2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: NFC South (Woodhull)
Here are my 2013 preseason predictions for the NFC South:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (schedule): 11-5
Last year, I believed in the Bucs, but I ended up disappointed in their 7-9 finish. Their defense was stout up front with an underrated front-seven, anchored by former first-round pick Gerald McCoy at tackle and second-year linebacker Lavonte David. It was the back-end of the defense that got lit up each week, giving up an NFL-worst 298 yards per game.
They addressed this by trading for Darrelle Revis, one of the NFL’s best shut-down corners before tearing his ACL last year. Even 90 percent of Revis Island will make a huge improvement. In addition, they picked up Dashon Goldson from San Francisco at free safety, another upgrade.
They’ll improve the health of their offensive line by having both Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks healthy for the full season (or closer to it). Shoring up their blocking is a huge boost to Josh Freeman, who struggled at times. They still have big receiving targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside. Last year Doug Martin put up one the best rookie seasons for any running back, and consistency in running the ball will be invaluable to the offensive continuity.
They addressed their needs and this team is ready to win.
2. Atlanta Falcons (schedule): 10-6
The Falcons benefited from the easiest schedule in the NFL last year, but things will be a little tougher this year. I’ve been down on the Falcons because they couldn’t run the ball consistently last year and were weak in stopping the run. The former they tried to address this offseason by bringing in Steven Jackson to be their primary rusher. Although Michael Turner was looking slow and old at times, the blocking up front was inadequate and Jackson will also struggle to find holes to run through.
On the defensive side of the ball, they brought in Osi Umenyiora – a one-dimensional defensive end – to replace the loss of John Abraham. Umenyiora will improve a lackluster pass rush, however, the bigger issue was their need to address their inability to stop the run — 21st in rush defense last year. The poor rush defense was despite their ability to build early leads in a lot of their contests, forcing the other team to pass.
The vertical passing game still looks to be the best in the NFL as Matt Ryan seems to be able to throw at will to Julio Jones and Roddy White. The explosive offense will lead them to double-digit wins again this year, but they will struggle against the better teams and a tougher schedule this year.
3. New Orleans Saints (schedule): 8-8
Only picking eight wins for the Saints is a little scary for me because they were able to win seven games last year without a head coach. Now Sean Payton is back and leading what could be the NFL's best offense. Peeling away the shell of insanity that was last year, we are left with one of the most dynamic and talented offenses in football.
The problem has been the Saints defense.
With Payton back in charge, the first order of business was to upgrade the 32nd-ranked defense – which was done by changing coordinators to Rob Ryan. Ryan installed a 3-4 defense, which is his preferred base defense; however, the Saints may not have the talent to support it. The Saints are lacking pass-rushing defensive ends and their secondary is down-right poor.
The Saints could be a threat to win any week, especially if they are in a shootout, but their defense will be a liability.
4. Carolina Panthers (schedule): 7-9
This is Ron Rivera’s third year coaching the Panthers, who are coming off a strong finish to last year as they won their last four games. Signs are pointing in the right direction.
They are filling out talent on the defensive side of the ball, and rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei can make an immediate impact. Lotulelei will be a great complement for existing defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who combined for 23.5 sacks last year. The linebackers are also above par with last year’s first-round pick, Luke Kuechly and former Pro Bowler Jon Beason.
The offensive side of the ball has lots of holes though.
Cam Newton has had flashes of greatness and has the physical tools, but there continue to be knocks on his maturity. Further, the skill positions are all aging and the line is below average. If the Panthers are able to develop a running game with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who begins the year on the PUP list, they will have some success. I just don’t see it as being consistent from game to game.
They’ll struggle with the tough division and Rivera will be on the hot seat — if not out the door as they finish under .500.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.