Welcome to gameday week everybody! I know there was the first preseason game between the Raiders and Jaguars, but this is the first weekend of NFL Football coming up. I am hyped beyond belief because now we will have football every week from now until the Super Bowl. I cannot wait to spend my college weekends watching NFL football while I try to do some homework. With that in mind, I still have some work to do before the season officially gets under way as I still have three NFL divisions to go through for the biggest needs for each team. After taking on the NFC East last week, I will now be diving into the four squads out of the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Find Tom Brady’s Successor
It was non-stop drama for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. From the week-to-week shenanigans of Antonio Brown, all the way to the NFC Divisional round where the Bucs nearly made a 27-3 comeback on the LA Rams. With everything they dealt with I commend them for even making it as far as they did. The drama and weirdness for Bucs continued into the off-season as Ali Marpet and Rob Gronkowski retired, Bruce Arians retired from coaching to move into the front office, and oh just little news of Tom Brady retiring. Well at least for a month as after announcing his retirement on Feb. 1 via Instagram, Brady unretired on March 13.
Instantly the Bucs went from potentially grabbing a Baker Mayfield or maybe Jimmy Garoppolo to having the GOAT back under center.
The Bucs went to work after that as they traded for Shaq Mason to replace Ali Marpet, resigned Ryan Jensen (who just suffered an injury), Carlton Davis, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette and William Gholston. They also went out and grabbed Russell Gage, Logan Ryan, Kyle Rudolph and just added Julio Jones to the wide receiver room.
The Buccaneers look poised for another run at a Super Bowl title, but I thought I would look a little bit into the future for Tampa Bay at the QB position.
Tom Brady will not last forever. He just turned 45 years old, and I doubt he will be playing football until he’s 50 and even if he does, he won’t be the same MVP Tom Brady we are used to. The Bucs need to find their QB of the future and I doubt it’s on the roster currently. Blaine Gabbert is a career backup and will turn 33 years old this October, Ryan Griffin same deal but will turn 33 in November. The only guy on the roster who has a chance to be that guy is third year QB Kyle Trask and from some of his throws in training camp I doubt he can be the guy.
In all seriousness, my main reason for skepticism on Trask is because in his two years in the league he has yet to play in a regular season game and after going from a 1st round pick to a late second round pick and how he ended his time with Florida, there is cause for concern in Trask. Tampa may need to start investing higher picks into QBs to eventually replace the GOAT of all QBs.
New Orleans Saints – Health
The New Orleans Saints have been snake bitten the last few years when it came to health. Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Marcus Davenport, Terron Armstead, Will Lutz, Nick Vannett and Jameis Winston all missed significant time last year. I especially feel bad for Winston as he had 14 touchdowns and three interceptions and led the Saints to a 5-2 record in his first seven games as the starter before suffering an ACL tear which ended his season. The Saints finished 4-6 because of it and missed the playoffs after losing the tiebreaker to the Eagles (who they lost to). If things hold up, the Saints should be battling the Buccaneers, as even with all the injuries, the Saints went 2-0 against the Bucs last year.
The wide receiver room is much improved with “Slant boy,” Michael Thomas returning, and he’ll have a new running mate at across the field as the Saints drafted Chris Olave out of Ohio State in the first round. The Saints also added former LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry to play in the slot and open up the field for Thomas and Olave. While New Orleans did lose Armstead to the Dolphins in free agency, the Saints have a solid replacement in James Hurst and still have Ryan Ramczyk at right tackle.
On the defensive side of the ball, they have gotten even better as they switched out safety Marcus Williams for another former LSU Tiger in the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu to pair with another former AFC safety in Marcus Maye. The rest of the core of the defense is still intact with Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, and Marshon Lattimore. The Saints finished fourth in in points allowed and sixth in yards per play.
If the team can stay healthy, they are a contender in the NFC, no doubt in my mind.
Carolina Panthers – A New Head Coach(?)
Matt Rhule has been an abject failure as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Entering his third season with the Panthers, he has a record of 10-23. Now he hasn’t had the best quarterbacks with Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker and a past his prime Cam Newton. However, that doesn’t excuse some of the stupid decisions that Rhule has made so far as the head coach.
First, trading for Sam Darnold in 2021. Darnold was in a bad situation with the Jets but there were other signs that Darnold couldn’t become the quarterback the Jets or the Panthers ended up needing. With 2,500 yards and more interceptions than touchdowns, it was bad decision to not only trade for Darnold but to give up a 2022 second round pick in the process. The whole team basically admitted they failed with Darnold as not only did they draft Matt Corral in the third round, but they also just traded for Baker Mayfield to compete for the starting job in Carolina.
One other issue I have is the fact that he blames others for mistakes rather than taking ownership of the mistake. Back in 2021 after a 31-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Rhule blamed Cam Newton for a miscue on an RPO (run-pass option) during the game. While it’s right to criticize your quarterback, you do that during a film study or team meeting, not after your teams butt got handed to you by a contender.
Rhule clearly seems over matched by his peers at the NFL level and his continued mistakes at the QB position remind of another recently fired Matt in the NFL. For the Panthers to get onto the right track, I think they need to move on from Rhule and find someone who can stabilize the offense and the team as a whole and take ownership of it, not blaming others for mistakes of a team.
Atlanta Falcons – (Almost) Everything
It is truly an end to an era for the Atlanta Falcons, as after trading Julio Jones to the Titans last season, the Falcons kept up the trend of trading franchise stars to the AFC South as they sent Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. The all-time passing and passing touchdowns leader in Falcons franchise history is gone and now the Falcons must find their next franchise QB. They signed Marcus Mariota as a stop gap option while drafting Desmond Ridder at No. 74 in the 2022 draft. While the Falcons have some talented players in Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, and AJ Terrell, the “Dirty Birds,” are in a deep rebuild and will need to build up the roster up once more. I like some of the pieces that Atlanta, but with Mariota having not started since 2019 and the rest of the wide receiver room is suspect outside of a rookie in London, it will be tough sledding on offense for the Falcons.
The offensive and defensive lines also needs some work and it will take some time for new head coach Arthur Smith’s scheme to be fully implemented so it will be a tough, rebuilding year for Atlanta.