Thursday, July 26, 2007

NFL Questions: NFC South

Welcome to the carnival that since 2003 has given us a different division champion each year(Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers, Saints - in that order), the soon-to-see must-see-TV on CourtTV involving Michael Vick (I know I promised, but when talking about this division his name is going to come up), the never at home Saints, the Panthers TopCats making out in a bathroom stall...Let's face it, other than the story of the resurgent Saints last season and what it meant to New Orleans, it hasn't been a good couple of years for the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons - Can Bobby Petrino make the jump from NCAA to NFL? By all accounts, Petrino is a knowledgeable and innovative football man. He was brought in by management in the hopes that he might finally be able to make Vick what the Falcons had always hoped he would become - a credible NFL quarterback and team leader. With the federal indictment Vick's first concern and the ever growing likelihood that he will never put on a Falcons jersey again...unless he's feeling sentimental, now Petrino needs only worry about succeeding where many other college coaches (Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban - I'm looking at you) have failed in recent years.

Yes, he has experience in the pros that predates his college experience, however, so did Saban. Ultimately, Atlanta's season will come down to how well he adjusts to the pro-game - and that includes how much he can convince the players to buy into what he is selling.

Carolina Panthers - After the last couple of seasons, I think the obvious question they have enough depth? The Panthers have suffered through inconsistent play since their loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Invariably, the offense has suffered for the lack of one person - whenever receiver Steve Smith went down, they struggled. Whenever the starting running back went down, they struggled. When they lost Jake Delhomme, they struggled. When Julius Peppers got banged up, they struggled. More often than not, these injuries did not coincide with each other.

If they stay healthy, they could be the team to beat. If even one key piece goes down, they could be 8-8 - unless the back-ups play better than they did the last couple of years. On the plus side - David Carr will push Delhomme for the starting spot, and is a clear upgrade from Chris Weinke.

New Orleans Saints - Can they avoid the sophomore slump? Last season the Saints were the feel-good story of the NFL complete with late round rookies starting. Now the Saints have to hope that, with the film that now exists, players like Marques Colston, Terrence Copper, Reggie Bush, are able to deal with the added pressure that defenses are likely to put on them in their sophomore year. As those three go, so go the Saints.

Tampa Bay Bucanneers - Is this team really built to win? It's a broad question, but one I think needs to be asked of a team that has suffered from age and injury in recent years. Beyond 35-year old Joey Galloway, the team's best options at receiver are former first-round flop and steroid test failer David Boston, Ike Hilliard who has had progressively fewer receptions in each of the last three seasons (33 last season), and Michael Clayton who has 80 receptions in his rookie year, but hasn't even amassed 35 in a season since. At quarterback they have a choice between the inconsistent Chris Simms, or a decent Jeff Garcia who will need a solid running attack to win - he's not going to win getting into a serious shooting match at this stage of his career.

Between Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Kevin Carter, Brian Kelly, Greg Spires and Simeon Rice they have 69 years of NFL service. Not necessarily what you want when you run a smaller defense predicated on speed rather than power. Could they still win with these guys - it's possible, but the older a player gets, the less the tank seems full at the end of the season.

No comments: