Kelvin Benjamin injury fallout: Saints set to dethrone PanthersBy Adam Schein NFL.comPublished: Aug. 20, 2015 at 11:09pm The news on receiver Kelvin Benjamin is devastating for the Carolina Panthers. The second-year stud's season is over before it started, as he tore his ACL in practice on Wednesday.The impact of this injury cannot be overstated. It drives a stake into the heart of the Panthers -- the NFC South champions two years running -- and has a ripple effect on the entire division.In the wake of this major development, here's my up-to-the-second projection for the underwhelming NFC South:1) New Orleans Saints: 9-7I think New Orleans is the best of a bad bunch. (Remember, every team in this division finished last season with a losing record.) The Saints' defense remains a major point of concern. Junior Galette is gone. Coordinator Rob Ryan remains. Questions abound.But the Saints still have Drew Brees at quarterback. And even without Jimmy Graham, shipped to Seattle in the offseason, Brees remains the top signal caller in this division. Some perceived 2014 as an "off year" for Brees. Hmmm. The guy completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,952 yards, tied for the most in the NFL. Rumors of Brees' demise have been greatly exaggerated. And this season, Brees should be supported by a potent run game.The last time New Orleans boasted a top-10 rushing offense? 2011, when the Saints posted a 13-3 mark. Heading into this season, the ground attack appears primed for major production. In addition to re-signing Mark Ingram, who found his groove in a breakout 2014 campaign, the Saints brought in C.J. Spiller, who provides a home-run threat in the backfield. Additionally, in the Graham trade, New Orleans acquired Max Unger, a premier center with fantastic run-blocking ability. The offense should be more balanced than it's been in years, which is a good thing.Finally, Sean Payton is a Super Bowl-winning coach and a superb play caller. When you have the best quarterback and the best coach in the division, that's a pretty nice core.2) Atlanta Falcons: 7-9Talked to Matt Ryan on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," on Monday. I asked the Falcons' eighth-year quarterback if winning the division is a stated goal. His response?"I think you have to think that way all the time. We have the guys in our building to get that done -- there's no doubt about that. I firmly believe that. And I think the only way we get that done is if we take it day by day."If we are worried what will happen in January, that won't serve us well. We have to do it the right way and prepare the right way. We have to get guys to buy in and do that as Dan Quinn talks about all the time; that will be our recipe for success."He's right, of course. And Quinn's arrival is key.Last year, in mid-October, I wrote that it was time for the Falcons to cut the cord on Mike Smith. Smith deserves much credit for rescuing the franchise from the depths of embarrassment, and he won a lot of regular season games, but it was just time for the franchise to go in a new direction. And I love the direction the Falcons chose. Quinn ups the tempo, energy and accountability. He's the new voice this team needed.Quinn is a defensive mastermind, as evidenced by his work as Seattle's D-coordinator over the past two seasons. Eventually, I think he can turn Atlanta's defense around. But does he have enough able bodies in 2015? Hard to say he does. This unit, after all, finished dead last in total defense last year. In fact, Atlanta hasn't finished higher than 24th in this area since 2011. Simply put, it's going to take some time.On the other side of the ball, the addition of coordinator Kyle Shanahan definitely helps. He's a fine play caller and does a nice job tailoring the offense to the talent at hand. Ryan is primed for a big year, with Julio Jones healthy and Roddy White still in the mix. I believe in this passing attack ... but the running game's another story. Atlanta ranked 24th on the ground in 2014. Spotty O-line play certainly didn't help the cause. Overall, I'm concerned about the balance on offense.3) Carolina Panthers: 6-10General manager Dave Gettleman just has not done a very good job surrounding Cam Newton with much talent on offense. I've had a hard time understanding his approach on many fronts -- including the head-scratching release of Steve Smith last offseason. And while we're talking receivers, that's the clear issue of the moment for this team.Honestly, I didn't think Carolina had enough at receiver before the Benjamin injury. Now? Devin Funchess is the current No. 1, and that's not fair to the second-round pick. He just doesn't appear to be as physical or NFL-ready as Benjamin was entering last season. And the rest of the Panthers' receiver depth chart looks like a witness protection program. Jerricho Cotchery? Ted Ginn Jr.? Philly Brown? Brenton Bersin? Who??And beyond center Ryan Kalil, the offensive line remains a major area of concern in Carolina. Who's going to protect the $100 million investment?The Panthers' defense is the best in the division. There's no disputing that. But this offense is going to hold them back. There's no disputing that, either.4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-12After an uneven performance in the preseason opener, Jameis Winston felt compelled to tell Bucs faithful to remain calm."Fans, please don't panic about one half of football," Winston said Tuesday night on WDAE-AM, via JoeBucsFan.com. "Please, there's no reason to. We did some great things and we're going to build on the positives."That, to me, felt like an overreaction to everyone panicking around the Bucs.What was even more telling, though, was Lovie Smith saying the No. 1 overall pick's debut was a "typical Jameis Winston day."Huh? Going 9-for-19 with a pick is "typical"?As I wrote Monday, Winston looked like a rookie in his first start, with some good and some bad.If that was vintage Jameis, as Lovie indicated, it's going to be another long year in Tampa Bay.Very long.Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.
Based upon the 1st preseason game, I can understand the thought process. We didn’t look like a team that made many strides to get better based upon our showing against Minnesota. I don’t think I’d pick the Bucs to be better than 4th in the division right now either.However, you really can't tell anything about this team yet. By the time we get to the 3rd game we'll see if this is a young, upcoming team that will get better as the season goes on or if it will be one that will make marginal if any improvement through the season.I'm expecting the former, as it looks like we could be starting 4 rookies on the team. I'm expecting the defense to play better, but no outside rush is very concerning and I'm not seeing good play from the safety position yet. On offense, I expect no heroics from Winston. He may ultimately be a better quarterback than what we had last season, but I'm not expecting much, if any better play right out of the gate. Also, having two starting rookie linemen is worrisome as well. I'm mildly concerned that Lovie took over the defense from Frazier and wonder why that suddenly came about - if he wasn't happy with Frazier, he should have changed him out in the off season. To me, this team still looks like it is going to struggle on Sundays - but the good news is that the rest of the division doesn't look a heck of a lot better.
Adam Schein is a joke, always has been. I’m so glad I don’t have to listen to his annoying voice on Sirius NFL Radio anymore.As for his predictions. Sorry, the Saints aren't winning 9 games. Their defense is still horrible, Brees is not Brees anymore and they got rid of his best weapon - Jimmy Graham. If I was to pick a team to win the NFC South right now I'd say Atlanta - and I'm not too sold on their defense either. But I think they have the best QB in the division right now.
Before the KB injury I would have said:Carolina 10-6;Atlanta 9-7;Bucs 7-9;Saints 6-10. The KB injury is really going to hurt. I don't think he was as good as his traditional stats say - lots of garbage time TDs, tons of drops, targets to get his numbers. But, there was surely hope that he'd improve and that Funchess would at least provide a reasonable option B. Now they need Funchess to have a KB-rookie season just to tread water, and I don't think he's nearly as good (and he's been dinged with a hammy). I don't particularly like Atlanta, but Football Outsiders posted something a few weeks ago that suggested they are likely to bounce back. Since 2006, every team save one that has faced the easiest (by FO's DVOA measures) schedule has had a winning record. I figure that plus strong passing game, likely improved running game will overcome the defensive issues.
Right now, I’d say the Bucs Defense is no better than any other defense in our division.Also, I can't really say that our offense is any better than another team in our division. We are definitely the worst team in the NFC South, K. Benjamin or not.Atlanta is probably the best team in the NFCS based on last year and how the teams have shown through one game in the pre season. A lot can still change, but I think we finish last with 5 to 6 wins. Atlanta probably takes the division at 9-7 / 10-6.Carolina and NO duke it out for mediocrity at 7-9 / 8-8.
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