2009 NFC South Predictions
2009 NFC South preview from MadduxSports.com. After studying the NFL teams get signed up for our NFL Sports Picks for the top handicappers on the internet.
2009 NFC South Division Preview
By Adam Barone
The NFC South is, at the very least, one of the most exciting and marketable divisions in the game. Dynamic stars like DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush drive the excitement behind this four-some. Well…ok, maybe it’s a three-some. None of those players wear a Buccaneers’ uniform. Derrick Ward, anyone? Josh Freeman? Tampa is clearly the odd team out.
Carolina Panthers (11-5): Williams is certainly the story in Panther-land following his insane breakout in 2008. Williams found the end zone 18 times on the ground and racked up over 1,500 rushing yards despite a rather low carry total of 273. Rookie back Jonathan Stewart toted the rock only 184 times and found the end zone 10 times on the ground. The Panthers’ strength is their fantastic offensive line, so expect these numbers to continue into the coming season, with a deep ball to Steve Smith thrown in now and then.
The Panthers will look to improve their 18th ranked defense in 2009. The maturation of stud middle linebacker Jon Beason (138 tackles in ’08) and retaining of Julius Peppers will certainly help. Carolina has the horses on both sides to play ball control, and should ride them into the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6): The Falcons were a laughing stock at this time last season, with what most thought was little hope of success for the season. Rookie passer Matt Ryan and free agent runner Michael Turner showed everyone just how unpredictable this league is, carrying the team into the playoffs. Ryan topped 3,400 yards and threw for 16 touchdowns, while Turner carried the ball an insane 376 times for 17 touchdowns and finished one yard shy of 1,700. The addition of star tight end Tony Gonzalez suggests an accelerated maturation for Ryan and a decreased workload for Turner, but another playoff appearance is likely.
The loss of long-time Falcon linebacker Keith Brooking stings a little, but he’s replaced by Mike Peterson, who played under head coach Mike Smith in Jacksonville. Second-year middle linebacker Curtis Lofton is poised for a breakout season. It might just be the defense’s turn to explode, as seven of the team’s eight draft picks were used to add depth to that side of the ball.
New Orleans Saints (8-8): Head coach Sean Payton is the master mind of what’s probably the most potent offense in the NFL, and now he has all of his toys healthy and ready to play. Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, and Lance Moore all had offseason surgery, and all should be ready to go for 2009. Drew Brees took over the title of top quarterback last season after Tom Brady went down for the year, topping 5,000 yards passing with 34 touchdowns and a 96.2 rating. Running back Pierre Thomas had something of a breakout year in 2008, and could benefit significantly from being the team’s only real between-the-tackles runner.
The problem for the Saints is, and has been, the defense. A few things were done to address that issue. Former coordinator Gary Gibbs was replaced by Gregg Williams, while cornerback Mike McKenzie and safety Josh Bullocks were replaced by Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper, and rookie cornerback Malcom Jenkins was added to the secondary. The Saints are certainly capable of taking the division, but health and improved defense are the key factors.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13): Jon Gruden was surprisingly fired following last season, and replaced by former defensive backs’ coach Raheem Morris. Quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Warrick Dunn, and receiver Joey Galloway were all let go, signaling in a youth movement. The team drafted former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, but he’ll learn from the bench, at least to start the season. Byron Leftwich will compete with Luke McCown for the starting quarterback job, and Antonio Bryant starts the year as the go-to guy on the outside after his breakout campaign that included 83 catches for 1,283 yards. That’s particularly impressive considering that he was out of the league in 2007. The team also traded for tight end Kellen Winslow, who will make the quarterback’s life a little easier.
The dumping of aging talent didn’t stop on offense, as linebackers
Derrick Brooks and Cato June are both gone as well. Long-time coordinator
Monte Kiffin left to help his son in the college ranks, and was
replaced by Jim Bates. Bates will continue to run the Tampa-2 style,
but it’s likely to feature less passive zone coverage by the
corners, and more man-to-man.
Not much is to be expected out of either side of the ball here, as this is clearly the least talented team in the division.