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2005 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

2006 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

Introduction
This will be my fifth year predicting on this website. While my two Super Bowl teams lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, I did manage to select 8 out of 12 playoff teams. I hope for more success this year. I have created a new format for seasonal predictions, which I think is easier to read.

NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 12-4).
8/26 Update:
With Mike Vick out at the beginning of the season, the Bucs will probably win the NFC South.

Major Additions:
QB Chris Simms, QB Jim Miller, RB Thomas Jones, RB Terry Kirby, G Jason Whittle, DE Dewayne White, LB Dwayne Rudd.
Major Subtractions:
QB Rob Johnson, QB Shane Matthews, C Jeff Christy, LB Al Singleton, S Dexter Jackson.

Offense This Year: RB Michael Pittman will probably spend the 2003 season in jail, so considering that he was ineffective for almost every game last year (the Super Bowl being one major exception), the Buccaneers' offense remains the same. Brad Johnson will continue to be a game manager with great receivers (Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius), but without a consistent running game. Perhaps the only change is that C Jeff Christy was let go, while G Jason Whittle was brought in. This offense is nothing pretty, but it is efficient and gets the job done.
Defense This Year: Overrated Super Bowl MVP S Dexter Jackson is gone, but that is the only significant difference with this defense this year. The best player on the line, DE Simeon Rice had 15 sacks in 2002. Of course, DTs Warren Sapp and Anthony MacFarland cause chaos in the middle. The best player that the Buccaneers have, LB Derrick Brooks, had 118 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 touchdowns last year. LB Shelton Quarles, as well as newly acquired LB Dwayne Rudd join Brooks to make an incredible linebacking tandem. The Buccaneers have four solid starters in their secondary. CB Ronde Barber is a shutdown corner, CB Brian Kelly had 8 interceptions last year, S John Lynch is a hard-hitter, who really helps stop the run, and S Dwight Smith had 4 interceptions last season. The only personnel problem that the Bucs have on defense is that they have no depth at linebacker and defensive back.
Schedule and Intangibles: Like with most Super Bowl champions, there are a lot of distractions this offseason. First of all, Michael Pittman was arrested and may not be able to play this season. But most importantly, DT Warren Sapp wants a new contract, which he won't receive because the Buccaneers are planning to use that money on resigning DT Anthony MacFarland. Tampa Bay management values MacFarland over Sapp, because MacFarland is five years younger than Sapp. This situation is unavoidable, and I see why both sides are unhappy, however, it will affect how the Buccaneers play this season, which is unfortunate for Bucs fans. Tampa is a decent 55-33 at home since 1992. During that time period, they are a losing team during the months of September and October, and are a winning team during November and December. Even though they won the Super Bowl, the Bucs don't have that difficult a schedule. "Easy games" for Tampa include Washington, Dallas, Jacksonville and Houston.

Analysis: All of these distractions will make it very difficult for Tampa Bay to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But, if there is one coach who can lead a team like this to another Super Bowl victory, its Jon Gruden.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in the NFC South).


Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 9-6-1).
8/26 Update:
Mike Vick is out for 6 weeks with a fractured fibula. When he comes back, he won't be 100%. Bad news for a team hoping to win a Super Bowl.

Major Additions:
WR Peerless Price, WR MarTay Jenkins, LB Keith Newman, CB Tod McBride, CB Tyrone Williams, S Bryan Scott, S Cory Hall.
Major Subtractions:
WR Shawn Jefferson, TE Reggie Kelly, NT Shane Dronett, LB Mark Simeoneau, CB Ashley Ambrose.

Offense This Year: Mike Vick. Peerless Price. Enough said. QB Mike Vick should have been the NFL MVP last year. Without him, the Falcons would have gone 4-12. He is the most talented quarterback in the NFL, and did everything last season, without much help. Now, he has WR Peerless Price in his arsenal. Price only had 94 catches for 1,252 yards and 9 TDs in 2002. The acquisition of Price will demote WR Brian Finneran to the #2 wideout, where he is better suited. Battling for the third wide recevier spot, or perhaps the second one are Quentin McCord, MarTay Jenkins and Trevor Gaylor. McCord is probably the best wideout of the group. What makes Atlanta extra dangerous is that teams can't fully pay attention to Vick and Price, because of the running game. RB Warrick Dunn is electrifying, while RB T.J. Duckett is an excellent inside runner. With all of this talent surrounding him, Michael Vick should be prepared to lead Atlanta to a Super Bowl.
Defense This Year: Atlanta's 3-4 defense isn't particularly great at stopping other teams, but they are good at getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. That won't change this season. DE Patrick Kerney had 10 sacks last year, OLB Keith Newman had 8 sacks with Buffalo last year, NT Ellis Johnson chipped in with 7 and both DE Brady Smith and LB Sam Rogers had 6. The Falcons' secondary welcomes a few tall defensive backs to help them deal with Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Horn. CB Tyrone Williams, and S Cory Hall will join incumbents CB Ray Buchanan and S Keion Carpenter. The Dirty Birds were 23rd against the run in 2002, but ILBs Keith Brooking and Chris Draft should be able to improve that ranking this year.
Schedule and Intangibles: NT Ellis Johnson has missed a few mini-camps and is pondering retirement. He better make that decision soon, so the Falcons can prepare for a season with or without him. Atlanta is a run in the mill 49-39 at home during the last decade. They have a pretty balanced schedule. They have to play tough teams like the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Tennesee, Tampa Bay twice and New Orleans twice. However, they get a few easy ones like Dallas, Washington, Minnesota, Houston, Jacksonville and Indianapolis.

Analysis: If Peerless Price works well with Michael Vick, Atlanta has to be the Super Bowl favorite. One thing is certain though - the Falcons will have to beat the Buccaneers at some point this season, which is something they have not been able to do with Vick at the helm.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in the NFC South).


Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 7-9).
Major Additions:
QB Jake Delhomme, RB Stephen Davis, WR Ricky Proehl, WR Kevin Dyson, TE Mike Seidman, OT Jordan Gross, G Doug Brzezinski, C Bruce Nelson, DE Kavika Pittman, LB Greg Favors, CB Ricky Manning Jr.
Major Subtractions:
RB Lamar Smith, WR Isaac Byrd, TE Wesley Walls, DT Sean Gilbert, LB Hannibal Naives.

Offense This Year: This offense struggled to produce points last year, but should be much better in 2003. Most importantly, the Panthers have added stud RB Stephen Davis. Davis, who will be running behind an offensive line that added OT Jordan Gross and C Bruce Nelson, will move the chains often. The only hole that exists on Carolina's offensive line is at left guard. With a very strong running game, the quarterback will be asked to just take care of the ball. Rodney Peete is better suited as a game manager, however, QB Jake Delhomme was added to compete with Peete for the starting job. In my opinion, both Peete and Delhomme can excel in this situation. A ball control offense does not need a stud wide receiver, and the Panthers don't have one, but they do have three quality receivers (Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith and Ricky Proehl). What the Panthers could use is a stud tight end, and they did draft TE Mike Seidman in the third round, but I don't consider him the answer, especially in his rookie year.
Defense This Year: Carolina will have no problem getting to the quarterback. Their two starting defensive ends, Juilius Peppers and Mike Rucker provided 12 and 10 sacks last year, respectively. They also recevied 12 sacks from their two defensive tackles (Kris Jenkins and Brenston Buckner), and 7 from LB Mark Fields. The Cats also forced an incredible 20 fumbles in 2002. With this monster pash rush, their two corners (Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard), who would not start for many other teams, will not be exposed that much. Besides, the Panthers have two pretty good safties, Mike Minter and Deon Grant. It'll be hard for teams to run against Carolina because of LB Dan Morgan, who is the "Ray Lewis" of this defense.
Schedule and Intangibles: Punter Todd Sauerbrun is one of the NFL's best, and will give the Panthers great field position all year. Since the Cats were created in 1996, they are only 31-33 at home. They are also a losing team during every month since their creation, with the exception of December, where they are 18-16. I feel it is also important to note that the Panthers are 4-0 during the last two summers. Every divisional game will be a battle, but Carolina does play a few bad teams like the Texans, Cardinals, Bears, Cowboys, Redskins and Jaguars. With the easiest schedule in the NFC South, the Panthers can become one of these "bubble teams" that pops up out of nowhere and surprises everyone.

Analysis: The Panthers are the NFC's version of the Baltimore Ravens. They won't score a lot of points this year, but it'll be almost impossible for any other team to score on them, with the exception of Atlanta.

Projection: 10-6 (3rd in the NFC South).


New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 9-7).
8/26 Update:
New Orleans' defense looks even worse than last year, if thats possible.

Major Additions:
QB Todd Bouman, TE Ernie Conwell, OT Wayne Gandy, OT Jon Stinchcomb, DT Johnathan Sullivan, LB Orlando Ruff, LB Derrick Rogers, CB Ashley Ambrose, FS Tebucky Jones, P Mitch Berger.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jake Delhomme, OT Kyle Turley, DT Norman Hand, LB Charlie Clemons, CB Ken Irvin, S Sammy Knight, P Toby Gowin.

Offense This Year: Both QB Aaron Brooks and RB Deuce McAllister are Pro Bowlers, but both must stay healthy for this offense to be effective. Last year, they were both hurt towards the end of the season, so the Saints naturally faltered in December. The Saints have one of the best receiver duos in the NFL (Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth). They also signed TE Ernie Conwell, so Aaron Brooks will have many receiving options. His offensive line, however, is not as good. There are huge holes at right tackle and left guard. OT Jon Stinchcomb may be able to start at RT, but if he can't, then Brooks might be in trouble. There is also little depth at the running back and wide receiver position.
Defense This Year: Last year, the Saints' defense gave up more than 20 points in fifteen out of their sixteen games. Their defensive ends, Charles Grant and Darren Howard were okay, but could be better, as they totaled for 15 sacks in 2002. They are also pretty set at defensive tackle, with Grady Jackson and rookie Johnathan Sullivan. Where New Orleans has problems is at linebacker and defensive back. Although they added LB Derrick Rodgers, both LBs Sedrick Hodge and Orlando Ruff will be ineffective. The secondary is even worse. Pro Bowl safety Sammy Knight is gone, so that leaves Tebucky Jones as the best defensive back on the Saints. Cancer CB Dale Carter was often burnt last year, and S Mel Mitchell will do nothing in his first starting role. CB Fred Thomas did have five interceptions last year, but against powerhouse wideouts like Keyshawn Johnson and Peerless Price, whom he has to defend twice a year, he has no chance.
Schedule and Intangibles: KR/PR Michael Lewis is one of the best in the NFL. The Louisiana Superdome has not been a kind home for the Saints. They have the NFC's second worst home record since 1992, at 39-49. In fact, they have an identical road record during that period of time. New Orleans has faded down the stretch during the last two years, perhaps because they struggle to play in the cold, given that they are from a southern climate. In the last two seasons, they are 0-7 in all games after December 10th. The Saints have a pretty easy schedule. Sure, they have to deal with the other three teams in their division, but they have the luxury of playing Dallas, Houston, Washington, Chicago and Jacksonville.

Analysis: For the third year in a row, the Saints should get off to a hot start. They must avoid another late season meltdown in order to get into the playoffs.

Projection: 7-9 (4th in the NFC South).


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