May 29, 2013; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) takes a hand off from quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during organized team activities at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How will the NFC South Play Out in 2013?


So, how will this all fall out to end the season in 2013?

Atlanta Falcons: 11-5

QB “Matty Ice” will be running the best offense in the NFC South this season – not Drew Brees. Steven Jackson is going to be the difference as he still has a year or two left and is a complete back who can pass-protect, power run, or catch passes. They hit the CB position hard in the draft, so they’ll have a nice infusion of young talent there to assist in shootouts they’ll likely get into with a questionable pass rush and rush defense and it’s going to be hard to keep their offense from putting 25+ points per game on the scoreboard. I think the law of averages will catch up with them this season as the past two, they’ve seemed to win every close contest and gotten the bounces they needed for a win – just ask Cam about his fumble in their first match-up last season.

May 29, 2013; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a pass during organized team activities at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

…Pleasant Surprise: DE Malliciah Goodman

…Limiting Factors: anemic pass rush, youth at corner, run defense

…HOW TO BEAT THEM: Establish the run, keep the score down and possessions limited. Atlanta is more finesse than physical in general and will have trouble handling the more physical teams on their schedule in 2013.

…best NFC South match-up: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – On paper, the Bucs’ revamped defensive backfield matches up well with the Falcons’ attack, but that won’t be the case. Ryan will pick on rookie CB Jonathan Banks, who is more of a zone-cover corner than a island guy – that’s why they got Revis. Banks doesn’t have the speed to cover Julio Jones and lacks the experience to cover wily veteran Roddy White. Nobody can cover Tony Gonzalez, and the Falcons will line up to stop the Muscle Hamster, daring the Bucs to “air their grievances” with Josh Freeman.

New Orleans Saints: 10-6

All offense, no defense was how this team rolled in ’12, but the defense won’t be quite as bad as last season. They’ll still be a bottom-third unit, but the Drew Brees-led offense will be a top-five group. Mad Genius Sean Payton is the X-factor, coming off suspension from Bountygate last year. I think he’s worth at least 3 more wins, but their injection of talent on defense won’t be apparent until the second half of the season at best due to youth. The offense does need help on the O-line, so they still have too many weak areas to be a truly dominant team in 2013.

…Pleasant Surprise: DT John Jenkins

…Limiting Factors: Porous defense, weak offensive line

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston (12) runs after a catch in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

…HOT TO BEAT THEM: Pressure Brees up the middle and force mistakes. Double cover TE Jimmy Graham inside the red zone. If your defense can simply delay Brees from lighting you up in the first quarter, the Saints’ defense should give you the lead heading into the second. Maximize every possession and don’t turn it over to give Brees any extra drives.

…best NFC South match-up: Carolina Panthers – Drew Brees’ offense has him release passes very quickly, largely nullifying the monstrous DE rotation the Panthers can throw at him. If his interior OL can handle the Panthers’ rookie DTs in the passing game, the Saints have the quick-strike ability to score in bunches while the Panthers’ weakness is going to be their ability to overcome 2- or 3-score deficits. If the Saints can get up early on the Panthers and force Cam Newton to beat them in the air, Cam’s limited choices of weapons are going to struggle to get the job done.

Carolina Panthers: 10-6

I think 10-6 from 7-9 with a strong finish would probably be about the ceiling on this squad, this season. This team will win with defense and the running game – Cam’s arm, not so much, but should be an opportunistic squad in the passing game for balance. With a few holes still left in the interior OL, WR and TE depth, Cam’s choices are limited in the vertical passing game as Ted Ginn, jr. hasn’t shown he’s a consistent threat as a WR in his 6 seasons. Should be a ground-and-pound team using play-action to go deep. They’ll lean heavily on their ramped-up defense now but will struggle to come from behind if facing a double-digit deficit – the team isn’t built for shootouts but slugfests.

May 30, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass at the practice held at the Carolina Panthers practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

…Pleasant Surprise: SS Mike Mitchell

…Limiting Factors: Production at WR overall, TE depth, OL depth, RT Byron Bell, no playmaking safety – yet (watch Mitchell)

…HOW TO BEAT THEM: Stop the run/8 in the box at times, make Cam Newton beat you through the air with his limited outside weapons. Don’t kick to Ted Ginn, Jr. on special teams. This defense can be vulnerable against a well-executed West Coast offense.

…best NFC South match-up: Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have a very polished and efficient offense with Steven Jackson’s 3-down ability, but the O-line is only about average. They lack a pass rusher behind Osi Umenyiora, and just had no answer for Cam Newton last season. If they can’t solve Cam, he’ll abuse them again in 2013.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-7

the Bucs seemed to take huge leaps in the offseason and either they or the Panthers will make a “leap up” in the division this year. This team has every bit the talent of any team in the entire league now but they’re still very, very young, new additions take time to gel, and Greg Schiano may be off to another slow start for 2013 and that’s going to make all the difference in the world. He’ll be looking to upgrade at QB after this season as I just don’t think Josh Freeman will ever be a franchise QB, and will be exposed this year.

…Pleasant Surprise: QB Mike Glennon

…Limiting Factors: Youth, QB Josh Freeman can’t carry the team if RB Martin gets injured or bottled up, new additions may take time to gel and team chemistry is a bit of a question with a squad this young and with so many offseason changes. The Muscle Hamster is their most indispensable player and if he gets injured, this team will struggle to score points.

May 29, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) during organized team activities at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

…HOW TO BEAT THEM: This team is dangerous on the ground with a top-5 offensive line and the Muscle Hamster scurrying through the holes they make. Play 8 in the box, force Josh Freeman into a shootout-style game, and take away the deep ball on 2nd- and 3rd-and-long. Offensively, mix short, high-percentage passes with misdirection runs, taking advantage of the Bucs’ young, fast OLBs and possible over-pursuit to hit that cutback lane for big gains on the ground.

…best NFC South match-up: New Orleans Saints – With the Bucs adding safety Dashon Goldson from the 49′ers, Darrelle Revis from the Jets, and drafting CB Jonathan Banks, Drew Brees will find those gaping holes to throw in 2012 to be more like cracked windows in 2013. The Muscle Hamster shouldn’t find running overly difficult against the Saints defense, allowing coach Schiano to keep scoring down and games close. With proper clock management and establishing the run, Josh Freeman’s questionable ability will be maximized vs. a defense looking to stop the run first, and targets like V-Jax can take a short toss for 6 points on any given play.

The NFC West may be the only division in the NFL that rivals the NFC South top-to-bottom in terms of talent and the road to the playoffs won’t be easy.

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  • ahrcshaw

    I think you are over rating the Saints and the value of Payton. You could almost use Payton as a deterent due to the fact that he missed all last year. Atlanta has good talent, but for some reason they have not been able to put it all together when the chips are down. This year Atlanta will be under pressure every game and I do not believe they will hold up. The Buck are always a threat until game time at which they either play very well or they don’t, if the opposing team get the tempo going in their direction the Bucks fold, because they are not a team that can come from behind. The Panthers play this year is going to depend on their attitude. The Panthers have a lot of talent and if their attitude is positive on offense and a score over my dead body attitude on defense they will be hard to beat and should win the division. “IF” they can pull one game out in the 4th qtr, either by coming back by the offense or stengently shutting down the oponent and get the feeling of success they will be more then hard to beat. For the Panthers this is the year they either all come together or they fold going down the stretch. Go Panthers.

    • Catman

      If Sean Payton had been coach last year, I’m pretty sure they would not have had their 0-4 start and their defense wouldn’t have been quite as bad as it was. They came on better towards the end of the season and have made some good improvements in the draft. Payton’s first action when he got back was to get rid of DC Steve Spagnuolo and all they have to do is pick up where they left off in 2012 winning 2 of their last 3 and shutting out the Bucs, 41-0. Everyone in the NFC South has a tough schedule…playing each other and the NFC West, and I think in the case of the Saints, Brees has seen it all, so has Sean Payton, and that schedule will make everyone in the NFC South that much more battle-hardened. The teams could all down-shift to lower records, all 4 teams have a legitimate chance to win the division, and it’s going to be a fight right down through week 17. We’ll see. Go Panthers!

      • ahrcshaw

        “IF” is like assume (ass u me) and yes Sean Payton might have helped the Saints last year had he been coaching. However, that would be assuming there was no bounty gate and the team was not realing from the aftermath of that. There is no question Payton has been very successful with Breez under center, but it is going to take more then just Payton’s return.

        There is also no question that on almost any given day anyone of the teams in the NFCS could beat the others, I just do not think Atlanta nor the Saints are that much better then the Panthers. Win wise maybe yes but talent wise not so fast. Using your “IF” the panthers get the team chemistry, winning attitude, and set the tone of the games they will be hard to beat. Actually they have the talent to sweep the NFCS if they are healthy and get a brake or two, but it is awful hard to beat an NFL team twice in the same year. Go Panthers.

        • Catman

          No Bountygate this year and no aftermath…and 1 game and 0 games respectively is “not much better” than the Panthers, is it? “Awful hard to win 2″ – that’ll mean 3 losses per team right there…and the best record I have in the division is 11-5. It’s going to be hard for Carolina to start fast with the new faces and rookies, and AGAIN don’t forget they play the NFL’s toughest schedule and wouldn’t surprise me if all NFCS teams shift down 2 games in the final standings due to playing NFCW teams on the schedule. I posted the best-case scenarios I think. Each team has improved but then again their schedules are harder at the same time. The Panthers just do not have the weapons on offense that the others in the division have in the passing game but have a top-3 front seven, so defense is going to be their road to victory…or not….

          • ahrcshaw

            It is hard to argue with you because your points are true and clear. In my mind what makes the difference is the Panther team is young, experienced a little, but very hungry for a winning season. The make up of this 2013 team is very similar to the 2004 SB team, so being the optimist that I am, I will say they go for it. The key to their success will be the Seahawks game, “IF” When the Panthers jump all over the Seahawks setting the tone on both O and D they will ignite the fire in the belly that molds them into a really good team. Like I said I am an optimist, but a conservative one as well, I think Rivera is a better player coach then J Fox and unlike Fox will use his talented team from day one, which in my mind will make this 2013 team better then the 2004 one. I really believe a win over the Seahawks could enhance the possibility the Panther could sweep Atlanta. Go Panthers.

  • Tony Cardwell

    Gawh Ken! I love the way you write! Great article!!