2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: NFC South (Yanotchko)
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Here are my 2013 NFC South preseason predictions:
1. Atlanta Falcons (schedule): 11-5
The Falcons were one pass away in the end zone from reaching the Super Bowl last year. For Mike Smith and crew, it is championship or the season is a failure this year.
Atlanta has one of the most potent passing attacks in the league with target machine Roddy White, Julio Jones to stretch the field, and a Hall of Fame tight end in waiting with Tony Gonzalez over the middle. The Falcons have also added Steven Jackson to their offense, and he will give Matt Ryan the receiving threat out of the backfield on all downs.
The Falcons have bolstered their defense by adding veteran pass rusher Osi Umenyiora, and also drafted highly touted Desmond Trufant to take the corner opposite Asante Samuel. The Falcons have reloaded for yet another campaign, and they will be the first team in a long time to repeat as NFC South champs.
2. New Orleans Saints (schedule): 10-6 Wildcard
The Saints will be getting back one of their most vital parts in head coach Sean Payton, who is off suspension for the bounty scandal. The Saints struggled last year like a ship without a rudder, and I can foresee Payton and superstar quarterback Drew Brees taking the NOLA offense to new heights. The Saints have the best passing attack in the league hands down, and they have so many skilled recievers with Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, and the tight end no team can match up with in Jimmy Graham.
The Saints faltered mightily on defense last year, and coordinator Rob Ryan will look to improve on last year's poor performance. NOLA will have a huge chip on their shoulder, and they will come back strong to take the final wildcard spot in the NFC.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (schedule): 9-7
The Buccaneers are an improving team, but still will fall just a little bit short in their bid to make the playoffs in the very competitive NFC South. Tampa Bay had the best rushing defense in the league last year, but on the flip side they finished dead last against the pass. The Bucs have taken steps to improve that unit by acquiring the best cornerback in the league in Darelle Revis, who they hope can return to form after recovering from a torn ACL.
The Bucs had a breakout year from rookie running back Doug Martin, and they will be leaning on him to carry the offense yet again. Tampa also has two great wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, and they are hoping that quarterback Josh Freeman will finally break out and become a top-tier talent.
Tampa Bay has taken strides to improve their team, but they are still a year away, and too many questions about Josh Freeman's play to answer.
4. Carolina Panthers (schedule): 7-9
The Panthers have been retooling their team through the draft, but they are still not quite yet ready for the big time. The Panthers have one of the better quarterback talents in the league with Cam Newton, but they still have not given him the weapons to fully engage all of his talents. The Panthers have most money invested in the running game with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but they haven't produced at the same level when the Panthers were a playoff team.
Carolina has a great defense led by Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, and quite possibly the best linebacker in the game in Luke Kuechly. The main problem that the Panthers have is coaching, as Ron Rivera always looks overmatched, and also makes some of the worst in-game decisions possible.
The Panthers still need to get Newton some help in the passing game, as the defense will keep them in most games, but they cannot win them all for Carolina.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.