NFC South 2012 NFL Preview – FootballMonday, August 27, 2012 21:00
2012 NFC South preview and predictions.
NFL 2012 Preview
Division Record: 33 – 31
The NFC South, top to bottom, has the most talent in the NFL. Tampa’s Josh Freeman is at the doorstep of elite status–although his backward step that was 2011 is worrisome–and he is the division’s “worst” QB.
The division has four strong lines on offense and defense. The most obvious exception was Carolina’s 2011 rush defense that really wasn’t.
Any team in the NFC South could catch fire and tear up the NFC; we’ll begin with the team least likely to do so…
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
2011 Record: 4 – 12
First year coach Greg Schiano is one of the lucky ones–meaning he is walking into an exceptionally stocked cupboard–the playoffs are not an impossible dream. The Bucs have one of our favorite QBs in Josh Freeman, steamroller running back Legarrete Blount, second 1st rounder Doug Martin, and a blue chip draft pick in safety Mark Barron. Barron was the first of what many experts tout as the best first three picks of the draft.
2nd rounder OLB Lavonte David might be all the pundits say he is, but he alone can’t improve the NFL’s third worst defense. He won’t have to if the Mateys can stay healthy.
Yeah, I know, defense is a dying art in the NFL and, in today’s game, not the harbinger of success it used to be. The Giants and Pats had bottom rung defenses until they both stepped up in the Super Bowl.
The Niners, Ratbirds, Steelers and Texans had the four best defenses and none made the Super Bowl.
The Buccaneers have serious holes in their secondary given the Aqib Talib debacle; their front seven gave up 156 rushing YPG in 2011.
Schiano is billed as a disciplinarian; he better be. The Bucs front office has put up with too many criminals on defense, not to mention sub-standard talent in the draft.
And, oh yeah, their best offensive lineman, Davin Joseph, is out for the year with a broken kneecap.
We’ll see how far discipline takes Schiano when things start going badly.
Predicted Finish: 6 – 10
2011 Record: 6 – 10
The Carolina Panthers had two glaring needs after a surprise showing under rookie phenom QB Cam Newton in last year’s NFL campaign–a speed receiver to take double coverage off elite wide-out Steve Smith or a defensive linemen pick that would put a final stamp on what defense HC Ron Rivera was going to run.
I thought Rivera’s 3-4 pedigree would make NT Dontari Poe too good to pass up, or, perhaps, Quentin Coples, the tweener DE/OLB 3-4s mold to their individual specs. While on the first round draft clock with the ninth pick, nobody would have faulted Rivera if he had taken stud receiver, Michael Floyd.
Maybe thinking long term and looking for the “best player available” the Black Cats took All-Everything MLB Luke Kuechley, who has the athletic gifts to play any backer position. Still, linebacker was the Panthers defense’s best unit.
This team is the NFC dark horse for the 2012 NFL season–the injury bug seldom bites the same team hard two years in a row–and just might end up making the league eat center Ryan Kalil’s words regarding which team will be kissing a certain silver trophy.
Major Story: Carolina’s defense roars back from an injury riddled ’11 and the Panthers start out 6 – 0.
Predicted Finish: 10 – 6
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
2011 Record 13 – 3
Recall for a moment those horrifying pictures of a devastated New Orleans after Katrina blew through the bayou. The Saints, as a football team, look worse.
Forget the coaching upheaval caused by the heavy hand of Roger Goodell. The entire Saints organization was never on the same page when the Bounty Scandal broke. Obviously, Goodell stormed in with what were supposedly unedited tapes of Gregg Williams talking about “killing the head,” threatening the careers of all who dared play against the Saints. The coaches, and some players, panicked. By the time they caught their breath Goodell had fingers pointing every which way but right.
My views on Goodell’s gutlessness are forever engraved on my reader’s eyeballs–but the Saints are the victims of their own gutlessness. They should have fought Goodell tooth and nail by insisting “incentivizing” defenses to hit hard enough to destroy an opponent is an NFL staple.
Grown men–even if they are not the sharpest knives in the block–are not wired to play every single football game with the intensity of a pissed off wolverine. That’s why rhetoric like “my brother,” “the trenches,” “going to war,” etc., are used by every player and coach in the NFL.
Their weak, fractured response to Goodell will haunt the Holy Men in 2012. Trades and the Bounty Scandal took their first two draft picks off the board, and the Saints drafted like they could reach when their arms were tied behind their back.
It’s either an “Us vs. Them” coming together party, or a “Poor Us” disaster of a season. The Saints have enough talent; it might not matter.
Major Story: Drew Brees and the offense has a “bad year” by their standards. Vilma wins in court.
Predicted Finish: 10 – 6
What an offensive group the Falcons’ braintrust has amassed in Atlanta. Sophmore receiving phenom Julio Jones has superstar tattooed all over him, and Matt Ryan actually lifted weights in the off-season and looks stronger than ever. Running back Michael Turner can still turn in 100-yard games routinely. The 2011 lines were solid enough to have produced the 10th ranked offense and a respectable 12th ranked defense.
Add all that to decent special teams–and a coaching staff that the pundits fawn over–and it looks like the Falcons should just take the Lombardi Trophy to Peachtree St. and save the NFL the trouble of, you know, having a season.
Well, the Birds of Prey can’t do that until they answer for a goose-egg in the post season win category under Mike Smith.
If they can’t do it this year in the midst of the Bayou Bounty Scandal, a new regime in Tampa Bay, and unproven upstarts in Charlotte, the Falcons will have greatly underachieved.
The Falcon have the most balanced team, the hungriest quarterback–at least he should be–in Matt Ryan, and the chip on their shoulder should be the largest in the NFC
Big Story: Julio Jones lights up the NFC and the Falcons earn the first seed.
Predicted Finish: 12 – 4 Division Winner
Next Up: The NFC North
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