The 2009 NFL Preview
The NFC South and West


New Orleans (11 – 5) ~ I can’t believe I’m about to say this. Honestly. It’s dumb… reckless… and heck, borderline irresponsible. But here goes…

It will all be because of Jeremy Shockey.

(Ouch! That hurt. Hold on… hold a second. I need to sit back, close my eyes and clear my head for a moment. Ok… there… I’m ready.)

See… last year Shockey talked big. Which, let’s face it, isn’t unusual for him. And, he didn’t produce. Which… if you look closely at his career… again, isn’t unusual for him. But the Saints needed Shockey… or more accurately, they needed a threat of Shockey. (And, you know… umm… a defense.)

Didn’t happen. And the Saints weren’t equipped to handle no Shockey the way the Giants were.

This preseason though, Brees seems in tune with Shockey. Reminded me of that preseason when Shockey was running over people and introducing himself to the league. And if that’s the case, then I’m happy with the offense here. Sure… they need Reggie Bush to finally be at least a reflection of what they thought they drafted. But I think he can be.

So that means, the big question is defense. They haven’t had good defensive backs in years. And the roster seems made up of supporting parts in that regard. But are you ready for this? The Saints don’t face a team with a wide receiver until week 12. Seriously. (Well… sort of seriously.)

The schedule kicks off with Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo and New York (Jets). It then goes to the other New York, Miami, Atlanta and Carolina. Have you seen a combination of receivers with a reliable quarterback yet? I haven’t. Sure, Buffalo has receivers… and no one that can throw the ball. Philly will give them trouble, but only trouble for the defense if Westbrook is healthy. So… not much in the way of defensive backs drawing deep breaths and exchanging concerned glances. We’re 8 games into the year and find St. Louis and Tampa waiting for them… still no passing threats. And then…

Hello New England! (Yeah… that one will be a problem.)

Long story short… the schedule is working wonders for them. No Minnesota or Green Bay… no San Diego or Indianapolis… no consistent offensive threats. Which means, their most glaring weakness is disguised until the playoffs.

Atlanta (10 – 6) ~ I am very interested by this club. They played steady and solid last year. And then they added Tony Gonzalez… to give Matt Ryan a solid receiving option. They went 3-3 in the division last year… and frankly, would be well off to do the same this year.

The problem facing them is the scheduling rotation (New England in week 3 and then the NFC East). I probably have them rated a tad bit high because of that, because any and all of those 5 contests could be losses. And yet…

Carolina and Tampa Bay may not be as strong this year. (Tampa definitely won’t be.) New England would have been tough to win at all… but it’s a road game. That’s actually a good thing because it gives them Buffalo and Miami at home, where that home field might tip the scales against inferior but potentially threatening opposition. Washington and Philly have to come to Atlanta too… same thing… could work to their advantage.

The Falcons drafted heavy on defense, while letting organizational favorites go (Keith Brooking). We’ll have to see if that pays off.

All things considered though, I think the team is moving in the right direction, and… unlike a club such as Miami… I don’t think they played over their heads in 2008, or that they will lose focus while expecting success this season.

Carolina (8 – 8) ~ This one could bite me… because if you read all of my previews for this season, you’ll see that I think Carolina is a quality team and will be in position to be a pain for every opponent they play. And, as it turns out, their name seems to be popping up on quite a few schedules, and very often during some really interesting and difficult stretches for those opponents. If you plan on winning your division, and you have to play on the road against two of the tougher divisional opponents back-to-back, one of the last things you want to see is Carolina in some fashion involved the week before or after those other two games. (While not back-to-back divisional games, one of the best examples of what I mean is Minnesota. They finish the year at Chicago and then home against New York (Giants). Yup… nice games for numbers 15 and 16. And game number 14? A road trip to Carolina.)

So sure, predicting them to come in at 8-8 is one that could backfire on me. Decent running and a guy like Steve Smith should make you a pain for opposing defenses… and a strong defensive line united with a capable linebacking group should make you a pain for opposing offenses. That should add up to better than 8-8.


Well… is there a worse good quarterback than Jake Delhomme? Really? I don’t think so. He can show up, get into a nice groove, and put 31-35 points up on the board. He can also look utterly lost.

Last year, after a great season, they get destroyed in the playoffs by Arizona… at home.

All four of the regular season losses last year were on the road.

And… get this one… how many times in their history have the Carolina Panthers had back-to-back winning seasons?

See… that’s a trick question. Because they’ve never done it.

The best they’ve ever done is 8-8 following a winning year. In 1996 they went 12-4, then they lost 9 games in 1997… and didn’t crack .500 again until 2003. Went 11-5 in 2003 in fact, and then 9 losses in 2004. 11-5 in 2005, followed up in 2006 by that 8-8 I mentioned. But… here’s the other funny thing… the 11-5 records in 2003 and 2005 are also the only times they’ve had winning records twice in any three year stretch. Once they go 12-4, they take a couple of years to get back on track.

So… yeah… I admit it’s a gut feeling. I think they’re going to go… at best… 4-2 in the division (and likely 3-3). Then they have the NFC East (Possibly the best top-to-bottom division in football), the AFC East (which means New England), and the 2008 division winner’s schedule (which rewards them with Minnesota and a trip to Arizona). Go ahead… tell me a schedule with Washington, New York (Giants), Dallas, Philadelphia, New England, Miami, Minnesota and Arizona, in addition to 2 games with both New Orleans and Atlanta… tell me that schedule doesn’t have 6 to 10 losses on it. I’m putting them in the middle. 8 losses.

Tampa Bay (5 – 11) ~ If Carolina does surprise me and wins 10 or 11 games, you won’t have to look far to see a record that will compensate for the balance… check out Tampa. (I know… I know… Tampa plays them twice. My point being, a rise on one record must be balanced by a loss somewhere else. And Tampa at 5 wins is a bit generous.)

They went 9-7 last year… so even with stripping things down, changing coaching staffs, and looking to begin again, there is arguably some talent in place. But in this particular case… I think they are facing some really difficult situations.

They let got of their offensive coordinator last week. A few months ago, the placing of Jeff Jagodzinski into that role was praised because for an inexperienced staff he brought not just experience, but successful experience. Now… he’s gone.

They are giving up a home game. Well… not officially. But they get to be the home team in London against New England. Of the 7 home games they do have, Dallas, Green Bay, and New York (Giants) are part of the schedule. Toss in divisional rivals and there isn’t a likelihood… there is certainty in saying they will have a losing record at home.

So forgive me… but with his injury history and the running back by committee approach, I’m not excited about the return of the Cadillac (Carnell Williams)… and I don’t know that adding Kellen Winslow is going to do much… and heck, it’s not like they have an offensive coordinator anyway.

Long year ahead.

Arizona (9 – 7) ~ I look at the NFC West, and all I can think about is those recent years when I repeatedly placed Seattle at the top. Not because I thought they deserved it… not because I thought the Seahawks were really good… but because no other team in the division seemed like much of a threat to even approach an eighth win.

Hello Arizona… welcome to the 2009 division title and the it’s-Seattle-by-default playoff spot.

A schedule that involves the AFC South and NFC North pretty much guarantees at least four losses. A division win last year adds on the Giants and the Panthers, and at least one more loss. That’s five losses and we haven’t even played a divisional game yet… and they aren’t winning all 6 of those games.

Still… Kurt Warner will be the most consistent of the quarterbacks out here. Boldin and Fitzgerald lead a deep and talented group of wide receivers… easily the best in this division. And the defense should be solid.

A return trip to the playoffs is pretty much a lock. Higher than a fourth seed? No… ain’t happening. But write them in right now, this very minute, using ink, for that fourth-seed playoff slot.

St. Louis (7 – 9) ~ This team scares me because they should be better than they’ve been. And I don’t mean that simply as a way of saying they’ll be an improved club this year. I mean that for a couple of seasons now they should have performed much better than they have. In a funny way… if you look at how I compare Arizona today to Seattle a few years ago… St. Louis today is like Arizona was a few years ago. You really expected them to be a possible sleeper… and then they lost… and lost… and lost again.

But now Orlando Pace is gone… ditto Torry Holt. Marc Bulger isn’t going to the Pro Bowl unless they need to send the conference’s seventh or eighth best quarterback. (Yes… he’s that low. Don’t believe me? Fine. Brees, Manning, McNabb, Romo, Favre, Rodgers, Ryan, Warner… see, and that’s eight quarterbacks from the NFC without entering names you might debate like Delhomme if Carolina turns in a big year or Cutler (who I think is just a big baby and I’d take Bulger ahead of him on principle).)

They face the same scheduling challenges as Arizona… the NFC North and AFC South. Except… because of the strange way teams finished in 2008… one of their two seeded games is New Orleans. A trip to Washington is the other.

Tough year… but I’ll give them some love and a few more wins than last season.

Seattle (6 – 10) ~ This is a team in transition… and actually, for me, the potential NFC Cinderella. Why?

Well… Matt Hasselbeck is a great example of everything. He’s 33 years old, played in 7 games last year and I think is an injury risk for 2009. The team should be looking for their next quarterback. But… he’s also more composed than people give him credit for, has led this club to success in the past, and is a quiet though effective leader. And let’s add to that.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I like this guy so much I don’t even need to check the spelling of his name. He brings talent and consistency to a wide receiving group that had some talent in the past, but never any true sense of reliability.

The running game should be good.

And the defense… well… I like this defense, especially for this division.

4 of the first 6 games are at home… and they include all 3 divisional rivals. If the Seahawks are going to make a move at the top of this division, you will know very early if it’s possible. Because with a bunch of road games, including trips to Dallas and Minnesota, they won’t have alot of room for error after their bye week.

That said… stay with me. Houston and Tampa could be out of division wins. Same for Detroit. Splitting the games in this division puts them at 6-3 with 7 other games. Could they go 3-4 against the remainder of their schedule? Sure they could. And they could also go 0-7.

San Francisco (6 – 10) ~ And here’s the other Cinderella candidate. Oh sure… I made fun of Mike Singletary initially last year. But then they went 5-3 under his leadership. And while some of the victories may not have been impressive (either because of the opponent or their inability to score), they were victories for a team that had been spinning wildly before his promotion.

They’ve looked at ALOT of personnel for their club… from players to coaches. And once you get past Frank Gore, there are questions. (Has Michael Crabtree signed yet? There’s the only question you need to answer to see where I’m going.) But the atmosphere in San Francisco seem positive for once.

Long story short… Mike has brough the Kool-Aid to northern California, and this is a thirsty club.

I’ve been focusing on the schedules alot this year… no need to change that now. The 49ers are very similar to St. Louis, and I suppose even Seattle. 3 division games in the first 4 contests. Atlanta is no prize for their open game, and a trip to Philadelphia is the second of those contests. But there’s no stretch where they need to hold on for dear life. If they can win a couple of the games that are toss ups, they could find themselves entering December with 8 or 9 wins a realistic target.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at