This will be part of a series of eight articles where I briefly go over the teams’ offseason moves and their drafts (which will not be factored in that heavily unless I feel the two teams were on equal footing prior to the draft). I will also list these teams in the order I predict they will finish and give a range of wins that each team can expect next year.
The story of the Saints’ 2009 season is easy to follow. They won their first thirteen games, lost their next three and then won three more straight to win their first Super Bowl Title. Drew Brees was his normal self, leading the offense, which is what we expected going into the season. What we did not expect was that the Saints would all of a sudden develop a very good ground game that was for a while ranked within the top five of the NFL.
Finally, Sean Payton may have made the best offseason move last year by hiring (and giving up some of his salary to) defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who made this defense into an opportunistic unit garnering turnovers. The one thing that should be mentioned about this defense is that it regressed when defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis was injured last year.
Because the Saints won the Super Bowl, they were restricted in what free agents they could sign because of the current collective bargaining agreement. Linebacker Scott Fujita left for the Browns and the Saints brought in defensive end Alex Brown to help improve their pass rush, which needed someone opposite from Will Smith.
The Saints draft did not adequately address their immediate needs on defense (such as a viable pass rusher, as Alex Brown is not the answer, and a replacement for Scott Fujita), but drafted some guys who will help down the road, and their first round selection, cornerback Patrick Robinson, will likely play as a nickel corner this year as well as in the likely event that the often injured Tracy Porter gets hurt.
The Saints have a pretty easy 2010 NFL schedule. They get to play the NFC West and AFC North and there is only one elite team between the two divisions they play (Baltimore) as well as having to play Minnesota and Dallas as a result of their first place schedule. Saints fans can expect, as long as Brees avoids any deleterious effects of the Madden Curse, 11-14 wins in 2010.
Atlanta came into the 2009 season riding a season that far surpassed any expectations for Falcons fan as they won eleven games with a rookie head coach and quarterback on what was widely considered one of the most talent devoid teams in the league.
However, after a hot start last year, they quickly fell off, partly due to injury and partly due to the defense falling apart and partly due to Ryan hitting a major slump. The team eventually rebounded to win their last three games and finished with back to back winning seasons for the first time in Falcons history. That has to be a consolation prize, right?
The Falcons have some major needs this offseason. While part of their run defense woes stemmed from Peria Jerry, their 2009 first round pick spending most of the year on the injured reserve, the fact still remains that their pass rush was rather pedestrian, especially after week one, as the defensive end opposite of John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, only had three sacks in the last fifteen weeks of the season.
That is pathetic, when you consider that they played the Buccaneers twice, the Bills, the Bears, the Cowboys and the Redskins, all of which were plagues with offensive tackle issues. They also desperately needed a decent linebacker next to Curtis Lofton who is quickly becoming one of the bigger steals of the 2008 draft. They finally needed some cornerback help. To solve this they signed the oft-injured cornerback Dunta Robinson to a huge contract and they drafted Sean Weatherspoon in the first round of the 2010 draft. Their pass rush will continue to be a liability for another year.
Like the Saints, the Falcons have a pretty easy schedule in 2010, playing the AFC North and the NFC West as well as playing the Packers and the Eagles, which will be tough games. However, the Falcons’ 2010 season will likely hinge on how much Matt Ryan progresses as a quarterback more than anything else. Falcons fans can expect to in 9-11 games in 2010 and possibly get a wild card berth.
The Panthers’ 2009 season is can be described by two words: Jake Delhomme. Jake was utterly horrific most of the times and it seemed that Delhomme and Cutler were having some sort of competition to see who could throw the most interceptions and not get benched.
Cutler won that competition because John Fox finally realized that backup quarterback Matt Moore could not be any worse, and Moore was a major improvement and led his team to victories in New York and against New Orleans, which is something I doubt Delhomme could have done. Moore looked like he could be the next franchise quarterback for the Panthers.
The other thing about the Panthers’ 2009 season is that their run defense was an abomination which was partly due to preseason injuries. Still that was a major need that had to be addressed as well as a legitimate weapon across from Steve Smith.
So what did they do? Well, they cut Jake Delhomme, who signed with the Browns for $7 million a year. They drafted Brandon LaFell to be a number two receiver which will help Matt Moore. They also decided that they should draft quarterbacks. Three of them to be exact: Jimmy Clausen, Armanti Edwards (who will likely be a wide receiver) and Tony Pike. While I know many people love the Clausen pick, I thought it was not a good pick at all.
They already have a franchise quarterback in Matt Moore and Clausen is highly overrated by many. While I do not want this piece to turn into a Clausen debate, I will say that if he was as good as Mel Kiper is touting him to be, his former coach (Charlie Weis, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs) would have managed to get the Chiefs to spend a second round draft pick on him and the Cowboys would not have had him that far down on their draft board (they viewed him as an end of the second round prospect).
I feel that the picks that were used on quarterbacks would have been better spent on adding to the defensive line and getting some more offensive line depth, and we can expect the Panthers to have major issues stopping the run again this year.
The Panthers have an average schedule this year and have to play the AFC North and NFC West as well as Chicago and the New York Giants. While that does not seem hard remember that they have to play four games against the Saints and Falcons. Panthers fans can expect their team to win 8-10 games in 2010 and have an outside chance at a wild card berth.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Going into the 2009 season, Buccaneers fans knew that it was a rebuilding year. General Manager Mark Dominik and Coach Raheem Morris gutted the aging roster put together by Gruden and are trying to rebuild the team. They then traded for tight end Kellen Winslow Junior and proceeded to draft quarterback Josh Freeman to be the future of the franchise.
The Bucs predictably ended the season with a dismal 3-13 record, but managed to get Freeman some playing time and they did manage to beat a pair of playoff teams in Green Bay and New Orleans. However, they are coming into 2010 with a myriad of needs including but not limited to, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback, guard, and the list goes on and on. It is one of the issues of undertaking a rebuilding project all at once.
The Buccaneers did almost nothing in free agency, with the only notable move being that they traded a sixth round pick for wide receiver Reggie Brown, which does not solve their wide receiver need. The Bucs went on to draft defensive tackles back to back, which is one too many as the Bucs had a decent defensive tackle already.
They added wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who has a lot of talent but drops a ton of balls and Mike Williams, who quit the Syracuse football team (really, the high profile Mike Williamses tend to bust), to help solve their receiver issue. The Bucs still have a lot of holes to fill and it is rumored that Morris is already on the hot seat, so this does not look like a good situation.
Outside of their divisional games, the Buccaneers have a few winnable contests against Saint Louis, Washington, Detroit, Seattle, and Cleveland. The one trend that is in the Buccaneers favor is that every NFC South team that finished in fourth place proceeded to make the playoffs the following year. That being said, I believe that the trend will end this year. Buccaneers fans can expect 2-5 wins in 2010.