New Orleans Saints
The good: Where to start with this team? It seems like everything from the front office to the backup’s backups are outstanding. Of course the highlight of this year was the record-breaking performance from Drew Brees who surpassed Dan Marino for most yards in a single season. Drew is having a career year with 41 Touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 5,087 Passing yards and a 108.4 QB rating, with one game to go! The front office ran by GM Mickey Loomis is phenomenal, from deciding to bring in Drew Brees after a shoulder surgery, to listening to the players when they requested them to bring in Darren Sproles via Free Agency. This coming after the “Players only workouts” during the lockout, trading away Reggie Bush, gaining draft picks and still having a productive running game. When Olin Kreutz decided that “His heart wasn’t in the game anymore” and he decided to retire after a short stint with the team many people thought that was going to be an issue with pass protection, line shifting and a block in the run game. But because of the building of all players, Brian de la Puente was able to step in and not have a hiccup.
The Bad: Defensively the Saints are ranked 26th overall, which hasn’t been a dagger in their side, but it hasn’t been exactly pretty either. Combined, this Gregg Williams designed defense has 31 total sacks, league average being 40. The leading sack-man for the Saints is a Safety, Roman Harper. Which suggests that the defensive line isn’t producing all that well, which is not 100 % true, it is part of the scheme of this “pressure” defense that does try to apply loads of pressure against the opponent. A part of this scheme has bite them in the ass a little bit, because teams facing the Saints average 11.6 yards per pass completion. Sending pressure all the time has also hurt this team when getting off the field on 3rd down and not being able to stop the opposition where they only get off the field on 3rd down 37% of the time. Defense isn’t exactly killing this team, because of the offensive juggernaut they have built, but it could eventually catch up to them if they face another offensive heavy team in the tournament.
The Ugly: Despite being a 12-3 team, and fighting for the second seed in the NFC, this team struggles on the road (5-3 road Record.) When on the road, they average 27 points a game, when at home (7-0) they average 41 points. This doesn’t seem like much, but it has made a difference, think about 14 points wiped off the board. They looked pretty good in the season opener at Lambeau, but laid a few eggs in St Louis and Tampa Bay. They have struggled against young teams, and have been in close ones against other road opponents. Brees has thrown 9 of his 13 interceptions on the road. My feeling for the Saints is, if they play on the road, it’s iffy for me to pick them to win. If they play in the Superdome, I can’t pick against them. Hopefully this gets taken care of in the playoffs, or we could see them an early exit.
The Good: Last year the Falcons won the division with a 13-3 record, this year they’re struggling a bit. However, there still is quite a bit of good things going on for them. I want to start with the constant: Michael Turner. Turner, is 6th in the NFL in Rushing with 1,168 yards, Averaging 4.1 yards a carry, and 9 carries over 20+ yards and 3 of over 40+. He’s done all this while battling through a groin injury. Week after week he’s listed as “Questionable”, and he goes out each and every week, and busts his ass to help his team be successful. He has also been a big part in getting them back to the playoffs (and helped me win my main fantasy league.) Matt Ryan, has had a decent year as well. Were definitely not in awe as we were last year with his late game heroics, but he has put up pretty solid numbers with over 4,000 yards passing, 27 Touchdowns and a 90.7 quarterback rating. He’s been pretty consistent thus far and it’s paid off for the Falcons.
The Bad: The way the Falcons started off the year had me a little worried. Based off how they did last season, the beginning of the year was not impressive. It wasn’t until the bye week (Week eight) that they had really solidified themselves as a team. Before the bye, you couldn’t point out which Atlanta Falcons team was going to show up. The one that scored 12 points and embarrassed themselves in Chicago, or the team that put up points and looked good all the way around? It wasn’t a horrible thing that they took so long to get it together, but they could have done it earlier, we’d probably be talking about another 13-3 maybe 12-4 team with another NFC South crown.
The ugly: In my opinion, and many others that I’ve heard and talked to, the ugliest part of this year came on Thursday, April 28th. The day of the draft, the Falcons (usually smart) front office led by GM Tom Dimitroff, gave up two first-round draft picks, a second rounder, third rounder and 2 more fourth rounders for the 6th overall pick to draft Julio Jones. Whoa! I’m not trying to say that Julio Jones wasn’t a weapon that they needed (Even though Roddy White leads the NFL in dropped passes this year) But to finance your future on ONE guy that hadn’t played a down in the NFL?! That was shocking to me. By far the silliest decision I’ve seen in a while. They needed other pieces to help them out, including a receiver, but I think that with what was in the draft, and what could be there next year it was way too much to give up for an unproven kid that hasn’t made quite the impact that they had planned on. To me, and my opinion, if you are going to give up that much for one person, he damn well better lead the NFL in every category that his position offers, instead he’s only the third best receiver on the team.
The Good: Cameron Newton. When he was drafted, I was one of the few (many Cam supporters have since surfaced claiming they knew he’d be good from the get-go) who thought this kid was going to shine. Even though his collegiate past raised many questions, and he was bashed by critics for his smile, which by the way, WTF does a smile have to do with playing the game of football? I’m not so sure, but let’s take a look at a few things that do matter. Newton has passed for 3,893 yards this year, breaking Peyton Manning’s record of 3,739 with a game to go, and did it in 83 fewer attempts than Manning. He’s rushed for 14 touchdowns and threw for another 20, shattering a previous record set in 1948 of 27 combined. His 14 rushing touchdowns broke the record of all-time rushing touchdowns by a QB in a season, and he’s one shy of tying a record of 15 rushing TD’s in a season. However, 15 was set by a running back, this kid is pretty damn good.
The Bad: the negative that I see from this team is the fact that they have two very good running backs. However, they don’t use them as much as they should. I understand that they want to be a so-called hybrid offense. When you have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, I think there needs to be a heavy dose of the run game in every game plan. Regardless if Cam is beasting, and Steve Smith is relevant again. Right after the lockout was over and the Panthers signed DeAngelo to a HUGE contract, I thought for sure he was going to be a top ten back this year. Not because of the money, but because of his skill set. From what I’ve seen this year, when they’ve used that duo, it’s been very effective.
The Ugly: I know that when the schedule was released the Panthers had the “Toughest” schedule based on how teams finished last year, but this defense has been pretty ugly. There have been a few key injuries, LB Jon Beason being the biggest of them, but this team just seems to have several different layers that you just can’t figure out. They can come out and be a real threat to the Packers and Saints, but they’ve dropped some bombs on easier opponents, almost as if they are playing to the level of the opposition. There have been several key injuries to this team defensively, but I can’t see that as the main excuse.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Good: This team was 10-6 last year, and had a “Youngry” (Young and Hungry) mentality, and all they needed to do was win their final game at home against the Lions and they were in the tournament. They weren’t able to pull it off, and thus had to build on the success they had last year, to continue into this year. To open the year they started off 4-3 going into their week seven bye. It had looked like a pretty good team that could definitely open it up and start being a force to be reckoned with. Big wins over the Saints, Vikings and Falcons had them looking pretty confident. Josh Freeman played well in the first 6 games with a few of his trademarked come from behind wins and he was putting up pretty solid numbers. But things went sour for this team somewhere down the line. The good I see from them is the potential they have to be great. I have no idea what happened to them after the bye week, but they have fallen apart completely. They have great potential though, and that is the good I see.
The Bad: To try to continue their success they claimed Albert “I quit when I’m tired” Haynesworth, who a few years ago was a dominant impact and a force in the NFL, but hey, so was Brett Favre back then. When they picked him up I thought that it might have been a good thing since they had a few injuries on the D-Line and they needed something to help them out, but he hasn’t been the answer they were looking for, obviously. Since claiming him, the Bucs haven’t won a game, and that’s not all his fault. The bad I see in this team is the lack of leadership. I know that Ronde Barber is a leader, but he’s not the vocal leader they need. They lost a leader in Barrett Ruud, and went with the younger Mason Foster. That has proven to be a big impact, even though Ruud is now on the bench in Tennessee, he was a big reason for the Bucs success last year. They need to get a real motivational leader, and get back on the right track for next season.
The Ugly: Production on both sides of the ball this year has been horrible. The Bucs are averaging 17.5 points a game which is 27th in the NFL. The passing yardage has been average, and the rushing yardage has put them as the 3rd to last rushing team in the league. LeGarrette Blount just hasn’t had the year that he could have had. Josh Freeman has been battling a shoulder injury in the latter part of the season, and it has definitely showed. His production has been awful, only throwing for 14 TD’s with 19 picks, to go along with a 74% QB Rating. It just hasn’t been his year. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs lead the NFL in missed tackles. They haven’t been able to apply the pressure that they once did, resulting in lower sack totals. Corners and safeties have been burned multiple times, while the defense looks confused most of the time. There has also been a rumor that the Head Coach Raheem Morris, has lost the locker room completely and the guys just aren’t in it with him anymore This seems contradicting seeing as how Ronde Barber, has come out and said that he’ll either play with a different team next year, or retire. But I think it’s inevitable that Raheem is going to lose his job. Since their week seven bye they have spiraled out of control and a big part of it, in my opinion, starts with the head coach.
-Lead Sports-Kings NFL Writer: The NFL Guy