Best case, worst case scenarios for each NFC South team in 2014
The best case and worst case scenario for each NFC South heading into 2014. It's the Saints and everyone else.
The whole idea started on our award-winning podcast (embedded below): what would each NFL team look like in their “Armageddon scenario”? In other words, what's the absolute worst thing that could happen to each NFL team? And, conversely, what's the best-case scenario for each team? (Yes, theoretically “16 wins and the Super Bowl works, but let's be realistic.)
We'll go by division on these and if you want to hear the breakdown for each one,subscribe to the Eye on Football podcast via iTunes. Up now, the NFC South.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
DREAM WEAVER: Drew Brees shows no lingering effects from his preseason oblique injury and rolls right back into 5,000-yard form, bombing passes to his myriad weapons. Brees shatters Peyton Manning's record for passing yards in a season, becoming the first 6,000-yard passer in NFL history. Brandin Cooks is as advertised and more, compiling more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and lighting teams up as a home-run threat.
Jimmy Graham is totally healthy, doesn't miss any time and leads the league in receiving touchdowns. President Obama issues an executive order legalizing goal-post dunking. A nation a rejoices.
Rob Ryan's unit gels even more with the addition of Jairus Byrd next to Kenny Vacarro, while Champ Bailey finds his old magic as the Saints sport the league's best secondary. Victor Butler returns healthy and Cameron Jordan posts a DPOY season.
New Orleans cruises to an NFC South title, winning somewhere between 13 and 16 games, lands the top seed in the NFC and brings home the second Super Bowl title of the Sean Payton era.
ARMAGEDDON: Brees isn't ready to start the regular season, Graham isn't motivated after signing a new deal, Byrd can't stay healthy, Cooks is more hype than substance and Terron Armstead isn't the young blind-side protector we expected.
The NFC South is (somehow) tougher than expected and the Saints "only" win 10 games and the division title.
Seriously. There's no reason New Orleans shouldn't be a double-digit win team (outside of a disastrous injury to Brees) and division champ this season. It would be disappointing if they have to travel for the playoffs.
DREAM WEAVER: Cam Newton's surgically-repaired ankle really DOES make him a better quarterback and he takes off into another stratosphere of efficiency (anyone expecting massive volume passing numbers from Newton in this offense is either dumb or delusional). Steve who? Kelvin Benjamin catches 12 touchdowns and is your Offensive Rookie of the Year, Jerricho Cotchery keeps creeping around the end zone and scoring and everyone finally figures out Greg Olsen is the Panthers top receiving weapon.
Dave Gettleman is awarded a Noble Peace Prize for turning Byron Bell and Nate Chandler into 16-game starting offensive tackles and suddenly the run game is back together, with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams teaming up again for a Double Trouble Part Deux reunion tour. Mike Tolbert is on cowbell.
The secondary doesn't flinch with odd parts leaving and new odd parts coming thanks to another massive season from Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Star Lotulelei on the defensive line. Kawaan Short makes a leap forward and Kony Ealy's strong rookie performance means a disgusting rotation of pass rushers.
Oh yeah, Luke Kuechly is good too and the Panthers win between nine and 11 games and contend in the division again.
ARMAGEDDON: Bell and Chandler can't hold up in pass protection which means Cam is getting consistently nailed in the pocket and with his ankle already hurt he starts to break down, can't run and miss plays/games. Derek Anderson gets involved.
Benjamin isn't running his routes well, timing is off and Cotchery/Jason Avant are too old. The running game breaks down (again). The secondary is shredded and Hardy doesn't step up in a(nother) contract year. Charles Johnson's contract looks like an albatross.
Riverboat Ron Rivera starts having panic attacks on the sideline and not only won't go for it on fourth down, he's punting on third down.
Five wins and a cloud of dust.
DREAM WEAVER: Jake Matthews looks like the best young left tackle in the NFL, fending off pass rushers left and right. Lamar Holmes is adequate on the right side and the pair gives Matt Ryan plenty of time to lob deep balls to a (FINALLY) healthy Julio Jones (2,000-yard receiving season if he plays 16 games), Roddy White and Harry Douglas. Devonta Freeman steals Steven Jackson's starting job and it's a good thing as he challenges for a ROY nod.
Desmond Trufant becomes a star cornerback and Robert Alford's a wonderful complementary weapon. Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu combine for 300 tackles and suddenly Mike Nolan's 3-4 defense is stuffing the run out of nowhere. Dear God the Falcons defense is ... good?
But this is too tough a division and nine wins is topping out for Atlanta this year.
ARMAGEDDON: An UGLY scenario here: Atlanta's bad luck in close games continues and so does their poor pass protection as Matthews is overwhelmed in his rookie season and Holmes is just a guy. Dirk Koetter wants to throw deep but Ryan doesn't have time to get the ball 20 yards down the field. Jones' foot is an issue again and he only plays half the season. Douglas can't repeat last year and Tony Gonzalez is sorely missed. Neither Freeman nor Jackson can run behind the defensive line.
All the offseason talk about the "next men up" on defense is just that. The run defense is a sieve and it doesn't matter what scheme is being used. In a scenario that would (quite unfortunately) cost people their jobs, Atlanta limps to five wins and another top-10 draft pick. Hard Knocks is the highlight of the season.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
DREAM WEAVER: Mike Glennon never sees the field because Josh McCown can replicate his success bombing shots to a pair of tall receivers and never deals with the lack of acceptable interior line play. The line steps up so much we see a massive resurgence for Doug Martin.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans both post 1,000-yard receiving seasons and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins looks like the real deal. This offense arrived FAR earlier than anyone expected and Jeff Tedford's name is smoking hot as a potential coaching candidate.
Oh but the defense is even better. Lavonte David becomes the Defensive Player of the Year under Lovie Smith, Alterraun Verner is a delightful fit in the Cover 2, Michael Johnson compiles double-digit sacks and Gerald McCoy finally gets his due.
Nine or 10 wins and a serious flirtation for the division title and Lovie's getting Coach of the Year accolades while Jason Lichte scores an Exec of the Year title as well.
ARMAGEDDON: Mike Glennon does see the field and he sees it early, because Josh McCown is either healthy, ineffective or both. But Glennon isn't much better, primarily because the Bucs can't keep pressure off the quarterback, which limits what the deep threats can do and not that it matters because the two rookies involved here haven't grasped Tedford's offense.
Martin isn't his rookie year self and can't run behind a beat up line anyway. The offense looks Gross, man.
The defense is still good because it's Lovie's calling card. But it's not the dynamic teams we saw in Chicago during his peak years and Tampa looks another year away from making the leap.
Five wins is entirely in the realm of possibility if things break the wrong way.
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