My personal final divisional preview for the 2018 season! It’s been a hard slog getting these together, 2-3 hours at a go, so a fair bit of effort into each one, and no doubt they’ll prove to be completely wrong come the end the season, but hey ho, it is is what it is.
The South, like the North is very difficult to pick! There’s three very good teams and one who are decidedly apart from the others.
#1 New Orleans Saints – Last year – 11-5, SB Odds – 18/1 (Betstars, 16s elsewhere), Division odds – 9/5 (Victor), O/u – 9-9.5
The Miracle in Minnesota cost them a place in the NFC championship game last year, a mis-judgement by the cornerback and Stefon Diggs was gone to the house. It was a cruel way to finish a magnificent season for the Saints where they finally had the defense to allow their powerful offense to win games.
Drew Brees is still one of the best QBs in the league and even on a down year broke the record for completion percentage and finished 4th in yards over the season. It was actually his lowest yards and lowest number of TDs in any season since he joined the Saints, fortunately it was also his lowest INT figure in that time period as well. He just wasn’t required to air the ball out too much for the first time since he’d been there.
He still found Michael Thomas for 1,245 yards, around a quarter of his total yardage output. Thomas is an amazing receiver and a player who I think will be recognised as one of the elite in the game come the end of this season. He doesn’t score a whole lot of TDs, just 5 last season after 9 in his rookie year, that was obviously due to the fact that they didn’t need to keep throwing. Ted Ginn provides the deep threat for the team, he had 787 yards in his first season in New Orleans and will be aiming to improve on the 4 TDs he got, he’s got the pace to get behind defenses still and is used as such, hard to predict week in, week out. But the talent is there. They picked up Cameron Meredith from the Bears in free agency coming off a hideous injury during last pre-season, he’s been involved this year but has seemingly failed to impress the team and it seems like rookie Tre’Quan Smith is above him on the depth chart. When Sean Payton gets the team to move up in the draft to get a player you can be fairly sure it’s a player who has a lot of talent and that seems to be the case with Smith.
The running game was dynamic last year and most of the reason that they didn’t have to have Brees throwing for 5,000 yards. Alvin Kamara earned himself offensive rookie of the year and is one of the best players in the game to watch. He looks like he will be the typical change of pace, pass catching back, but he’s so much more than that, he can run between the tackles, has the pace to get around most, but the power to run through anyone trying to stop him, and once he’s got the edge. You’re not stopping him. He ran for 728 yards and caught for an extra 826 for a total of 13 TDs. The entrenched starter was Marc Ingram who is a great runner himself, 1,200 yards and 12 TDs for him last year, he misses the first 4 games due to a PED suspension which makes Kamara even more valuable in fantasy, although they’ve said they will use him with someone else in those 4 games. The “other” in that backfield is one of a selection of guys, Boston Scott seemed to be the man they liked at first, another with good camp reviews, but they picked up Mike Gillislee who I think is a decent runner himself so we’ll have to wait and see how that shapes up. They got very little use out of Coby Fleener at tight end last year so got rid of him and brought back Ben Watson from the Ravens, despite his age he can do a job here as he did a couple of years ago.
The other reason they didn’t have to continually throw was the defense finally worked. Marshon Lattimore got defensive rookie of the year for his cornerback play, (despite the fact he’s always holding) He solidified the whole secondary and allowed them to thrive. They traded up in the draft to pick up pass rusher Marcus Davenport, it was a strange move, but they obviously feel that’s the one position they needed to make an improved Superbowl run this year, he and Cam Jordan should have fun there.
#2 Atlanta Falcons – Last year – 10-6, SB Odds – 20/1 (Most), Division odds – 2/1 (Skybet/Redzone) , O/u – 9-9.5
The Falcons open the season at the Eagles, and that game alone could dictate how they are for the whole year. I believe they’re in for a bounce-back. There were a lot of similarities last year with Sarkesian as OC to Shanahans first year as offensive co-ordinator there, the second year they blew up and made the Superbowl.
Matt Ryan had a down year by his standards, and while I don’t expect him to hit the heights of his MVP season in 2016, I do expect him to throw considerably more touchdowns this season than the 3.8% that he had last year. League average is about 5% and given that the team were high in a lot of key offensive stats I don’t see any reason why they it would remain that low.
It helps that he’s got one of the best WRs in the league to throw to. Julio Jones is a physical freak, he can beat anyone in the league on his day. He averages a ridiculous 103 yards per game. Over his last 4 YEARS. That’s a crazy figure, and yet somehow he only got 3 TDs last season, mainly down to Sarks play-calling, something that he has said needs to change… I’m not sure how he didn’t realise that last season, but still. #2 in the receiving game should still be Mo Sanu. He’s been a valuable option for them since coming over from the Bengals a couple of years back and he seems to have held off rookie Calvin Ridley for second option in the passing game. He plays in the slot so gets a lot of the ball and has proven himself a reliable target. Ridley in fact, is below Justin Hardy on the depth chart this pre-season as well, but will be someone to keep an eye for later in the season. Tight end isn’t really a position they used too much last year although Austin Hooper did top 500 yards and get himself 5 TDs in the process, there’s every chance he’ll step up now in his third year.
The running game is a 60/40 split between Freeman and Coleman, they’re one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, both of them equally as capable in the passing game as on the ground. Freeman is the better of the two and he finished with 7 TDs last season, he did miss a couple of games with concussion which will be something to watch out for, generally if you’ve had a bad concussion the next one takes longer to recover from. Coleman can fill in easily if that is the case, and playing in a contract year you’d expect him to be better than ever in the hope of getting an RB1 job next summer.
They have a young, quick, aggressive defense with good players at every level from LB to CB, and a good pass rush.
#3 Carolina Panthers – Last year – 11-5, SB Odds – 40/1 (Most), Division odds – 7/2 (Redzone), O/u – 8.5-9
The Panthers changed ownership and offensive coordinator over the summer. Ron Rivera kept his position as head coach, but they brought in Norv Turner as his coordinator, he’s more of an old school coach and has a history of having a workhorse RB in most teams he’s been associated with.
He should be good for Cam Newton, however there’s also a worry that he tries to make him stay in the pocket and that’s not Newtons game, he’s quoted as saying he will get Newton to 65% completion percentage. Again that’s not a strength of Cams. He does however run the ball remarkably well despite them year-on-year trying to reduce the amount he does it, he actually finished with the highest rushing yardage of his career last year and got 6 TDs in the process. In his career in the NFL he’s had 6 or more each and every year on the ground, which is why 5+ is a measly 8/13 on Skybet. As long as they give him the freedom to run when he wants he should be OK.
The workhorse back is an interesting thing though, Christian McCaffrey didn’t seem like he could run between the tackles last year despite being a phenomenal athlete, it just didn’t really look right, he was brilliant on the outside was targeted over 100 times, by far the most in the league for a running back, catching 80 of them. His highest carry total though was just 15 and he only hit double digits in 3 games. If pre-season is anything to go by that figure will be greatly higher this year and they have said they want him at 20+ touches per game. That’s bad news for people who picked up CJ Anderson in fantasy to take over Jonathon Stewarts 120 carries role from last season, CJ is reportedly going to split time with Cameron Artis-Payne which sucks even more. I think CJ is a decent runner so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get more play as the year rolls on.
The passing game isn’t great. Devin Funchess shouldn’t be a WR1 anywhere, but that was the tole he had to fill last year, and in fairness, he did a decent job of it finishing with 8 TDs and 840 yards. He’ll have a little MOORE help this year (see what I did there?) as they drafted a player that Steve Smith said was his replacement in DJ Moore. They hope to welcome back Curtis Samuel as well who is similar to McCaffrey only more WR/RB than RB/WR. If he gets fully healthy he can be an important weapon for them. Torrey Smith came in from Phillie, he’s getting on a little and has lost some pace, but he and Jarius Wright from Minnesota will fight out for game time. Greg Olsen should be back and fit from his toe injury, he’s Cams favourite target and I’m sure will continue to be so, he’s a big addition to the offense if he comes back healthy.
They open the season with quite a few offensive line issues which could de-rail them a little, but that remains to be seen really.
#4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Last year – 5-11, SB Odds – 100/1+ (Most), Division odds – 12/1 (Redzone), O/u – 6.5
Oh dear. The Buccs. They sucked me in last year and made me look like a total fool. Not this year Tampa. You’re finishing bottom of the division and you fucking deserve it.
They start the season with their QB suspended, Jameis Winston will miss the first 3 games of the season for groping a female uber driver, but you get 4 games for smoking a little weed, good work NFL. To be honest it wouldn’t have matter if it was Jameis or as is going to happen, Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the Buccs have a horrible few games to open the season. They start with the Saints, Eagles and Steeler. They’d do well to win any of them with any QB in the league helping them out. Fitz is a curse to anyone ahead of him in the depth chart, wherever he goes he’s guaranteed to play a few games per season! In defense of Jameis’ QB skills, he finished the season on fire last year putting up over 270 yards in each of the last 5 games they played.
He likes to target Mike Evans as you’d expect. His numbers shouldn’t alter too much but it was a rough year for him last year, although that’s relative in terms of others in the league, he still topped 1,000 yards as he has done every year since he joined the league, he didn’t get too much help in the passing game, DeSean Jackson looks like he’ll be pushed inside to the slot this year and that should help him, he and Jameis were just a little out of sync and a bit off on quite a few throws that could have changed games last year, the reason for him being pushed inside is the emergence of Chris Godwin on the exterior, he’s a great talent and one who I really want to see more, he finished the season well to including the winning TD in the finalé against the Saints. It means that Adam Humphries is likely on the outside looking in on this situation, ready and waiting for his chance. At tight end they’ve got a very reliable duo. Cameron Brate does well in the red zone and is one of Winstons favourites, unfortunately despite having the Harvard connection with Fitz he barely targeted him when he was playing. OJ Howard is the other tight end, he was used more as a blocker, but is equally adept in the passing game and in his second year in the league I’d expect his numbers to jump up.
The running game is a bit of a mess though. They drafted Ronald Jones to supposedly be the main guy there but a lot of analysts I listen to aren’t surprised that he’s struggled in pre-season, 28 carries for 23 yards?! Something similar to that, that’s not good. Not at all. Which means that the main work will be Peyton Barbers. He’s done pretty well in the limited action he gets and has a knack of getting into the endzone in short yardage situations. He’ll likely be backed up by Jacquizz Rodgers, another who has done well enough in limited playing time. One man they won’t have to worry about is, unfortunately, Charles Sims who has always done well in the passing game, he was released after suffering a season ending injury. Unlucky.
Their defense is a tale of two halves, the front 7 is great, they have the ability to rotate and their run stuffing unit is very good. Unfortunately for them their secondary is pretty damn awful, one of the worst in the league last year, so logically teams move away from the run and throw the ball a lot. And it works for most who play them.
I’ve got the Saints winning just because of their variety. They have multiple ways of getting the W. But in fairness so do the Falcons and if they bounce back as I think they will there’s no reason why they won’t top the division. I think it’s between those two with the Panthers in the third and the Buccs bottom, probably with a new HC, and possibly QB by this time next year.
- Dirk Koetter to be the first HC fired – 9/2 (Redzone) – 1 point
- Buffalo and Tampa both bottom of their divisions – 3/1 (Redzone) – 2 points
- Carolina Panthers – 3rd place in division – 19/10 (Redzone) – 2 points
I know they’re all redzone, it just happens to be where these markets were available and they’re all well priced.
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