NFC South Musical Chairs
Four seats. Four teams. Four songs.
Musical chairs is a fun game mixed with aggression so you don't end up on your rump by the end of the song. In this day and age, helmets and pads for students that play musical chairs isn't that far away.
It is a stretch, but I'll draw a comparison to football.
If the NFC South was a game of musical chairs, this is how it would go. Playing the recommended songs at the bottom of each slide only adds to your enjoyment.
First song: Silicon Teens - Red River Rock (From the PT&A soundtrack)
Not so fast, Tampa Bay!
As the song stops, Tampa is left without a chair.
The Silicon Teens song was chosen because it's from the Planes, Trains & Automobiles soundtrack. I can't help but picture John Candy and Steve Martin barreling down the highway in a vehicle with a melted speedometer, no working lights, but amazingly enough a radio that's clear as a bell.
One thing is clear as a bell: The Buccaneers won't be very good this year.
John Gruden was 86'd and his replacement, Raheem Morris, has 10 years of experience (four actual years of being a coach).
Luke McCown was quoted by the St. Petersburg Times as saying "the starting QB job is mine to lose." He certainly has the Buc's first-round pick of the draft, Josh Freeman, beat out and Bucs fans should cross their fingers that Byron Leftwich doesn't start.
Leftwich did have a knack for giving souvenirs out to fans at the Georgia Dome when he played for Atlanta. Unfortunately, they were game balls that flew fifteen rows up while the Falcons were in the red zone.
The ground game should be a shining mainstay for this team. Derrick Ward is a fine pick-up from the Giants. This will definitely come in handy playing Carolina twice a year since he ran all over them back in Week 16 with the #1 seed at stake.
The Bucs are rebuilding. Unfortunately, they face two top-five defenses from 2008 (NYG & WAS) and the #5 ranked passing defense (DAL) to start off their first four games of the season.
Ward will help establish the running game but the passing game is, pardon the pun, still up in the air. I see Tampa Bay taking a win from Buffalo but falling to 1-3 by the end of week four.
They may be chugging down the highway trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving, but by that time they will going home to watch the Rays make another push for October.
Remove one chair; three teams remaining.
Next song: Lynyrd Skynyrd - Call me the Breeze
Tattered "D + Fence" signs for N.O. Fans in 2009.
The Saints could easily be sitting at 7-3 by November 22nd. Starting the season off with Detroit at home can build up your confidence quickly (ask the 2008 Atlanta Falcons).
The Saints will "dig those Georgia peaches" when Atlanta's young defense comes to town. Following that game, the Saints stay at home to play Carolina but the fruit will not be as sweet. In fact, the latter half of the season rests on the shoulders of the man they call the Brees.
The obvious needs to be addressed: Drew Brees is an elite quarterback. He just missed Marino's single-season record last year by 15 yards and coincidentally these two are the only quarterbacks ever to throw over 5,000 yards. Impressive.
What doesn't impress is New Orleans finished 8-8 last year, despite the monumental yardage put up by Brees. Is it a coincidence that their defense ranked 23rd overall and gave up 24 or more points in 10 games last year. No.
The Saints' secondary is mediocre and there is no pass rush. Their best draft pick, linebacker Stanley Arnoux, ruptured his left Achilles' tendon and will probably be out for the entire season.
The question of age arises with Rod Coleman and Dan Morgan, as well as corners that desire more money but don't provide the play to warrant a pay increase.
Perhaps the replacement of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs with Gregg Williams will be the key to the Saints cutting down on points allowed this season.
In the final six games, five of them are against teams vying for a playoff spot (on paper anyway). Another 8-8 season could be staring the Saints in the face.
Since the NFC South was created, every team that finished last the previous year won the division the following year. That ended last year when the Falcons finished second. That trend will not start up again in 2009.
Remove one chair; two teams remaining.
Next Song: Black Label Society - Fire It Up
Yes, folks. Sometimes in musical chairs, when there is one seat left, the two competitors plop down and jockey for position so hard, that each player has a legitimate hiney cheek planted firmly on the seat.
Thankfully, in the NFL a tiebreaker amongst two teams in a division is easily broken. Print out this information on a 4x2 card, laminate it, and keep it in your wallet. When you can spout out such football knowledge, you shall receive many disco-snap-point-thumbs-ups!
Tiebreakers for two teams in the same division:
1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss
Or you could just remember it.
Let's look at the two teams and find a tiebreaker. Listen to whatever song you want now(I bet you were doing that anyway).
Bartender: Keep Tabs on Their Drafts.
Names you should know for this squad: Michael Turner, Roddy White, Matt Ryan, John Abraham and Tony Gonzalez.
If you haven't noticed, there is only one defensive player in that list. The Falcons, outside of one offensive tackle, drafted solely defensive players.
Name you might not know: Thomas Dimitroff. This is the Falcons GM pictured above who could mousse up one impressive fauxhawk if he chose to do so. That is the same man who believed Matt Ryan was the right draft pick for 2008 and Michael Turner would be an explosive runningback once out of the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson.
The first pick this year for the Falcons was Peria Jerry, a three-technique passrushing defensive tackle that could bring a menacing rush with John Abraham or clog the run like recently-cut girth-beast Grady Jackson.
Atlanta's offense is potent, arguably top five in the NFL, and won't have problems putting points on the board. Much like the Saints, it will come down to how many points they can keep off the scoreboard for their opponents.
Experienced veterans are replaced with younger faster players. One exception to that statement is the acquisition of linebacker Mike Peterson from Jacksonville. Having played with Mike Smith, the Falcons head coach was pleased to work with a former player whom he admires.
Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder will earn his paycheck this year because he must mold the minds of several rookie players.
Looking ahead to the schedule, the Falcons have a daunting task. Chicago, Buffalo, Miami and San Francisco (along with the NFC East, AFC East like everyone else in their division). A bye week after three games plus playing Washington right after a Monday Night game in New Orleans could put wear and tear on this team after eight games.
Buffalo might be the easiest game since they play them for the last regular season home game. San Francisco's ship seems to be righted towards the end of the season by Singletary, but they did have a poor draft.
Depending on the play of defensive rookies and health, Atlanta could go no better than 10-6 this season. I don't see Matt Ryan having the "sophomore slump" because of his work ethic and addition of Tony Gonzalez.
On to Carolina.
Julius Stays. Julius Plays.
Julius Peppers is an integral part to this team getting back to the playoffs. Despite opting not to attend mini-camp, Carolina placed the franchise tag on him back on 2/19 and I think he will ultimately play one more year for the Panthers.
Do I expect his performance to decline in spite of staying? No.
The Panthers were offensively 10th or best in the NFL in points, yards, and rushing. With a healthy non-suspended Steve Smith, Delhomme could put Carolina back in the top ten for passing.
On the opposite side of the ball, their best stat was 12th in the league in allowed points. Ron Meeks looks to change that with his "new defense."
Of the three competing teams in the NFC South (Tampa Bay is in transitional mode), all three look to have powerful offenses but lacking defenses. With Julius Peppers in the box, Carolina has the best defense of the division.
Carolina could go 2-4 for the final six games of the season. They have three away games in NE and New York (Jets and Giants) but have the benefit of playing the Saints, Buccaneers, and Minnesota at home.
Like Atlanta, their Bye comes in week four. After playing the Falcons at home, they stay home to play Miami but on four days rest in week 11. Keep an eye out for week 8 when the travel to Arizona for payback from the debacle versus them in the playoffs.
Overall, this team is consecutively picked to win the division because it is solid on both sides of the pigskin (actually, they are made of cowskin).
The music stopped and there is a tiebreaker. Who gets to sit in the top seat of the NFC South?
And the Winner Is...
The head to head record is tied at one a piece.
Divisional records mirror each other at 4-2 (both sweep Tampa Bay).
Both beat Washington.
Both lose to the Giants.
When it comes to Dallas, a loss to Carolina and a win to Atlanta.
When it comes to Philadelphia, a win to Carolina and a loss to Atlanta.
The tiebreaker games will be Minnesota and Chicago.
The Bears avenge their last-second loss against Atlanta last year (despite being outplayed for 3.5 quarters in that game) while Carolina beats the Vikings. Atlanta takes a game from the Jets but Carolina falls in the cold with a stifled running attack.
I am quite sure you remember that fourth tiebreaker amongst two teams in the same division is the record in games played in the conference. You didn't! That's why I suggested the laminated card idea!
Anyway, The Jets are AFC so that means...
Carolina wins the NFC South.
If Atlanta goes 10-6, that should be good enough for a playoff berth as a wildcard. Factoring in strength of schedule for both Carolina and Atlanta, it would not be a surprise if they meet back up for the NFCCG.
The chairs are set up again for the playoffs.