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Deke Bellavia

Join Deke and the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert for live, local talk about the Saints, LSU, Pelicans and much more on "Sports Talk!" 

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Twitter: @dekebigchief
Email: bigchief@wwl.com


Deke: The most important 24 hours in New Orleans basketball

I'm not talking about a game seven in the conference Finals, or even the NBA Finals. I'm talking about the 2017 All-Star game and the major, historic transaction that went down minutes after that very same All-Star Game. In a 24 hour span the New Orleans Pelicans went from maybe-could-be to legit future contenders without even playing a single game.

When we look back on the day of February 19, 2017, it will forever be imbedded in the history books that New Orleans took the world by storm. Arguably the best young player in the NBA broke legendary Wilt the Stilt Chamberlin's All-Star scoring mark as A.D. netted a NBA 52 points in the All-Star game.

And then A.D. as cool as the other side of the pillow gave and showed some love, saying 'this is for NOLA' when winning the All-Star Game MVP. As if that showtime performance in our own backyard was not enough, the news would only get bigger and better.

Minutes after the All-Star game was over word began to spread like wildfire as the New Orleans Pelicans pulled off a historic blockbuster trade that could help change the current landscape of the NBA.

By acquiring the best Center in the game in Demarcus Cousins, the Pelicans now have a one-two punch that no other team in perhaps league history has been able to obtain at such a productive time in a players career. In order to even compare what the Pelicans were able to do you would have to go all the way back and see how Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin and Shaq were acquired. And yes, each of those players went on to win titles after being traded.

The NBA is currently a backcourt-driven league with Point Guards, Shooting Guards and Small Forwards making up the majority of the league's premiere players. New Orleans has now put together a frontcourt duo that calls back to the old school days when the NBA was a league that was dominated by big, physical Centers.

With Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins on the same team, New Orleans now needs only to fill the gaps. No other team in the league has two players that score 25 points per game and average 10 rebounds per game!

The Golden State Warriors can lay claim that they are one of just two teams that has two of the top 10 players, with the Pelicans being the only other. Folks, simply put this is as big as it gets!

The Pelicans are now the team that the entire league, top analysts as well as past greats say that is the team that is set up for the long haul. Sure the Pelicans have to ink Cousins to a long term deal. And by making the playoffs this season, and showing some bright promise for the future, I think that deal is likely to get done.

Keep in mind that Demarcus Cousins has not been to the playoffs in the NBA and getting there in just his first 25 games with his new team would go a long way to the one called Boogie staying put in the Big Easy.

When it comes to really grabbing the attention of the locals and making sure that the community embraces the home team as one of their own, this move is the one that no fan can argue with. This move is major and this move more than ever before proves that the Pelicans are serious about building a winner and a team that competes on a yearly basis.

Local interest has picked up as fans obviously must be excited with over 300 season ticket packages sold within 35 hours of the trade being announced. So it looks like excitement is building and now a run to the playoffs could be the single most important thing in history from a basketball point of view. We shall see!
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Deke: Tigers, Wave, Privateers pick up bats this weekend!

Baseball season is here, and college teams in the state of Louisiana are set to open the 2017 season this weekend.

"We're ready to play," said LSU Coach Paul Mainieri. Mainieri and his Tigers open the season as the 2nd ranked team in the nation. The Tigers will host Air Force at Alex Box Stadium to begin the season.

LSU has to start the season with several players dealing with injuries. "It's part of the game. All teams have to deal with injuries and you have to understand that injuries are a part of the game. We feel like we have been able to overcome injuries in the past and we are confident we will do so again... I think we are a pretty balanced team across the board. I'm not sure if we are the best hitting team in the country, batting team or defensive team. But I do feel like we have a good balanced team with experienced pitching," Mainieri said.

The Tigers will entertain Air Force on Friday and Sunday and also have a game with the Army Black Knights on Saturday. Coach Mainieri knows a thing or two about the Tigers first opponent of the season. "Air Force holds a special place in my heart because I spent six years there. Air Force has a good team and playing them to start the season is a good test for our team." The Tigers lead the series with Air Force with a 2-0 all-time record.

Uptown, there is a new man in charge of the Tulane Green Wave, as Coach Travis Jewett enters his first season as Head Coach. "We're excited. We have a lot of experienced players coming back and we have some power in our line-up." Tulane is coming off a 41 win season in which the Wave played in the Oxford Regional.

Tulane will start the season hosting the Army Black Knights. The Wave will face Air Force on Saturday and finish up the weekend with Sunday game against Army.

Out on the Lakefront, the UNO Privateers are looking to improve even more in year two under Coach Blake Dean. UNO opens their season entertaining the Southern University Jaguars. In his first season at UNO, Dean led the Privateers to a 31-26 overall record with a 14-16 mark in Southland Conference play.

"I think offensively we are going to be alright. We've got some good hitters back with experience. We are trying to get our pitching rotation over the next couple of weekends before we go into conference play."

Dean says that he's learned a lot since a year ago when he entered his first season as the UNO Head Coach. "I really did not know what to expect. I had to learn a lot of things. Some things were more difficult than others to get used to. Now entering year two, there is a good level of excitement and we are all ready to see how much we've improved since last season."

UNO wraps up the first weekend of the season with a Saturday home game against Illinois-Chicago followed by a Sunday Afternoon tilt against the Prairie View A&M Panthers.
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Deke: All-Star Weekend back home again in the Big Easy

Doctor J, Larry Legend, Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Barkley... those are just a smidgeon of names that were once the greatest to play the game at one point in their great NBA careers. And this weekend down here in the Big Easy, the NBA will showcase their current stars with their annual NBA All-Star Weekend.

For the third time since 2008, the city of New Orleans will be the host city for the All-Star Weekend. To me, the NBA sets the standard when it comes to recognizing their legends, former greats and those who helped mold the NBA to what it is today.

Hell, you may be near Harrahs and bump into Dr. Julius Erving. Or you might be smacking down on a fat piece of ham from Mothers and sitting next to you could be Bill Russell. Folks, trust me when I tell you this city will be packed with the biggest stars of the game and you can best believe that you'll see and hear from some of the best in the entertainment industry.

When I think of All-Star Weekend I can recall my younger days remembering watching past All-Star Weekends like in '88 when the then-old Chicago Stadium was host and what I think was the greatest Dunk Contest ever took place.

The long awaited showdown between the Human Highlight and the man simply known as Jordan finally came full circle. In the first battle Nique edged out then-rookie MJ to win the 1985 Dunk Title. In '86 Jordan had injuries keeping him out, and '87 Wilkins was out due to injuries.

That meant that the final battle, the mega showdown with the two greatest dunkers in dunk contest history would go face to face in MJ's back yard. Without getting my blood pressure up (I was for Dominique) let's just say that Wilkins was robbed, receiving only a 45 for a double handed Windmill Dunk which left the door wide open for MJ. And yes Jordan flew from the Free Throw Line and sealed the title with a score of 50.

That's just my memory, I'm sure you have at least one that you can recall. For New Orleans to host the biggest event outside of the NBA Finals for a third time in a decade this is huge. Sure the Big Easy landed this All-Star Weekend because the league would not hold the event in another location but when word came out that the league might move the All-Star Game, New Orleans came front and center.

The NBA will have many stops throughout the city and the region visiting schools, hospitals and of course the NBA will lend a hand to all those who were affected by the devastating tornadoes that ravaged through New Orleans East a little over a week ago.

Many live broadcast of radio and TV programs will originate from the Big Easy with the Emmy winning "Inside the NBA" broadcasting from Champions Square during the All-Star Weekend. The amount of national and international exposure that New Orleans will receive over a 96 hour period is something you can't put a figure on.

The aerial shots of the Superdome, Smoothie King Center, those close ups of oysters being shucked, beignets being fried and crawfish being boiled will be seen all over the world with those watching and then asking - where is that?

To me it's a time of year where I become a fan and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the NBA. And to have this event in our city again is enormous. I can't wait to see the fans sporting their Air Jordan V's to the old Barkley Shoes to the current KD, Steph and King James wear. Yes it's All-Star Weekend. And yes it's in a place that hosts a party like others can only wish for. And of course that place is ours. It's New Orleans!
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Deke: QB Harris says bye, UNO straight balling, LSU bats on the horizon

At times I think we all get little long in the tooth, meaning that things get a little old, stale or boring. So I thought instead of putting out a feature on one person or one topic that today I would hit on a variety of things.

So far in this very busy week of sports we've seen some pretty entertaining news. LSU QB Brandon Harris sent out notice that he intends on transferring to another football program following his graduation this spring from LSU.

The once highly thought of QB never really had any type of positive consistency playing QB, with 15 starts to his credit under center for the Tigers. Harris leaves the LSU football program without an experienced back-up to incumbent starting QB Danny Etling. Harris was 10-5 as a starter for LSU.

February Frenzy leads into March Madness! When it comes to the state of Louisiana, there are currently two teams in the state that look like they will play in some kind of post season tournament.

Up in Ruston the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are playing sound ball right now sporting a 18-8 overall record that includes a 10-3 mark in Conference USA play. Coach Ed Konkol has the Bulldogs in good shape to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Konkol is one of the hottest names in men's hoops in his second season at La. Tech. Coach Konkol set a Tech record for most wins under a first year head coach in 2016 going 23-10 and right now the Bulldogs look as if they are going to surpass that 23 win total from a season ago.

And right here in our own back yard let's give it up for those UNO Privateers! Folks UNO is rolling right now, and they are in sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference. At 15-9 overall and 10-3 in conference play, UNO is a team that looks like they are peaking at the right time.

"It's a total team effort. This season has been in the making for a while now and all of the players and coaches have worked very hard to put our (UNO) program in position to compete for a conference title," Privateer Coach Mark Slessenger saiys. UNO is playing at a high level and will look to extend their current win streak to four this weekend. The Privateers are on a three game win streak over state foes having beaten Nicholls State, McNeese State and Southeastern in their last three games. UNO will look to maintain their first place status this weekend as the Privateers play host to Central Arkansas at the Lakefront Arena Saturday Evening.

The boys of summer begin this week with college baseball set to begin. Local teams including LSU, Tulane and UNO are all set to open their seasons this weekend. The LSU Tigers will open the season by hosting Air Force, Tulane under first year head coach Travis Jewett will play host to the Army Black Knights.

And second year coach Blake Dean will open the season on the Lakefront as his Privateers entertain Southern University, Illinois-Chicago and Prairie View A&M. The Privateers are looking to improve on last season's 31-26 record in which Coach Dean and his UNO club served noticed that they would not be a push over team.

The Tigers, Privateers and Green Wave all have good players coming back and each club is expected to make noise in conference play this season. And finally I wrap up this feature with the NBA!

The 2017 NBA All-Star Game is back in the Big Easy for the third time since 2008. From live broadcast, to fan interaction to the dunk contest and the 2017 All-Star Game, the Who's Who of the NBA past and present will be front and center in the Big Easy for three days.

Weather you are from the school of Bird, Magic, Dr. J or Shaq, MJ, Kobe to the current stars like KD, Curry, A.D. and the King you are in store for one of the greatest weekends the NBA showcases every year.

So that's a lot of good stuff happening here in our great city. And oh yes did I mention that Mardi Gras Parades will be rolling as well?
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Deke: Orgeron hoping new hires help stop bleeding from Bama

Before the LSU Football program can reset the recruiting button, so to speak, when it comes to keep Louisiana products from going to Alabama, Coach Ed Orgeron knows the first order of business is to stop the bleeding.

For far too long, LSU has missed out on the high profile high school players in their own state. Joe McKnight, Eddie Lacy, Landon Collins, Cam Robinson, Hootie Jones, Tim Williams, Shyheim Carter, Devonta Smith - any of these names ring a bell? Need I go on?

LSU fans don't need me to remind them that all but one (Joe McKnight) of the above names went to play for Nick Saban and the University of Alabama. Coach Orgeron knows that in order to put LSU in contention on a yearly basis that he and his staff have to land the state's best players. And LSU will not only bolster already solid recruiting classes, they can also lessen what the Tide does by keeping those highly-touted prep stars from going to Tuscaloosa.

This week Orgeron made two moves that he hopes will help his Tigers staff turn the Tide when it comes to recruiting. "It's a great day for LSU. I want to introduce you to two great families, two wonderful men, two wonderful husbands, and two great football coaches that have come to LSU. We did extensive research and these were the guys that we wanted to hire," he said.

Coach is talking about his two newest memebers of his staff in new RB Coach Tommy Robinson and WR Coach Mickey Joseph. Robinson comes to LSU after becoming one of the nation's elite recruiters and Joseph's name rings a loud bell in these parts dating back to when he starred as a top flight QB for the Shaw Eagles.

Both Robinson and Joseph bring experience and knowledge to the Tigers staff in the form of on field coaching as well as recruiting. Robinsons' career has seen him coach and recruit all over the country and Joseph's job is to help LSU land the best from the Big Easy.

Personally I think both are strong hires and if anything it shows that Orgeron knows that he has to do something big, and fast. Coach O is hoping that Mickey Joseph can go back to the place where he once ruled as the top QB and bring some of that New Orleans talent to Baton Rouge.

When it comes to Coach Tommy Robinson, LSU wants him to go after the best of the best regardless of which state the player hails from. Only time will tell and ultimately LSU's ability to land the best players and stop losing them to the leader of the pack will be the most crucial outcome.

Photo via USA Today
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Deuce, Bobby and Deke all make their Super Bowl picks

Super Bowl LI takes place on Sunday in the H-Town as the 9-time AFC Champ Patriots take on the underdog NFC Title holders Atlanta Falcons.

Bobby thinks that we are in store for a very entertaining Super Bowl. "I really do think we are going to see a good game. I would take the Falcons to beat any other AFC Team in the Super Bowl. But the Patriots are in a different class."

Now all of you know that the Cajun Cannon thinks the turnover battle winner will win the game. And Hebert thinks that we are in store for one of the best quarterback duels we have seen in Super Bowl history. "When you look at what Falcons QB Matt Ryan has done and glance at Tom Brady's stats, it's hard to imagine a game without great QB play. Both are playing at a very high level and I expect a very good game!" he said.

Bobby is going with a push in the game when it comes to factoring in the line on the game. "I think Vegas would love to see my prediction come true. I see the Patriots winning but I think the spread will be a push."

Deuce says that the Patriots have a clear advantage in experience. "Having been there so many times before, New England has a leg up on understanding what it takes to win on this stage. The game will come down to turnovers," said Deuce.

McAllister said that the team that can protect the football the best and whatever team fares better advancing on third down and stopping the other team from converting on third down will be big in Super Bowl LI. "I'm happy for Atlanta and I think they have what it takes to win the game. But it's hard to pick against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady so I'll go with New England."


As for me, I feel like that the Falcons have as good of a shot to beat the Falcons as any team the Patriots have faced in a Super Bowl. But to me the biggest difference is that the Patriots are led by a QB that is playing in his seventh Super Bowl and his head coach has been a coach in the Super Bowl nine times, making his 10th SB appearance Sunday.

On the flip side, Falcons QB Matt Ryan is making his first showing in the biggest game in sports but his Head Coach Dan Quinn has been here before. Quinn served as the Seahawks Defensive Coordinator in Super Bowls XLVIII and XLVIX. Quinn has one SB win to his credit. Quinn is making his head coaching Super Bowl debut this weekend.

It's kind of common sense to me when picking the winner of this game. Now I certainly don't mean it's a slam dunk on who's going to win. I just think making a pick is not that difficult. The fact that New England has never won a Super Bowl by more than seven points tends to lean towards the Falcons favor to some. But to me I feel the exact opposite.

Keep in mind, with Bill Belichick as Head Coach New England has not been in a Super Bowl (Win or Lose) that has been decided by more than four points. Here are the Patriots scores in Super Bowl's with the Hooded One as Head Coach.

SB XXXVI NE 20-17 over St. Louis Rams – SB XXXVIII NE 32-29 over Carolina – SB XXXIL NE 24-21 over Philadelphia & SB XLIX NE 28-24 over Seattle. In their two SB losses to New York, the Giants beat NE 17-4 in SB XLII and again in SB XLVI 21-17.

I think the Patriots being in six Super Bowls with the same QB and Head Coach and being in tight games in which they have had the lead and played from behind is more than enough evidence for me to take New England!

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Deke: Betting on the big game? You need to know these facts

Each week during the season I get a guest or two to come on the show and give us what they think are the top picks of the week, now we are down to the biggest betting day of the NFL season. More money is waged on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day in the sports year. This weekend you can bet on everything, from how long the National Anthem will take, to what color the Gatorade will be that's dunked on the winning Head Coach.

Sure there is the game bet and the total over/under bet, but all of the so called prop bets add a little extra something-something to the Super Bowl. You can find all of those prop bets online just about everywhere. The line on the game has New England a -3 three point favorite over the Falcons with the over/under at 59. For those of you looking for some numbers, some info or something to help you get off that dreaded undecided feeling and pick a team, take a look at these facts below.

Superstitious Betting Tips
11 of the last 12 Super Bowl winners have worn their white herseys. The only team to win in a dark colored jersey during that span was the Green Bay Packers in SB XLV when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. To twist your minds even further when it comes to wearing white in the H-Town - this Sunday marks the third time the Super Bowl is being played in Houston, Texas. And the previous two games the team that wore white LOST! Go all the way back to Super Bowl VIII when the Miami Dolphins beat the white-wearing Minnesota Vikings 27-7 at old Rice Stadium. And the last time the SB was played in Houston the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 and yes the Panthers were wearing white. So now take those in account before you bring your money to the window!

The Falcons numbers against the spread
Of the 18 total games that Atlanta has played this season the Falcons are 12-6 ATS. The Falcons were 10-6 ATS in the regular season and Atlanta is perfect in the post season with a 2-0 mark against the spread.
The Falcons have been one of the best teams in the league when it comes to hitting the overs in game totals. Atlanta has gone over the total 15 times in 18 total games this season.

The Patriots numbers against the spread
New England is 15-3 ATS this season and the Patriots have covered the spread in their last seven games played.
• Bill Belichick is 34-19 ATS (Against the spread) as the coach of New England in games where the total is greater than or equal to 49½.
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Deke: College recruiting efforts too often derailed by handlers

Back in the late 1980s, the attention given to high school football players by college recruiters began to rise. Now some 30 years later, National Signing Day is now as big as the NFL Draft was then.

"You have to recruit the player, their entire family and the handlers. It's just the way things are now when it comes to recruiting," said LSU Coach Ed Orgeron, who llanded the nation's 7th best class in his first as a head coach at LSU.

Coach O has been in the game a long time and he has seen a lot of changes over the years. Whether it be Coach O, Jim Harbaugh, Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, when it comes to recruiting, coaches have to keep up with the times and have a good understanding that recruitment of a player begins much earlier now, and lasts until that player faxes in their letter of intent.

I think on surface we tend to look at the player more than anything else when it comes to the entire recruiting process. But truth be told there is a dark, ugly side of the process that many, including myself, only know so much about. In the last few years we have heard college coaches use the term "handlers" when talking about recruits. I'm not talking about the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I'm not even talking girlfriends. I'm talking about that other person that in some way or another has become a huge part of a recruit's life.

Like in anything in life you are going to have good and bad. And that is certainly the case pertaining to coaches and schools dealing with these handlers. Handlers are mostly referred to about a person that may bring a recruit to a football camp, a special select prospect day that schools now often have. And that person can become one that spends as much time in the recruit's life as any coach or family member.

I had several high school coaches tell me that they are very guarded when it comes to allowing a handler around their program. Their fear is that what the player is being taught by a coach will be undermined by a handler. High school coaches are just one group of people that the entire recruiting process affects. The college coaches are in the mix, along with the parents, family members, and the younger football players at schools are in play here as well.

If a high school coach has his relationship with the college coaches recruiting his players mediated by the so-called handler, then the college coaches will have to consider - am I dealing with the high school coach and the kid's family? Or am I going to have to deal with the handler? Folks it happens. I've seen it happen. I was a part of it at the highest level.

When a handler does the right thing and has truly nothing but the interest of the player at heart, then who would not want any young person to have another mentor in their lives? But that's not always the case. In fact the truth is that the handler is usually looking for something to gain personally. Handlers and or mentors are usually in it for themselves. If a young man is undecided and that young man is truly confused as to where he wants to go, then the last thing he needs is a person who is looking out for their own personal gain when giving them advice. Folks that is flat out sad. But again it happens. It happens every year!

Depending on the situation I've seen college coaches lose their jobs over not landing a particular recruit, and it sometimes points back to what the coach was told by the handler. Hey call it what you want. But that stuff happens more times than many would imagine.

So I'm not at all saying to feel sorry for the college coaches because those coaches full well know that is the nature of the business and it's a part of the game so to speak. But for any of us to think that the so called recruiting process only effects one or two people we are surely mistaken.

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Deke: The NFC South is home of the best QBs

OK, I really do feel like I’m not only being objective, but I also think I’m right! I truly feel like I’m correct when I say that the division that has the best quarterback play is the NFC South.

If you are very familiar with the NFL, I ask you right now, stop for a second and think, what other division has QB play as good as the NFC South does?  To make sure I show that I am being fair and partial I will list the rest of the divisions and their quarterbacks. I’ll start with the rest of the NFC.

NFC West QBs are Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Cardinals' Carson Palmer, 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and the Rams' Jared Goff.  

In the East, there is the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, NY Giants' Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins is in D.C., and Carson Wentz is in Philly.  

In the NFC North you have Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford/Teddy Bridgewater.

Over in the AFC, I’ll start in the East with Ryan Tannehill at Miami, Tom Brady with NE, the Jets have four possible players that could be their "guy” and Tyrod Taylor is in Buffalo.

In the AFC West there’s Oakland’s Derrick Carr, KC’s Alex Smith, Denver has Tom Savage and Chargers' Phillip Rivers.  

In the AFC North there is Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Ben Rothlisberger and whoever you want to classify as the Browns QB.  
And finally the last division’s QB’s to mention are in the AFC South with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, in Houston there’s Brock Osweiler, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Jacksonville has Blake Bortles.
 
Now that we have all the other 28 QB’s in the league out of the way, we can now focus on the NFC South signal callers.

Bobby and I both have talked about this topic, and we both feel like the discussion about which division has the second best group of QB’s is interesting because we both feel that strongly about the NFC South QBs. 

Instead of trying to compare the four front men in the NFC South to the other divisions, I’ll stick to talking about the strength of the South’s QB’s.  First up on the list, is there another division in the NFL that can claim that three of their four QB’s has won a conference title and led their team to the Super Bowl?  Has there been another division in football that has had two of their QB’s named MVP in back to back seasons?

Carolina’s Cam Newton was the MVP in 2015 while the ATL’s Matt Ryan is expected to pick up the very same honor for the 2016 season.  And Saints QB Drew Brees once again threw for over five thousand yards for the fifth time in his career.  No other player has thrown for five thousand yards more than once.

Want a little more info to prove the South has the best QB’s? Falcons QB Matt Ryan had a career season throwing for 38 TDs with only seven interceptions, and Ryan led the league in QB rating last season.  

And as far as the young Buc, well Jameis Winston made some serious strides in his second season under center down in Tampa.  Winston threw 28 TDs in 2016 which finished him tied for 7th in the NFL last season.  And Winston threw for a career high 4,090 yards.

Can you tell me which NFL Division had three of their four QB’s finish among the top 10 passing leaders in 2016?  Yes it’s the NFC South with Ryan, Brees and Winston all ranked in the top 10 in passing TDs. Ryan was 2nd with 38 TDs, Brees finished 3rd with 37 TDs and Jamies Winston was tied for 7th with 28 passing TDs.  Sure Carolina QB Cam Newton had a down year.  But Newton is less than a year removed from being named the league’s MVP.
 
When you look at the rest of the NFL, the NFC South also looks like the only division that is settled on their quarterbacks for the future.  I don’t know if we can say that about any of the other divisions in the NFL.

If you are asking which division has the second best group of starting QB’s I would tend to lean towards the NFC East with the AFC North not being in bad shape, minus and that’s a big minus, in the Cleveland Browns.

That’s our take.  What’s yours?  
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Deke: '15 Panthers, '16 Falcons - who's next from the NFC South?

If they can do it, why can’t we?  I’ll bet many of you out there have heard or even possibly said the line I just typed for you.  And when it comes to Saints fans why not use that line for the 2017 NFL season?

Last February the Carolina Panthers used an outstanding 15-1 regular season to help them advance to the Super Bowl.  And this February the NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons are representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.  

When you look at how the past two NFC Champions paved their way to the Super Bowl, it leads to giving other teams hope.  I mean it’s not like Carolina and Atlanta were both coming off of tremendous seasons the year prior to making it to Super Sunday.  No, in fact each of those NFC South Teams were five hundred clubs.  

Let’s take a peek at the most recent NFC South SB Team the Atlanta Falcons.  Ok everything is all well in Dirty Bird Land right now.  But one year ago at this time things were anything but good coming from the Falcons 2015 season.

Atlanta hired Coach Dan Quinn away from Seattle with the Falcons bringing in one of the best defensive minds in the game to hopefully turn things around.  Quinn and his Dirty Birds got off to a hot 5-0 start in 2015.  And then the ATL came to the Big Easy for a Thursday Night tilt.

The Saints beat Atlanta sending the Falcons into a bad slump in which Atlanta won just three of their final 11 games posting a 8-8 record.  Atlanta only won one NFC South Game in 2015 and the Birds ranked towards the back end of the league in most major stats.

Atlanta was one game better than the Saints in 2015 but the Black and Gold swept the Falcons going 2-0 versus the ATL a season ago.  So what did Atlanta do to comeback and have such a solid season that has them in the Super Bowl.

Atlanta’s biggest move was landing one of the best Centers in the game in the Browns Alex Mack.  Mack fit the mold for a Falcons Franchise that had been searching for a replacement for legendary Falcons Center in former LSU Tiger Todd McClure.

Atlanta’s biggest adjustment was in their ability to protect the football.  In 2015 the Falcons forced 23 takeaways but gave the ball away 30 times finishing minus – 7 in the turnover ratio.  Atlanta was lights out in 2016 when it came to turnovers.

The Falcons had almost the same number of takeaways at 22 but the Falcons only gave the ball away 11 times finishing the season plus +11 which ranked 4th in the league.  Ball security is the standout number for Atlanta particularly at QB.  

Falcons QB Matt Ryan was picked off 17 times in 2015 whereas Ryan decreased his INT’s from 17 to 7.  

Now when we look back at the 14 and 15 Panthers, Who Dat’s as well as all other fans of the NFL can point towards what Carolina did in those seasons as hope for their favorite team.  Carolina entered week 17 of the 2014 season with a 6-8-1 record.

Carolina played at Atlanta with the 6-9 Falcons hosting the Cats with a winner take the NFC South crown at stake. Carolina won in a blowout and entered the post season with a 7-8-1 mark and hosted the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals in Wildcard Weekend.  Carolina beat Arizona and advanced to the Divisional round to play at Seattle falling to the Seahawks.  

Carolina was 4-2 in the NFC South Games in 2014 which laid the foundation for the Panthers Super Bowl run in 2015.  Carolina picked up where they left off as they posted a 15-1 mark the following season with a 5-1 mark in South play.

Carolina was amazing in forcing 39 turnovers giving the ball up only 20 times to finish the season with a whopping plus +20 mark in the turnover ratio.  Carolina did not win the Super Bowl falling to Denver and it is yet to be seen what the Falcons will do in SB LI against the Patriots.  But both teams used similar paths to getting to the Super Bowl in each of the past two years.

Throw what Carolina and Atlanta have done and toss in the turnover of playoff teams the past two post seasons and there is no reason whatsoever why Saints fans should not be very optimistic about the 2017 Saints Season.

Four different teams (Dallas, Detroit, Atlanta and New York Giants) made it to the playoffs in 2016 that were not in the playoffs the year before.  New Orleans is an experienced team at QB, they have some key elements on defense.  And they have one of the most herald coaches in the game in Sean Payton.  So holding the Saints to higher, very high expectations is not calling on the Black and Gold to do anything that hasn’t already been done by teams within their own division.

Simply put the time is now for the Saints.  Carolina got to the Super Bowl the season after going 7-8-1 and Atlanta did it this year after going 8-8 in 2015.  Will the 7-9 Saints make it three straight NFC South Teams advancing to the Super Bowl?  If a team from the South does play in the 2018 Super Bowl and is not the Saints then that is something that can nor should be excused.  
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