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Schultz: Look for the Falcons to top the NFC South

Chris Schultz
9/4/2013 10:22:07 AM
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Atlanta Falcons

Reason for Pessimism

The Atlanta Falcons had an excellent regular season last year, winning 13 games. But many of them were by remarkably close scores. I remember the Carolina game and the Hail Mary pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White to position the Falcons for the winning field goal. That game could have gone either way. The same in regards to the Oakland game - won by three. The Arizona game? Won by four. The Tampa Bay game was won by one. The Saints game was won by four - on the last play of the game. And the playoff game at home against Seattle - a 30-28 win in the last minute. That's six games that could have gone either way and in a very tough NFC South. The Falcons will need that late game skill again. The rushing attack was 29th and on defence was 24th - being 21st against the run and 23rd against the pass. The Falcons are a very good team that needs to improve. The biggest concern is cornerback. Asante Samuel will take care of one side but the other may be a rookie. Either Desmond Trufant or Robert Alford. Either way, starting a rookie cornerback is a risk but Atlanta may not have a choice.

Reason for Optimism

Matt Ryan has signed a new big time contract and here's why. He has 56 wins in his first five seasons and the record for wins in their first six seasons is 60 by Ben Roethisberger. Matt Ryan may surpass that significant record as soon as week on Monday night Football at home against the Jets. As a team the Falcons were +13 in takeaway and giveaway and second in third down completion percentage. Thank you, Matt Ryan. All the Falcons need to be the best offence in football is for Steven Jackson to stay healthy and the best three receivers in football - Jones, White and Gonzalez to do what they do. The other key component is Osi Umenyiora as a pass rusher on one side and Kroy Biermann on the other side. They must play well to offset the youth in the secondary. Give credit to the Falcons in that they were one more good play from a Super Bowl appearance and still may have eight new starters in the effort to improve.                 

Reality: Tough, tough division. New Orleans will be better and Tampa Bay as well. Carolina always plays Atlanta tough. But the Falcons have great receivers and an improved defence depending on the two young cornerbacks. The two games against New Orleans will probably determine the division. They'll finish first in NFC South.

New Orleans Saints

Reason for Pessimism

Last year, the New Orleans Saints allowed an all-time record for yards allowed with 7,O42. They also had nine games of 25 points allowed or more. Their total defence was ranked 32nd, their rushing defence was 32nd, pass defence 31st and their scoring defence was also 31st. Can that defence now contain Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and an improving Josh Freeman? Until proven, it's the biggest question with the Saints. They do have three good young players in free agent Keenan Lewis from Pittsburgh, John Jenkins at the nose from Georgia and Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas. But can all three be 16-game starters?                        

Reason for Optimism

You can't undervalue the presence and accountability of Sean Payton back as head coach. In the last three years with him, the Saints won 37 of a possible 48 games and won it all in 2009. Without him, they were 7-9. Even if the defence plays mildly better, the Saints can win games on their own - second in total offence, first in passing offence, third in scoring offence and fourth on red zone efficiency. The only negative number was rushing offence, which was 25th. But you know that will improve with Payton back. And you know the Saints won't start the season 0-4 again.                     

Reality: If the defence catches up with the offence, then the Saints are a playoff team again this year. The have two key games with Atlanta to open the season at home, then it's off to Thursday Night Football on Nov. 21. That will probably determine the division. The Saints finish second in the NFC South - but not by much.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reason for Pessimism

The Bucs are a team that could finish first or last in the NFC South. They started the season a strong 6-4 but ended it a poor 1-5. And the one win was against an Atlanta team in Week 17 that had little to play for. The concern for the Bucs is quarterback Josh Freeman. He did have a great year in terms of passing yards and touchdowns passes, but threw 10 of his 17 interceptions over three games late in the season - which kept the Bucs out of the playoffs. Still, Tampa Bay spent money in free agency and if that pans out then what was one of the worst secondaries will become one of the best. In one of the oddest years in defence, the Bucs finished first against the run and 32nd against the pass. Can that pass defence catch up with the run defence?

Reason for Optimism

There are some hidden gems of talent on this year's Bucs team. Doug Martin was spectacular last year and a big reason was Carl Nicks at left guard and Donald Penn at left tackle. Vincent Jackson had a good year, Gerald McCoy lived up to his high draft pick status as a defensive tackle and Mason Foster played well at middle linebacker. Finally, Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron, Eric Wright and Dashon Goldson make up talent wise an excellent secondary. A lot will depend on Josh Freeman and the pressure is on. Greg Schiano has not said it is his job to lose and they also drafted quarterback Mike Glennon. The Bucs could be a 10 win team.         

Reality: Just like the Panthers, the probable is who do the Bucs move ahead of into the playoffs? The Saints or the Falcons? I say it's possible but the Bucs will finish third in the NFC South.

Carolina Panthers

Reason for Pessimism

This is probably it for Ron Rivera. For the last two years, the start of the season has been disastrous but and the end of the season has been terrific. Last year, the Panthers won five of their last six but lost six of there first seven. Statistically, there was nothing that outstanding about what Carolina did on offence or defence. They finished Top 10 on defence and 12th on offence - pretty good . Not dominant, but pretty good. They do need to find another receiver other than Steve Smith, but that's been an issue for years and if they do then Cam Newton will have another year as good as his rookie campaign. In that year, Carolina won 12 games and made the playoffs. The pressure is on this year - more than ever.                     

Reason for Optimism

Over the last five years, Carolina has won 12, eight, two, six and seven games - so they're on their way back (only one game from .500 football!). Also, seven of their losses were by seven points or less. With Newton, his touchdown runs are down but his touchdown passes were up. With three good running backs in Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, Newton does not have to throw thew ball 30 times to win. And with three good linebackers led by Luke Kuechly and two good outside pass rushers, the Panthers made their first and second pick defensive tackles to make it stonger than ever.                               

Reality: The Panthers are a good team in a very tough division. They also have one of the toughest schedules playing six playoff teams. A lot will depend on how well Newton continues to progress, but he will have to out play Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to be a playoff team. Possible, but not probable. Carolina's fourth in the NFC South.

Chris Schultz

Chris Schultz

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