NFL Preview 2010: NFC & AFC South

Also see: NFC & AFC North

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions and I fully expect them to play very well this season. Drew Brees is still at the top of his game, his weapons are fully functional at the moment. The real question remains the defense.

The Saints have relied on their 500+ point per season offense and will continue to do so. The problem with this is that is what many of the other contenders in the NFC will be doing and they will have better defenses, namely the Packers, Cowboys, and Vikings.

I think New Orleans will once again dominate the regular season, going 13-3, but after getting the bye and home field throughout, will lose its first playoff game setting up a nice January game in Lambeau for the NFC Championship Game.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons took a step backwards in 2009 mainly due to injuries. The loss of Michael Turner perhaps kept them out of the playoffs in 2009 and with him, they could have been a factor in the playoffs. This season, with a healthy Turner and truly an easy schedule, the Falcons should return to the playoffs and could make some noise depending on who their paired with in the wild card round.

If they get the NFC East champion Cowboys, it could be an early exit, but if they face off against the NFC West champion 49ers, that could put them in a very good position to make a run. Pass defense is the biggest concern and considering the teams the Falcons will have to face in the playoffs, they'd better figure that out rather quickly.

I think they'll go 11-5 on a soft schedule and will go 0-1 or 1-1 in the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are an extremely unbalanced team. They have two running backs who rushed for over 1,100 yards in 2009 and unproven quarterbacks to hand them the ball. This seriously might be the only team in the league in danger of having more rushing yards than passing yards. In 2009, they only averaged 18.8 more yards per game passing than rushing.

This season will depend on the quarterback and I think the Panthers will go with Matt Moore at quarterback, who didn't look bad toward the end of last season, handing Minnesota and the New York Giants defeats in the last three weeks of the season. The difficulty will be facing off against teams that know how to blitz. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Chicago are all on the schedule and I think they could cause some problems for young Mr. Moore.

I don't think Moore is quite ready to lead a team into the playoffs and the Panthers will fall behind early, going 1-5 before their bye, but ending strong at 7-9.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I don't know what is going on in Tampa Bay. The front office has made so many changes that I can't envision a turnaround in 2010. I think Josh Freeman is the quarterback of the present and the future in Tampa Bay. He'll perhaps lead this team to great things in another four or five years, but he's not capable of winning with the weapons he has around him currently.

Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward, and Earnest Graham would have sounded like a good idea two or three years ago, but all three have underachieved. Between Williams and Ward, they averaged about 3.8 yards per carry in 2009 and that isn't going to get the job done. Though Graham nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in 2007, he's been relegated to fullback duty, which he certainly is good at, but I think letting him touch the ball 5 or 10 times a game would be a great advantage to the Bucs.

Despite offensive woes, the defense was dead-last in defending the run last season. Sticking their first round draft pick Gerald McCoy in the middle of the defensive line should help that problem a bit, at least getting them out of last in the NFL.

The Bucs have a soft schedule that includes Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis all at home, but I don't expect them to escape the season better than 4-12.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Can you remember the last time you didn't think the Colts would win the AFC South? Jacksonville had a good run, so did Tennessee, but the Colts will remain favorites until Peyton Manning retires. They lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl last season, but they have lost very little and have Bob Sanders back on defense, I believe making them an even better team than in 2009. I think this is the team to beat, period. They will be your Super Bowl champions. They are nothing but absolutely consistent year in and year out, always finding talent and always doing the best they can with what they have.

I'm predicting 13-3, ending in a Super Bowl victory.

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are a very good team. In 2009, they finally broke their .500 or below streak going 9-7 and I think we will continue to see steady improvement from them. Had Steve Slaton not forgotten how to be a running back in 2009, they may well have made a playoff run.

Matt Schaub is really good and could feasibly pass for 5,000 yards in 2010. With Andre Johnson out there, they make perhaps the best quarterback to wide receiver combination in the NFL. (I'd hear arguments for Manning to Reggie Wayne or Tom Brady to Randy Moss, but nobody else.)

The Texans went 1-5 in the AFC South, that can't happen again. They need to go 4-2 or at least 3-3 in the division to give themselves a chance, mainly because they play the NFC East in non-conference play and going 2-2 against the NFC East isn't going to be easy.

Despite schedule problems, the Texans could easily bust through the mold and reach 10-6, but I think they'll miss out on the playoffs in a tiebreaker to the Bengals.

Tennessee Titans

Remember when the Titans started the season 10-0? What happened to that team? Better question, what happened to that defense? In 2008, the Titans were 13-3 and allowed 234 points all season. In 2009, they were 8-8, allowing 402 points. The defense is too woeful for a return back to 2008 form. This team is headed in the wrong direction.

Chris Johnson may very well have another 2,000-yard season and Vince Young may be back, but they'll need to score more than 30 points a game to win with their abysmal defense.

I think they'll end up 6-10 and make actual moves next offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Here's another team who looked pretty good a few years ago. They were a trendy pick for winning the Super Bowl two and three seasons ago, but when David Garrard started throwing interceptions, that idea was destroyed. He's not a bad quarterback, and he indeed deserves to start in the NFL, but the Jaguars' defense also has been lacking in the last two seasons and being a good quarterback with a bad defense isn't good enough.

Maurice Jones-Drew remains an elite back, but he seems to be the only weapon on offense at the moment.

I think we're seeing the end of Jack Del Rio's tenure as the Jaguars hit bottom, going 5-11.

Stay tuned as Andrew Jones brings you his NFL previews each week leading up the season!

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