Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the fifth edition, Super Bowl series: NFC South.
The Atlanta Falcons are going to have to bounce back from one of the worst Super Bowl collapses of all time. After finishing the season 11-5, the Falcons marched through the playoffs with ease. They beat the Seahawks by 16 and the Packers by 23 to earn the crown of NFC Champions.
Atlanta then blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. In order to win Super Bowl LII, the Falcons must avoid one of the worst hangovers ever.
The key to the Falcons’ success last season was their offense. Getting back to the Super Bowl will require their offense to repeat last year’s performance. The Falcons ranked first in all of the following categories: points per game (34.1), points per play (0.55), points per second quarter (11.1), points per third quarter (8.5) and points per first half (18.9).
The reason their offense was so great was due to balance in yardage. Atlanta ranked second in yards per game with 416.4. The Falcons were second in passing yards per game (298.9) and fifth in rushing yards per game (117.5). Atlanta only ran the ball 42 percent of the time and in order to return to the big game, the Falcons should get their play selection closer to 50-50.
Their two-headed monster in the backfield, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, will continue to take pressure off of Matt Ryan. Julio Jones will also continue to dominate defensive backs. Offensively, the Falcons shouldn’t be too concerned and their defense is where this team will really need to pick it up to make a return to the Super Bowl.
Atlanta’s defense got off to a slow start last season and finished 27th in points allowed per game with 25.3. That improved to just 20.3 points allowed per game in their final three games which ranked 10th during that time. If the Falcons can duplicate that final stretch over the course of the entire season, then the Falcons could easily become the best team in the NFL.
Bringing down that 25.3 points per game total begins with being better in the fourth quarter. In the final period of games, the Falcons gave up an average of 9.9 points, which was 31st in the NFL.
It isn’t difficult to see why the Falcons were so bad defensively in the fourth quarter. They played an average of 66.8 snaps per game. That was fourth-most in the league. The biggest reason they were on the field for so many plays was that the Falcons struggled to get off the field on third down as they allowed teams to convert 42.2 percent of the time.
The Falcons defense must improve against the pass in order to fix all of these problems. Giving up 272.9 yards passing per game is not a formula for success.
In order to make it back to the Super Bowl, the Falcons defense must improve and become a middle of the pack defense. Signing Dontari Poe should provide some help up front. Their offense is so good that the defense doesn’t have to be anything more than average.
If the Falcons are able to duplicate last season’s offensive numbers and become an average defense, they will easily get back to the Super Bowl.
Getting back is one story, winning it is another. If the Falcons do make it back, they need better play calling. Being up 28-3 in a Super Bowl should guarantee a victory. Atlanta must learn from their previous mistakes and run the ball more. If they avoid the hangover and do this, the Falcons will redeem one of the worst choke jobs ever and win the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay was very close to making the playoffs last season, finishing 9-7. The Bucs were a middle of the pack team both offensively and defensively and if they want to take the next step to make the playoffs, they must improve on both sides.
Defensively, Tampa Bay struggled in both pass and run defense. They ranked 22nd in both categories giving up 117.2 rushing yards per game and 250.8 yards per game through the air. Tampa Bay acquired defensive tackle Chris Baker to help them up front alongside Gerald McCoy. Defensive end Noah Spence tallied 5.5 sacks as a rookie and with an expanded role, should provide more pressure off the edge this season.
To help the struggling secondary, the Bucs acquired safety, J.J. Wilcox. Vernon Hargraves will need to have a big second season in order for the Buccaneers to improve defensively as well.
The defense has made changes but they won’t likely make a huge improvement. They gave up 25.3 points per game last season with 12 points per game coming in the first half. The offense is going to need to be on the field often to help this defense bring down a number of points they gave up.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs have lots of room for growth. Tampa Bay averaged 22.1 points per game last season.
The strength of their offense was in the passing game. Tampa averaged 245.4 yards per game and Winston improved in a lot of areas. He improved his completion percentage by 2.5 percent, had 48 more yards and six more passing touchdowns. The addition of DeSean Jackson and drafting tight end O.J. Howard could allow Winston to make a bigger leap in his third season.
The running game must also improve on its 101 yards per game. In five seasons, Doug Martin has only played a full 16 game season twice. In both years, he ran for over 1,400 yards. With the growth of Winston and Martin staying healthy, the Buccaneers could become a top 10 offense in the NFL.
In order to make the playoffs and win Super Bowl LII, the offense needs to carry this team. They also need to start defending their home field. Since 2009, the Buccaneers are 21-42 at home and went 4-4 last season. Tampa has to win at least six games at home this season. If the Bucs defense can be average and the offense moves into the top 10, then the Buccaneers can win Super Bowl LII.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints went marching into free agency and got the best running back of this generation. New Orleans’ offense was one of the best in the NFL last season and they added Adrian Peterson. The Saints needed a lot of help on defense and did well to address that in free agency and the draft as well. They’ve set themselves up nicely for a run to the Super Bowl.
New Orleans has been held back by its defense over the past couple of seasons. Last year they were awful, giving up the second-most points at 28.4 per game. They struggled closing out halves giving up 11.3 points in the second quarter and 7.2 points in the fourth quarter per game.
What makes the Saints defense even worse is that despite only playing the 11th least amount of plays per game (63) they ranked 14th in rushing yards (101.6) and 31st in passing yards (273.8). New Orleans didn’t spend much time on the field defensively but got torched during that time.
Their biggest area of concern was getting off the field on third down. Opposing offenses converted 43 percent of their third downs against the Saints.
In order to get back to the Super Bowl, the Saints must improve in all areas defensively. New Orleans added linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o to provide this help. They also drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams to deepen the secondary. These additions should go a long way in restoring the defense in New Orleans and get them back to the playoffs.
As mentioned earlier, the Saints had an unbelievable offense last season. They scored the second-most points in the NFL with 29.3 per game. The bulk of that scoring came in the second half. New Orleans averaged 15.2 points in the second half last season, ranking first in the NFL. The Saints were first in yards per game (426), first downs per game (24.7) and passing yards per game (317.1).
Trading Brandin Cooks was OK because of the stellar rookie season Michael Thomas had. The rookie had 92 receptions, 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns emerging as Drew Brees’ favorite weapon. The addition of Ted Ginn will help replace Cooks but Brees has made a career of turning receivers into stars. The passing game will not suffer from the loss of Cooks.
The offense just needs to continue doing what they have been doing. They already help keep the defense off the field by holding the ball for an average of 31 minutes per game. The Saints offense also averaged 108.9 yards rushing last season. They can’t do much more to help the team win.
All of New Orleans’ hopes and dreams rest on the defense. Drew Brees and the rest of this offense have carried the team on their shoulders for far too long. If the defense can improve just a little bit, then the Saints can become Super Bowl contenders.
Cam Newton and the Panthers had a major Super Bowl hangover last season. They went from 15-1 to 6-10 and looked like a completely different team. With Cam Newton on your team, you always have a shot to make it to the Super Bowl again. It won’t take much for the Panthers to capture the magic they had in 2015.
The Panthers averaged 343.7 yards per game which were a 24-yard dropoff from 2015. They also went from rushing for 141.9 yards per game to 113.4 yards per game. In order for the Panthers to get to the Super Bowl, they must get back to the numbers they put up in 2015.
Carolina averaged 23.1 points per game and they were pretty consistent putting up points throughout the course of the game. The Panthers scored an average of 12 points in the first half and 11.1 points in the second half. They could improve on their scoring if they improve their third down conversion rate of 37 percent.
The Panthers must begin to run more like they did in 2015 in order to get back to the big game. They called a running play only 43 percent of the time. Along with this, the Panthers must cash out in the red zone. Carolina only scored on 59 percent of their red zone trips. Improving in these areas can turn the Panthers back into an elite team.
On the defensive side of the ball, it starts with the secondary. The Panthers ranked 28th in passing, giving up 268.2 yards per game. The defense also went from giving up 19.5 points per game in 2015 to 25.1 points per game last season. Part of the problem was the amount of time the Panthers spent of the field. Carolina ranked 22nd in plays with 64.7 per game. This caused them to give up the most fourth quarter points in the NFL last season at 10.7.
Stopping the pass and giving up fewer points will go a long way in making the Panthers Super Bowl contenders again. Offensively, the addition of Matt Kalil, Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel will help Cam Newton become an MVP candidate once again. If the Panthers mirror the team they were in 2015, then not only will they get back to the Super Bowl, but this time they will win it.
Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: NFC South. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.
Feature image courtesy of steelcityunderground.com