NFL 2018 - NFC South Jimmy McGinty Season Preview.
New Orleans Saints
2017: (11-5) They went on to beat the Panthers in the wildcard game before losing in the dying moments to the Vikings. The Saints weren’t far off what was required last year. In the regular season the only home loss was versus the Patriots. Saying that they beat many bad teams and good teams in bad spots so may be a touch overrated starting 2018.
The Saints lead regularly and often early last season which allowed them to run often and control games. They were awesome at it. I’d be surprised if they have it that easy again and may need to rely on Brees again. He’s 39 but looks as good as ever. Cameron Meredith looks like a fine addition to the receiving corps, if he stays fit. Mark Ingram is suspended for the first 4 games but Kamara will ensure he’s not missed.
The Saints open with Winston-less Bucs and the Browns, both at home in the Dome. 2-0 start. There’s a few good teams on the slate but they get to face the Rams, Steelers and Eagles at home – and the Saints are a good home side. Tampa’s season could be over by the time the Saints go there and I suspect the Panthers will have a down year. So outside of trips to Atlanta and Minnesota (both domes) the Saints won’t have too many worries. Note the Saints have the NFL’s most difficult schedule in the season’s second half so it might be wise to start taking them on from week 8 onwards if they have big winning record by then.
10+ wins and another playoff trip for Brees and co. looks to be on the cards. Have they improved enough to go further in January though? I don’t think so. I’m backing the Rams & Falcons to win NFC. And would have Eagles and Vikings as stronger sides than NO.
Not sure there’s an angle in with the Saints. Maybe a Divsional forecast, Saints to finish second to Falcons
2017: (11-5) The Panthers won 11 games last season but they had some soft touches. SF before Jimmy G, Bills, Jets, Dolphins and a bad Bucs side twice. Whilst both Minnesota and Green Bay had to come to Carolina. It’s a bit more difficult this time around.
Road trips to Steelers, Redskins, Philly and Detroit are balanced out by visits of Giants, Dallas, Ravens, Bengals, Seahawks. We’ll call that 5-4. How they perform in their six divisional games will decide the Panthers season and I have the Saints and Falcons ahead of them. It’s hard to know what the Bucs will be like come week 9. Hard to see them not winning 8 games but in a tough NFC they’ll probably need 10+ to get to the playoffs. Happy to be against them.
They went 8-1 in one-score games last season; that’s unlikely to be repeated. Lacking receiving talent they’ll need rookie WR DJ Moore to perform but he only had one big college season, as a junior, so may not be NFL ready straight away. Torrey Smith is not an exciting addition. Greg Olsen is 33 and coming off a serious injury (one which can often reoccur). LG Andrew Norwell left to join the Jags. He was a good offensive lineman and his departure means they’ll be in the lower half of the OL table. Daryl Williams is now out injured – on an already dodgy offensive line this is a disaster.
For 2018 the Panthers will have 3 new coordinators on the side-line. Sure some of them may be better than their predecessors but there can also be issues as they and the players learn the new methods. Cam will get hit often and the run game may struggle to get going if there are no lanes being opened by the OL. The signing of CJ Anderson looks to have been a good move but if he’s going to be the one who elevates this team into Super Bowl contenders I’ll be shocked.
Cornerback Ross Cockrell has also broken his leg – he’s a significant loss on defense. Key line-backer Thomas Davis misses the first four games with a drugs suspension. Speaking of Davis, he’s old. Many of their starters are. Julius Peppers is 38, Mike Adams is 37, Davis is 35 and Ryan Kalil is 33. That’s not good.
I’ve touched on the offensive line issues above. Interesting to read that Cam Newton’s passer rating when under pressure has ranked 25th or worse in the past four years. He interests me in the most interceptions market. He finished 2nd to DeShone Kizer last season. The rookie QBs who head the market, Allen & Mahomes are unlikely to be as bad as Kizer was. Not having elite receivers in Carolina will play to our advantage here also. Small play on him in most sacked QB market also – Stafford and Luck who are single figures now operate behind improved OLs whilst Rodgers will be out to mind himself.
5.5pts Not to make playoffs 8/11 – Boylesports
1pt Cam to have most interceptions 12/1 – Coral
0.5pt Cam to be sacked the most 20/1 - Coral
2017: (10-6) Saw them scrape into the playoffs but once in there they dumped out the Rams and could’ve won in Philadelphia.
Freaky interceptions and fumbles cost them against the Bills and Dolphins early in the regular season. A bit of a Super Bowl hangover perhaps, not too uncommon. General red-zone failings and not using Julio enough (summed up as bad OC play calling) cost them. All things that should be ironed out in 2018. The yards per play metric suggested they were far better than a 10win side.
Last year the Falcons were ridiculously bad in the red-zone and it cost them games (6-5 in one-score games). Julio Jones had the 2nd most receiving yards in the NFL yet only caught 3 TDs. Similarly Matt Ryan’s percentages were below his career average. There’s plenty of room for improvement and reason to believe that we’ll see an offense closer to the league leading 2016 version.
The skill positions are still loaded. Matt Ryan will operate behind a top 5 offensive line. He has two talented running backs and new recruit Calvin Ridley to play opposite Julio. Sanu and Hooper also return but the key on offensive could be OC Steve Sarkisian starts his second season. He struggled more than once last year but so too did Kyle Shanahan in his first year of that gig (made Super Bowl in his second). The Falcons will score with ease week in week out.
With the AFC North (Bengals, Browns and Ravens) and NFC East (Giants, Cowboys and Redskins) appearing on the 2018 schedule it makes for decent reading. Add in the fact they play 5 of their opening 7 games at home. That’ll help. Sure the division is still red-hot but overall 2018 isn’t too bad at all. The Falcons will need to hit the ground running if they’re to have a comfortable 2018. Starting in Philly before big clashes with Saints and Panthers. And a road trip to Pittsburgh in wk5. A good start and their half way to a home playoff game in January. A bad start and they can’t afford many slip ups. After that potentially tricky start I have them winning 8 of the remaining 11. Only trips to Carolina, Saints (on a short wk) and Lambeau will pose a problem.
1pt Super Bowl champions 22/1 - William Hill
3pts NFC South winners 2/1 – William Hill
1pt Matt Ryan MVP 20/1 – Betfair (see separate preview)
Tampa Bay Bucs
2017: (5-11) There was hype and expectation but in the end, there was just 5 wins. They lost by one score seven times. To NE, @ ARI, @ BUF, @ GB, DET, ATL and @ CAR. It was a horrible schedule. Having no bye due to the hurricane in Florida in week one and with QB Winston missing five games and playing a few others when not 100% certainly didn’t help. There are plenty of reasons to expect 2018 to be much better.
Unfortunately the schedule might be just as tough as last season - being in an awesome NFC South obviously doesn’t help. But facing the AFC North and NFC East gives them winnable games. Browns, Bengals, Ravens, Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, 49ers and Bears are eight teams that a decent Bucs side could beat. The biggest issue is they are highly likely to start 0-5. Their opening five fixtures are brutally tough and Winston is suspended for the first three outings. At this point the management might lose the locker room (or management lose their jobs) and those with questionable attitude might quit on the team. As such backing them to win 6+ is risky. The best play is to be patient and back them in weeks 7 and 8 when the public believe they are an awful side but the truth is they’ll have come through the toughest schedule in the League.
J Winston does miss the opening 3 games but they’ve a decent backup in Ryan Fitz and were probably going to lose them anyhow so no impact there. When you look at all the weapons around Winston – Brate, Howard, Jackson, Humphries, Evans and Godwin are all very talented receivers. Second round rookie Ronald Jones may help out a bad rushing team. Ex-Raven Ryan Jensen will help the OL. There’s plenty of reasons for hope.
The defense should be equally as talented. It needed big investment and got it. 12th overall pick Vita Vea will block many running lanes. Vinny Curry (Eagles) and Jason Pierre Paul (Giants) are two top defensive ends that alongside Gerald McCoy will terrorise QBs. Line-backers David and Alexander missed 7 games between them last year and CBs Grimes and Hargreaves missed 10. Keeping all those on the field will give the Bucs a chance against the best teams.
I hate the schedule but love the talent and everyone is against them so I’m happy to have them onside. Just not sure how to be honest.
NFC South 2018 predictions: