Saints March - Falcons Fall

BtB Previews the 2007 NFC South
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
June 21st 2007

We will preview an NFL division each day for eight days, before presenting final standings, leaders, award winners and playoff results. This analysis is part of a broader endeavor with FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football. Each regular season game is simulated 61 times, with the sum of the averages of those games being our final predicted outcome. This allows us to account for ever player and stat as well as assign probabilities of winning for each team for every game. Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 10, 2007. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content is listed here.

Today we will preview the NFC South.

New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Last year's surprise team marches in to the playoffs again in 2007, even after the rest of the division gets healthy and improves on both sides of the ball. New Orleans will score 27.8 points per game and allow 20.8, against a schedule that features seven games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 25.5 points a game are fourth in the NFL and second in the NFC. Oft-injured veteran Joe Horn, who played in just nine games, has left for another team in the division, yet every other piece of offense returns from an offense that scored more than a touchdown a game more than every other team in the division. Drew Brees is well within the conversation that includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer as to whom is the best quarterback in the NFL. Playing 11 games on turf in domes, loaded ridiculously fast weapons like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem and behind a line that includes emerging tackles Jonathan Stinchcomb and Jamaal Brown, Brees throws for a conference-high 4,102 yards and 30 touchdowns. Behind him are two backs, Bush and Deuce McAllister, who can run and catch. McAllister pounds the ball up the middle for 919 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Bush gains just 633 yards on the ground, but adds a team-high 103 catches for 1,613 total yards and 12 touchdowns. At wide receiver, Colston is healthy and "The Man" this season, accounting for 83 receptions for 1,298 yards and eight scores. With Henderson, Terrance Copper and the rookie Robert Meachem, the rest of the receivers are just as talented, averaging 16.51 yards per catch. The offense is as explosive as the NFC has seen in years. A tougher schedule is the only thing that keeps the Saints from leading the NFL in scoring.

Defensive Outlook: The 20.8 points a game allowed are 11th in the league. The defense probably overachieved in 2006, allowing just 20.1 points a game. In 2007, the production is similar, but the depth chart has been improved with roster additions and experience. Former Bengals Brian Simmons and Kevin Kaesviharn and Super Bowl Champion Jason David join the squad to add depth and leadership, while young players Will Smith and Josh Bullocks more than come into their own. Smith leads the team with and finishes second in the NFC with 14 sacks; and Bullocks stands out with 75 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. Especially with the addition of Simmons, the linebackers are older and slower than most, but are very experienced and make very few mistakes. In the secondary, Jason David's presence moves Fred Thomas back to his role in the nickel and Kaesviharn brings a playmaking ability to safety. With more protection around him, Mike McKenzie ties his career high with six interceptions. The defense will not blow anyone away, but it also does not give up big plays.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Indianapolis (10-6), @Tampa Bay (7-9), Tennessee (3-13), Carolina (10-6), @Seattle (6-10), Atlanta (6-10), @San Francisco (11-5), Jacksonville (9-7), St. Louis (8-8), @Houston (5-11), @Carolina (10-6), Tampa Bay (7-9), @Atlanta (6-10), Arizona (8-8), Philadelphia (8-8), @Chicago (11-5)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Drew Brees (3) 4,102 yards, 30 TDs, 12 INTs; Deuce McAllister 919 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 11 TDs; Reggie Bush, 1,613 total yards, 12 TDs; Marques Colston (13) 83 receptions, 1,298 yards, 8 TDs; Eric Johnson (29) 33 receptions, 307 yards, 2 TDs; Olindo Mare (19) 46/46 XPs, 22/33 FGs; Defense (11) 18 INTs, 47 sacks, 332 points allowed.

Carolina Panthers (10-6)
Carolina lives up to its potential and talent in 2007, narrowly missing a division title, yet running away with a Wild Card spot. The Panthers will score 24.6 points a game and allow 19.2, against a schedule that features six games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 24.6 points a game are eighth in the NFL and fifth in the NFC. After Jake Delhomme seemingly regressed in 2006, Carolina signed former top overall pick David Carr to muddle the quarterback situation. In 2007, Delhomme starts 13 games, throwing for just over 3,000 yards, 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Much of the apparent regression last season can be attributed to a lingering hamstring injury to Steve Smith as well as health issues at running back. Possession receiver Keyshawn Johnson is out, but Smith is healthy and out to prove something, ultimately making 102 receptions for 1,422 yards and nine touchdowns. Smith is accented by rookie Dwayne Jarrett and the sure-handed Drew Carter. Those two also make more than 50 catches and account for 1,380 total yards and nine scores. The running game is versatile, yet fragile. DeAngelo Williams starts second on the depth chart and again ascends to the starring role. With Williams and DeShaun Foster, the backs rush for 4.64 yards a carry and catch 73 passes. Health will be a concern for the Panthers in every game, but the talent (and weak defenses in the division) is there for the team to light up the scoreboard.

Defensive Outlook: The 19.2 points a game allowed are ninth in the league. The Panthers are a fairly well balanced team with a top ten offense and defense. The defense is actually probably better than the numbers indicate as it faces several very good offenses. Julius Peppers is as gifted as any athlete in the NFL. Peppers leads all NFL defensive linemen with 67 tackles to go with his team-high 15 sacks and his two interceptions. That sounds like about all a team would really need to be one of the better defenses in the league, but it's definitely not all the team has. The rest of the line is humongous with 330+ pound tackles Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu and end Mike Rucker. The trio at linebacker can be extremely productive - when it stays healthy. Primarily, that note is directed toward middle linebacker Dan Morgan, who has missed 40 games in his six year career. He misses another five games, making 70 tackles in the games that he does play. Fortunately, Thomas Davis spent most of last season becoming a tackling machine and learning how to fill in for Morgan. He gets 95 tackles and rookie Jon Beason fills in when Davis spells Morgan to record 73 tackles. The secondary is strong at the corners and free safety with Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall and Mike Minter respectively, yet very weak at strong safety. Minter's play is hurt while Deke Cooper, Nate Salley and Cam Newton struggle to replace last season's SS Shaun Williams.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @St. Louis (8-8), Houston (5-11), @Atlanta (6-10), Tampa Bay (7-9), @New Orleans (10-6), @Arizona (8-8), Indianapolis (10-6), @Tennessee (3-13), Atlanta (6-10), @Green Bay (8-8), New Orleans (10-6), San Francisco (11-5), @Jacksonville (9-7), Seattle (6-10), Dallas (8-8), @Tampa Bay (7-9)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Jake Delhomme (21) 3,077 yards, 21 TDs, 14 INTs; DeAngelo Williams (19) 968 yards rushing, 40 receptions, 9 total TDs; DeShaun Foster (42) 750 total yards, 5 TDs; Steve Smith (4) 102 receptions, 1,422 yards, 9 TDs; Michael Gaines (34) 29 receptions, 272 yards, 2 TDs; John Kasay (4) 39/39 XPs, 31/36 FGs; Defense (10) 15 INTs, 39 sacks, 307 points allowed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Without making things to obvious, we should probably take this time to note that we missed just a little bit with our 2006 NFC Super Bowl participant. I like to blame it on a spleen, but it may be more rooted in the system where we, like we do this season as well, simulate each game of the playoffs just once and take the winners to allow for upsets and intrigue. In 2007, the Buccaneers score 19.5 points a game and allow 21.8, en route to finishing just below .500, against a schedule that features seven games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 19.5 points a game are 24th in the NFL and 12th in the NFC. Jon Gruden puts all his faith firmly in now journeyman quarterback Jeff Garcia. With limited weapons, the efficient Garcia still responds with 3,708 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. Coming off two poor seasons after a great rookie campaign, Michael Clayton disappoints again, forcing second-year man Maurice Stovall to step up next to the aging, but still quick, Joey Galloway. Lacking depth and skill at receiver, Tampa clearly, desperately needed to draft a player like Calvin Johnson. Tight end Alex Smith may be the second best and overall safest target for Garcia on the team as he totals 38 receptions for 348 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground is another player who regressed after an impressive first year. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams improves from last season, yet falls a little short of 2005's production with 1,078 yards and nine scores on 3.9 yards per carry. Backup Michael Pittman is versatile and more explosive, but will never be prepared to handle full duty. Aside from an occasional burst from Galloway, the offense lacks punch and personality.

Defensive Outlook: The 21.8 points a game allowed are 15th in the league, yet, like Carolina, this group would look better if it faced a schedule without the likes of Indianapolis, New Orleans (twice), San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis. Gaines Adams, the first defensive player drafted this season, joins an already impressive line, stocked with veterans who know how to rush the QB. Simeon Rice stays healthy all season to record 10 sacks. With Adams, Rice, Kevin Carter and Greg Spires, the ends alone account for 24 sacks. But can the line stop the run? Not necessarily. Tackles Chris Hovan and Ellis Wyms are also more adept at the pass rush than clogging the middle on the run. Generally though, linebacker Derrick Brooks can put an end to any attempt to get to the outside. In 2007, former Colt standout Cato June comes in to do the same opposite Brooks. June and Brooks combine for 220 tackles and four interceptions. Ronde Barber, unlike his brother, is still in the game as he locks down the secondary from the corner position. Barber cleans up what very little is left behind the linebackers with 97 tackles and five interceptions. Outside of a pass-rushing line and the trio of Pro Bowlers, Tampa is even deeper than usual. As many as six linebackers, five corners and four safeties could start for most teams in the NFL. Stopping the run at the line is this squad's only weakness.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Seattle (6-10), New Orleans (10-6), St. Louis (8-8), @Carolina (10-6), @Indianapolis (10-6), Tennessee (3-13), @Detroit (6-10), Jacksonville (9-7), Arizona (8-8), @Atlanta (8-8), Washington (6-10), @New Orleans (10-6), @Houston (5-11), Atlanta (6-10), @San Francisco (11-5),

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Jeff Garcia (12) 3,709 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs; Carnell Williams (18) 1,078 yards rushing, 27 receptions, 9 total TDs; Joey Galloway (17) 71 receptions, 1,228 yards, 7 TDs; Alex Smith (23) 38 receptions, 348 yards, 3 TDs; Matt Bryant (30) 34/34 XPs, 25/36 FGs; Defense (23) 19 INTs, 35 sacks, 397 points allowed.

Atlanta Falcons (6-10)
Even with the league's most exciting player at quarterback, new head coach Bobby Petrino is not in an enviable position. A defensive downgrade and plenty of drama mar the 2007 season for the Falcons. In 2007, Atlanta will score 21.4 points a game and allow 27.7, against a schedule that features seven games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 21.4 points a game are 21st in the NFL and 11th in the NFC. Michael Vick is a lightning rod on and off the field. For insert-your-issue here, he misses three starts, yet still manages to throw for 2,244 yards and rush for 709 yards to account for 21 scores. The Falcons added Joe Horn from divisional mate New Orleans. Horn will lead the team in catches this season, yet with just 39. His greatest asset may be his experience as an elite receiver as he nurtures former first round picks Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. And, despite, more three and four wide receiver looks, Alge Crumpler remains Vick's true safety valve with 34 receptions for 466 yards and three touchdowns. The core of this offense is still in the running game though. Jerious Norwood flashed enough in his rookie season to give Falcons' fans plenty of assurance that the franchise can survive down years from feature back Warrick Dunn. Dunn and Norwood combine for 1850 yards and 14 total TDs on 4.64 yards per carry. Norwood is brilliant and Vick may perpetually be a real "what if" player, but after that the offense is several pieces away.
Defensive Outlook: The 27.7 points a game allowed are 29th in the league. In 2005, the rush defense was horrible, but the pass defense adequate. In 2006, the rush defense was above average, yet the pass defense gave up too many big plays. In 2007, the experienced players (up the middle) are older and slower (to a fault) and the young players (all on the outside) are raw. The starting defensive tackles Rod Coleman and Grady Jackson endure a Sam Adams (circa 2006) like drop-off with 20 seasons between them. And, former New York Jet John Abraham, may be at his peak NFL age, but he has missed at least four games due to injury in more than half of his eight seasons. The young players on the line, Chauncey Davis and Jamaal Anderson are reason for optimism, combining for 11 sacks, but they struggle against the run. The outside linebackers fight the mold. Both are relatively young, yet have multiple years of starting experience. In a season when middle linebacker Keith Brooking begins to wear down, Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams pair to make 174 tackles, three sacks and an interception. In the secondary, Lawyer Milloy is another example of a player at the end of his career, starting in Atlanta because they need him too. The corner position has two younger players in DeAngelo Hall and rookie Chris Houston. Hall is a two-time Pro Bowler who may be a bit over-hyped and takes a little bit to gel with the promising Houston. Similar to the offense, some of the pieces are there, but they do not fit with all the others.
Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Minnesota (7-9), @Jacksonville (9-7), Carolina (10-6), Houston (5-11), @Tennessee (3-13), NYG (6-10), @New Orleans (10-6), San Francisco (11-5), @Carolina (10-6), Tampa Bay (7-9), Indianapolis (10-6), @St. Louis (8-8), New Orleans (10-6), Tampa Bay (7-9), @Arizona (8-8), Seattle (6-10)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Michael Vick (9) 2,244 passing yards, 709 rushing yards, 21 total TDs, 10 INTs; Jerious Norwood (32) 859 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 8 total TDs; Warrick Dunn, 822 yards rushing, 13 receptions, 6 TDs; Joe Horn (56) 39 receptions, 721 yards, 4 TDs; Alge Crumpler (15) 34 receptions, 466 yards, 3 TDs; Aaron Elling (26) 38/39 XPs, 22/25 FGs; Defense (29) 16 INTs, 32 sacks, 443 points allowed.

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