Last Season: 10-6
I wrote prior to last year they did all the right things, putting the right young guys in positions to succeed and their success seemed to instill astonishment They did a lot of promising things last season. The problem for the Bucs stems from the fact they play in the same division as the Saints (i.e. Sean Peyton/Drew Brees) and the surging Falcons. I don't know if Raheem Morris and company have what it takes to make a dent in the super competitive NFC South.
The new ESPN QB rating scale was advertised to be a simpler and easily understood version of the old QB ratings. Its just as esoteric but puts things on a 100 point scale. To me this is just like the metric system- yeah our version is more complex and probably not as good- but it's ours damnit.
Anyway- Josh Freeman ranks among the second tier in the new rating scale, just below the Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's, but above Romo, Cutler, and many other pro bowlish quarterbacks. If we believe in this new scale, then Freeman is a betting man's friend. However, he doesn't pass my eyeball test and I'm not sold on it yet. Maybe it's the Jheri Curl, but I need to see more John Elway-like plays before I put my dollars on him.
Prediction: setback year 8-8.
Fantasy Sleeper: LaGarret (French for "The Garrett") Blount
Last Season: 2-14
I'm sitting on a rooftop deck in Hatteras North Carolina. The weather is perfect and the cool breeze is pacifying my negative sentiment towards all things Carolina. With that said, the 2010 Panthers were among the worst teams I've ever seen. Jimmy Clausen put Steve Smith on suicide watch and John Fox was a dead man walking. The best part of the season: the excitement of uber-bust or burst candidate Cam Newton. (Thanks to the new salary scale, Newton may become the first player in history to make less as a pro than he did as a collegiate athlete). Newton's potential gives cause for hope- hope that the future is bright and hope that Steve Smith doesn't pull a Private Pyle.
Ron Rivera, the architect of the dominate Bears' and underrated Chargers defenses, finally gets his shot at a head coaching gig. He brings certain toughness to the squad and along with Newton, a promise of good things ahead. Poor Jimmy Clausen will watch as his career degrades from franchise savior to career backup with every Cam Newton snap. Newton strikes me as a rich man's Vince Young. Just as big, faster, and less insane. If DeAngelo Williams and Stewart round back into form, this could be a very interesting offense. The addition of Legedu Naanee gives some much-needed depth at the receiver position. Middle Linebacker, Jon Beason, is as solid as Sears but doesn't have a lot of help on the defensive side of the ball.
Rivera's got his work cut out for him, but I like the team's prospects in the long run.
Fantasy Sleeper: WR Legedu Naanee
New Orleans Saints
Last Season: 11-5
As defending Super Bowl Champions, anything less than a championship is a disappointment. Losing in the playoffs to a 7-9 Seattle team was devastating. The Gregg Williams defense that came together so well in their championship run disappeared as Marshawn Lynch ran roughshod on his way to a game clinching touchdown.
The Saints made some nice moves in the off season, including the replacement of Reggie Bush with Darren Sproles and drafting Mark Ingram. Sproles is a cheaper option and an established play maker, and Mark Ingram has largely flew under the radar for a former Heisman Trophy winner.
If the defense holds up, they'll be in the thick of it come the playoffs. A healthy Shaun Rogers in the middle of the defensive line could be a huge help.
Fantasy Sleeper: Darren Sproles
Last Season: 13-3
2010 was another step in the right direction for the Falcons. Unfortunately, the Bucs and Saints have managed to keep stride. Matt Ryan emerged as a top flight quarterback able to win games on his own. The Falcons brought Alabama WR Julio Jones into the fold. Matty Ice now has another big time target. The re-signing of Jason Snelling was a great move. Michael Turner is fantastic, but running backs with a lot of mileage make me nervous and Snelling did a solid job filling in for Turner last season.
Atlanta went 13-3 last year and they're bringing back many of the pieces essential to that strong season.
If they can figure the passing defense out (22nd in the league last year) they'll be in the thick of things.
Fantasy Sleeper: Jason Snelling
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