NFCS status report.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints

As long as the Saints have Drew Brees running the offense and Sean Payton calling the plays …

Mr. RedRight88 is on board today and he drew the NFC South.  Take it away Tom.  (The past division write-ups are linked here.   I couldn’t be much happier with the contributions; excellent work gents.)

NFC South breakdown


Saints-Falcons history goes back to the original Manning.

The NFC South is an interesting division, one that has yet to see a division champion repeat the following year.  That does not bode well for last year’s division champ, Carolina. In addition, each of its four teams – New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina – has won the division crown three times.  By comparison, New England has won the AFC East 10 times, while Indianapolis has won the AFC South eight times. It is also a division that Browns fans will become familiar with this fall, as Cleveland will host the Saints and the Buccaneers, while traveling to face the Falcons and the Panthers. Let’s take a look at the teams in predicted order of finish. And since it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if a draft pick is going to be successful or not (so many variables); so we are basing our letter grades on whether or not the off-season moves made sense and filled apparent needs.


New Orleans Saints

Re-signed: T Zach Strief, OLB Parys Haralson, WR Robert Meachem, LB Ramon Humber, QB Luke McCown.
Veteran additions: CB Champ Bailey, FS Jairus Byrd, TE Erik Lorig.
Veteran subtractions: OT Charles Brown, DE Kenyon Coleman, FB Jed Collins, C Brian De La Puente, SS Eric Frampton, CB Jabari Greer, SS Roman Harper, LB Will Herring, FS Malcolm Jenkins, DT Tom Johnson, WR Lance Moore, S Jordan Pugh, DE Will Smith, LB Jonathan Vilma, RB Darren Sproles.
Draft picks: 1-Brandin Cooks (WR), 2-Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB), 4-Khairi Fortt (OLB), 5a-Vinnie Sunseri (S), 5b-Ronald Powell (OLB), 6-Tavon Rooks (OT).


Add Byrd/Bailey to Lewis/Vaccaro and you’ve got a strong d-backfield.

TM’s grade:  A.

As long as the Saints have Drew Brees running the offense and Sean Payton calling the plays, they have to be considered the favorites in the division.

New Orleans was selective about their own free agents, resigning seven while letting 15 walk away. The team definitely wanted to get younger – the average age of the players released was 30 – and healthier after seeing Smith miss all of 2013, Vilma play only one game and Greer land on season-ending injured reserve after Week 11.

The Saints were just as selective with outside free agents, going for quality – Jairus Byrd, the best safety on the market – over quantity.

In the draft they filled a hole at wide receiver with Brandin Cooks, who looks like a great fit for Payton’s offense, and in the secondary with cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who has the size (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) that NFL teams are looking for.

The only real question left is if the Saints can work out a long-term deal with tight end Jimmy Graham, who received the franchise tag from the team.  The tumblers start clicking into place June 17-18 when Graham’s grievance hearing (Is he a Wide Receiver or Tight End?) is held.



Carolina Panthers

Re-signed:  coach Ron Rivera, DT Colin Cole, QB Derek Anderson, LB Jason Williams.
Veteran additions: WR Jason Avant, CB Antoine Cason, WR Jerricho Cotchery, FS Thomas DeCoud, TE Ed Dickson, SS Roman Harper, TE Mike McNeill, WR Tiquan Underwood, WR Joe Webb.
Veteran subtractions: C Jeff Byers, OT Bruce Campbell, QB Jimmy Clausen, LB Dan Connor, CB Drayton Florence, WR Ted Ginn, OT Jordan Gross, G Geoff Hangartner, TE Ben Hartsock, WR Domenik Hixon, WR Brandon LaFell, SS Quintin Mikell, FS Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Jordan Senn, G Travelle Wharton, WR Steve Smith.
Draft picks: 1-Kelvin Benjamin (WR), 2-Kony Ealy (DE), 3-Trai Turner (G), 4-Tre Boston (S), 5-Bene Benwikere (CB), 6-Tyler Gaffney (RB).

TM’s grade: C-.


Newton won’t be mugging with LaFell and Ginn this year.

Wow, where to start?  The Panthers lost their four top wide receivers from 2013 – Steve Smith to Baltimore, Brandon LaFell to New England, Ted Ginn Jr. to Arizona and Domenik Hixon (who tore his ACL this week) to Chicago – and replaced them with No. 1 draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, and free agents Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood.  They join returning players Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King – who collectively have zero pass receptions as NFL receivers.

Want more?  Quarterback Cam Newton won’t be ready until training camp after undergoing surgery on his ankle, leaving it up to Derek Anderson and Joe Webb, signed to a one-year deal as a free agent, to try and get the receiving group up to speed.

But wait!  There’s still more!  Defensive end Greg Hardy is facing assault charges after allegedly throwing his ex-girlfriend into a tile tub, choking her and then throwing her onto a couch “covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns.”  (Something the Panthers are “disappointed in,” according to a team statement.)

The offensive line has also been rebuilt around Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil.  Following the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross, the Panthers are looking to move either tackle Byron Bell or guard Nate Chandler from the right side to the left tackle position.

The Panthers were fourth in total defense last year and second in points allowed, which goes a long way toward explaining how Carolina was 5-0 in one-score games after Week 2 of last season. If the defense can play at that high level again, the Panthers may be OK. If not … well, they better hope that the offense if full of quick learners.

The Benjamin and Ealy picks are nice ones, but the rest of the off-season was not very good. And while it is possible that after going 6-10 and 7-9 in his first two seasons, head coach Ron Rivera figured things out last season, it seems more likely that the 12-4 record the Panthers posted in 2013 was a bit of a fluke.


Atlanta Falcons

Re-signed: DL Jonathan Babineaux, DL Peria Jerry, G Joe Hawley, T Mike Johnson.
Veteran additions: CB Javier Arenas, G Jon Asamoah, G Gabe Carimi, WR Devin Hester, DE Tyson Jackson, TE Bear Pascoe, DT Paul Soliai, CB Josh Wilson, FS Dwight Lowery.
Veteran subtractions: TE Chase Coffman, WR Kevin Cone, FS Thomas DeCoud, DB Dominique Franks, LB Omar Gaither, G Sean Locklear, LB Stephen Nicholas, G Garrett Reynolds, CB Asante Samuel, FB Jason Snelling, OT Jeremy Trueblood, FB Bradie Ewing, WR Brian Robiskie.
Draft picks: 1-Jake Matthews (OT), 2-Ra’Shede Hageman (DT), 3-Dezmen Southward (S), 4a-Devonta Freeman (RB), 4b-Prince Shembo (OLB), 5a-Ricardo Allen (CB), 5b-Marquis Spruill (ILB), 7a-Yawin Smallwood (ILB), 7b-Tyler Starr (OLB).

TM’s grade: D.

The Falcons are turning into the NFC’s version of the New York Jets – you know their players – but you’re not really sure if they are really any good or not. With a roster of household names, including Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Babineaux, the Falcons will have more than their share of national TV appearances this fall.  They added to that list by bringing in Devin Hester to help in the return game, but for all his hype Hester has only returned one kick for a touchdown over the past two seasons, and he is not much to talk about as a wide receiver. The Falcons followed a similar pattern in the draft, selecting Jake Matthews with their first pick. Matthews may be good, but he may also be over-valued because of his last name.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints

Sad but Steven Jackson Falcons time is smelling like Jamaal Lewis’ Browns time.

The running game was almost as bad as the Browns last season, which is saying a lot, as Steven Jackson led the team with just 543 rushing yards and a 3.5 yards per carry average.  Jackson is entering his 11th season this year, and it seems unlikely that he will suddenly rediscover his youth.  But, yet, the Falcons didn’t do much to address the running back situation, other than draft Freeman (out of Florida State) in the fourth round.

Atlanta also didn’t do much of anything in an attempt to replace tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired after the 2013 season with 1,325 career receptions. The Falcons are hoping to find a tight end out of a grab bag of Adam Nissley, Bear Pascoe, Jacob Pedersen, Mickey Shuler, Andrew Szczerba, Levine Toilolo and Brian Wozniak – who have combined for 51 career receptions.

Whether or not the moves (or lack thereof) pay off for the Falcon hinges on quarterback Matt Ryan, who is already entering his seventh season this fall. Ryan falls into that category of a good quarterback, but probably not a great quarterback. The Falcons should be better than last year’s 4-12 record, but it’s hard to see them making much of a move on the division title.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Re-signed: G Jamon Meredith, CB Danny Gorrer, LB Jonathan Casillas.
Veteran additions: OT Anthony Collins, G Oniel Cousins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, LB Dane Fletcher, WR Lavelle Hawkins, CB Mike Jenkins, DE Michael Johnson, QB Josh McCown, DT Clinton McDonald, CB D.J. Moore, WR Louis Murphy, TE Brandon Myers, CB Alterraun Verner, FS Major Wright, LS Jeremy Cain.
Veteran subtractions: TE Kyle Adams, DB Michael Adams, TE Nate Byham, G Gabe Carimi, TE Tom Crabtree, LB Jacob Cutrera, LS Andrew Economos, DT Gary Gibson, LB Adam Hayward, RB Michael Hill, G Davin Joseph, DT Derek Landri, FB Spencer Larsen, G Ted Larsen, RB Brian Leonard, K Rian Lindell, TE Erik Lorig, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Darrelle Revis, DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, K Lawrence Tynes, WR Tiquan Underwood, LB Dekoda Watson, OT Donald Penn, C Jeremy Zuttah, WR Mike Williams.
Draft picks: 1-Mike Evans (WR), 2-Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE), 3-Charles Sims (RB), 5a-Kadeem Edwards (G), 5b-Kevin Pamphile (OT), 6-Robert Herron (WR).

TM’s grade:  B.

Buccaneers Minicamp Football-1

Probable bump over last year’s coach.

We feel like the Buccaneers deserve a high grade simply because they made the best possible move they could last season by firing head coach Greg Schiano after just two seasons and an 11-21 record. Tampa learned, like so many teams before them, that college coaches don’t work in the NFL.  (And don’t bother brining up Pete Carroll or Jim Harbaugh; they were not college coaches in the true sense.) While Lovie Smith isn’t going to be leading Tampa to any championships, he is at least a viable NFL head coach.

We have to penalize the Bucs a bit, though, because they then turned around and became the latest team to get lulled by the siren song of the backup quarterback, signing Josh McCown (who is now on his sixth NFL team) as a free agent. McCown went 3-2 in five starts for Chicago last season, throwing 13 touchdowns against one interception. For his career, he is 16-22 as a starter and has only started more than six games twice in his career.

They also lose points after unveiling what may be the worst uniforms in the NFL. (And ones that fill us with dread over what the Browns could be cooking up.)  How a team can go from once having Buccaneer Bruce and some of the sweetest uniforms in the league to the current abomination is a puzzle.

Other than that, Mike Evans seems like a good pick, although he is sure to miss catching the ball from Johnny Manziel, but while improved, it doesn’t seem as if the Bucs did enough to really make much of a difference in the division.


TM’s projected records.

  1. Saints, 11-5
  2. Panthers, 8-8
  3. Falcons, 7-9
  4. Bucs, 5-11


  • maxfnmloans

    Wow, looks like lots of people here are like minded on the Bucs. I generally hate being part of the crowd, but I have to agree here. That defense already had some useful pieces and now that Lovie is in town…look for McCoy to get DPOY consideration. As far as the offense, I think McCown can do just enough to make Lovie and the fans happy (at least this year).

    For some reason I see Carolina falling back to the pack this year (mainly because on offense its Cam and…? if Cam gets hurt, look out below). It’s a toss up who I think will be worse between ATL and CAR, but in the absence of projecting an injury to Cam, I guess I’d have to say ATL. Their defense is going to be “you aint go no alibi” ugly, and with no running game to help Ryan out, yikes (plus, Ryan is one of those QBs who I think was being anointed as one of the next “elites” way, way , way too early (but thats more of a function of how horrible the media is than anything). I think he’s competent, but not a world beater by any means.

    Anywho, I’m going to say the Bucs surprise everyone and win the division on a tiebreaker, with an identical record to the Saints. Both CAR and ATL finish under .500


    Tampa over 7 wins is one of my top picks. McCown throwing to another set of twin towers like in Chicago along with Dougie Martin coming back and the Bucs should be able to score lots of points. Defense with Lovie should be just good enough for a 9-7 type season. Carolina under is my 2nd pick. Rivera will be gone. Saints set at 10+ wins although loss of Sproles is huge. ATL will improve only bc of injury factor but that defense is old and terrible. Btw don’t sleep on Devonte Freeman. He will be the starter very early in season. He’s a sleeper ROY if you want to take a shot. Good work

    • add ASJ to the twin towers too. and tampa’s defense — damn. add mjohnson and verner to gmccoy and ldavid and goldson and theyve got slew bunch of playmakers. that over seven seems too easy… what are we missing?

      • CLEVTA

        Not missing anything. They absolutely blew 3 games in flukey manner- Jets, SEA, Saints and in reality should’ve gone 7-9 while facing the NFC West. Also with the injuries, Freeman and a rookie QB. This team is much better and I count 6-7 games min that they’ll be favored. Check out the first 5 gms on that schedule. Can easily go 4-1/5-0 to start then it’s a gm hedging exercise if you want.

      • maxfnmloans

        do you think its possible Tampa still pays a “tax” in Vegas due to the fact that other than the few years with Dungy (and one or two with Gruden) they have been historically bad for a long, long time? Maybe it keeps the casual bettors away, thus keeping the o/u win total down?

        • nah. i think it’s more likely the valid concern about the mccown-glennon qb sitch. doesnt bug me but i could see how it’d be a worry for some.

          • Petefranklin

            The sharps are all over the Bucs over this year.

    • actovegin1armstrong

      “Btw don’t sleep on Devonte Freeman. He will be the starter very early in season. He’s a sleeper ROY if you want to take a shot.”

      Well, I do not know what a ROY is, I do not speak, french, or hockey, but I know that you copied my Devonta pick. Changing one letter will not make it original; you sauntering image of unwed parents CleveTA.

      • CLEVTA

        Rookie of the Year=ROY

        • actovegin1armstrong

          I know, I was making another feeble attempt at humor. I figured anything that can even slightly malign a french Canadian is a good idea.
          I thought I was the only kid on the Devonta train, he is disparaged because he played on a good team. I do not understand that it is like dismissing Russell Westbrook’s talent because he played at UCLA.

          • CLEVTA

            Ah. I liked Freeman all last season. He’s a little bowling ball of fire. Plus ATL has a good offense, improved line and S Jac is breaking down so the opportunity will be there. To me Sankey, Freeman, Evans, T West and Amaro are my leading ROY candidates.

          • actovegin1armstrong

            You can have those guys, I am going to rest upon my Russel Wilson, Doug Martin, Albert Morris laurels. Along with my “RG3 is an injury looking for a place to happen” quote. (Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.)
            I really got lucky with that draft.

          • CLEVTA

            Not sure what that means

          • actovegin1armstrong

            CleveTA, I am not sure either, but I am sticking to my guns.
            “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing”
            I am the dummest guy I know, so I have got that going for me.

          • Petefranklin

            Goongala goongala!

          • actovegin1armstrong

            Alright, I am wrong again and I shall stand corrected.
            I am the second dummest guy I know.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    Great job Tom!
    The Saints picked up Bailey and Byrd, terrific additions and perhaps they can help my not exactly favorite CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It will also really help that SJB did not go to a team that plays in the ice and snow on a regular basis, the key to maintaining coverage and keeping one’s feet underneath in inclement weather is short steps with a very rapid turnover, this is exactly the opposite of SJB’s style.The “experts” say the key is big feet, but then how come snow tires are deep lugged and narrow. Rob Ryan should have fun with these guys, disguise press, play zone.
    Also an early prediction, one of my favorite retreads Derek Anderson will lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl victory over Brady Quinn and the Bills. (The Bills are about to sign Brady Quinn.)
    Hate to admit this, but I like Devonta Freeman, but they probably could have waited at least one more pick to get him. Freeman will be one of the better rookie running backs if he gets playing time.
    Also excited to see how jk’s guy Mike Evans does in the NFL.

  • just going down the list..

    saints — lofton and hawthorne at ILB were their two weakest links on defense and they’re still showing up as starters on the depth chart. cameron jordan has emerged as a force and sure mosley and shazier were off the board early but it still seems like a hole. otoh, dome teams with payton-brees aren’t subject to the conventional rules of roster building.

    panthers — early signs of promise for kelvin benjamin in camp. that’s good because panthers really need things to break right for them to sniff the playoffs again this year.

    falcons — soliai is a nice FA pickup. o-line is a problem even with jake matthews. the peter konz whiff very costly.

    bucs — adding verner, mjohnson, evans, seferian-jenkins so second year improvers barron and banks plus vjax and PFF’s DPOY gerald mccoy .. and a coach who players play for. man, i got the bucs in the playoffs and lean toward them winning their division.

    bucs 10-6, saints 10-6, panthers 8-8, falcons 3-13.

    • mgbode

      another enjoyable read and good analysis.

      following kanick’s format:

      NO – I don’t understand the grade of ‘A’. Graham is still unsigned, they lost a ton of talent (cap issues, but it still counts), and their defense is still quite suspect. I get that they could win the division (Brees+Payton=Always a Chance), but it has little to do with their offseason.

      Panthers – Agree on WR corps. Ugh. And, I don’t trust Benjamin’s dropsies especially when he’s a rookie that will always get bracket coverage including the tougher CB. I mean, who else is Newton throwing towards? Cam is going to have to go back to his rookie roots and run more this year to keep them competitive IMO (and hope he doesn’t get hurt).

      Falcons – Asamoah + Carimi + Matthews. At least they focused on keeping Ryan upright. Give him time and he’ll find Roddy and Julio (if they can stay healthy). I was hoping they’d get a TE in the draft though. I think Matt Ryan is one of the elite guys in the NFL though, so I’m a bit biased towards them.

      Bucs – Love Lovie. Love Verner, Johnson and even Myers and Murphy adds (on smaller scales). Love Evans + V-Jax combo. I think they are going to be a really disciplined team with some big time potential. I cannot quite be convinced they have enough on defense to get it done in year1 with Lovie though.

      • I definitely struggled with the grading aspect as I don’t know the teams well enough. But I looked at what each team needed and the Saints need WR and help in the secondary and they addressed that. They signed Byrd, who I wanted for the Browns, drafted a CB and Cooks could light it up in this offense.

        But I’m certainly open and not opposed to anyone lowering the grade.

        • welp the thing is: no one knows. like, (most) everyone had the texans on top last year and i believe a majority had the falcons winning their division. who saw the chargers in the playoffs or the cardinals 10-6?

          one of the best parts of having you all weigh in with your perspectives is to avoid being blindsided if the lions manage to come in at 9-7 (TA) or if the titans win their divison (acto) or if the bucs finish last (you). conventional wisdom is wrong or much as it’s right on these things.

          i really truly enjoy the hell out of taking a second look at these teams from a different perspective.

        • mgbode

          no worries, just offering my perspective on it. I think they lost a lot more talent and depth than most state. Whether that has an effect on their record remains to be seen.

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