The NFC South is a division consisting of recent scandal, young quarterbacks with much to prove, one who is more than proven, and teams that all have a reasonable chance at making the playoffs. It will not be an easy road for any one team or any one player, but it is time to take a look at who you can expect to step up and who will fold when opportunity hits.
Let us begin with what their is to prove. However, in this division I fear the term players is too broad of a term, as almost all of the attention in this division flies right to the most important position in the game, quarterback. Let us start with the two quarterbacks that have shown they can be successful as individuals, but have yet to show that they can lead their teams to victory. There two men are Cam Newton and Josh Freeman. It is quite easy to pair these two together as they are separated by one inch in height, five pounds, and one year of age. I recommend not picking a scuffle with either as they are both quite the physical specimen. To say these two guys have not had any success is a stretch of the truth because they have both been fairly successful individuals in their first few years. However, until they lead a team to victory, they will not truly be “successful” quarterbacks. Now for a quarterback a little more proven in Matt Ryan. The former Boston College standout has found his own, earning his first playoff victory last year. However, he still has yet to make a substantial playoff run. For this, he still has not truly proven himself. The last quarterback, Drew Brees, is fully proven and is in no need of description. However, what has to be proven on the Saints is not one individual player but more the defense in general. It was the defense that let them down last year, and they must have a bounce back year if they want to have success.
The coach with the most to prove in the upcoming year has to fall not too from the player, this being Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Smith has been quite the successful coach in his five years as Falcons’ head man, with a 56 and 24. However, in a league where success is based off of championships and nothing less, Smith’s inability to win more than one playoff game is what puts him as the coach with the most to prove. When you consistently have teams that have been able to maintain a championship caliber quality of play in the regular season, Smith’s incapability to win the Super Bowl or even get there makes him the coach with the most to prove.
My breakout performance this year has to come from none other than the Tampa Bay Bucs secondary. For a team that improved greatly under new head coach Greg Schiano last year, they still lack offensive fire power. However, their secondary will surely have a fantastic season. Although they may have lost veteran star Ronde Barber, they signed arguably the best defensive back in the game in Darrelle Revis. Even though he is coming off a season ending injury, Revis should be back to his old self. The second standout is strong safety Mark Barron in his second season out of Alabama. He did not tap his full potential last year, but it could be a big year for the highly talented safety. Put next to him veteran free safety Dashon Goldson, and you have one special secondary. The one question mark will be at the other cornerback spots as they consist of fairly inexperienced Leonard Johnson, rookie Jonathan Banks, and Danny Gorrer. Even the inexperienced defensive backs have loads of potential, and this secondary will surely be the bright spot on the Bucs and the most standout performances in the NFC South.
My biggest letdown has to come from the opposite side of the ball, on the same squad. Josh Freeman is going to have the biggest let down of the NFC North. The former Kansas State Wildcat is in his 5th year in the NFL with the Bucs, but he has yet to have a real standout year. This year I fear is only going to be a step backwards. However, this cannot fully fall on Freeman’s shoulders. He simply does not have an explosive offense surrounding him. The receiving core lacks much of anything as the only semi-real threats are Vincent Jackson and Kevin Ogletree. They do not have a close to significant tight-end and although running back Doug Martin showed last year he can do incredible things at times, this will not be enough in Freeman. Let us not forget the Bucs picked quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of the draft; this has to make you wonder, do the Bucs believe in Freeman themselves?
Atlanta Falcons: 11-5
New Orleans Saints: 10-6
Tampa Bay Bucs: 8-8
Carolina Panthers: 7-9
The Atlanta Falcons headed by Matt Ryan are not about to have any sort of let down this year. They are poised to make a serious run once more, and with explosive wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones, as well as veteran tight-end Tony Gonzalez, their offense is one of the best of the year. With a stout defense, they will win the division, but the Saints will not make it easy for them. With Sean Payton back this year, there will be no distractions to hinder this team. Even though they will not win the division, they should be able to ride star Drew Brees to a Wild Card and a playoff berth. Both the Bucs and Panthers will be in about the same spot as they ended up in last year. Neither team has made enough strides to become a big contender, and even though they have aspects that will enable them to win some games, they do not have enough to contend in this tough division. Even though Cam Newton could have a wonder of a year, the weapons aren’t there; as a result, neither are the Panthers.