OVERVIEW: NFC South
In the NFC South look for Tampa Bay and Carolina to catch and over take the Falcons in 2005, the fall from grace will fall on the shoulders of QB Michael Vick who has been to a large extent a product of media hype, sure the guy runs like a deer but so do most wide receivers and that is exactly what Vick is, a wide receiver playing out of position.
Remember the media hype surrounding Pittsburgh QB Kordell Stewart when he was in his Slash role with the Steelers? Then you also remember that he ended up saddling his team with disappointing loss after loss once other teams in his division and conference figured out how contain him in the pocket and make him play catch with his receivers.
Somehow someway the Falcons finished with a record of 11-5 straight up and 7-9 ATS during the regular season last year, a closer look see reveals that Atlanta won six games by a grand total of 16 points, in other words more than half of the Falcons 11 regular season wins were by an average point difference of only 2.6 points per game which includes defeating the Niners, Cardinals, and Giants by a total point difference of only 9 points and to think that these three teams finished 2004 with a combined straight up record of 14-34.
Michael Vick had the worst statistics of any playoff QB last season as evidenced by his 14 to 12 TD to INT ratio, a QB rating of only 78.1, and throwing for a mere 2313 total passing yards, to put things into perspective consider that Peyton Manning finished 2004 with a TD to INT ratio of 49 to 10 with 4557 total passing yards and a QB rating of 121.1, Viking QB Duante Culpepper finished the year with a TD to INT ratio of 39 to 11 with 4717 total passing yards and a QB rating of 110.9.
I wont bore you with the statistics of the remaining 2004 Playoff QBs but trust me when I say each of the remaining playoff QBs had numbers better than Vick, but to put things another way, consider that Titan backup QB Billy Volek came off the bench in relief of sidelined QB Steve McNair last year and ended up with a TD to INT ratio of 18 to 10 with 2486 total passing yards and a QB rating of 87 enough said.
In reality Atlanta had a good season due to the fact that Tampa Bay and Carolina had injury filled bad seasons, look for that to change in 2005 when considering that the Panthers had a total of 14 players sidelined with injury during the first half of 2004 which was the root cause for their shoddy 1-7 straight up and 3-5 ATS start, however, the Panthers started to get healthy during the second half of 2004 and rebounded to post a 6-2 straight up and 6-1-1 ATS record with both losses coming by way of a field goal.
To showcase Michael Vick the NFL schedule maker saw fit to have Atlanta appear three times on Monday Night Football in 2005 including the season opening Monday Nighter which will be a playoff rematch against Philadelphia, in an attempt to make things easy on Vick in prime time each MNF appearance will take place on the Falcons home field.
With that being said, Atlantas three opponents on MNF will be the Eagles, the Jets, and the Saints and each team will have a passing attack that can fully expose the Falcons weak defensive secondary, for the sake of Value we will be wagering against Vick and company in each of these three Monday Night appearances and recommend that you do the same.
In our 2005 preview of the AFC West we made mention of the fact that the Oakland Raiders have gone 9-23 straight up and 9-22-1 ATS since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2002 season, remember who the Raiders opponent was in that Super bowl?
Of course you do, it was none other than the Tampa Bay Bucs. Like the Raiders these Bucs have also fallen on hard times over the past two seasons as evidenced by their 12-20 straight up and 12-19-1 ATS record since that January 26, 2003 Super Bowl appearance, historically speaking Tampa Bays two year record of 12-20 is the worst of any NFL team in history following a Super Bowl victory.
Tampa Bays woes have been offensive in nature when considering that the Buc defense held opponents to less than 300 yards per game on average for the fourth straight year in 2004, however, for the third time in this same four year span Tampas offense failed to average at least 100 rushing yards per contest and over the past four years have finished 30th, 27th, 23rd, and 29th in the league in rushing.
Look for Tampa Bays rushing numbers to improve dramatically in 2005 due to the drafting of RB Carnell Cadillac Williams, OT Chris Colmer, and OG Dan Buenning along with the free agent addition of former Jet TE Anthony Becht who was very instrumental in clearing the way for Jet RB Curtis Martin to rumble to four straight 1000 yard seasons including Martins career high 1697 yards in 2004.
New Orleans is an enigma in a lot of ways as they are now paying the price for being a middle of the road team over the last four years with regard to posting straight up marks of 8-8, 8-8. 9-7, and 7-9 since 2001 which has led to another very average draft for a very average team.
However, the odd thing about the Saints is that they have an HC with a defensive background in Jim Haslett, yet finished 32nd in the league last year in total defense, on the flip side of things the Saints are immensely talented on offense and managed to post a 4-0 straight up and ATS mark in their final four games of 2004 after posting a shoddy combined record of 5-11 straight up and 6-10 ATS over their final four games from 2000 to 2003, see what I mean? These Saints are a paradox.
In closing, I fully expect the public to over rate the Falcons in 2005 and as recommended above I would look to play against Michael Vick and company in each of their three MNF appearances and especially since the ole history book shows that Atlanta has posted a mark of 1-13 ATS in their previous 14 Monday Night games.
New Orleans opens up their regular season with a visit to Carolina and the Saints might just catch the Panthers looking ahead to week two when New England comes to Charlotte, NC for a rematch of the 2003 Super Bowl, its always nice to know that according to past history the doggie in Saint/Panther contests has a record of 6-1-1 ATS in the past eight meetings.
With regard to the Panthers and Buccaneers, barring injury I would recommend a wager on them each and every time they are installed as a doggie getting at least a field goal, the only exception to this is when Tampa travels to New England on December 17th as the Bucs will be playing their third straight road game and will be in a divisional sandwich having just played at Carolina and a home date with Atlanta on deck.
Jim Campbell is one of the nations most respected Sports Handicappers, he specializes in College and Pro Football, you can visit Jim at his website located at footballforecastor.com for all of your handicapping needs including free play selections, College and NFL stats, trends and award winning analysis on upcoming games.
With over 30 plus years experience in the handicapping profession Jim has built a solid reputation, his web based handicapping service at footballforecastor.com as been in existence since 1997 and year after year proves to be one of the very best handicapping services in America.