2013-2014 Carolina Panthers Preview

By: Evan

Projected Record: 8-8

NFC South Rank: 3rd

Cam needs a big year to lead the Panthers to a .500 season                                                                                              Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

The Carolina Panthers have not made the playoffs in the Cam Newton era, and they probably won’t this year, but the future is very bright for a young Carolina Panthers team.  For the Panthers to have success, Cam Newton needs to have a big year and prove why he was taken #1 in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Cam’s attitude and leadership capabilities have been questionable, but Cam was named a captain for the first time, and should become a better teammate and leader.  Another reason why Cam should have  a big year is Mike Shula, his former quarterback coach, is now Offensive Coordinator, and Shula knows the ins and outs of Cam’s strengths.  Cam also has some weapons in the ultra-competitive wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Greg Olsen, and the newly acquired Domenik Hixon who wasn’t getting much playing time in New York because of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle.  Hixon now has a chance to emerge as a threat for the Panthers’ squad.   The days of Smash and Dash– meaning Jonathan Steward and DeAngelo Williams, are over.  Look for rookie Kenjon Barner from Oregon to emerge and take over the top running back spot because he is adept at playing the read option and is wicked quick.   The Panthers can sub in either Steward or Williams when needed.  The Panthers are poised to move forward and make strides to becoming a winning team.

Strengths: QB and Front seven

Luke Kuechly is a star and at age 22, he is only going to get better. Courtesy of ESPN.com

Cam Newton is not just a fantasy football star, but also a pretty good quarterback as well. Although his touchdown numbers decreased from 21 to 19, so did his interceptions coming down from 17 to 12, proving Cam is becoming smarter with the ball and is learning defensive tactics. He also ran for 35 more yards in 2012, improving to 741 yards, which was good enough to lead the team. If Cam figure out a way to balance running and passing and throw a couple more touchdowns, the Panthers should be headed to the playoffs in the next two years. Just look at the caption above and you’ll know why I think the Panthers’ front seven is one of the best in the NFL. It all comes down the middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles last year with 164 in his rookie season. He is already one of the best linebackers in the game with room to grow.  But the Panthers also have two ridiculously talented defensive ends in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who combined for 23.5 sacks out of the Panthers 39 total. The front office was smart to draft two DT in Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. If not for a potential heart issue, Lotulelei might have been a top 5 pick and Short was a second team All-American in 2012. Now with these two forces on the inside, Johnson and Short will be able to blow by offensive lines without running into double teams. Remember these names as all of the defensive stars for this Panthers teams will be key for the future.

Weaknesses: Wide Receiving Corps, Secondary and Offensive Line

As Steve Smith gets older, the Panthers need to look for WR help                                                                     Courtesy of ESPN.com

Steve Smith is now 34, Brandon LaFell has potential but needs to show it, and Domenik Hixon is unproven, so it is easy to see why the Panthers need to improve their group of wide receivers. This probably won’t change much during the year but this years draft has some pretty good receivers in Marqise Lee, Sammy Watkins and Jordan Matthews. Chances are that the Panthers won’t get Lee or Watkins, but they might have a shot at Jordan Matthews or TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins who could help Cam Newton feel more confident about the 2014 season.

For as good as the front seven is, the last 4 four is just as bad with no significant playmakers in the secondary. Cornerback Chris Gamble retired so Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Morgan will have to step up and defend the elite WRs in the NFC South, including Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson. This is a recipe for countless games of over 300 yards passing and a poor defensive ranking.

Besides All-Pro center, Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross, the Panthers offensive line is weak.  They gave up 36 sacks last year and if not for the mobility of Cam Newton, that number would have increased significantly. This will have to be another topic of conversation for the Panthers’ front office going into next offseason.

Schedule Analysis:

Carolina will have to deal with both Richard Sherman and Tom Brady this year Courtesy of ESPN.com

vs Seattle-W: I like this game for Carolina, as the Seattle cornerbacks are very jumpy and can sometimes misread the read option and get exploited downfield. If Cam can get protection I think the Panthers can pull of the upset.

@ Buffalo-W: Cam is better than EJ and the Panthers’ front seven is better than Buffalo’s, so I have the Panthers starting the season 2-0

vs New York-L: Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will be too much for the Panthers to overcome as Eli Manning picks apart the awful secondary

Bye Week

@ Arizona-W: Arizona had the worst offensive line against the pass rush last year, allowing 58 sacks last year and with Jonathan Cooper out for the season with a broken leg, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will have a field day.

@ Minnesota-L: Adrian Peterson loves running at home and this game will be no different as he torches the Panthers D for over 175 yards and 3TDs.

vs St.Louis-L: Tavon Austin is a big play waiting to happen against a terrible secondary and he explodes for both rushing and receiving touchdowns. The Rams also tied for first with 52 sacks last year and with the offensive line in shambles, the Rams get to CN1.

@ Tampa Bay-L: Another game where the Panthers have to deal with a tough runner in Doug Martin as well as an elite receiver in Vincent Jackson. The Bucs also improved their secondary with Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis so Steve Smith will be contained.

vs Atlanta-L: Again the secondary lets down the Panthers as Roddy White and Julio Jones make Carolina look silly, going for over 120 yards and 2TDs each.

@ San Francisco-L: In a game of read option galore, the Niners win out, making enough stops against Cam to seal the deal.

vs New England- W: The five game losing streak ends here as the Panthers make huge strides in beating the New England Patriots on their home turf, proving why they are on the rise. Cam Newton should have a big game as the Patriots ranked 29th in passing defense last year.

@ Miami- W: Mike Wallace will be open, but Ryan Tannehill is not good enough to get it to him as the Jake Long less Dolphins struggle to defend the pass rush.

vs Tampa Bay-W: The Panthers also get to Josh Freeman and the defense will clamp down on Doug Martin, giving the Panthers a nice inner divisional win.

@ New Orleans-L: Drew Brees slices up the Panthers secondary and the offense won’t be able to respond.

vs New York Jets-W: Cam Newton is exponentially better than Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez and the Panthers win easily.

vs New Orleans-W: Kenjon Barner has a big game, exploiting the 32nd ranked run defense in the league and Cam Newton shows out as well.

@ Atlanta-L: In Cam’s homecoming game, he plays well but the Panthers can’t contain any of the Falcons’ offensive weapons and the season ends on a sour note.

Conclusion:

The Panthers have talent on both sides of the ball but they need to significantly improve their weaknesses in order to become a playoff team.

Stats from ESPN

2013-2014 Atlanta Falcons Preview

By: Evan

 

Projected Record: 12-4

NFC South Rank: 1st

Steven Jackson will be a huge part of the Falcons’ offense
Courtesy of SB Nation

After two disappointing playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011, the Falcons showed impressive maturity and growth in 2012, beating a tough Seattle team 30-28.  This year, the Dirty Birds want to go all the way to the Super Bowl in New York. This year the Falcons have made some significant upgrades at crucial positions to help solidify their squad. The two most important upgrades are Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, two established veterans who will provide experience and talent on both sides of the ball. The Falcons ranked 29th in total rushing and Jackson brings eight straight 1,000 rushing seasons as well as a reliable red zone threat. Jackson is also strong and will be another option for Matt Ryan in the short passing game. Osi Umenyiora, the second piece of Atlanta’s most significant upgrades in the offseason, will help the pass rush but not on every down as Umenyiora has trouble stopping and containing the run. The Falcons ranked 28th in sacks last year and with Umenyiora that ranking should improve.  The Falcons never really relied on their defense to win games, but the pass rush needed to be addressed.  Now lets look at why the Falcons should win the division and thirteen games this season.

Strengths:

QB and Skill Position Players

These three stars could lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl
Courtesy of GCOBB.com

The Falcons were huge winners this offseason re-signing Matt Ryan to a massive five year $104 million dollar deal with $ 59 million guaranteed.  Although this might be a little much for a non-Super Bowl winning QB, franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees and the Falcons seem to be confident in Ryan’s abilities.  All-pro WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White, and soon to-be HOF TE Tony Gonzalez are key to Ryan’s success.  With the addition of the aforementioned Steven Jackson, the Falcons should rank in the top five in terms of total offense and yards per game. The Falcons reek havoc on opposing secondaries, forcing teams to spread out their defenses and essentially pick their own poison.  Roddy White and Julio Jones ranked 9th and 11th respectively in receiving yards last year, and with the growth of Matt Ryan, those rankings should climb with the potential for two top ten WRs.  After  numerous debates about whether to retire, Tony Gonzalez decided to come back for one last chance at a Super Bowl.  Tony is a security blanket for Matt Ryan as he caught 93 balls last year, which ranked 9th in the NFL. This Falcons’ offense will be scary for defenses, but fun to watch for fans.  The Falcons will put points on the board.

Weakness:

Defense (Both Passing and Rushing):

These two young CBs (Alford left Trufant right) will have to step up for the Falcons to win
Courtesy of Fox News

The Falcons tried to fix their defense this offseason by signing Osi Umenyiora and drafting  CBs Desmond Trufant from the University of Washington and Robert Alford from Southeastern Louisiana. Both Trufant and Alford will have to step up immediately against a tough NFC South with Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman for the Falcons to succeed. The Falcons ranked 23th in passing defense in 2012, giving up an absurd 242 passing yards per game. Many people know that this is the Falcons’ achilles heel and could end up costing them in the playoffs, when they might have to deal with other potent offenses such as Green Bay, San Francisco or Washington.

The Falcons also struggle with run defense as they ranked 29th in yards per attempt with 4.8, almost a first down on every two rushes. Although the NFC South does not have as many good runners as quarterbacks, this will still a problem against playoff teams with mobile QBs and tough runners, like Seattle, San Francisco and Washington.

Schedule Analysis:

Atlanta better be ready for these three nightmares as Washington, San Francisco and Seattle all play the Falcons this year Courtesy of NFL.com

@ New Orleans- L: In a complete shootout, New Orleans is fired up after Sean Payton returns and Brees puts up over 400 yards passing

vs. St. Louis- W: The Falcons should easily win their home opener against the Rams, but the game ends up being closer than advertised.

@ Miami- W: Mike Wallace is good, but Julio Jones and Roddy White are better and Matt Ryan will clearly outmatch the sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill

vs New England- W: If they win, this will be a huge victory for the Falcons’ confidence, Matt Ryan needs to step up in a big regular season game and this one will be it.

vs New York Jets- W: No Revis, No true QB, No True Offensive Weapons. No problem. Easy rout win and maybe the loss that gets Rex Ryan fired

Week 6 Bye

vs Tampa Bay- W: The Bucs significantly improved their passing defense, with Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson but nobody can stop Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Steven Jackson.

@ Arizona- W: Watch out for this game, the Cardinals have a young and hungry secondary led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, they will win but it will be close

@ Carolina- W: The Falcons have struggled against Cam Newton in the past, but Atlanta’s offense will save them once again

vs Seattle- L: In a rematch from the playoffs from last year, the Seahawks will be furious and come in and silence the Georgia Dome. Richard Sherman and the stout Seattle D will stymie the Falcons’ O and exact revenge.

@ Tampa Bay- W: Coming off a tough loss, the Falcons will be ready to go and will leave Revis Island with a victory.

vs New Orleans- W: The Falcons will defend home turf against NO and avenge their season opening loss.

@ Buffalo- W: Weather might play a factor, but Matt Ryan went to Boston College and played in the snow so this should be a win

@ Green Bay- W: In a match-up of top ten quarterbacks, Rodgers will slightly outplay Ryan but Ryan has more weapons and the Falcons will sneak out with a win

vs Washington- L: This is the game where the Falcons get exposed as RG3 rushes for over 150 yards for 2 TDs and throws 2 TDs as well.

@ San Francisco- L: Colin Kapernick will too thrive against a weak Falcons’ D and pick up over 100 yards while throwing for 300 as the Falcons suffer consecutive losses for the first time this year.

vs Carolina- W: Cam comes home to Georgia and puts on a show, but the Panthers continue to struggle to stop the Dirty Birds and lose again.

Conclusion:

The Falcons will make the playoffs, but their defense is worrisome, and until those defensive rankings improve, I am skeptical of the Falcons to advance far even with their potent offense.

2013-2014 Jacksonville Jaguars Preview

By: Jon

 

Projected Record: 4-12

AFC South Rank: 4th

Breakdown:

Blaine Gabbert
Blaine Gabbert

After a disappointing season last year, the Jaguars will be returning almost all of the same starters as last season. The Jaguars will be led by third year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert was only able to play half of the games last season because of injuries and ineffectiveness. Gabbert has shown flashes of success and potential, but he has not been able to sustain his success for a game, let alone a season. Gabbert may have his best group of receivers and running backs this season. On the outside, the Jaguars have Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts, Mercedes Lewis, and athlete Denard Robinson. Justin Blackmon, fifth overall pick in 2012 draft, is one of the most talented wide receivers to come out of college in the last few years. During his rookie season, Blackmon caught 64 passes, recorded 864 yards, and tallied 5 touchdowns. Blackmon has the size and physical ability to become a true number one receiver in the NFL. Along with Blackmon, Cecil Shorts looks like he can become a proficient wide receiver, after a 979 yard campaign. At the running back position, the Jaguars have one of the best in the game, Maurice Jones Drew. Although MJD is not the back that can carry a team to 6-7 wins just by himself anymore, he is a solid back who is easily able to record 1000+ yards and 7+ touchdowns. Last year, Jones Drew was injured for all but six games. Over the previous three seasons, Drew rushed for about 4500 yards and scored 28 touchdowns against teams that would focus on him instead of the passing game. The Jaguars should improve on their 30th ranked offense in the league last season.

Tyson Alualu
Tyson Alualu

On defense, the Jaguars were not better than their 30th ranked offense. The defense was ranked 29th in points allowed per game. The Jaguars have six new starters including two rookies on defense. Although they have new players, they still do not have a lot of talent. In the secondary, the Jags are starting two rookies at cornerback and safety. The rookies may make a few mistakes and blunders, but they should be able to grow and gain experience through their mistakes. Although he is not a great talent, Dwight Lowery has played a lot of NFL games and should be a mentor for the young players. The linebacking corp should be the best group on the Jaguars defense. Last year, Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen combined for over 240 tackles. Although they do not rush the quarterback, they are stout agains the run and strike fear into the receivers going across the middle. The front four of the Jaguars could be the most underrated part of their defense. On the edge, the Jags have Tyson Alualu and Jason Babin. Although they do not have a stud on the front line like other teams, Babin can be a solid pass rusher and Alualu is a stud against the run. Although they do not have many notable players, the Jags defense can become a solid unit if they play inspired and together as a team.

Schedule Analysis:

Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs are a talented team that should make significant progress this season with a new coach and quarterback. The Jags will be unable to score score enough points to keep up with the talented Chiefs offense. Although they will play with a lot of emotion since it is their season opener, he Jags will lose their first game.

@Oakland Raiders – In one of the worst games of the season, the Raiders will beat the Jaguars at home. Both teams have little talent. It will be the new Raiders offense versus the new Jags defense. Although Pryor is not good, the Jags defense is horrible and the Raiders should score enough points to win.

@Seattle Seahawks – The Jags have no chance against Seahawks on the road. The Seahawks are the best team when they play at home and the Jaguars are one of the worst teams on the road. This game should be over in the third or early fourth quarter.

Indianapolis Colts – The Colts surprised a lot teams by winning 11 games and making the playoffs. Luck will torment the Jags young secondary. Luck will be the  best quarterback they have seen and will be unprepared for the skill and intelligence of the Colts.

@St. Louis Rams – The Rams look like a team that will take the next step in the NFC. When the Rams play at home, they are a dangerous team because they are incredibly quick and the turf makes them even quicker. The Jags will keep the game close, but they will ultimately lose and fall to 0-5.

@Denver Broncos – The young corners will go to school against Peyton Manning. The Jags do not have the ability to apply pressure or guard the receivers so Manning may be able to duplicate his ridiculous outing. The game in the high altitude will affect the Jaguars who are not used to the altitude.

San Diego Chargers – The Jaguars will get their first win of the season against the Chargers at home. They will be happy to return home from two road games. Although they will not have much support from the crowd, the players will be motivated to get their first win of the season.

San Francisco 49ers – The defending NFC champs will have little trouble mutilating the bad Jags. The Jaguars will have a lot of difficulty scoring against the physical and fierce 49ers’ defense. The Jags will go into the bye week with a horrible game and a 1-7 record.

@Tennessee Titans – After the bye, the Jaguars head to Tennessee in a game that they can win. Although the Jags will play hard against a fellow division rival, they will come up short and eventually lose to the Titans. The Titans have a little more talent and are playing at home.

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals and the Jags are similar teams because they are young and have little talent. In another ugly game, the Jaguars should win because the Cardinals are coming from across the country. Gabbert, MJD, and Blackmon should take advantage of a poor Cardinals team.

@Houston Texans – The Texans are a really good team with a lot of talent. This means that the Jaguars will lose by a lot since the Texans reserves probably has as much talent as the Jaguars starters. The Texans will be able to score a lot of points on the Jags because they are extremely dynamic and the Jags are not good at defense.

@Cleveland Browns – The Jaguars have a good chance to beat the Browns. The Browns do not have a good offense so they will be unable to take advantage of the porous defense. The Jaguars have some talent on offense. The game should be close, but I think the Jags will come through with the win.

Houston Texans – The Texans are a really good team with a lot of talent. This means that the Jaguars will lose by a lot since the Texans reserves probably has as much talent as the Jaguars starters. The Texans will be able to score a lot of points on the Jags because they are extremely dynamic and the Jags are not good at defense.

Buffalo Bills – The Bills have a young team and quarterback like the Jaguars. The teams are similar because the defense is the weak parts of their games. The game should be relatively high scoring. However, the Bills are likely to win the game because they have more weapons and talent.

Tennessee Titans – The Jaguars should be able to end the season on a high note. The Jaguars need this win unless they want to remain at 3 wins for the season. By the end of the season, the offense should be more coherent. The Jags should win the game and reach their fourth win of the season.

@Indianapolis Colts – The Colts will be fighting for their playoff lives. As Luck accomplished during their first meeting, the Colts are going to throw the ball around the field and destroy their defense. The Jaguars will end a disappointing season with only four wins.

All pics and stats from espn.com