As the Who Dat Nation no doubt knows, Saints training camp starts this week! As the Black and Gold head out to West Virginia, let’s take a quick look at how the other teams in the NFC South are shaping up.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons will hold camp at Flowery Branch, GA with the youngsters reporting on July 22 and the vets on the 24th. The Dirty Birds were 4-12 last season - I don’t expect that to be the case this year. Atlanta has been the #1 seed in the NFC two times in three seasons ('10 & '12) and they know how to win close games. Losing Sean Weatherspoon hurts bad, TE Tony Gonzales is gone and there are some questions about the O-line, but with Ryan at QB and WR’s White and Jones back, I think ATL will be back to contend in the South this season.
Carolina Panthers: The defending division champs will hold training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC beginning July 24th. The Panthers face an uphill climb from last season’s 12-4 record. With QB Cam Newton coming off surgery and not having time to work with an entire new core of WR’s, one has to wonder how long it will take to get a decent chemistry established. Carolina has a lot of new faces, and lost a key franchise player in WR Steve Smith. Their young O-Line will be tested as well. Ron Rivera parlayed a hot seat position going into 2013 into an extension going into 2014, and should be happy, because if there is one team in the NFC that is a candidate from going from first to worst it’s these Cats!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa will hold camp at home inside One Buccaneer Place. Rookies report on July 21 and vets July 24. Sean Payton went 10-6 and earned the #2 seed in 2006, and Mike Smith had Atlanta at 11-5 and in the playoffs in 2008. Both coaches did that in their first season as head coach in the NFL, and I think Lovie Smith can do it in 2014. Smith is a respected coach that has a genuine relationship with his players, and has more overall talent taking over the Bucs than he did for the Bears. Smith has good RB’s, game breaking WR’s, a Pro-Bowl caliber player in each phase of his defense, and they are better at QB. I think Tampa Bay can win 10 games and become the best longshot to make the playoffs in 2014. I’m laying a few ducks on the Bucs!
New Orleans Saints: New Orleans reports to the Greenbrier for training camp this Thursday and practice starts Friday. The Saints started the season 5-0 and then limped down the stretch, going 6-5 in their last 11 games. New Orleans could have stayed at home for their first post-season came in 2013, but squandered that opportunity on multiple occasions. But something great came from that missed chance as the Saints won a game on the road in the post season against Philly. When looking at the New Orleans roster, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses. The Saints have a lot of hype about them going into the season, and I'm banking that they'll live up to it! Are you?