondering, I do love food, and thus, food analogies galore. Anyway, Josh Freeman now has even more protection with the addition of Nicks, and his receivers should be open more now that Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are both in a Bucs uniform. However, a couple of glaring holes still exist, mainly at the running back and linebacker position. These needs can be addressed in the upcoming draft, but I still think the offense is talented enough to win a lot of football games.
2. New Orleans Saints, 10-6
The scoop: Clearly, this has been a rough and devastating offseason for the Saints. Sean Payton, their head coach, will be suspended for the entire year starting on April 16th, general manager Mickey Loomis will miss the first eight games of the season (More on that later), and many of the players are possibly facing suspensions as well. However, as long as the Saints have Drew Brees, which might not be much longer, the Saints have a chance to win games and make it to the playoffs. The key loss for the Saints was, of course, OG Carl Nicks. The team also lost Robert Meachem to the Chargers and Tracy Porter to the Broncos. However, Loomis signed guard Ben Grubbs to replace Nicks, which was definitely the best he could’ve done. The Saints also somehow added linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Another notable move was the decision to keep Marques Colston in New Orleans, a move that should pay off. In somewhat of a miracle, the Saints made some solid additions and they have the roster to win. However, Loomis’ suspension will cost them valuable time in negotiating with Drew Brees. Brees still does not have a new contact and is playing under the franchise tag. I think that New Orleans will face too many distractions to win the division, and the Buccaneers will sneak right by them.
3. Carolina Panthers, 8-8
The scoop: Cam Newton obviously had a fantastic rookie season last year. Now, it will be interesting to see if he can avoid the dreaded sophmore slump that plagued Josh Freeman last year (We’ll call 2011 his real second season). The key addition for the Panthers this offseason was RB/FB Mike Tolbert. Carolina made most of their big moves last offseason when they signed DeAngelo Williams, Charles Johnson, and Jon Beason. The only real key loss so far has been guard Travelle Wharton. In 2011, many of the key players suffered injuries, which is one of the main reasons why the Panthers finished 6-10. This year, they should have everyone healthy and will be able to improve. Carolina has a fantastic running game, and the defense is solid when healthy. However, I don’t think it will be enough for a playoff berth this year. The competition in the NFC South is simply too tough. But don’t forget about Cam Newton.
4. Atlanta Falcons, 6-10
The scoop: I’m going to upset a lot of Falcons fans with this one. And I will probably get skewed for saying this, but Matt Ryan needs to have a bad season. Face it, it’s inevitable. Yes, his 2009 season was his “sophmore slump,” but he still finished with an 80.9 quarterback rating. Other than that, he’s been fantastic throwing for 4,177 yards last year. The Falcons have been extremely quiet in free agency. Of course, they lost linebacker Curtis Lofton to a division rival, which is never good. The team signed Lofa Tatupu to replace him. I don’t like this move at all. Tatupu is 29 years old, and he only had 58 solo tackles in 2010. 58. As a linebacker. Atlanta hasn’t added anyone to bolster their roster significantly. And as I said, teams have to remain aggressive in a tough division like the NFC South. It appears that the Falcons are hoping to have a great draft, and to me that’s too much of a gamble. I see Matt Ryan having a down year, and as a result the Falcons will struggle.
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