2014 NFL Predictions: The NFC SouthMay 24, 2014 James Turnage Fox SportsPredicting the NFC South is almost too easy. The best team has the best coach and the best fans. Let’s talk about it anyway. They still have to play the games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed a lot of help. They had a dismal 2013 season. The best thing that happened to them was the addition of two coaches: Head Coach Lovie Smith, and Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier. Both will bring new approaches and a new attitude to a team which needs repair in many areas.Their 2014 Draft selections were all on the offensive side of the ball, and they were needed. I continue to question if Josh McCown can be the QB to lead them to more victories this season. He will have a new target in first draft pick WR Mike Evans. The 6 feet 5 inch 231 pound Texas A&M star averaged 20.2 yards per catch; the most in the nation. Other significant choices were a TE, a RB, and two Offensive Linemen. Their defense is solid, but will additions to the offense be sufficient to score more points? The NFC South may be the most balanced division in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton is in his fourth year. It’s time for him to step up as the team leader and help his team challenge the Saints and Falcons for the division championship. RB DeAngelo Williams is in his 9th year, and will have to have a good season to provide a balanced attack.In the 2014 Draft, their first choice was WR Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall weighing 241 pounds. He averaged nearly 18 yards per catch. The Panthers second choice was DE Kony Ealy from Missouri. 3rd was an OG, 4th a SS, and 5th a CB. All five could be starters filling need on both offense and defense. Does Head Coach Ron Rivera have all the pieces he needs to challenge in his division? The 2014 season begins on September 4th. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt, “Mattie Ice,” Ryan has plenty of offense at his disposal. Roddy White and Harry Douglas are talented veteran receivers. If RB Steven Jackson can stay healthy, they will have a well-balanced offense.The 2014 Draft appears to have been successful, filling or adding to positions needing improvement. Their first selection, Jake Matthews, OT, is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall and 308 pounds. He was a team captain at Texas A&M. Their second selection was Ra’Shede Hageman from Missouri. He is a 6 feet 6 inch 310 pound DT from Minnesota. Both will likely start on day one. Among their other choices was a 5’8” RB from Florida State, Devonta Freeman who gained over 1,000 yards in 2013.Can Mike Smith use his talent and produce a Division Champion after a dismal 2013 season?I am a Drew Brees fanatic. He does not receive as much attention as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or even Aaron Rodgers, but he stands tall when measured against their accomplishments. Together with New Orleans Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton they provide the best offensive combination in all of football. If Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan can increase the effectiveness of the Saints’ defense, New Orleans should have a successful season.The challenge for Brees is at the WR position. He has to learn to work with many new players. Of course he still has TE Jimmy Graham. Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks (5’10?, 189 lbs.), was their first pick in the 2014 Draft. As a WR and running back kickoffs, he amassed 3,863 all-purpose yards. In the second round they chose Nebraska DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 218 pounds he will add a challenge for opposing QB’s.As I stated at the beginning of this article, the best Coach in the division will take his team to the playoffs, and that is Sean Payton. He may be the best Head Coach in all of the NFL. The New Orleans Saints should find themselves at the top once again.I enjoy watching Matt Ryan play. I’m just not certain that he can take the Falcons to the playoffs in 2014. I believe they will end up in third place behind the Carolina Panthers.And I believe the Panthers will make the playoffs as a wild card team. Cam Newton is a double edged threat presenting big challenges for Defensive Coordinators.Unfortunately the Buccaneers will once again finish the division in 4th place. I am not a fan of Josh McCown. I believe they will continue to need a franchise QB.
I just dont see Carolina being any good. Cam is a good (but overrated) QB with a cruddy Oline in front of him and nothing to throw to beyond a good TE. Olsen can play but I don’t see Benjamin ready to contribute much for a year or two and Cotchery and Avant are nothing at this point in their careers. Cam may surprise me but I think he takes a hit this year. I know Steve Smith’s numbers weren’t great this year but he was still steady and none of these clowns are going to contribute the way he did, even last year.Atlanta is a couple steps up from a dumpster fire, for sure... but they're not ready to compete for the playoffs. Obviously Ryan is a good QB and getting Jones back will help but he did lose his favorite target (Gonzo). His line will be better in front of him but none of their RBs scare me so they'll struggle to be balanced. Their D will probably be better against the run because they added guys like Jackson and Soliai but I still don't see them getting after the QB very well. Their lack of an edge rusher combined with the fact that they're changing schemes just doesn't bode well for them.The Saints are in a different class than the rest of the NFCS until we're proved otherwise. I think they're the most balanced team in the division. We know their Offense is going to be great and their Defense seems to be even better (on paper) than last year. I don't look forward to going against the combination of Byrd and Vaccarro twice a year, I think they've got the 2nd best safety tandem in football.As far as our beloved Bucs, I think we're the 2nd best ROSTER. Whether or not we put it all together is the question. We may struggle getting in sync early on. We have the 4th best QB in the division, it seems, but I think the team he has around him will help him succeed. If we get the same McCown Chicago had we'll vie for a playoff spot, but even if he's just an average QB then I still think we're an 8-8 or 9-7 team. My biggest concern is the middle of our line, I hope to God Carl Nicks plays and plays well. If we go into the season with the Guards we've had in OTAs we're going to hate life going against teams that can cause pressure with their DTs... teams like Carolina. Also, our running game will suffer. Chances are a couple of our draft picks and free agent signings wont pan out but I still think all in all we have a really talented football team and if McCown can be an above average QB then we should be a wild card caliber team. We shall see.
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