|How is this guy a successful running back? How?!|
Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's once again head south, this time to check out the NFC South...where every team is actually in the South! And also where the Saints can heal an entire city just by winning a few football games. Yes, they housed, fed, and clothed everybody in New Orleans thanks to their amazing athletic talent. Everybody. Whatever. In case you missed them, here are the other division's I've previewed.
I know making fun of people/teams is kind of my thing, but there's not much to rip on here. This division features a recent Super Bowl champion (who is still really good), the defending #1 overall seed in the NFC, and one of the best up-and-coming young teams in football. Oh yeah, and also the absolute worst team in all of sports. At least there's that! Let the Cam Newton era begin!!!
1. New Orleans Saints: 12-4
Biggest Addition: DT Aubrayo Franklin - I ripped on the 49ers for not working harder to retain him, so now it's time to praise New Orleans for landing him. As I mentioned in my NFC West preview, according to Football Outsiders, Franklin has ranked in the top 5 for stop rate vs. the run in each of the past two seasons. We all know about the Saints explosive offense, but a big improvement on their 16th ranked run defense would be huge, especially for a team that likes to dial up risky blitzes as much as New Orleans does. Franklin's massive presence inside, along with fellow new addition Shaun Rogers, should give them more freedom to use their linebackers and safeties, which is exactly what DC Gregg Williams is best at.
Biggest Loss: Not RB Reggie Bush - OK, so I'm cheating a bit here. Sue me. All I want to say is that Reggie Bush is one of the bigger busts of our generation and that he was essentially useless to the Saints last season (and mostly useless before that). He managed to play only 8 games last season, and totalled a meager 358 total yards from scrimmage. If you include his return yardage, he only had 482 all-purpose yards last year! That's it! So, if he's not effective as a runner, receiver, or returner...what good is he? Going along with that theme, ESPN's Pat Yasinkas posted some interesting information on the NFC South Blog last week suggesting the Saints were better without Bush on the field.
"Since joining the team in 2006, Bush missed 20 games. In those games, the Saints went 13-7. That's a .650 winning percentage. In games Bush played, the Saints went 36-24 (.600).Interesting stuff indeed. Perhaps irrelevant, but interesting nonetheless. Regardless, Bush's replacement, Darren Sproles, is a far superior version of him. Nice work New Orleans.
But we have much more than that. In games with Bush since 2006, the Saints averaged 25.9 points. Without him, they averaged 29.8. In games Bush played, the Saints averaged 377.4 yards per game. When he didn't play, they averaged 419.8.
The Saints completed 66.5% of their passes when Bush played. When he didn't, they completed 67.6%."
Biggest Question: Can Drew Brees stop throwing the ball to the other team? Brees threw a career high 22 INT's last season and had an INT% of under 100 for the first time since 2003. An 11-5 finish isn't terribly disappointing, but it rings a bit hollow when you rank in the top 6 in both total offense and total defense. The Saints -6 TO margin is a big reason why they didn't win a few more games, and that starts with Brees.
Summary: I nearly gave them 13 wins because I totally buy into this team. Most of their failures last season can be attributed to fluke circumstances such as injury and an abnormally high turnover rate. Even if Brees cuts his INT's to 17, those extra 5 turnovers could easily mean two more wins. Most of all, I think they did an amazing job of addressing their areas of concern. The "Reggie Bush" position is actually important in their offense, and upgrading to Darren Sproles is a big deal. He won't be a major factor in the run game, but they'll know how to best utilize him in the passing game. Also, his work on special teams should help give the Saints the type of field position advantage they enjoyed a few years ago. Finally, it's always a good thing when you get two stud interior defensive linemen like Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers (fat). New Orleans allowed 4.27 yards per rushing attempt last season. With those two behemoths inside, I'd be shocked if that number didn't dramatically go down.
2. Atlanta Falcons: 10-6
Biggest Addition: DE Ray Edwards - Edwards' free agent journey was far more interesting than it got credit for. Edwards started out as an overrated, overhyped pass rusher who was set to cash in big thanks to being "the other guy" next to Jared Allen and the Williams Wall. Then, Edwards was criminally overlooked by teams in need of pass rush help and became underrated due to being "the other guy." Thanks to this, Atlanta landed Edwards for a relatively modest price, especially when compared to their other pass rush targets like Charles Johnson. Unfortunately, the pendulum always swings back to where it came. It did so with Edwards when analysts noticed the great value Atlanta got him for and he thus became overrated once again when they predicted he would single handedly save Atlanta's pass rush. Great story. My role in this story stopped before Edwards became overrated again. I like him, he's good...but he's not a star. Still, Atlanta desperately needs some help. John Abraham was the only Falcon to record double digit sacks last season...the next highest was 4! Since Abraham has actually been in the NFL since the late '70's, there's a decent chance his production falls off soon. In total, the Falcons only had 31 sacks last season, and they badly need help on the edge. Edwards probably isn't a double digit sack guy, but 6-8 would be worth a lot to Atlanta.
Biggest Loss: Lady Luck - No, seriously, I think the Falcons were the luckiest team alive last year. At 13-3, you would expect them to be one of the more dominant teams in the NFL, but the stats just don't bear that out. Atlanta finished just 16th in total offense, and 16th in total defense. They also had a crazy easy schedule (Carolina X2, Cincinnati, Cleveland, NFC West), won 7 games by 7 points or less (3 by a FG or less!), and had a +14 TO margin. Now, I'm not saying they totally lucked into the #1 overall seed...that's just ridiculous. They're a good football team and they'll likely make the playoffs again this year. But do you really think they were the "best" team in the NFC last season?
Biggest Question: How is Michael Turner good when he is shaped like a pear? Seriously, I can never understand how pear shaped people succeed in sports. It makes a bit more sense in slow pitch softball, a game built for overweight, pear shaped, beer guzzling men...but professional football? At running back? Color me confused.
Summary: Atlanta will take a step back this season, but there's no reason to think they'll fall back into typical Falcons mediocrity. Matt Ryan's breakthrough season was legit, even if he isn't the "Next Joe Montana" that Colin Cowherd so desperately wants him to be. With Ryan, Roddy White, and Pear Man carrying the offense, the Falcons will be fine offensively. Rookie WR Julio Jones should also make an impact, though rookie receivers are often risky business. Winning close games became an art for them last season, but the playoff debacle against Green Bay was not an aberration. Atlanta simply does not have enough playmakers on defense to compete at that level, and they've done nothing to change that.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-8
Biggest Addition: Nobody! Tampa Bay had around $60MIL to play with and they did next to nothing with it. Seriously, you couldn't have overpaid somebody on a one year deal or something? I've talked about this a couple times before, so I won't spend too much time on it, but I think they should have made aggressive plays for Johnathan Joseph and Sidney Rice. Offer big dollar front loaded contracts and you've set yourself up with two good young players and tons of cap flexibility going forward. Yet...nothing. Makes no sense.
Biggest Loss: The people they could have signed in free agency. While we're back on the topic, did you know that Tampa Bay sat on their hands for the entire freaking free agent period!!! THEY COULD HAVE SIGNED GOOD PLAYERS!!!
Biggest Question: WHY DIDN'T THEY SIGN ANYBODY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Summary: Moving off this free agent obsession for one second, I think Tampa Bay is going to take a step back before they take another step forward. A lot of other NFC teams improved during the offseason while Tampa Bay did nothing, so they kind of put themselves in a tough situation for this year. Still, there's so much young talent on this roster! Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, and Mike Williams are great building blocks for their future and I have no doubt that the offense will be humming by midseason. The big question marks lie on the defensive side of the ball. The Aqib Talib situation will go a long ways in determing how far the Bucs can go this year. He's one of the best CB's in the game, and replacing him will be near impossible. The other concern is getting to the QB. Tampa Bay managed only 26 sacks last season, with Stylez G. White leading the way at just 4.5. I'm not expecting anyone to go crazy with 15 sacks or anything, but they need to get more consistent pressure. Gerald McCoy in particular is the lynchpin. He projects as an extremely disruptive player in the middle, and he needs to start living up to his potential for this team to compete in the division. As it stands, Tampa Bay is decidely behind New Orleans and Atlanta. In addition, a far tougher schedule awaits them this year, with games vs. Indianapolis, vs. Chicago, vs. Houston, @Green Bay, and vs. Dallas...in addition to the four games against New Orleans and Atlanta. Good luck.
4. Carolina Panthers: 2-14
Biggest Addition: Next year's #1 overall pick and the opportunity to give up on Cam Newton after one historically bad season.
Biggest Loss: Pride, dignity, respectability. What's that? They already lost those? Oh, OK.
Biggest Question: Will Cam Newton set the all time record for most INT's in a season? The current record is 42, set by George Blanda back in 1962. Peyton Manning actually has the record for most INT's thrown in one season by a rookie (28). I'd say Peyton is almost assuredly off the hook for that one, and George Blanda better watch out! Also, I'd like to go out on a limb and say that Cam Newton is probably not the next Peyton Manning. Just a thought...
Summary: Admittedly, my analysis is blinded by my pure hatred of all things Cam Newton. Still, it's not like I'm going way out on a limb by saying the 2 win 2010 Panthers are only going to manage 2 wins in 2011. They ranked dead last in passing offense, by a longshot, so I suppose it wouldn't be difficult to improve on that. Also, injuries to key offensive linemen, DeAngelo Williams, and Steve Smith were factors last year too. If they can stay healthy, and if the defense can continue to play solidly, and if Cam Newton can come close to resembling a pro QB, and if they can get the running game going again...I guess they could win 4 or 5 games. Maybe. Of course, they drastically downgraded at head coach too. Whatever, this is going to be a train wreck. I'm done wasting time on them.