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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC South

Rick Gagliano | July 23, 2012

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

2011 record: 10-6

Predicted finish: 13-3

Head Coach: Mike Smith

Departed: FB Ovie Mughelli, C Scott Albritton, OL Kyle Jolly, LS Corey Adams,

Incoming: CB Asante Samuel, OL Peter Konz, FB Bradie Ewing, S Charles Mitchell and DT Travian Robertson

Strengths: Balanced offense. With Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White and Julio Jones, and the running of Michael Turner and scat-back Jaquizz Rodgers, the Falcons can move the ball up and down the field with the best of them. The Falcons also ranked 6th overall in the league against the run, the anchor of a solid defense.

Weaknesses: If there are any, it's in the secondary, which ranked 20th in the NFL, allowing 236.6 yards per game.

Key Games: Sun, Oct 28 at Philadelphia; Sun, Nov 4 vs. Dallas; Sun, Nov 11 at New Orleans; Sun, Dec 16 vs. NY Giants

What if?: The Falcons are 6-0 going into their bye week?

That's actually a very likely occurrance, as Atlanta plays KC, Denver, San Diego, Carolina, Washington and Oakland in that order the first six weeks of the season, effectively getting their AFC obligation off the map early.

After the bye the three week stretch in which they play Philly, Dallas and New Orleans consecutively will be a test for how good the Falcons can be. Their schedule, for a playoff team, is pretty light and they could end up with home field advantage throughout the playoffs, especially with the turmoil in New Orleans virtually handing them the NFC South.

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Carolina Panthers

2011 record: 6-10

Predicted finish: 9-7

Head Coach: Ron Rivera

Departed: WR David Clowney, WR Legedu Naanee, OT Jeff Otah, LB Phillip Dillard, RB Mike Goodson

Incoming: RB Mike Tolbert, S Haruki Nakamura, S Reggie Smith, P Nick Harris, LB Luke Kuechly, G Amini Silatolu, DE Frank Alexander, WR Joe Adams, DB Josh Norman, P Brad Nortman and DB D.J. Campbell, OT Bruce Campbell

Strengths: Cam Newton and the offense. Ranked third in rushing and 13th in passing, the Carolina offense was notorious for putting up points in a hurry during Newton's initial NFL season. With a year under his belt, Newton should have another banner year and help the Pantehrs win more games than in 2011.

Weaknesses: Defense. Opponents passed for 246.8 and rushed for 130.8, 24th and 25th, respectively, against the Panther defense in 2011, a primary cause for losing five games by seven or fewer points. The Panthers went 4-2 in their final six games, but it was primarily against weaker offensive foes - Indy, Tampa Bay (twice) and Houston. Draft picks and the addition of safties Nakamura and Smith were designed to pick up this sub-par group.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 16 vs. New Orleans; Thu, Sep 20 at NY Giants; Sun, Sep 30 at Atlanta; Sun, Oct 28 at Chicago; Sun, Dec 30 at New Orleans

What if?: The Panthers don't lose six of their first eight games, as they did in 2011?

If the Panthers can get through the first five weeks at even 2-3, before their bye in week 6, they could be on a path to the playoffs, but it's not going to be easy, as they have home games against the Saints, Giants and Seattle early on, plus road trips ot Tampa Bay and Atlanta. With weeks 7 and 8 against Dallas and at Chicago, this squad could easily be just 2-5 before facing Washington, Denver and Tampa Bay in succession.

The season winds down with three games against the AFC West, but they also have Atlanta and New Orleans in the mix, so no matter how well they start, the schedule is not favorable. The Panthers will be improved, but will probably fall just short of the playoffs.

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New Orleans Saints

2011 record: 13-3

Predicted finish: 8-8

Head Coach: Unknown; Sean Peyton suspended for season.

Departed: WR Kevin Hardy, WR Malcolm Beyah

Incoming: OT Hutch Eckerson, CB Nick Hixson, G DeOn'tae Pannell and LB Lawrence Wilson. Waived OT Dan Hoch, G Nick Howell, LB Stephen Johnson, OT Phil Trautwein, QB Luke McCown, K John Kasay, TE Derek Schouman, WR Marques Clark, WR Robert Meachem

Strengths: Drew Brees. The team leadership displayed byQB Breese will be put to the test this season with the loss of HV Peyton Manning. If Brees can keep the NFL's #1 offense intact, there's a slim chance the Saints may make the playoffs.

Weaknesses: The loss of head coach Shawn Peyton is going to be felt throughout the season. There's really no way to replace a head coach of his skill and stature. The secondary, ranked 30th overall last season in pass defense, is a real weakness.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 16 at Carolina; Sun, Sep 30 at Green Bay; Sun, Oct 28 at Denver; Mon, Nov 5 vs. Philadelphia; Sun, Nov 11 vs. Atlanta; Thu, Nov 29 at Atlanta, Sun, Dec 9 at NY Giants; Sun, Dec 23 at Dallas

What if?: The loss of Shawn Peyton as head coach is devastating?

Having the head coach suspended for the full season is a pretty harsh penalty and probably will have many deleterious effects on the Saints which will be amplified as the losses mount. New Orleans has a spate of tough road games against some of the NFL's elite teams, and without proper leadership, the season could be a disaster. Making the playoffs is probably an outside chance. This team may be no better than 8-8, despite he on-field talent.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2011 record: 4-12

Predicted finish: 3-13

Head Coach: Greg Schiano

Departed: DT Eric LeGrand; DT Brian Brice, DE Tim Crowder, DE Nick Reed, DL Albert Haynesworth, S Tanard Jackson, DE Hilee Taylor, DT Myles Wade, QB Josh Johnson

Incoming: QB Dan Orlovsky, TE Drake Dunsmore, RB Michael Smith, DE Quintin Anderson, S Sean Baker, RB De'Anthony Curtis, P Eric Guthrie, OT Jermarcus Hardrick, QB Jordan Jefferson, FB Antonio Leak, DT Jordan Nix, TE Danny Noble, DT Myles Wade, CB Derrick Roberson and DE Hilee Taylor. Waived WR Luther Ambrose, LB Ryan Baker, LB Mike Balogun, QB Zach Collaros, S Ron Girault, C Chaz Hine, DT Donte'e Nicholls, OT Trevor Olson, G Chris Riley, K Jake Rogers, CB Quenton Washington and OT Rocky Weaver, TE Dallas Clark, WR Vincent Jackson

Strengths: New coaching staff. This could be a positive, if Greg Schiano and his staff can get the confidence of the players. After a 4-12 season, the Buccaneers made wholesale changes from the front office on down to the players.

Weaknesses: Everything. One of the worst teams of 2011, Tampa Bay finished 30th in rushing yards and 32nd against the run. There were few bright spots for a team that lost a lot of lopsided games. The entire defensive line will be new and that doesn't bode well for the either stopping the run or pass. The hope is that the Bucs will begin to jell latr in the year, though it looks like a "rebuilding" year, which means last place in the division is virtually assured.

Key Games: Sun, Sept 9 vs. Carolina; Sun, Sep 16 at NY Giants; Sun, Sep 23 at Dallas; Sun, Dec 9 at Philadelphia; Sun, Dec 30 at Atlanta

What if?: Josh Freeman is as bad as he was last season?

There's a very good chance that he will be, but it won't matter much. The Bucs have the look and feel of a very bad team, and whoever gets the start at QB won't have much of a chance to succeed. There could be a lot of playing time for Dan Orlovsky.

Copyright 2012, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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