Is the party over? Still going on? Will it ever end? Last year’s road to the Super Bowl for the New Orleans Saints capped off one of the most remarkable and impressive journeys for a team seemingly everyone was emotionally behind. Who was rooting against these guys? How could you? Drew Brees was flawless, he could do no wrong, the city and its fans are still buzzing over the victory -what a run, what a feel-good story! Too bad it has to end, well, sooner or later.
Needless to say, it’s hard envisioning a team in the NFC South that has what it takes to bump the Big Easy’s heroes off their high horse despite the obvious hangover and lingering after effects which inevitably occur following a Super Bowl party, I mean, win. Subject to wake-up, yes, destined to fall, not exactly. Your 2010 NFC South: “It’s your division to lose, New Orleans”
New Orleans (11-5) – Long live Drew Brees! Long live Drew Brees! For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny! You might ask, What’s your reward for winning Super Bowl XLIV? Four prime time contests (two right off the bat), a date with America’s Team Thanksgiving Day in Big D, and back-to-back games away from the dome with rough houses Cincinnati and Baltimore in December. Yet, it’s not all rocky on the road for the defending champs, as they get a second bye week/scrimmage with St. Louis at home amidst the toughest stretch of the season.
However, Brees’ bunch better beware lest they fall, because as Lombardi hoisters they’re awarded with the “bulls eye” that comes with the prize, a territory unfamiliar for this extravagant organization. Each Sunday they will be the “hunted”, the team everyone eyes to take down, as the prey their predators will be seeking to devour and destroy every chance they receive -who wouldn’t want to dethrone and unseat the champs? Strange things happen the following year to those named the NFL’s best team, being the winner has its challenges, and it’s starts Week 1 in the Superdome against the NFC’s runner-up, the team they defeated in OT to reach Miami. To elusively slide-step and juke out history: Continue to be ambitious and ride the vehicle that got you to the top. Could the Saints have beaten Indy if not for Sean Payton’s gutsy call to open up the second half with a surprisingly shocking onside kick?
Carolina (8-8) – Best QB in the Draft. Best 1-2 punch at RB. Best WR after the catch. Top 5 OL. 2nd Best LB. Despite the drop in performance in ’09 after a tantalizing 12-4 record in ’08, I can say there is more going for John Fox’s squad than there is going against his troops. Jonathan Stewart is starting to be who we thought he was going to be, and when you combine him with DeAngelo Williams behind an outstanding OL it creates for a crystal clear identity, something you can count on and go to when the game’s on the line, a sure, simple plan that will work more often than not. Too easy, right? You would think.
A .500 mark is certainly within reach. Jimmy Clausen is the most talented passer Steve Smith has ever had. Yet it begs to question, will he get on the field soon enough? With all that being said, the defense surely has itself a rugged and ruthless leader in Beason, still the questions remains, will the rest of his teammates back him up? If they play their cards right and stay smart by giving Jonathan and DeAngelo 40+ opportunities to do their thing, this could be a team on the up and up, possibly riding a dynamic ground attack into the Playoffs as a Wild Card. Just stick to your guns, Carolina.
Tampa Bay (6-10) – Bring back the vintage Creamsicle unis! Unbeaten in the throwbacks in ’09. Once they donned the retros they won, beating Green Bay in a thrilling 38-28 battle -coincidentally, it was Josh Freeman’s first NFL start. Like that game in early November, I see Tampa on the rise, I see glimpses and flashes of something special. Granted, it’s going to take some patience -that could be an understatement. Nonetheless, they undoubtedly improved the defense and offense via Draft, Freeman has new weapons, Cadillac is healthy, and its always a good thing to fly under the radar. More hope was realized after Raheem Morris took over the keys to the defense, as his unit drastically improved over the final course of the season (six games, following Saints defeat 38-7 at home).
Tampa’s calling card has always been their defense, and holds true today, stemming from the days of Tony Dungy, they have been known to unleash a fierce product out onto Raymond James to harass opposing team’s QB’s. With newcomers Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, and Myron Lewis you can expect the Morris’ 11 men to continue to pick up where they left off last season and bring the heat -not missing a beat. On offense, fresh faces Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn will give Freeman some much-needed aid through the air. Is there a 2010 draft class that will have more instant, immediate sought after impact? See why Bucs backers are excited for fall -it’s not just Rays baseball in Tampa.
Atlanta (6-10) – Michael Turner’s small decline since 2008, Matt Ryan’s mini sophomore slump, John Abraham’s sharp drop off due to age, injuries to key players last season, the 11-5 turnaround “fluke” theory -reasons for concern, certainly, yet how valid and legitimate are these issues? I believe there’s validity and legitimacy to these things that should make Dirty Bird diehards a bit nervous. Why should they be? Dunta Robinson was added to bolster a sub par secondary, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are still around, fortunes should reverse roles injury-wise, and the team is generally young, with skill positioned players in their prime. Very intriguing squad that has the potential to go 5-11, however if you think about it, 11-5 wouldn’t come to fool you either.
Atlanta finished on a strong note, winning their final three outings, including an impressive victory over the New York Jets in the Meadowlands 10-7. The week before they took New Orleans down to the wire, losing barely without their lead signal caller 26-23. Out the gates they started off fast at 4-1, then went on to lose six of their next eight games, albeit the head honcho missed time during that span. Of their seven total losses, they surrendered at least 26 points, and four times yielding at least 34 points. On top of that, they failed to beat a team that concluded with a winning record. Call me skeptical, but I have my fair share of doubts with these Falcons. Can they carry over last year’s momentum, coming out the shoot firing, clicking on all cylinders? I have my questions.