Tag Archives: Devonta Freeman

Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC South

Our Best and Worst series is in full bore. We’ve already covered the AFC and NFC North, the AFC and NFC East, and we just finished our AFC South entry. We now turn our focus on the NFC South, a division that would be up for the “Most Dramatic Changes” award if such an award existed. Quarterback changes, roster overhauls, and record-setting contracts, this division has it all.

Best and Worst of Free Agency: NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Best Move: Upgrading at RB

Surely there will be some who will look at this and immediately question how is going to a running back rumored to be dealing with a degenerative knee disease an upgrade over the back the Atlanta Falcons made (at the time) the highest paid in 2017? When the new guy is Todd Gurley and the last guy was Devonta Freeman, that’s how.

The Los Angeles Rams parted with the former Offensive Rookie of the Year (2015) and Offensive Player of the Year (2017) largely due to uncertainty around the long-term health of his knee but fiscal motivations were not absent. Freeman (494 total touches, 2339 scrimmage yards over the last three years) has dealt with injuries that caused him to miss all but two games in 2018. If Gurley (912 total touches, 4988 yards since 2017) is close to his old self the Falcons won’t experience any dropoff and may see better production.

Worst Move: Half Addressing Pass Rush

Yet another where readers may be scratching their heads. After all, Atlanta signed free agent Dante Fowler to a three-year deal worth up to $48 million. Unfortunately, that’s about all they have done to address the issue. After they recorded more sacks than the woeful Miami Dolphins, one guy isn’t going to be enough.

Fowler had 11.5 sacks in 2019 and that his presence will help immensely. But Atlanta let Vic Beasley walk. Despite his inconsistency during his time in Atlanta, he had a strong finish to last season and led the team with eight sacks. They lost another six combined sacks between Adrian Clayborn and De’Vondre Campbell. The 16th-overall pick will be very useful.

Next Move: Lockdown the Corner

A theme we have visited elsewhere, Atlanta has a glaring need for some help on the corners. They finished 2019 ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed. Some of that was thanks to a lackluster pass rush. But none of their corners played particularly well. Desmond Trufant (Detroit Lions) was their best corner and he was only available for nine games.

Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson aren’t an intimidating trio by any stretch. Wreh-Wilson only allowed quarterbacks to complete 45 percent of passes in his direction but was only credited with being targeted 33 times, or five fewer times than Trufant who missed nearly half the season. Atlanta’s first two picks should be EDGE and cornerback, or vice versa.

Carolina Panthers

Best Move: Bridging the Gap

Cam Newton is probably the greatest to ever do it for the Carolina Panthers. No player has the accolades or had the connection to the area he did. But that time is over and the Matt Rhule regime is getting off on the right foot with a  player in Teddy Bridgewater who seems poised to pay off on the promise he had coming into the league.

Touted as an accurate, athletic pocket passer, Bridgewater got derailed by a knee injury that threatened not only his career but also his limb. He regained prominence with the New Orleans Saints filling in for an injured Drew Brees for five games. The Saints went 5-0 and Bridgewater completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 1205 yards, nine touchdowns, and two picks.

Worst Move: Repeating the Past

No, this isn’t about Christian McCaffrey’s (record-setting) contract. So far the Panthers plan is just as well thought out as the last one. They have a (potential) stud at quarterback and some weapons around him. But their fatal flaw will once again prove to be a lack of proper protection. Carolina traded guard Trai Turner and received tackle Russell Okung from the Los Angeles Chargers.

Not only is Okung a worse player (irrespective of position) but he is also five years older. The need for a tackle will often outweigh the advantage of a quality guard. But the difference in age (even if linemen can play longer) and the added salary make this look like a losing deal for Carolina and they still need more help protecting their new franchise passer. Also, don’t pay running backs.

Next Move: Replace Heart and Soul

Sounds easy enough, right? The reality of the situation is Luke Kuechly’s retirement is similar to Newton’s departure in that it marks the end of an era. The difference is the Panthers got to make the decision on Newton. Kuechly, who has dealt with numerous concussions in his career, made seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons and was named an All-Pro five times.

But accolades aside, the Panthers will need to find the leadership and dependability elsewhere. Carolina saw eight players leave on defense who started at least nine games. Granted, any time there is a coaching change a roster overhaul is to be expected. But Kuechly would have made the transition easier for new defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

New Orleans Saints

Best Move: Landing WR2

It’s not often that landing a secondary receiver deserves praise. But when that receiver will be with the Saints catching passes from Brees, exceptions are made. Emmanuel Sanders split 2019 between catching passes from Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo. To say Brees is an upgrade is an understatement.

New Orleans hasn’t had a capable complimentary option since Brandin Cooks left town. Ted Ginn in 2017 was the closest they’ve come. Sanders is a year older than Ginn was then, and is a more versatile receiver. A torn Achilles ended his 2018 early and he returned to put up over 800 yards and play in 17 games last season.

Worst Move: Choosing the Wrong QB2

Somehow Taysom Hill has convinced folks down in the Bayou that he is worthy of being the top backup option. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that he has franchise quarterback potential. Hill is a nice, versatile athlete. But he isn’t a full-time quarterback, let alone a starter. New Orleans gave it away by going with Bridgewater over the more familiar Hill when Brees went down.

Now, this is being stated with a full understanding of how the economics played into this. With Brees returning, retaining Bridgewater became impossible. But selling HIll as anything more than a gadget player (with Brees and Bridgewater still in limbo) was an oversell and if New Orleans stands pat at quarterback, they will regret it if Brees misses time again.

Next Move: Someone to Truzz

The Saints had the fewest rushing yards as a team in the three years since Alvin Kamara arrived. They clearly missed Mark Ingram and the energy he brought to the field and sideline. Latavius Murray gave New Orleans eight fewer yards than Ingram did in his final season. But the latter ran for over a thousand yards the two years prior and did so again with Baltimore last year.

If the Saints want to get the mojo back in their ground game the will try to find another runner with that same type of violent running style. Kamara remaining healthy is probably the bigger boost, but the need for a proper compliment to him cannot be overstated. For all their effort though, finding someone to match Ingram’s infectious energy could be close to impossible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best Move: Brady Bunch

Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the biggest move this offseason in the NFL, not just the NFC South. The only thing comparable is Peyton Manning joining the Broncos in 2012. This surpasses that by far but does have similar questions along with it. Among them is questioning how much Brady’s declining numbers are due to waning ability.

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, (for now) O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate will make it clear if Brady is up to the task or not. It’s hard to say the six-time Super Bowl champ has ever had a more talented receiving corps. If there is one thing to complain about it’s the protection that wasn’t great for a more mobile Jameis Winston in 2019. Tampa might also want to finally find a running back.

Worst Move: Not Protecting the Franchise

Recurring themes are becoming a recurring theme. Another team (rightfully) making an investment in a franchise quarterback and surrounding him with weapons but failing to address porous blocking. Brady is 42. ‘Sack’ needs to be treated like the four-letter word that it is for this organization and, so far, their moves don’t show that.

Next Move: Fill the Gaps

Let’s not act like the NFL draft won’t provide the perfect opportunity to address the issue laid out in the previous section as well as address the lack of a run game. Tampa also needs some help in the secondary but they have youth there. Whatever they choose to do in the draft, the top needs to be the offensive line and secondary, in whatever order.

A sneaky move could be for the Bucs to take a pass rusher much sooner than anyone expects. Shaquil Barrett is playing on the franchise tag and Jason Pierre-Paul just re-signed for two years but is already 31. Tampa also lost Carl Nassib, their third-leading sack artist with six. Add pass rusher to the early part of the Bucs draft checklist.

NFL Week 15 Game Predictions

NFL Week 15 kicks off with a battle of gunslingers in the wild AFC West and ends with a battle for NFC South Supremacy.

Predicting NFL Week 15 Games

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

In a battle for AFC West supremacy, Philip Rivers‘ Chargers will need to rebuff history; he’s lost nine straight to KC. MVP front-running Mahomes, Chiefs look to keep rolling; Eric Berry‘s expected return couldn’t come at a better time. The game’s shootout potential is heightened by injuries to both backfields.
Prediction: 33-30 Chiefs

Houston Texans at New York Jets

On the opposite ends of the spectrum, these meet with different goals in this matchup. The Jets are in full evaluation mode, down their top running back and their quarterback of the future is dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss three games. Houston just wants to make it out healthy, albeit with a win, of course. Guys will be playing for jobs, but New York doesn’t stand much of a chance against Houston.
Prediction: 24-14 Texans

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos

Another game with two teams whose futures seem to be going opposite ways. The upstart Browns, fresh off a win against the Panthers, look to continue building confidence and momentum behind their future star QB, Baker Mayfield. Denver’s biggest issue since Peyton Manning retired has been QB, an odd twist with John Elway running things.
Prediction: 23-20 Browns

Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons

Two teams playing out the rest of their disappointing seasons. At least for Arizona that was to be expected. Losers of five straight, Atlanta is only two years removed from a title appearance. Last year the excuse was OC Steve Sarkisian. This year will likely be put in the injury to starting RB Devonta Freeman, but one man does not a season make…unless it’s a QB. Speaking of, aside from getting Josh Rosen live reps, this season is a major dud for the other Cardinals; namely David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Prediction: 21-17 Falcons

Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills

In what is a running theme for the week, we get two sub-.500 teams simply filling out the slate at this point. The Lions traded away their best receiver, lost their second best to I.R., and had their promising rookie runner also go down with a knee issue. Jim Bob Cooter’s offense obviously regressed. Buffalo has Josh Allen and not much else. That is bad for Josh Allen. Hopefully, the team can put the right pieces around him before he’s ruined by having to do too much with too little.
Prediction: Bills 17-14

Green Bay Packers at Chicago  Bears

The Bears come in flying high after shutting down the Rams and a chance to take out a rival and clinch a playoff spot. They’d like to redeem themselves for a week one loss that could have gone the other way. Look for the defense to be fired up after recent comments by Aaron Rodgers. The Packers QB did not mince words when asked about the team’s rest-of-season outlook and has the ability to get it done. Whether the players around him hold up their end remains to be seen. They were a factor in the team’s performance thus far, after all.
Prediction: Bears 27-24

Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals

Building for 2019 and beyond since the preseason; ‘Oakland’ might not be where the Raiders play sooner than expected. Having parted ways with the GM, Jon Gruden now has free reign and a bevy of premium draft picks the next couple of years. Cincinnati has lost their Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and a bunch of games – a lot before either injury happened. Might the Marvin Lewis eon finally be coming to an end?
Prediction: 20-17 Raiders

Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts

Finally a matchup with dual playoff implications. Dallas comes in winners on five straight. The offense has really opened up since acquiring Amari Cooper, but Dak Prescott has been worse on the road and against Colts-favorite, zone defense. Indy has to be rejoicing over the return of Andrew Luck to form. Aside from a clunker loss against the woeful Jags, the Colts have won six of their last seven on Luck’s arm. He’ll need to be wary of a Dallas defense that has been playing lights out. Zeke is the deciding factor here.
Prediction: 24-21 Cowboys

Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings

Last week’s final play Music City Miracle impression notwithstanding, Miami gets to trade celebrating on South Beach to trying to avoid a dip in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. The luster is wearing off Adam Gase, expect sweeping changes this off-season whether he stays or goes. Minnesota already fired their OC and some have speculated that Mike Zimmer might not be too safe either. It seems that $84 million investment in Kirk Cousins was bad for everybody involved, save for Cousins’ bank account, of course.
Prediction: 27-17 Vikings

Tennessee Titans at New York Giants

Derrick Henry set a Titans record last week against the Jaguars, gets his chance for an encore against the Giants. He won’t catch them off guard like the Jags, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can end the season strong. The Titans are very much alive in the playoff race and need quarterback Marcus Mariota to keep up his recent solid play. New York won without Odell Beckham Jr last week and Get to show if it was a fluke or if there is at least some credence to the idea that OBJ is the problem. The Titans are the latest team that gets to try stopping Saquon Barkley.
Prediction: 28-21 Giants

Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars

Not much to see here folks. Be it the devastating injuries suffered by Washington or the devastatingly bad play of Jacksonville, this game is disappointment personified. In fact, the most intriguing storylines surrounding these teams is the post-surgery infections of the Skins’ Alex Smith and Derrius Guice or the benching of Blake Bortles – fresh off a contract extension – for Cody Kessler. Unless you have to, it might be best to just check the box scores on this one.
Prediction: 14-10 Jaguars

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens

Tampa Bay has far too much talent offensively to have the record they do. The problem is their defense would suggest it should be much worse. Jameis Winston has been far steadier since being reinserted as the starter, committing just two turnovers. Baltimore will once again start Lamar Jackson under center, though he could lose snaps to Joe Flacco since the Ravens are still fighting for a playoff spot. This is really the Bucs offense against the Raven D, but Jackson gives it at least one other point of interest.
Prediction: 21-17 Ravens

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers

Coming off a hard-fought victory over Minnesota, Russell Wilson leads playoff-hopeful Seattle against San Francisco for the second time in three weeks. The offense was brutal versus the Vikings so a struggling Niner defense should be a welcome sight. San Fran is another team whose season has been over. When Jimmy Garoppolo went down expectations went with him. Look for Seattle to rely heavily on the ground game to get what should be one of their easier wins of the season.
Prediction: 28-14 Seahawks

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a matchup that has always produced a lot of drama, and the expectations should be for the same. His team in a tailspin recently, home is where Ben Roethlisberger plays his best ball. They’ll need him too with James Conner set to miss another game and the running game struggling last week. Tom Brady had the best game he’s ever played in Miami and still couldn’t shake his South Beach curse. Luckily for him, Pittsburgh is not Miami. The last team with the ball wins.
Prediction: 34-28 Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams

Not what the schedule makers had in mind when this matchup was set. Still, Los Angeles is surely happy to get this draw after the lockdown they suffered in Chicago. The offense should rebound nicely against an Eagles defense that is starting JV players in the secondary. Philly has not flown this year. Injuries have played a major role, and now it seems quarterback Carson Wentz faces the very real possibility of being shut down with a fracture in his back.
Prediction: Rams 34-10

New Orleans Saints at  Carolina Panthers

New Orleans shook off a slow start and beat Tampa Bay; significant because the Rams loss puts the Saints in the driver’s seat in the NFC – New Orleans beat Los Angeles in week nine giving the Saints the tiebreaker. Carolina is sliding fast amidst rumors that Cam Newton is dealing with an injury to his reconstructed right shoulder. Not insignificant for a right-handed quarterback. Christian McCaffrey is having a stellar season but New Orleans has been good against the run most of the year, minus the Dallas game.
Prediction: Saints 34-24

NFL Week 15 Game Picks

Week 15 in the NFL should be filled with tons of excitement and action. The postseason is right around the corner and teams are vying for top-seeds and, simply, the right to make the playoffs.

NFL Week 15