Mike Ivcic’s NFC South Division Preview & Predictions

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Mike Ivcic’s NFC South Division Preview & Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


Welcome to the Ultimate Capper’s NFL Season Preview. Below is the schedule for the division-by-division breakdown for the upcoming season. Also, we’re enhancing our NFL coverage this year with Mike Ivcic’s regular column every Wednesday and a full game-by-game breakdown every Saturday, in addition to our regular features and free picks. The best place for information on the 2013 NFL season is right here at the Ultimate Capper!


AFC West – Tue, 8/13 NFC North – Wed, 8/14 NFC East – Thu, 8/15
AFC South – Fri, 8/16 NFC South – Tue, 8/20 AFC North – Wed, 8/21
NFC West – Thu, 8/22 AFC East – Fri, 8/23 Playoffs – Wed, 8/28

Atlanta Falcons
Record Last Season: 13-3
Over/Under Win Total: 10
Odds to win NFC South: 13/10
Odds to win NFC Title: 7/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1
Outlook: Last season was supposed to be “the” season for this group. The Giants were injured, the Saints were suffering through “bounty-gate,” the 49’ers were still playing Alex Smith at quarterback, and the Packers defense couldn’t stop most Wisconsin high school offenses. At least, that was the theory. Instead the Redskins and Seahawks emerged with stellar rookie QB’s, Jim Harbaugh broke every standard rule by actually letting Smith lose his job because of an injury, and suddenly the Falcons were watching San Francisco celebrate an NFC championship on their home field knowing full well that 2013 would be significantly more difficult – and indeed, it will be. Getting one more year from Tony Gonzalez will keep this offense easily in the top handful of teams across the entire NFL, and adding Osi Umenyiora, providing he’s healthy, will be a boost to the defense, but Mike Smith’s group will now be forced to navigate both a first-place schedule and a revitalized Saints team just to repeat as NFC South champs, let alone capture the top overall seed in the entire NFC. This team should almost certainly outpace their projected win total, but if the Falcons have their sights set on even returning to the conference championship game, they’ll have to do so away from the Georgia Dome.
Prediction: 12-4, 2nd place

Carolina Panthers
Record Last Season: 7-9
Over/Under Win Total: 7
Odds to win NFC South: 11/2
Odds to win NFC Title: 33/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1
Outlook: Welcome to year three of the “Cam Newton and Steve Smith” show. Really, folks, there are 51 other players that are going to make this team out of preseason, but no one will pay any attention to any of them until we’ve dissected and re-dissected each and every moment of both Newton and Smith. To be fair, though, the Panthers slight playoff hopes in a rugged NFC do rest squarely on the shoulders of these two and their offensive production. The defense should be improved slightly with top draft pick Star Lotulelei to help a weak defensive line, while Captain Munnerlyn leads the secondary (and yes, I just wanted an excuse to write the great name in all of football), but the linebackers are really the strength here, and if they stay healthy could make this a fairly formidable defense. But considering the offenses this team will face – namely New Orleans and Atlanta twice year, in addition to Seattle, San Francisco, New England, and the Giants – it will be incumbent upon the Carolina offense to match the opposition point for point. That means guys like Jonathan Stewart, Domenik Hixon, Ted Ginn, and Greg Olsen will all need better-than-average years to compliment the dynamic duo leading the way, which may just be too much to ask when compared to the rest of the conference.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd place


New Orleans Saints
Record Last Season: 7-9
Over/Under Win Total: 9
Odds to win NFC South: 3/2
Odds to win NFC Title: 10/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 18/1
Outlook: Sometimes, as a writer tasked with projecting the actual records for every NFL team before the second weekend of preseason in complete, I always find myself latching on to one specific team and completely dismissing another team for reasons I can never totally justify. Not to give away future columns, but the Ravens are this year’s team that fits the second part of that statement – and the Saints fit the first half. Make whatever arguments you want here, because I’ve already made them to myself, too – the defense is weak and lacks a whole lot of depth, the Falcons are loaded, the entire NFC seems to be getting better – and yet at the end of it all, this is my projected number two seed in the conference. For starters, I absolutely love their offense. Drew Brees is still a top 5 QB, and he has three very capable running backs (Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Mark Ingram), arguably the best tight end in all of football in Jimmy Graham, and three veteran receivers (Marques Colston, Patrick Crayton, and Steve Breaston) to mentor a very good group of young, talented, up-and-coming wideouts. But the real reason I love this group is what I call, in a “suitable-for-print” phrasing, the “screw you” factor. Sean Payton is back from his suspension to lead a team that four years ago won the Super Bowl and two years ago was a miracle drive from Alex Smith away from hosting the Giants in the NFC championship game. The recent success coupled with an entire franchise coming off of a “lost year” is, without question, the single biggest motivating factor in the entire NFL. This franchise won’t ever take it’s foot off the gas this year, and that renewed vigor and focus will be, at least in my own feeble mind, enough to get this team a first-round bye in an extremely tough conference.
Prediction: 13-3, 1st place

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Record Last Season: 7-9
Over/Under Win Total: 7.5
Odds to win NFC South: 5/1
Odds to win NFC Title: 25/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50/1
Outlook: Give the Tampa brass some credit for trying to piece together a competitive team. In the last two years, the front office has given head coach Greg Schiano three former Pro-Bowlers – Vincent Jackson and Peyton Hillis on offense and Darrelle Revis on defense. They’ve also gotten some nice players through the draft like DE William Gholston and RB Doug Martin that should be very good players for a decade or so, barring injury. There are still some key areas, though, where Tampa is severely deficient – namely, wide receiver and secondary beyond the two guys listed above. After Jackson, it’s really just Mike Williams and a handful of borderline NFL players, especially now with Dallas Clark no longer part of the fold. For a young QB like Josh Freeman to make the jump so many have anticipated over the last couple seasons, he absolutely needs another quality target to help deflect some of the attention away from Jackson. Assuming Revis is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered last season, he should instantly give the Bucs defense some much-needed help in stopping the likes of Brees, Ryan, Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady, but it still leaves the Bucs woefully short in the defensive backfield. Remember, this was a defense the ranked number one against the rush but dead last against the pass in 2012, and in a pass-happy league adding just one cornerback, even the best in the game, isn’t enough to make this a playoff-caliber defense.
Prediction: 5-11, 4th place


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