New Orleans Saints: 11-5
Reason: The New Orleans Saints are an offensive powerhouse. The addition of Jairus Byrd will help the back end of their secondary tremendously. I am still of the opinion that Drew Brees + Sean Payton = NFC South Championship. Last year was an exception to this rule. The Saints schedule is not all that tough.
Carolina Panthers: 9-7
Reason: The Panthers lost their biggest playmaker (Steve Smith). They lost their left tackle. Last season the offense was not explosive enough to win it all despite a championship caliber defense. Now the offense looks worse even if Cam Newton takes a step forwards. The Gregg Hardy suspension that is likely to be substantial hurts the defense.
Atlanta Falcons: 7-9
Reason: The Falcons secondary is of chief concern to me. The entire defense is questionable at best. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White can only do so much. The offense desperately misses Tony Gonzales. Gonzales was the “X-factor” that made the Falcons passing game scary good. I may be giving the Falcons more credit than they deserve; they have brutal stretches in this schedule.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-11
Reason: With a brutal schedule and no quarterback this is simple. Josh McCown may have talent around him. But the Bucs are not going to outscore Brees, Newton and Ryan with McCown. I could be wrong but Im not betting on this team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the most intriguing teams coming into 2014. Thats because we don’t really know what to expect from this team. On one hand they have been a disappointment for the past two seasons, and still have major questions at quarterback. On the other hand they have a new arsenal of offensive playmakers and a new head coach known for dominating defense in Lovie Smith. Could the Buccaneers be a surprise team in 2014?
Lovie Smith was a great hire for Tampa Bay. After two seasons of Gregg Schiano making a mockery of the coaching profession, the Bucs got a class act. Smith is a guy who just gets it, he is a winner and a professional through and through. With Leslie Frazier as his right hand man and defensive coordinator the Buccaneers will have a well coached and stingy defense.
Rookies Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, as well as Vincent Jackson, are all 6’5″. All three players have a knack for making the contested leaping catch-this is a skill you cannot coach. The elusive Charles Simms and a healthy Doug Martin, could make one of the best running back duos in recent memory. There is no shortage of talent on the Buccaneers offense.
The questions lie along the offensive line as well as under center. The Buccaneers offensive line is decent but protecting the passer is a concern. Lovie Smith has already named career back up Josh McCown the starting quarterback. Josh McCown was a more than serviceable QB in Chicago when filling in for the injured Jay Cutler. His performance has earned him the starting role in Tampa, his 8th NFL team since he was a rookie in 2002. The 34 year old gets by on a high football IQ and a strong arm.
Tampa Bay is a perfect landing spot for McCown for three reasons. First Lovie Smith is a conservative coach who has won with worse quarterbacks. Secondly the offense will be very run oriented. McCown is never afraid to let his receivers go up and get the football. The Buccaneers have three big bodied targets to bail out McCown. If he can provide adequate quarterback play the Bucs could be dangerous in 2014.
Last season the Carolina Panthers won the NFC South with dominant defense and the emergence of Cam Newton as a superstar. The Panthers look to win the division again in 2014 but it will be harder. The Saints will be tough as always; and the Falcons and Buccaneers will be better. The division will not be easily won, but it should be fun to watch.
Carolina has had an active offseason to say the least. It started by releasing their fan favorite receiver, Steve Smith. The Panthers then added Jericho Cotchery, Jason Avant and drafted Kelvin Benjamin at wide receiver. The Panthers big question: do they have enough star power around cam Newton? There is no questioning the defense, as it could be even better in 2014.
The Saints are opposites to Carolina; which makes for two intriguing showdowns each season. The Saints offense is never the problem. Quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Peyton have an incredible chemistry that is demonstrated on the field. The Saints big question is always their defense. It had seemed at times in 2013 Rob Ryan had fixed the defense. However there were also times when the Saints defense was exposed as fools gold. The Saints made a big move to truly fix their defensive woes by singing Jairus Byrd an elite free safety. They also signed veteran cornerback Champ Bailey.
New Orleans will be good. They will be in it to win it-in terms of battling for the division championship. Drew Brees will put up mega numbers as he always does. Jimmy Graham and Marquise Colston are a dynamic duo. Kenny Stills has emerged as a deep threat and first round slot receiver Brandin Cooks is an good addition. The Saints traded Darren Sproles to the Eagles. Sproles was very productive as Sean Peyton creatively found ways to get him the ball. The Saints running game should be solid enough however.
The Buccaneers also have a lot of fire power offensively. Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seffarian-Jenkins are big bodied weapons who can go get the jump balls. Doug Martin should be back to his dominating ways and Charles Simms is the perfect complement. Lovie Smith is a defensive guru and he will bring the Tampa 2 back to Tampa. The Buccaneers will be fine on defense. They have talent all around the offense. The question is can Josh McCown, a career back up, deliver the mail successfully? Can Mike Glennon do the job if McCown fails? Tampa Bay could be a surprise team of 2014, but they need good quarterback play. Without it they are SOL in the NFC South.
Atlanta had a miserable 2013. A year after falling 1 game short of the Super Bowl, they found themselves with the 6th pick of the NFL draft. The Falcons have focused on their defense this offseason. Jonathan Babineaux, Paul Soliai and rookie Ra’Shede Hageman will beef up their defensive front. Atlanta still could use another pass rusher, and needs to find a Tony Gonzales replacement at tight end. The Falcons have plenty offensive fire power and should have a better season.
New Orleans 10-6
Tampa Bay 7-9
Report On Ravens First Preseason Game: First Half by Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens did not look sharp in Tampa Bay. Before the massive rain storm fell on the stadium the Ravens won their first Super Bowl in, the offense disappointed. Flacco forced an interception and the Ravens offense featured dump offs and short passes that the defense simply sat on. The starting defense had its share of impressive moments mixed with embarrassing gaffs in coverage. There were several overload blitzes that did not get to the quarterback, and there were seemingly wide open windows in the zone coverage. The starters were less than impressive for the most part and the backups were a mix of good and bad.
The offense seemed lethargic and closed up. While it was nice to see Vonta Leach back on the field in a purple offense the primitive offense was not a welcome sight. Maybe offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell wanted to be vanilla in the preseason but it felt like Cameron was back calling the shots. There were no shots down the field and the one time they tried Joe was creamed for a big loss. We were hoping to see Deonte Thompson step up but he had a bad drop and left the field hobbling with 1:26 left in the second quarter. Visanthe Shiancoe also had a couple bad drops. Shiancoe was inconsistent. He made some great catches as well. Tandon Doss got little separation and was rather ineffective.
Defensively there was more positive play. Darryl Smith was seemingly every play and was a tackling machine. The defensive line was impressive against a good offensive line. Chris Canty got a sack early in the game on a play where 4 guys broke free in pass rush. The secondary was not good. Corey Graham allowed a deep pass and Chykie Brown had a bad stretch where he was penalized on back to back pass interference calls. We have to remember that Ladarius Webb coming back will improve the play of the secondary. The defense was very good up front.
There were some positive moments from the second half. Special teams were a big strength. Laquan Williams recovered a muffed punt and also scored a touchdown recovering the ball after a blocked punt. Justin Tucker made a field goal in horrible wet conditions. Laquan Williams hustle helps him in his fight for a roster spot. Kyle Juszczyk made a great tackle on punt team.