What have we learned?
Well, first off, the NFC South is still up for grabs, despite New Orleans' hype. But who will ultimately emerge as NFC South Champion? Let's see.
His poise and decision-making at BC have proven him ready for NFL play and it showed in the Falcons' preseason matchup with Jacksonville. Chris Redman and Joey Harrington didn't see much playing time, and Shockley didn't do a good job at all, going four for 15 with an INT.
Norwood, Turner, and Snelling shared most of the reps at tailback, with Brown getting a few handoffs. The running game looks decent at best for this year's Falcons team, with Norwood and Turner taking most of the reps.
Most of their success on the ground will depend on a weak offensive line that allowed five sacks against Jacksonville and 47 last year.
Luckily, Ryan has a few recievers that he can throw to, led by Roddy White and veteran Joe Horn. White had a good showing with five receptions for 47 yards and a TD. Though they haven't been known as a team to go to the air a lot, I feel that this will be the bright spot of the Falcons' offense this year.
The defense faired well last year, giving up only 265 yards a game on average, which isn't horrible. This put them at ninth in the league, based on a YPG scale. They even managed to pick up three fumbles against the Jags in their loss.
So here's my prediction: Based on the evidence presented from last season and this recent preseason game, the Atlanta Falcons go 6-10 or 7-9.
I think that, though they're expected to be pretty much horrible, they'll tough it out and win six or seven games, led by their rookie QB. They'll be in competition for third place in the NFC South and will have a promising future to look ahead to.
Disappointment clouded this team last season after Delhomme suffered an elbow injury, and the Panthers had no one to replace him. Moore performed decently, along with Testaverde, and Weinke just sucked.
But Jake's back and hungry for a shot at the big time. The Panthers' QB is quickly losing time, with his age starting to creep up on him, and he is in desperate need of a winning season. We didn't see much out of Delhomme in the Panthers' preseason game, with Jake only throwing the ball once, resulting in an incompletion.
The coming weeks will come to show us more about Jake, and I believe it will be mostly good things.
The running back situation in Charlotte is still sketchy. DeAngelo Williams played great, racking up two TDs on nine carries for 55 yards against the Colts. Even the backups played well, racking up 146 yards between the three of them (Goings, Birmingham, and Toefield).
Stewart was MIA with a toe injury, but it appears that we'll be seeing him sometime before the season starts. Williams' success on the ground was largely due to a powerful offensive line, which opened up gaping holes for him to glide through. The OL looks very good this year, and rather beefy, with all five guys coming in over 300 pounds.
Wideouts should be no problem for Carolina in the upcoming season. Steve Smith is back again and looks as good as always, that is, when he's not hurting teammates.
D.J. Hackett is on the rise, and he showed many good things last season with Seattle. And even Moose is back, and though he's a little older, I think he'll do a good job contributing to the offense. Dwayne Jarrett is still a bit of a question mark, but he did well in the matchup versus the Colts, racking up three receptions for 43 yards, catching all of those passes in traffic.
For the defensive aspect, I'd like to cite the first play of the Colts' opening drive in which Julius Peppers sacked Jim Sorgi, forcing a fumble that the Panthers so gracefully recovered. The defense is back and ready to play, led by Jon Beason and Peppers. The defense racked up four sacks, and rookie Dan Conner came up with six solo tackles.
Prognosis? It looks goooood. The Panthers' should be the only team to seriously challenge New Orleans for the NFC South title. They should go 10-6 or 11-5 and possibly make the playoffs, which has been Head Coach John Fox's strong point.
Yet another team with a quarterback dilemma. With Garcia injured they could start either McCown or Simms in their upcoming matchup vs. the Patriots. But no matter which one it is, the Bucs can't expect much. Tampa has two, weak quarterbacks who have shown very little ability to win. They both did well in their game against Miami, McCown going 9/15 for 70 yds and Simms going 8/10 for 60 yds. But then again, it is Miami.
Michael Bennett did a good job in the game, ending up with 19 carries for 74 yds and a touchdown. We didn't see any of Warrick Dunn—I guess because the Bucs didn't want him to get hurt (correct me if I'm wrong). Nor did we see any of suprising running back Ernest Graham, who had a great season last year, leading TB's rushing attack.
John Gilmore, Maurice Stovall, and Michael Clayton all had receptions and hovered around 25 yards apiece. The passing attack looks pretty weak for TB, with fairly decent WRs and no real QB, other that the aging Garcia, to pass to them.
The defense played well enough to hold the lowly Dolphins to six points and notch four sacks. Defense will win games for TB, along with their rushing attack. The Bucs' defense is always in the top 10, and it will be the bright spot yet again for Jon Gruden's withering Buccaneers team.
The jury is still out on the Bucs for this coming season, with question marks at QB and WR. Gruden is a good coach who has been plagued by bad talent. The Bucs will most likely end up last in the south this year, behind the Falcons, going 6-10 or 5-11. Until they find a consistent QB, the Bucs will not win the division again.
The QB situation is most definitely set in New Orleans, with Drew Brees as the starting QB. Brees went 6/7 for 40 yds and a TD. Brunell also did great and could possibly be the best backup in the league. Brunell went 10/12 for 119 yds. Needless to say, the Saints are set under center.
Aaron Stecker and Reggie Bush both did well, ending up with 14 carries for 61 yards between the two of them against the Cardinals. The running game was nothing to smile about last year in New Orleans, with Reggie Bush under-performing yet again.
Stecker did a good job of stepping up last year when Reggie was injured, and he will play a bigger role this year, receiving more hand-offs, especially if Bush goes downhill again. The running game should be enough to at least balance the offense a little.
Robert Meachem finally came to a game for once, gaining 129 yds and a TD on four receptions against Arizona. Along with Meachem, Adrian Arrington and Mark Campbell both played well, catching six passes for 88 yds between them.
The Saints showed last year that they can throw they ball very well and will likely do the same this year. Brees is playing great, and the WRs are good enough to lead NO to several wins.
The defense also played well, making 48 tackles—including five sacks. New Orleans' defense manages to fly under the radar every year, even though they've been pretty good the last few years. They've got a good amount of talent and playmakers to provide the team with stops when they need them.
New Orleans is the favorite to win the NFC South, and deservedly so. They've got a promising offense and defense. My prediction is an 11-5 season, if they play mediocre. They're a good team; look for them to make a run in the playoffs if they win the division.
The NFC South is 50/50. It contains two teams who probably won't make it above .500 and two teams looking for playoff spots. The Saints will most likely prevail with a 12-4 record, and the Panthers stand a chance to obtain a wild-card spot with a record of 11-5.
Both teams have moderate schedules, which will lead them to several tight games on the road to the NFC South Championship. It will be a tight race and both teams have a shot at greatness. Who will prevail? We shall see.