NFC South: 4 Questions, 4 Analysts

| September 2, 2012

The up-and-coming Panthers make the South no longer just a two-team conversation. Our team agrees that the Saints and Falcons should still vie for the top spot, but Cam Newton & Co. will provide one more worry for each of them along the way. Even the Buccaneers boast a breakout player and a rookie to watch, making this division an interesting view top to bottom.

Who covers the over/under? Who advances to the postseason? Which new names will make a splash and which youngsters should you keep an eye on? Our analysis team chats on the NFC South.

 

Who is the one player from this division you see having a breakout year?

Sam: It has become a league of running back by committee, and though the Falcons were one of the few teams to buck that trend (feeding Michael Turner the ball as often as they could), even they have admitted that they want to share that load more in 2012. Enter Jacquizz Rodgers, a player who I think could have a big year as a second option for the Falcons. Rodgers is a short, shifty back who runs the ball well but is also a weapon in the passing game. He may not put up huge numbers, but he should step into a much bigger role in that offense.

Neil: How about going deep, deep undercover to highlight prospective pass rushing star Junior Galette? With Will Smith suspended, many are wondering where the Saints’ pressure comes from without Greg Williams’ extreme blitzes. I would ask you to keep your eyes peeled for No. 93 who last year managed 34 QB disruptions on 339 pass rushes.

Khaled: It’s about time more people started to realize how good a player Michael Bennett is. Contributes on every down and plays like he’s fighting for a job on every snap and that shows up in the number of plays he makes. Will never be an elite rusher but could turn himself into one of the league’s premier left defensive ends. Just ask Ray Edwards, that pays pretty well.

Ben: After taking over from the retiring Olin Kreutz part way through last season, Brian De La Puente put together a relatively solid season in his fourth year since being undrafted out of the University of California. After a full offseason as the Saints’ No. 1 in the middle of the offensive line De La Puente should be in for a big season on what is still one of the very strongest O-lines in the entire league. Stationed between two Pro Bowl caliber guards (Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans) he can, with a more consistent season than last year, form the strongest interior offensive line in the entire league.

 

The over/under lines for season win totals in the division have been set at: New Orleans 10; Atlanta 9; Carolina 7.5; Tampa bay 6. On which team would you put your theoretical $100?

Sam: It is going to need a step-up from Cam Newton, who I think was far from the passer that his gaudy rookie stats led people to believe, but he has the kind of drive and work ethic to make that leap. If he does, the Panthers become good value to get eight wins or more and beat that line.

Neil: This is the toughest one of the lot as I see everything the odds makers have done as about right. Therefore, I’m going with Carolina to get more than 7.5 wins but it won’t be by much.

Khaled: They’ve become somewhat predictable, the Atlanta Falcons: double-digit wins before being one-and-done in the playoffs. Yawn. I don’t see the first part of that changing, if this side could do enough to win the games they should, and keep it close enough against better opposition where they’re in position to strike. I’ll take the over on them even if they won’t win the division.

Ben: The Saints may not have Sean Payton patrolling the sideline this season, but they still have Drew Brees under center, an experienced play-caller, an outstanding offensive line, and similar defensive personnel with a better defensive coordinator. I’m not buying that the Saints will struggle this season and with an over/under line of 10 wins, that looks like easy money to me for New Orleans with the over.

 

Which rookie are you most looking forward to seeing in action?

Sam: I watched a couple of BC games in the background a couple of years back just idly noticing this linebacker making near every tackle on defense. Then when I listened to the stories about this guy who had been a first round stud before being diagnosed with cancer and was now attempting a comeback I figured it must have been Mark Herzlich I had seen. It wasn’t until I started seeing highlight reels from Luke Kuechly that I realized he had been the tackling machine I’d seen before. I’m now really curious to see if he remains one at the NFL level

Neil: Although Panthers rookie left guard Amini Silatolu took a step back against the Jets last week, he wasn’t awful and must have learned a lot. I want to see how he develops and if he can dominate less able opposition.

Khaled: I might be stealing Neil’s answer here, but after listening to what he had to say about Amini Silatolu I’m excited to see if he lives up to the hype.

Ben: The Bucs already have a great running back to watch in the shape of LeGarrette Blount but I’m really looking forward to seeing what Doug Martin can do for them as a three-down option. Because of their reticence in using Blount on passing downs, their offense was left shorthanded last season as they were chasing games more often than not. Martin will allow them to have a quality back on the field at all times and to make smarter use of Blount as well. With a new head coach who apparently likes to run the ball a lot, I’m excited to see Martin in isolation, but also in terms of how the Bucs may use both backs in combination.

 

Who is going to make the playoffs and who is going to win it all?

Sam: The Saints and the Falcons have been battling for playoff spots from this division from the last few years, but I think the Panthers will be the team to force their way into that fight this year. I still think the Saints may well top the division, their offense is just too potent not to, even with missing parts, but Carolina can challenge for a wild card spot.

Neil: New Orleans is the only team to progress from this division. While the Falcons’ offense will take a step forward, I think the defense goes back… at least for this year. In a big statement to the league, deploying an ‘us against the world’ mentality, the Saints once again raise the Lombardi Trophy and Drew Brees leapfrogs Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s best player.

Khaled: I kept telling myself the Saints had got stronger with the moves they made in free agency. But I think to myself now, with their linebackers all battling injuries and their head coach and leader gone, they’re in for a rough few months. Of course, they could quite as easily ride Drew Brees all the way to the Super Bowl, so I’ll go with the safe choice of a Saints-Falcons one-two with both being contenders in January.

Ben: This is again a two-horse race in the Deep South. Cam Newton may have been phenomenal as a rookie, but I don’t see this team taking a step forward, particularly against what looks like it might be a brutal schedule. The Saints and Falcons will duke it out for the division title and I think if Atlanta sticks with their up-tempo offense and really take it to teams–particularly the Saints–all season, they’ll edge the division title. Will the Falcons be able to get that win they’re missing in January though? I’ll wait and see on that.

 

Follow the team on Twitter: @PFF_Sam, @PFF_Khaled@PFF_Neil … and our main feed: @PFF

 

  • PaulK

    Last year, my over-under statistics predictions were
    remarkably accurate for the first half of the season and remarkably contrary
    indicators for the second half of the season.
    In the end I didn’t do any better than you folks.

    This year I added a new kicker to my numbers. I counted first downs scored by the starters
    on both teams, and fed this information into my proprietary eat-it-all
    software. I’m putting out my calls because
    I have some expectation of accuracy, and I’d like to prove my accuracy in real
    time. Based on last year’s results I pretty much expect to
    outperform you all over the first 8 or 9 games, but the over-under is for a 17
    game season so that’s what counts.

    AFC East: Buffalo
    under. Buffalo may be everybody’s
    darling but Fitzpatrick showed too little sign of recovery in preseason. What if he never does recover? Too
    many weak divisions will regress toward the mean, so it’s not always that good
    counting on a weak schedule for wins.

    AFC North: Cleveland
    over. I like teams from a smaller market with a reputation for failing teams, quietly performing in preseason against opponents.

    AFC South:
    Jacksonville over, for the same reasons as Cleveland above.

    The AFC West has by far my weakest statistical
    predictions. If Khalid could split his
    choices in 2011, I’ll do the same.
    Oakland over and Kansas City over.
    Neither team has much of a reputation for succeeding and neither has a
    huge fan base. Both seem to have shown
    reasonable teams this preseason. Denver had a great preseason, and that is already accounted for. What if P. Manning’s poor neck only lasts half a season?

    NFC East:
    Philadelphia under. There’s too
    much chance that relatively diminuative grandpa Michael Vick isn’t going to
    last 16 games, or that he has already been playing injured in preseason. Philly has a history of having winning records
    and is a huge town, a good combination for choosing an under.

    NFC North: Green Bay
    over. Green Bay was a quality product,
    murdering teams regularly last year and in preseason.
    Just because the coach’s son died tragically last postseason and the
    team lost heart for one game is no reason to downgrade it this year. Green Bay is a small town with few hometown
    bettors, a good play for an over.

    NFC South: New
    Orleans over. I’ll assume that most of
    the punishments inflicted on the team by the Commissioner won’t affect the
    team’s near-term prospects. Draft
    choices usually blossom in the second year.
    I’m assuming that Coach Sean Payton will be replaced by all of his
    assistants without too much dropoff.
    Tons of bad press may have driven people away from the team. However, I haven’t seen any actual dropoff in
    preseason.

    NFC West: Saint
    Louis under. This team has been
    terrible all preseason and had a sterling record of being terrible last
    year. A new coach means a new offense
    and defense. The Rams traded a great
    draft position into 2013. What’s not to
    hate for 2012?

  • Samer

    Tampa Bay obviously was underrated big time in this article.