Today we plumb the depths of the NFC South, but first, in case you missed it, there was a real live NFL Preseason Game last night!
REDSKINS 30, COLTS 16
The only Colt kicking up his hooves in this game was Redskins backup QB Colt Brennan. Wow, what a lead-in that was. The rookie from the University of Hawaii, who put up Arena Football type numbers in college but is generally regarded as a system QB who is too small to play in the NFL, looked real good last night. Brennan completed 9 of 10 for 123 yards and 2 TDs. He's the early front runner for the Preseason Heisman Trophy. Hot on his tail is former Wolverine RB Mike Hart, who averaged 13.3 yards on 4 carries for Indy.
Now, for our Panthers and Falcons previews.
All you really need to know about the Cats is they played a good portion of last season with either the justified and ancient Vinny Testaverde or the shockingly incompetent David Carr under center. That right there is a death sentence for any team. Despite this, they battled to a 4-2 start, but then lost 7 out of 10 after bye week to finish under .500 and launch speculation that head coach John Fox's job was jeopardy.
While the offense gets a pass for its struggles last year, the defense struggled to generate a pass rush. You would think that would be impossible with Julius Peppers on the team, but Peppers was not himself last season, and had only 2 1/2 sacks. So while the Panthers did very well against the run (4th in Y/A), they were mediocre against the pass, and overall were not good enough defensively to compensate for the neutered offense.
Unfortunately, the biggest news coming out of Panthers camp was that WR Steve Smith was suspended by the team for 2 regular season teams for punching out teammate Ken Lucas in practice. Now granted I haven't been around an NFL training camp in about 15 years, but in my younger days I did spend a lot of time in camp, and back in those days I think you got fined if you DIDN'T punch out one of your teammates during camp. So, the game has obviously changed.
Despite that unpleasantness, if you are looking for the surprise team of 2008, I think the Panthers may be it. The offense should be much better this year. Jake Delhomme, who was great before getting hurt last year, is back and will have an improved receiving corps that will have Smith, talented former Seahawk DJ Hackett, and returning Panther alumnus Muhsin Muhammad.
The Cats also should have a potent 1-2 punch at running back, with speed back D'Angelo Williams being complemented by power back Jonathan Stewart, who was the 13th overall pick in the draft after running for 1722 yards at Oregon last year.
With all the new additions on offense, there should be a little less of a burden on the defense this year. The defense has the talent to prove last year an aberration, and if the sleeping giant that is Julius Peppers awakens, they can be one of the better units in the NFC.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
Like I said, this could be the surprise team of the league in 2008. They play in a division that they could win, and they've got the fire power to do it. Keep an eye on this team.
This franchise had one of the worst seasons in the history of pro sports last year. They headed into the season with the franchise player and face of the franchise Michael Vick going to jail for a long, long time. Things only got worse from there, as first year head coach and world class douchebag Bobby Petrino bolted midway thru the season to take the head coaching job at Arkansas after alienating his entire roster by treating them like 14 year olds. The Falcons somehow still won 4 games, which given the circumstances was not too bad.
The Falcons are starting from ground zero. They were horrible in every area last year, and at this point have to be looked at as a virtual expansion team.
The new Falcons are going to be built around offense. The team drafted what they hope and pray will be their QB for the next ten years, BC's Matt Ryan, with the third pick in the draft. Knowing how QB's drafted at the top of the draft have struggled recently though, that's probably a coin flip as to whether he will be any good in the NFL or not. He'll have a pair of decent running backs to help him out in newly acquired Michael Turner, and holdover Jerrious Norwood, and a nice weapon in wideout Roddy White, who manged a 1200 yard breakout season amidst last year's carnage. OT Sam Baker was drafted with the 21st pick out of USC to be the cornerstone of the O-line for the next decade.
While the offense could make some strides, the defense lost its best player, corner D'Angelo Hall, to free agency. That leaves a unit which is a patchwork of veterans like Keith Brooking, John Abraham, and Lawyer Milloy, and neophytes like corners Chris Houston and Chevis Jackson and rookie linebacker Curtis Lofton. New coach Mike Davis was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, so I guess he's as good a candidate as any to make chicken salad out of this unit that is obviously in transition.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
I really like the offseason the Falcons had. They had a nice draft and picked up one of the top free agent prizes in Michael Turner. They are doing things the right way, clearing the decks and rebuilding. I think they'll contend in 2010.