With all the chatter and actions taking place around the NFL, it seems like a good, if not great time, to talk about the one and only NFC South outlook. I guess it will be hard not to be biased for the Saints, but it can’t be harder than Drew Rosenhaus trying to bring Edge over to the good side, if you know what I mean…And so we go.
The door is wide open...
The Key: Matt Ryan is now the unequivocal leader of this unit. The key has passed from Vick to Matty Ice. Fans should not delude themselves into hoping for a slump from Ryan this year as he continues to mature. In fact, look for him to get better.
The X-Factor: This could go a number of ways but I look for the X-Factor of the team to be Tony Gonzalez. How much more does he have left in the tank? If he’s healthy, he can possibly counteract any "preparation" the oppositions have done for Matt Ryan. If he isn’t producing well, Matt Ryan’s production could be facing a decline. Gonzalez opens the field, can block, can be a deep threat, etc. He can change the outlook of the Falcons.
The Outlook: Look for them to be no lower than second in the division. They have made improvements. Any "preparations" that teams are planning against Matt Ryan will possibly be counteracted by several key additions during the offseason.
The Key: Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in the backfield are poised to be extremely productive once more. They produce; Panthers win. They don’t; Panthers are harder-pressed to win. That simple. This will likely be the most productive unit out of the offense. With that said, it brings us to…
The X-Factor: Jake Delhomme almost literally holds the key to the Panthers’ success. The running corps can be effective all it wants, but in the end, the quarterback has to be the big player. It looked like he was recuperating well until the nightmare against Arizona in the playoffs last year. And even during times in the regular season, Delhomme started to show age. That will make all the difference this year as well.
The Outlook: Third in the division is all the credit that I’m giving this team. There is simply too many question marks outside of Delhomme as well. With not too much new faces, this is just about the same team as last year. That may bode well, but while the Panthers have stayed the same, other teams have been improving.
New Orleans Saints
The Key: Drew Brees, no questions asked, is the man. Nothing more need be said about this guy. He’s flat out sick and nasty. His bad game is throwing for two-hundred yards. Most guys don’t throw two-hundred yards in a bad game. ‘Nuff said.
The X-Factor: I wanted to say Robert Meachem, but the real X-Factor here is Gregg Williams and the defensive unit. As was shown last year, the defense cost us quite a few games. Charles Grant and Will Smith are going to be out in a relatively rough opening schedule. Gregg Williams better have something planned, because he holds the Saints’ playoff hopes. I’m not saying more than that.
The Outlook: Well, they have improved, at least on paper. So even if they can hold opponents to three fewer points per game than last year, I’m giving this team at least a second place ranking. With the offense in place, it’s high time the defense picked itself up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Key: Can’t find one with this team right now. They have got more question marks than McDonalds has got customers. It might have been Jeff Garcia or Derrick Brooks, but no. Too many X-Factors lying around this place.
The X-Factor: Raheem Morris, the new head coach, is the man on the spot. With the changes he has been making the offseason moves that have left his fans dizzy and searching for answers, this guy better deliver, or his head will be a target pretty soon. Monty Kiffin is gone. A proven quarterback in Jeff Garcia is gone. The franchise is in shambles. It’s all up to Morris to right the ship.
The Outlook: Cellar. Basement. Bottom dwellers. There’s too much that is wrong with this team right now than can be fixed by what is right. Don’t expect a Cinderella story out of these guys just yet. At least not until we see what they are capable of.
So, what’s the verdict? Who ranks high and who doesn’t? Who makes the cut? Respond in the Comments Section, and good day to all.