The NFC South figures to be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL this season as the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to close the gap on last year’s champ, the Atlanta Falcons. Here is a look at the x-factors that will have a major effect on how the division turns out in 2013.
Atlanta Falcons – Steven Jackson, RB
The Falcons were 29th in the league in rushing last season, leaning heavily on their high-powered passing attack. Jackson is also an above-average receiving running back, but the Falcons will need him to keep opposing defenses off-balance on the ground. Atlanta’s ground game went downhill sharply as Michael Turner couldn’t do much else but get a couple yards in short situations, and he could barely do that as the season went on. Jackson has rushed for 1,000 yards or more in eight of his nine seasons in the league and at 30, he is out to prove he still has something left in the tank.
Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton, QB
While it is easy to state that a quarterback will have a major football betting effect on their team, it is completely true with Newton, who has the tools to be a dominant quarterback, but he is still too inconsistent and heading into his third year, he will be expected to make that leap to the next level. Seven on Carolina’s nine losses last season came by six points or less, and a top-tier QB can often make enough plays to steal two or three of those games. The Panthers are also going to more of a traditional offense instead of the zone-read they’ve used since Newton came to town, so he’ll have to grasp that quickly.
New Orleans Saints – Kenny Vaccaro, S
Vaccaro was selected 15th by the Saints in the draft after coming out of Texas, and he is expected to start right away in one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Saints were awful both defending the pass and stopping the run, and Vaccaro should be able to help out with pass defense, while he is more than adequate against the run as well. Drew Brees and the offense will do their part, but the defense has to improve and Vaccaro should be a big part of that going forward.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Darrelle Revis, CB
Revis was arguably the biggest free agent on the market, and all eyes will be on him as he returns from a torn ACL that cost him virtually all of 2012. When on his game, Revis is the best one-on-one cornerback in the league and that would vastly improve a Tampa Bay pass defense that was dead last season. That would free up the Bucs to do a lot of different things on defense, including improving the pass rush and in a division where the offenses can be explosive, a shutdown corner could be worth two or three wins. Revis could be the definitive NFL betting game-changer in the NFC South this season.