NFL Divisional Breakdown NFC South

Special Thanks to Brian Landry for handling this one for me. He’s one of our regulars in the forum. See, if you play with us in the forum who knows what will happen.

This division has been putting out one dominate team a year, but you can never predict which team it will be at the start of the season, I hate divisions like that.

Atlanta Falcons

Head Coach: Mike Smith
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Mularkey
Defensive Coordinator: Brian VanGorder
Special Teams Coordinator: Keith Armstrong
Owner: Arthur Blank

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Matt Ryan
HB: Michael Turner
FB: Ovie Mughelli
WR: Roddy White
WR: Michael Jenkins
LT: Sam Baker
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Todd McClure
RG: Harvey Dahl
RT: Tyson Clabo
TE: Tony Gonzalez

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: John Abraham
DE: Jamaal Anderson
DT: Jonathan Babineaux
DT: Peria Jerry
LB: Mike Peterson
LB: Curtis Lofton
LB: Stephen Nicholas
CB: Chris Houston
CB: Brent Grimes
FS: Thomas DeCoud
SS: Erik Coleman

Special Teams
K: Jason Elam
P: Michael Koenon

Position Battles:
CB: Brent Grimes and Chris Owens battle for the spot across from Chris Houston. Grimes struggled last season, so Owens will push him hard.
DT: Peria Jerry will battle Trey Lewis to start. Lewis could end up the starter, but in the end the starters matter little here because the DTs will see a heavy rotation.
DE: Jamaal Anderson has been a disappointment so far. He will have to hold off Chauncey Davis.

Rookies to Watch:
DT Peria Jerry will be counted on to help plug the middle of a run defense ranked 29th last season, and SS William Moore and CB Chris Owens will be asked to help fortify a secondary that gave up an average of 263 yards through the air (ranked 27th overall). First though, Moore has to stay healthy, something he’s had some trouble with. DE Lawrence Sidbury also figures to see a good deal of rotation.

Season Expectations:
Expectations are obviously high for the 2009 Falcons after their surprising season in 2008. What the Falcons must do is avoid a sophomore slump, and it all begins with Matt Ryan. If he can continue to manage the offense as he did last season, the Falcons should again have a very potent offense. It also doesn’t hurt to have Michael Turner as a battering ram in the backfield. Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey has stated that he wants to involve Jerious Norwood more, which is good news for Michael Turner (bad for fantasy owners though) as he cannot continue to handle 370 carry workloads season after season. The Falcons must also ensure that they have the correct pieces in place on the defense – although their scoring defense overall was decent, they still gave up a lot of yards through the air. However, they look to have improved at almost every position on defense and this team should again contend for the division title.

Carolina Panthers

Head Coach: John Fox
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Davidson
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Meeks
Special Teams Coordinator: Danny Crossman
Owner: Jerry Richardson

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Jake Delhomme
HB: DeAngelo Smith
FB: Brad Hoover
WR: Steve Smith
WR: Mushin Muhammed
LT: Jordan Gross
LG: Travelle Wharton
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Keydrick Vincent
RT: Jeff Otah
TE: Jeff King

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Tyler Brayton
DE: Julius Peppers
DT: Nick Hayden
DT: Damoine Lewis
LB: Thomas Davis
LB: Jon Beason
LB: Na’il Diggs
CB: Chris Gamble
CB: Richard Marshall
FS: Charles Godfrey
SS: Chris Harris

Special Teams
K: John Kasay
P: Jason Baker

Position Battles:
DE: Julius Peppers is the unquestioned starter at RDE, but he’s a franchise player and a free agent next season. With this in mind, the Panthers drafted Everette Brown, who should replace Tyler Brayton in nickel packages. It will be interesting to monitor his progress throughout the season.
CB: Richard Marshall gets the start after the departure of Ken Lucas, but he will be tested early and often. Rookie Sherrod Martin is not far behind should Marshall struggle.

Rookies to Watch:
DE Everette Brown, as stated above in the DE position battle. CB Sherrod Martin will be expected to play in nickel packages and could see time if Marshall struggles. G Duke Robinson was a fringe first rounder and provides solid depth. FB Tony Fiammetta is an interesting case – Head Coach John Fox rarely plays rookies, but no doubt he did not draft Fiammetta in the fourth round to sit on the bench. FB Brad Hoover will still start this season, but Fimmetta could take over by the end of the season.

Season Expectations:
The Panthers return 20/22 starters from the team that was the NFC’s #2 seed in 2008, losing only CB Ken Lucas to free agency and NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu to injury. Unfortunately, the loss to Kemoeatu hurts the most as it pushes 2008 6th rounder DT Nick Hayden into the starting lineup. This also shows their severe lack of depth on the defensive line. Their run defense was already suspect toward the end of last season, and this will make it even more difficult for the line to stop the run, as it will force MLB Jon Beason to engage more blockers on his own. Also, with the departure of C Geoff Hangartner, depth along the offensive line is a concern. If any starter goes down, it could be the team’s downfall. QB Jake Delhomme is 34 and must shake his horrific playoff performance against the Cardinals last season. Still, the core of the team is strong, and Fox is the best coach in the NFC South, so they should still contend for a division title.

New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton
Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael Jr.
Defensive Coordinator: Gregg Williams
Special Teams Coordinator: Greg McMahon
Owner: Tom Benson

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Drew Brees
HB: Reggie Bush
FB: Heath Evans
WR: Marques Colston
WR: Robert Meachem
LT: Jammal Brown
LG: Carl Nicks
C: Jonathan Goodwin
RG: Jahri Evans
RT: Jon Stinchcomb
TE: Jeremy Shockey

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Will Smith (Bobby McCray)
DE: Charles Grant (Paul Spicer)
DT: Sedrick Ellis
DT: Kendrick Clancey
LB: Scott Shanle
LB: Jonathan Vilma
LB: Scott Fujita
CB: Jabari Greer
CB: Tracy Porter
FS: Darren Sharper
SS: Roman Harper

Special Teams
K: Garrett Hartley (John Carney)
P: Thomas Morestead

Position Battles:
CB: As a whole, this position will be interesting to watch. Jason David finally got cut, so by default the unit is better. Currently the Saints have, among others, Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, and Malcolm Jenkins, giving them the deepest rotation at CB they’ve had in years. The coaching staff is likely pushing for Greer/Porter to start with Gay at the nickel, but if Jenkins shows them something they’ll be hard-pressed to keep him off the field.
P: Yeah… not exactly the most exciting battle, but they didn’t trade up to draft Morestead in the fifth round to cut him for journeyman Glenn Pakulak.
S: Both safety spots, really. They drafted Chip Vaughn and Roman Harper will likely be on a short leash after his atrocious play last season. Sharper will be 33 and one has to question how much he has left in the tank. Usama Young was moved from CB to FS to challenge him for the spot.
WR: This will be between Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem. Payton will want his 2007 first rounder on the field and Meachem will likely end up starting.
DE and K: Hartley, Smith, and Grant are suspended the first four games of the season, and the players following in parenthesis are those expected to start in their place. Make no mistake about it though, if Carney, Spicer, and McCray play well in the first four games, Smith, Grant, and Hartley won’t be guaranteed a roster spot when they returned. Payton showed last season when Jamar Nesbit was suspended and Carl Nicks took over that he isn’t afraid to play the best man. Hartley in particular should be concerned due to constant inconsistency in the kicking game in seasons past, and Payton has admitted his biggest regret so far was letting John Carney go.

Rookies to Watch:
By far the biggest rookie to watch is CB Malcolm Jenkins. If he is even half as advertised, he should be on the field quite a bit. P Thomas Morestead was brought in to improve field position for the defense so he’ll be counted on quite heavily. S Chip Vaughn is also worth watching because both safeties will be on a short leash.

Season Expectations:
Expectations are high. Brees is in his prime and Payton knows he has to strike while the iron is hot. Plus, after a good 2006 season, the Saints have had a top 3 offense but have failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. Payton will surely feel the heat if he fails to make a deep playoff run this season. Gregg Williams should help bring more fire to the defense, but they will only go as far as the players involved. Plus, they’ll never have success if they continue to have to play from behind with Brees throwing 40 times per game. With more consistent defensive play, they should be a solid team. Anything less than a playoff victory will be a disappointment.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head Coach: Raheem Morris
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Jagodzinski
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Bates
Special Teams Coordinator: Richard Bisaccia
Owner/President: Malcolm Glazer

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Luke McCown
HB: Derrick Ward
FB: B.J. Askew
WR: Antonio Bryant
WR: Michael Clayton
LT: Donald Penn
LG: Jeremy Zuttah
C: Jeff Faine
RG: Davin Joseph
RT: Jeremy Trueblood
TE: Kellen Winslow

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Jimmy Wilkerson
DE: Gaines Adams
DT: Ryan Sims
DT: Chris Hovan
LB: Jermaine Phillips
LB: Barrett Ruud
LB: Quincy Black
CB: Aqib Talib
CB: Ronde Barber
FS: Tanard Jackson (Will Allen)
SS: Sabby Piscitelli

Special Teams
K: Matt Bryant
P: Dirk Johnson

Position Battles:
QB: At this point, it seems that Josh Freeman is all but out of the competition to be the Week 1 starter, so it comes down to Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich and really, picking McCown as the projected starter is like flipping a coin. Whoever wins the job will have to look over their shoulder, as too many mistakes and Freeman will likely end up starting.
K: Matt Bryant has been the Bucs kicker for a few years, but the coaches look to improve on his inconsistency from 50+ yards, where he was 0/3 last season. Mike Nugent was also inconsistent but at least landed a few from that range.
S: Tanard Jackson is suspended for the first four games, so it is anticipated that Will Allen will man the FS spot until Jackson returns. Jackson is a quality defensive back, so it’s unlikely Allen will take the spot from him full-time.
LB: This will all depend on how well Jermaine Phillips is able to transition from being SS. If he struggles, he could easily lose playing time.
RB: While Earnest Graham is a solid, powerful runner, the team didn’t sign Derrick Ward to a four-year, $17 million contract to sit on the bench.
DE: Stylez White has had a strong showing and could push for a job. He isn’t likely to take one of the DE spots right now, but he figures to rotate in often.

Rookies to Watch:
All eyes will be on QB Josh Freeman. If either McCown or Leftwich struggles as the starter, there’s a good chance Freeman will take over. Seventh round WR Sammie Stroughter has been turning heads in camp. That’s a good thing for a Bucs team sorely lacking in quality wideouts. DT Roy Miller is raw, but has been playing well in camp and could push DT Ryan Sims by the end of the season.

Season Expectations:
Few teams have lower expectations for 2009 than the Bucs. They’re bringing in a rookie head coach who also happens to be the youngest coach in the league. They lost long time Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. They cut many of their veteran players, including Derrick Brooks and Cato June, in an effort to get younger overall. They have a solid core of players including TE Kellen Winslow, RG Davin Joseph, C Jeff Faine, QB Josh Freeman, DT Roy Miller, DE Gaines Adams, MLB Barrett Ruud, and FS Tanard Jackson, but they will struggle this season as Freeman develops.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with the AFC South, until then, hop into the forums and say hi. Then go join Twitter and become one of our followers at www.twitter.com/tailgatecrashrs

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