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For our fourth instalment of From one Football to Another, we are helping ourselves to a generous helping of NFC South-based narratives.
Whether it is a disaster in New Orleans or dynasty in Tampa, a reset in Atlanta or redemption in Carolina, the stories are hiding in plain sight.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The only place to start is with last years Super Bowl champs. Ruthlessly brutal in their victory earlier this year, they have pace and power all over their offence and defence. Oh, and they have Tom Brady too!
It’s interesting (and possibly worrying) to think that they didn’t even win this division last season and have even more scope for growth. They have executed a rare move in the NFL by retaining all of their squad from last years success with a view that stability will harbour further success. They look all set to have a big chance of running it back. The Bucs are owned by the Glazer Family, as are Man Utd, and there are a few similarities. The Bucs won the Lombardi last season after an 18-year wait, whilst the Red Devils are currently eight years without a title in the Premier League. They both have a warm climate and beautiful beaches; ok, maybe the similarities start and end with their title drought and a red kit until a certain CR7 returned!
Star Player – Tom Brady.
If you are reading this and have no clue who Tom Brady is, then welcome to the NFL. Described as the GOAT (the most overused phrase in sport at present), his record is unrivalled. Still leading from the front at the age of 43, his physical and mental longevity is a sight to behold. His drive and determination are the characteristics that set him apart, and there is only one player in football history he would compare to, and it just so happens the Glazer’s signed him in the twilight of his career to bring the good times back to Old Trafford only last week! Whilst Brady may not possess the adonis-like body shape, both players will go down as two of the best to ever grace any football pitch.
One to Watch – Bruce Arians (Coach) –
If you support a team, this is the guy you want as the coach. A cigar in one hand, whiskey in the other and ‘no risk it no biscuit’ life mantra. He’s great fun and would be what was created if Hannibal from the A-Team and Kevin Keegan were morphed together in some form of scientific experiment.
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New Orleans Saints
The Saints have had a rough week. Hurricane Ida has hit the City, and their first game will need to be played away from the Superdome. But, more importantly, there will be a significant impact on the players and their community.
In 2005 the City was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and it galvanised the team. They found a new QB in Drew Brees to pick up the gauntlet, and in a few years, he brought the Lombardi back to the City. So let’s hope that some good can come of the latest natural disaster to hit New Orleans.
Disaster doesn’t quite describe the Saint’s potential this season, but there are many questions to answer. There is a QB battle going on between Hill and Winston. Both offer a skill set the other can’t. Their number 1 wide receiver, Michael Thomas, appears a behind the scenes problem and keeps getting injured. Last season they were very closely matched with the Bucs, but these look like two teams in different directions. The Saints are a very physical team who can be confrontational. This confrontation extends to intra-squad disputes when Michael Thomas felt his inner 2005 Lee Bowyer come to the fore in practice and punched CJ Gardner Johnson. A few weeks later, old CJ received another punch in a match against the Bears for good measure. Maybe he is as likeable as Kieron Dyer too.
Star Player – Alvin Kamara.
The Saints running back is a threat in the air and on the ground highlighting his dominance when scoring SIX touchdowns against the Vikings on Christmas last year. He’s big, fast and a more productive version of Adama Traore.
One to watch – The Quarterbacks
The use of Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston is probably the most exciting narrative emanating out of Louisiana this season. Winston is the more proficient passer but can be a risk, whereas Hill is a real problem as a runner. It’s the equivalent of having a quick striker who can score goals but is inconsistent vs a more robust number 9 who links the play well but doesn’t put the ball in the net.
Does Steve Bruce play Dwight Gayle or Joelinton? I suspect coach Sean Payton will look to utilise both skill sets in his game plan, and how he does will be fascinating.
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This feels like a transitional year for the Falcons and new head coach Arthur Smith. They have talent throughout their squad, but a lot will depend on how well a couple of their major stars play. Former MVP QB Matt Ryan usually performs to a reliable level and has some exciting receiving options to boot. Both the offensive and defensive lines have to prove their ability this year, and their progress will be a good barometer of how successful Smith’s first year in the job has been. The Falcons also play at White Hart Lane against the Jets in October, so it will be fascinating to see two of the leagues newest head coaches duke it out in North London. The playoffs feel like a stretch for the Falcons this season; however, West Ham proved last season if two or three of your stars fire on a regular basis, you can win plenty of games.
Star Player – Calvin Ridley.
The Falcons obviously agree as they made minimal attempts to keep one of the league’s best WR of the last decade, Julio Jones (more on him later). However, it looks to be a fair call as Ridley has quietly been one of the best receivers in the whole league for the past few seasons. He was rewarded last season with All Pro (team of the year) honours, and he looks set to be a crucial part of the Falcons success this season. If Ryan and Ridley get rolling, they will be tough to stop in a similar way that Grealish and Watkins last season could destroy teams for Villa when on peak form.
One to Watch – Kyle Pitts.
I cannot wait to watch this young Tight End this season. He looks like he can make an immediate impact, especially with the loss of Jones freeing up space in the receiving corps.
He is the highest ever draft pick for a tight end, and there is a lot of expectation on the young man to be a star for a struggling team. In the completely opposite body type, he reminds me of Pedri of Barcelona and Spain. There seems to be enormous pressure heaped on a potentially generational talent, and time will tell whether they can achieve their potential.
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Act 2 of the Matt Rhule project is one I am interested in but not overly excited about. New QB Sam Darnold has checked his coat at the door of the last chance saloon and needs a decent season. However, the Panthers did lose several close games last year and were predominantly without their best player Christian McCaffrey, so there is definitely hope, as long as Rhule doesn’t attempt any more 76-yard field goals!
Rhule is a young, talented coach with equal amounts of excitement and points to prove. I reckon Graham Potter and Matt Rhule would have plenty to chat about over a beer.
Star Player – Christian McCaffrey.
In 2019 McCaffrey had over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving for a total of 19 touchdowns, a rare and impressive illustration of how significant an impact he can have.
He only played three games last season, so having him back is enormous. Imagine how much Leeds may have struggled last season in the Premier League without Patrick Bamford’s 17 goals and seven assists. With CMC back, the Panthers at least have a reason to be optimistic.
One to Watch – Jeremy Chinn.
As a rookie last season, Chinn was incredibly impressive at Safety. He made some big plays and looked like a player who could go up another level again this year. Chinn recorded a little bit of everything last season; A sack, two forced fumbles, an interception and two defensive touchdowns.
If those numbers increase, he will be a name on everyone’s lips. Sticking with the Leeds comparison’s, Raphina impressed many last season and looked like a young prospect ready to explode. Like Chinn, if he can improve on his six goals and nine assists, he will be a hot commodity in 12 months’ time.