- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Time for a look at the Saturday morning headlines from around the NFC South:
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Andrew Brandt writes that an appeals panel’s decision to overturn the suspensions of players in the bounty saga is a blow to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s power, at least in the short term. But this story is far from over. The panel simply said that Goodell did not have the jurisdiction to issue punishments based on non-contract payments. Goodell still can issue discipline on detrimental contact. Maybe it will be fines or shorter suspensions, but I think Goodell still will try to send a strong message about bounty programs.
Along those same lines, Mike Triplett reminds us that the lifting of the suspensions might be only temporary. He also says Goodell and the players involved should use the next few days to hammer out a settlement with reduced punishments. But he’s right when he says that probably won’t happen. Goodell and the players drew their lines in the sand long ago, and it’s hard to see either side swallowing its pride.
It remains to be seen if defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had their suspensions overturned, will play in Sunday’s opener against Washington. Smith didn’t practice this week. But he’s a veteran and he did go through all of training camp and the preseason. I don’t think missing a few days of practice would hold him back all that much. Vilma is another story. He was rehabbing an injured knee before his suspension began. Vilma’s knee still might not be ready. There’s a chance the Saints might have to start the season with Vilma on the physically unable to perform list.
It sounds like cornerback Asante Samuel has a firm grip on what his role with Atlanta is. Samuel might not start, but he’ll get plenty of playing time as the Falcons are expected to use lots of three-corner sets. Samuel’s skills aren’t the only reason the Falcons traded for him. He’s a confident guy, and the Falcons want their defense to have a little more swagger.
Speaking of the intangibles Samuel can bring to the Falcons, we might get a look at another one Sunday. Samuel might be able to give his teammates some inside information on how to defend Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. Samuel and Cassel were teammates in New England. In those days, Samuel got a lot of practice time against Cassel, who ran the scout team.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Coach Greg Schiano said quarterback Josh Freeman doesn’t need to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. I think that’s something Freeman did way too much of last season when he forced throws and made bad decisions. But the Bucs have gone to extremes to upgrade his supporting cast. Freeman’s performance still is critical, but he should be in a position where he doesn’t feel like he has to carry the team.
Freeman was elected a captain by his teammates. Receiver Vincent Jackson is the other offensive captain. Gerald McCoy and Ronde Barber are the defensive captains. Andrew Economos and Adam Hayward are the captains for special teams.
After hosting the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said one of the city’s next goals is to host a Super Bowl. I think that might be a little overly ambitious. Charlotte has an outdoor stadium, and its weather in January and February can be less than ideal. The NFL has shown a willingness to give Super Bowls to cold-weather cities that have indoor stadiums. It also has awarded the 2014 Super Bowl to the New York area, and that game will be played outdoors. But that deal came down as a reward for getting a new stadium, plus it’s New York, the nation’s biggest city.
As they have every year for as long as I can remember, Tom Sorensen and Scott Fowler have dueling columns in which they predict how the Panthers will fare. Sorensen has them winning 10 games and making the playoffs. Fowler has them at 8-8. Either one could be right. But let me give you a little insight on my two friends and former co-workers. Fowler is multi-talented. But, when it comes to predictions, Sorensen has a certain gift. It’s almost like he’s clairvoyant. I once remember him predicting a former colleague we’ll refer to as “Stan’’ would have a chicken-salad sandwich for lunch. Amazingly, "Stan'' opened his brown bag a few minutes later and pulled out a chicken-salad sandwich.