Every NFL football division is capable of completely flipping over in just one off-season. Take the NFC South where for the last 3 seasons, the team that finished last, went on to win the division the following season. And other examples of complete turnarounds include Pittsburgh going from 3rd to 1st this season, the Cincinnati Bengals going from 2nd to last and the Baltimore Ravens going from first to worst.
The NFC South was probably one of the more disappointing divisions in the NFL in 2007. Obviously, there was the whole Michael Vick thing in Atlanta. But even when you get past that, NFL fans have to be disappointed in the regression that the New Orleans Saints showed after earning a 1st round bye in 2006. And the Carolina Panthers put in another season of sub-par effort, finishing a meager 7-9, with their defense severely underperforming. That said, there are an abundance of issues this division will face in the upcoming off-season. Here are just a few of them.
With JohnGruden‘s extension, are the Buccaneers set for the next 4 years? – Many people wonder if John Gruden really deserved the extension. He hasn’t won a playoff game since his first year when he took what was basically Tony Dungy’s team to a Superbowl victory. Not to take that away from him, but that was in 2003. It’s now 5 years later and Gruden has nothing to show for it. While the Bucs had some great success this season, the fact is that one has to wonder if they are set up to win over the next few years, or even in 2008. Jeff Garcia started to show signs of injury proneness, as did Joey Galloway and the Ike Hilliard. The defense looks energized, but that credit really goes to Marty Kiffin, the longtime defensive coordinator.
Is ReggieBush a bust? – Quite frankly, I find this to be a fair question. If the excuse that he wasn’t a “primary back” didn’t exist, what other #2 overall draft pick at the running back position would we allow to be free from the “bust” appellation if they were averaging less than 4 yards per carry? There’s not another running back in the world that would get that benefit of the doubt. Bush was given a chance to be “the guy” for the Saints this year, and he failed. Some point to his knee injury, but his YPC of 3.7 was better than his 2006 YPC average. And he had 7 fumbles in 2007, compared to 2 in 2006, with essentially the same amount of carries.
Are the Panthers ever going to deliver on all of their promise? – For the last 2 years, everyone has entered the NFL season touting the Carolina Panthers’ defensive line as the best in the league. However, they haven’t paid any dividends on that praise, by failing to make the playoffs for the last 2 off seasons. In fact, the defense looked savvy but old giving up 347 points (21.7 points per game), and star players like Julius Peppers had no impact on the field at all. The offense was once again hampered by a litany of injuries at the quarterback position and to WR Steve Smith. Despite their problems though, the team has a ton of talent. If players like Peppers and Smith can play up to their potential for a full season, and if QB Jake Delhomme can stay healthy, there is no reason this team shouldn’t be back in the playoffs. Will they actually do it? Well that is the question.