I continue my predictions on the up-coming NFL season with what I believe to be the toughest division in football.
It all came together for Atlanta, and just like that, they were shot out of mediocrity. They had moved on from the chapter that was Michael Vick. First year coach Mike Smith did an outstanding job of letting Matt Ryan lead the team. And lead he did. The rookie quarterback looked like a wiley veteran bringing Atlanta back to the playoffs where unfortunately, they ran into a red hot Arizona team. But the foundation is there. Aside from Matt Ryan, they were able to sign Michael “The Burner” Turner, and he definitely played a big part in Matt Ryan’s transition. Turner finished second in the league in rushing behind Adrian Peterson, and had 17 touchdowns. After several years of backing up LT, he proved that he was worthy of being the feature back on another team, and in fact had a better season than the former MVP. Atlanta is missing a go to receiver, but the overall balance on offense makes up for it. The Falcons defense isn’t one to be excited about, but if they can improve from somewhat the middle of the pack to perhaps the top ten, Atlanta will be a force to be reckoned with. There was something I saw in Atlanta last year that I can’t explain, they have that, you know, certain something. But whatever it is, it’s the stuff made of champions. Henceforth, the Atlanta Falcons are the 2010 Super Bowl champions.
The Atlanta Falcons finish the season 12-4 & will hoist the Lombardi trophy come February.
Last year was their year. They had all the pieces in place. A fiery coach, a solid defense and rushing game, before the arrival of Larry Fitzgerald, the biggest play maker in the game, Steve Smith, and of course a veteran quarterback who lives in the moment. Unfortunately the moment led to six interceptions in a divisional game against the aforementioned red hot Arizona Cardinals team. Similar to the Phoenix Suns in basketball, I think the door has closed on Carolina, and they missed their chance. It’s not as if the team will begin to deteriorate, it’s just that Atlanta and New Orleans will get that much better. Plus, as much as I love Jake Delhomme, I just get the sense that he doesn’t have what it takes to win it all. He lives in the moment, but doesn’t perform well in it. I know he had a beautiful game in Super Bowl XXXVIII versus the Patriots, but that was a one time thing. Like I said, Carolina will have a good year, and there will be some instances in which the media will pick them as their sleeper. But that’s exactly what they’ll be doing, right after their season is cut short of expectations.
The Carolina Panthers finish the season 9-7
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees fell a few yards short from setting a new passing record for most yards thrown in a season. He also fell one playoff birth short of winning the MVP award. The time when Drew Brees was worried about silencing critics is long gone. The time where Drew Brees questions if the New Orleans Saints can compete for a title is now. Sean Payton’s a great coach, and he’s done well to turn this once embarrassing franchise into a high-octane passing freak show. But with no true running game, and a defense that gives up what the offense gets, the direction they’re heading towards is intermediate. Not what we would expect from a team that is three years removed from an NFC title game appearance. I expect New Orleans to bounce back big this season, and for the first time in his career, Reggie Bush is going to have a consistent year, and it’s because he will be a situational back through out the course of the season, and no one will expect him to carry the load at runningback. There’s too much talent on this team for them to not be good again.
The New Orleans Saints finish the season 10-6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
All down hill this season. Jon Gruden isn’t liked by a lot of people, but despite the fact that he won’t win any popularity contests, he is a very good coach. Well guess what? Old Chucky won’t be scowling across the side lines this season. What might actually be more devastating is the departure of quarterback Jeff Garcia. Is there any other player in the past decade who is more underrated or more underappreciated than this man? He is a great quarterback, yes, great. He may not be Hall of Fame material, but he damn well gets the job done. Outside of Cadillac Williams (who has to get reacquainted with the speed and strength of the NFL) I see nothing going for the Bucs. So much so, that I have nothing else to say.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish 5-11