Can the NFC South surprise NFL odds makers in 2008 and supply the playoffs with a representative?
A season after their feel-good run to the NFC title game, the New Orleans Saints stumbled out of the gate, never recovered, and missed the playoffs. RB Deuce McAllister was lost for the year in Week 3, and while QB Drew Brees and WR Marques Colston racked up big yardage, New Orleans ranked just 28th in rushing. And the Saints ranked 26th in total defense, which had a hand in their 6-10 mark vs. the nfl odds. This year, three key players – McCallister, CB Mike McKenzie and free agent LB Jonathan Vilma – are coming off knee surgery. But the talent is in place for a rebound.
The Carolina Panthers started 4-2 last year, but a five-game losing streak in which they scored 50 points total spelled the end. QB Jake Delhomme went down in Week 3 with a bad wing, and by the end of the year the Panthers had started three other QBs. Carolina ranked 29th in total offense and averaged just 17 PPG, while the defense ranked 16th overall and 31st in sacks. This year a healthy Delhomme would be a big boost. WR Steve Smith is still a threat, and RB DeAngelo Williams averaged 5.0 YPC last year. If the defense improves, the playoffs are a possibility.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the defending South champs, but also enter this season with a three-game losing streak. Tampa went 9-7 last year, 9-7 vs. the NFL betting odds, and 6-2 ATS at home. Veteran QB Jeff Garcia posted a 13/4 TD/INT ratio, and the Bucs ranked 11th in rushing. But it was the defense, which ranked 2nd overall and 1st vs. the pass, that got this team to the playoffs. Garcia is nifty at QB, WR Joey Galloway is still dangerous, and they’ve got a nice stable of RBs and a solid O line. And that’s their weaker unit.
Last year the Atlanta Falcons’ franchise QB got sent to prison, they won four games total, and their first-year head coach couldn’t finish out the season. And Atlanta could only go 2-5 vs. the NFL odds as home dogs. Mike Smith, a former defensive coordinator for Jacksonville, inherits a team that ranked 23rd in total offense, 26th in rushing, and 29th in total defense. Chris Redman posted a 10/5 TD/INT ratio in relief last year, and he’ll go to camp as the starter this fall.