NFL Preview – A Quick Look at the NFC South
New Orleans Saints
After taking the NFL by storm and making the NFC Conference finals two seasons ago, the Saints had a little bit of a fall back to earth in 2007, finishing 7-9. Injuries and a lack of defense played a big part in the disappointing end but because of a good draft and guarded optimism concerning injured players — not to mention the trade for ex-Giant Jeremy Shockey — 2008 looks like a bounce-back year for the Saints.
The keys are this: a return to form for Reggie Bush, something that should be aided by the return of Deuce McAllister who represents another key for the Saints; improvement on defense, a situation they tried to address in the Draft when they selected Sedrick Ellis; continued greatness from Drew Brees; and avoidance of the omnipresent injury bug.
The addition of Shockey, Ellis and the return of McAllister improves the outlook for the Saints a great deal. McAllister’s presence makes Reggie Bush a weapon again, instead of a 3.7-yard-a-game back who fumbled seven times. If Sean Payton utilizes Shockey correctly — and signs are he will — New Orleans should once again be an offensive juggernaut and could potentially hide a lot of defensive shortcomings.
10-6 and the NFC South championship.
Hottest Saints Cheerleader
The sad thing about NFL websites are for every San Diego cheerleader page, there’s one like the Saintsations. If San Diego and Dallas are the Facebook of cheerleader pages, the Saintsations must be Angelfire or GeoCities. To wit, they have no full images of the team members and the design looks very Frontpage-ish, especially when it comes to resizing images. Nevertheless, I did stumble upon Samantha and her nice smile.
After dealing with that site, I wish Roger Goodell would implement some kind of web standards for these team sites.
While the above picture might be in poor taste, I’m not the one that punched a teammate, tightening the focus of the public’s microscope and changing the team story from one about potential redemption into one about Steve Smith. As you may know, the uber-talented wide receiver beat teammate Ken Lucas up during training camp and is suspended the first two games of the season. Smith’s actions changed the focus from Jake Delhomme’s repaired elbow and last season’s under-performing defense and placed it directly on volatile Smith.
Can the season be salvaged after what happened? It certainly can be if the team has decided to heal or at least forgive and forget. The Panthers still have significant talent on both sides of the roster, including Julius Peppers and Jake Delhomme — provided he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Speaking of Peppers, he’s coming off his worst year as a pro where he only recorded 2.5 sacks in 14 games. Naturally, if the Panthers want to improve from last year, their defensive leader is going to have to play better.
It’s hard predicting the Panthers season because of all the uncertainty surrounding the roster. On paper with no elbow surgeries or teammate beatdowns lingering, the Panthers look like they could make a deep run in the playoffs. However, until the proof is provided, I’m taking a safer projection: 9-7.
Hottest Panthers Cheerleader
Much like the Saintsationals, the Panthers cheerleader page, well, lacks — especially in Firefox. That doesn’t include their poor picture selection as well. Nevertheless, I found a nice candidate for this post. Introducing Kelli, one of the team captains for the Topcats.
Too bad they don’t have any decent pictures besides the thumbnails.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ever since they won the Super Bowl in January 2003, the Buccaneers have been a good team, but certainly not much a threat to make a return trip the championship game. Sure, they’ve made the playoffs (2005 and 2007) — only to lose in the wild card game. Unfortunately for Tampa fans wanting a return trip to the Super Bowl, 2008 doesn’t look like it’s going to be the year.
The defense is still adequate and its leader, Derrick Brooks still brings it on Sundays but he isn’t quite the same player he was in the Super Bowl years. On offense, Jeff Garcia still plays admirably and at a fantasy football-worthy level, but the Bucs offense isn’t on the same level as teams like Dallas, New England and San Diego. The receiving corps is in danger of being too old, although, perhaps Joey Galloway has a few more seasons in him.
All in all, the Bucs personify the quintessential NFL team — that is, the league is geared so every team is at an 8-8 level and if you look at Tampa’s seasons following the Super Bowl, they fit in this category nicely. Not too good and not too bad. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and put the Buccaneers directly at the 8-8 mark.
Hottest Buccaneers Cheerleader
Say hello to fitness instructor, Tiffany Jimenez. Tiffany is a three-year veteran of the Buccaneers cheerleaders and it’s pretty easy to see why:
At least one NFC South team gets the whole presentation thing right.
Welcome to year number two of the post Mike Vick reign of quarterbacking. This year can be billed as the beginning of the Matt Ryan era as the rookie quarterback has already been named the starter when the season kicks off. Normally, rookie quarterbacks don’t excel right off the bat, although, Ryan has a chance where others have had to wait. You see, Ryan has a decent offensive line and that could go a long way in deciding how successful he is.
The o-line is also part of the reason the coaching staff was so comfortable handing the franchise over to Ryan. While there is some debate as to whether or Ryan was the best college quarterback available, he does have talent and throws a catchable ball. Not only that, but Ryan also has a few weapons to pick from, including Roddy White, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. It remains to be seen if the Falcons have a tight end of note since they traded Alge Crumpler to Tennessee.
On defense, the Falcons need to repair a squad that was ranked 29th out of 32 teams. It’s hard to win — no matter who you are — if the defense is giving up almost 26 points a game. Asking a rookie quarterback to overcome such odds is a little too much. Six of their eleven draft picks were defensive players, so they did try to address, although, it normally takes more than one draft to rebuild a unit.
With all of that in mind, it’s hard seeing the Falcons doing more than 5-11 or 6-10. The fact that they went 4-12 last season is the only reason I’m being as generous as I am.
Hottest Falcons Cheerleader
Because they didn’t include individual profiles, I’m going to have to say none here. I am happy to say their site does have SOME images, so I can leave with something.
Next up, the NFC North.