Southern Discomfort

June 11th, 2023

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Don’t sleep on the rest of the NFC South.

The history of the NFL tells us lousy divisions don’t stay lousy forever. The 2022 Bucs caught a huge break last year as the Panthers, Falcons and Saints all slogged to 7-10 records, allowing a subpar Tampa Bay team to capture a second consecutive division crown.

Don’t expect another 8-9 finish to get the job done.

Just look at the NFC East as an example of fleeting success and failure. In 2021, the division collectively finished four games below .500, despite a 12-5 mark by the Cowboys.

A year later, the division was plus-20 as the Eagles, Giants and Commanders all improved while Dallas finished 12-5 once again.

Receiver Drake London is among the major playmakers in Atlanta.

You can’t expect to take a division title without posting a winning record. It happens, but not often. A sense of urgency is palpable in the NFC South because three head coaches appear to be on shaky ground.

Todd Bowles is trying to avoid a fifth consecutive losing season, dating back to his second year at the Jets helm. Dennis Allen brings a 15-38 career mark as an NFL head coach into his second season with the Saints, who still haven’t recovered from the departure of Drew Brees. And in Atlanta, Arthur Smith comes off back-to-back 7-10 finishes.

The only division coach not looking over his shoulder is Frank Reich, starting his initial season in Charlotte. Reich is 40-33-1 as a head coach and he’ll get a longer leash because Carolina is starting rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

Which division rival should Buc fans fear the most?

Although Derek Carr is the most accomplished quarterback in the NFC South, the Saints are riddled with question marks.

Alvin Kamara could still face a suspension for a felony battery charge and he averaged only 60 rushing yards per game last year. New Orleans wisely added Jamaal Williams, who just ran for 17 TDs with Detroit. Michael Thomas, once one of the league’s premier wide receivers, has started only eight games in the past three seasons. If Thomas isn’t healthy, Chris Olave will see a lot of double teams.

Panthers DE Brian Burns delivered Tom Brady what was perhaps the worst hit of his Bucs tenure.

The Panthers have a decent defense, led by former FSU standout Brian Burns, but Young lacks speedy weapons downfield. Miles Sanders should help Reich establish a credible ground game that can take some pressure off a rookie under center.

The Falcons look interesting … and potentially dangerous.

Smith built his reputation as an offensive coordinator in Tennessee, where the Titans gave opponents a face full of Derrick Henry and revived the career of Ryan Tannehill.

Tyler Allgeier ran for 1,035 yards as a rookie, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and Atlanta drafted Bijan Robinson to churn up the clock, keep the chains moving and hit a few home runs.

Add targets like Kyle Pitts and Drake London and it’s easy to envision a balanced attack under the guidance of Desmond Ridder, who didn’t throw a pick while starting the final four weeks as a rookie.

Atlanta’s primary concern is a soft defense that registered only four takeaways in the final eight games. The Falcons hired Ryan Nielsen as their new defensive coordinator, hoping his background as a defensive line coach can lead to more sacks and pressures.

“We feel really good about where we’re going in ’23,” says Smith, who ran the ball 57 percent of the time last season, compared to 34 percent for the Bucs.

Five consecutive losing seasons have taken a toll on 80-year-old owner Arthur Blank, who won’t be a patient man if the Falcons don’t show significant progress this fall.

11 Responses to “Southern Discomfort”

  1. HC Grover Says:

    All I ask is beat the Stainks twice. We will be last in the NFC South but beating the Stainks will ease the coming pain.

  2. geno711 Says:

    I think that the Caesars sportsbook right now has the odds as follows:

    Saints +120
    Falcons +240
    Panthers +340
    Bucs +800

    I am not saying that the Bucs are a good bet, but I sure would go the long odds over the short odds at this point.

    It would be more interesting if Ira had a take of who would be good in the division this year and why.

  3. geno711 Says:

    Odds to win division.

  4. DoooshLaRue Says:

    My gut says the Panthers are going to be the toughest team in the South this year.

  5. Sly Pirate Says:

    Bucs win it.

  6. Beejezus-belt Says:

    NFC East had the luxury of the easiest schedule I have seen in years, which put the Eagles in the NFC championship game just as I thought they would be. I did have the Niners in the SB. None the less the Carr led saints are the only team I think can really improve and they still aren’t going to be much. Did Atlanta improve? Nope they drafted a probable good running back, but they already had one. So, did they improve, no not really they are still a 7-10 or 8-9 team. Panthers need time, but they will be a recon to deal with in Reich’s second year if his QB develops. If Bowels just lets the offense go and worries about the defense, this team still has a chance to win this division for the third year in a row. GO BUCS!

  7. Defense Rules Says:

    Nice analysis Ira. Totally agree with you that 8-9 isn’t gonna get the job done this year. 10-7 MIGHT though, because I just can’t see any NFC South team really breaking out & going 13-4 or anything like that. Every team in our division, including the Saints, has QB questions & that doesn’t bode well for any of us.

    Falcons could be the hardest to beat if their running game really kicks it into high gear & let’s them control the clock in addition to scoring points. Their defense wasn’t all THAT much worse than ours (they gave up 386 points to our 358 allowed last year).

  8. Saskbucs Says:

    As potentially weak as the South is, I don’t see any team running away with it. Carr is in a softer division but the Panthers D isn’t soft. Hopefully the Bucs D isn’t soft. I think Saints could be worst of the bunch. Carr wasn’t lighting up scoreboards with Adam’s Waller and Jacobs. Saints D has been decimated up front and it’s stars on that side are long in the tooth.

    I hope things break right and Bucs are cream of the crop but things will click for one of the Panthers or the Falcons. Certainly won’t put money down but if Young and Sanders work out, the Panthers will be pretty good. If the additions to the Falcons D work out and Ridder doesn’t step backwards, the Falcons will be pretty good.

    A lot of ifs, obviously makes it tough to pick a winner, but if the NFC South stays healthy and all the young guns and FA additions perform well the South will be a very tough division. Not AFC East tough but far from easy outs.

  9. Fred McNeil Says:

    I couldn’t read the first paragraph and half of the second because a Google ad blocked the left hand part of the screen. Look, I know you need ads, but they’re usually off to the side. These Google ones actually block what I’m trying to read. Could you at least make so it’s possible to move them up and down so I can read the whole article?
    Yeah, you can close the ad. You can even give the reason for closing the ad as “blocked content.” But it leaves a blank space where the content was supposed to be. It was annoying enough when they only blocked a few comments and so I never bothered to complain. Now they block what I’m here to read.

  10. garro Says:

    Great stuff Ira!
    You sir do your homework.
    Unlike most of your national brethren.

  11. BillyBucco Says:

    Love your articles IRA
    It really is up for grabs which is why I don’t understand ignoring Pro Bowls and Super Bowl winners etc.
    The Bucs have one thing no player on the other teams have unless they came from the Bucs and that is KNOWING what it takes to win it all.