32 Teams, 32 Questions: The NFC South

Eric Olinger


Much like Chris Mortensen of ESPN, we are touring all 32 teams in the NFL featuring what we’re looking for in the 2013 season and beyond – only DLF hasn’t chartered a bus for anyone, no pro will actually talk to us and we’ll be focusing completely on dynasty fantasy football. Other than that, it’s totally the same.  In this new series, we will cover all 32 teams and ponder a question we have for each of them in relation to dynasty leagues. Each edition covers one division – in this case, we cover the NFC North.

Past Editions

AFC West
NFC West
AFC East
NFC North
AFC South

Atlanta Falcons

“How much of an impact will Steven Jackson make in Atlanta?”

This truly is the million dollar question for the Atlanta Falcons, barring injury. This team is loaded for a title run in 2013 and identified Michael Turner as an area of weakness on this roster. Instead of looking to the draft and gambling on potential upside, they signed the biggest free agent running back available and the most complete running back they’ve had since Warrick Dunn.

The Falcons are built to throw the ball a ton. With Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, it made little sense to have a plodding power back with no receiving ability on the field. Michael Turner has 59 career catches and 60 rushing touchdowns since joining the Falcons in 2008. Jackson has 217 receptions and 26 rushing touchdowns over the same time frame. His low touchdown total is a result of a poor offensive team in St. Louis with few red zone attempts, not Jackson’s skill set.

Look for Steven Jackson to approach a career high in touchdowns while adding 1,500+ total yards rushing and receiving. 

Carolina Panthers

“Will any pass catcher emerge from this team behind Steve Smith and Greg Olsen?”

There have been very few things more confusing during the last two off-seasons than the Carolina Panthers refusal to add playmaking wide receivers in free agency or during the draft. With one of the game’s most exciting playmakers at the quarterback position in Cam Newton, the Panthers have solely relied on an aging Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen. Instead, they bring in fringe level players to compete and so far it has proved to be fruitless. They are currently in salary cap hell due to the former regime’s careless spending on aging vets, but the rookie salary cap scale gives teams the ability to cheaply add talent in the draft. Something they repeatedly pass on.

This year’s batch of nobodies include career special teamer Ted Ginn Jr., the oft-injured Domenik Hixon to compete with the perennial underperforming cast of misfit toys, Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards and David Gettis. These guys are a “who’s who” list of mediocrity. The truth is nobody is going to step up across from Steve Smith and Greg Olsen because nobody has the talent to compete consistently in the NFL.

This team hangs its hat on running the football and attacking downfield with Smith and underneath with Olsen. The problem now is the offensive line has deteriorated and the once dominant stable of running backs cannot stay off the trainer’s table. I fully expect the Ron Rivera tenure to end after this season, if not before, and hopefully the Panthers and new GM Dave Gettleman will retool the offensive firepower. 

New Orleans Saints

How will the return of Sean Payton effect the Saints offense?”

Coach Sean Payton wasted no time in voicing his frustration over the lack of a Saints run game in 2012. Drew Brees set a career high in pass attempts while his coach served his one year suspension for his role in “Bounty Gate” while finishing with his lowest completion percentage (63%) since joining the Saints in 2006.

Payton’s answer definitely isn’t to throw less, but run more. New Orleans ranked 25th in rushing last year, they ranked sixth in 2011, while leading the league in passing. They want to run a more efficient offensive attack, one with Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas pounding the rock inside and Darren Sproles burning the edges. Drew Brees has averaged a mind numbing 620 pass attempts since he and Sean Payton teamed up and it’s not going to change. With a more efficient ground game to force defenses out of the nickel package, Brees’ completion percentage should return to the 67% range he has maintained as a Saint.

A lot has been made about Chip Kelly and Doug Marrone’s comments about speeding the game up and running as many plays as possible, but it’s no different than what Payton’s Saints and Belichick’s Patriots have been doing for years. It’s how their passing and rushing stats both finish in the top ten every year – more efficient plays equal more yards. Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore will continue to be great fantasy assets, but look for Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram to re-enter the mix and flirt with solid RB3 seasons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

“Will the real Josh Freeman please stand up?”

A lot can happen in a short period of time in the NFL. Freeman went from being one of the game’s premier young talents in 2010 when he threw for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions to a quarterback who needed premier talent around him to succeed by the end of 2011. His 2012 season was a volatile mixture of 2010 and 2011.

The Buccaneers didn’t fool around. They saw what was happening around them in their division – the Panthers had an exciting young playmaker in Cam Newton putting points on the board, the Falcons were transforming into one of the league’s most prolific offenses and the Saints were what offenses around the league strived to be. So, they signed free agents Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks and drafted their feature back Doug Martin out of Boise State. Basically, they did the opposite of what the Panthers are doing. They surrounded their young signal caller with explosive talent to succeed.

Everything looked like it was going according to plan. Freeman started out the season on solid before hitting a six game stretch in the middle of the season as good as anyone in the league. From week six to week 11, Freeman threw for 1,715 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. The team was 6-4 and fighting for a Wild Card berth before finishing the season 1-5 behind a fading Freeman. Especially painful were the weeks 15 and 16 games when he threw four interceptions in each contest.

The team drafted Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft and Greg Schiano created a media firestorm when he said he wasn’t opposed to Glennon beating out Freeman for the starting quarterback gig. He has since backed off his statement and publicly endorsed Freeman as his unquestioned starter. Perhaps he saw the media circus surrounding every quarterback competition and realized his fake one was a distraction.

Freeman will enter week one the unquestioned starter and should finish the season there, too. Glennon was a smart addition for a team without a talented backup signal caller, but Freeman has shown enough to keep his job until someone takes it from him – they have too much talent on both sides of the ball to hit the reset button with a rookie signal caller.


eric olinger
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