NFC South: Call It poll

As we all know, the NFC South had a historically bad opening week. All four teams lost and that’s only the third time that’s happened since the NFC South was created in 2002.

But all losses aren’t created equal. I’d say Carolina’s loss to Arizona was actually encouraging because rookie quarterback Cam Newton had such a strong debut. I also think it’s tough to read too much into New Orleans’ opening loss, although I am concerned about the defense. The Saints went into Lambeau Field and took the defending Super Bowl champions down to the final play.

There’s no glossing over the losses by Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Both were ugly.

Which was the ugliest? I’d vote for Atlanta’s loss to Chicago because the Falcons didn't look anything like the smart and efficient Falcons we've seen the past three seasons. But let’s hear your thoughts. Take a look at our Call It poll to the right and cast your vote for the most discouraging NFC South loss in Week 1 and feel free to back up your reasoning in the comments section below.

Call It: NFC South winner?

September, 2, 2011
On Thursday, I gave you my predictions for the upcoming season. I had the New Orleans Saints winning the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons finishing second. I put the Tampa Bay Buccaneers third and had the Carolina Panthers at No. 4.

Now, it’s time to turn the tables and hear your predictions. Go ahead and cast your vote for the NFC South winner in our Call It poll to the right.

Feel free to back up your pick in the comments section below.

Countdown to Cam Newton?

August, 19, 2011
Here’s the plan for Friday night. I’ve got it set up so I’ll be able to watch the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins on one screen and the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars on another without having to move my neck.

I’ll be providing observations on the Panthers and Falcons as soon as their games are over. But, as you know, the big storyline tonight is the competition between Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen for Carolina’s starting quarterback job.

We’ve already got a Call It poll asking you to vote on who should be the starter. At last glance, we were approaching 6,000 votes. If you haven’t already voted, you might want to wait to see how Newton and Clausen fare.

As I’ve said several times in recent days, every indication I’ve gotten from the Panthers is that it’s Newton’s job to lose. In other words, if he goes down to Miami and plays respectably (no horrible mistakes and shows a decent grasp of the offense), the Panthers will go ahead and name him the starter for the regular-season opener. If Newton has a really bad game and Clausen has a good one, then things change.

In addition to my observations on the Panthers, I’ll provide an analysis on the quarterback situation soon after Newton and Clausen finish playing. But you don’t have to wait for me.

Feel free to hit the comments section below and discuss what you’re seeing out of Newton and Clausen while they’re playing. We did the same thing last week and the results were fantastic. So fire away with the comments.

Also, New Orleans fans, hang tight. The Saints don’t play until Saturday night in Houston. My plan is to post a list of three things to watch in that game earlier on Saturday. I’ll watch the game Saturday night and provide a list of observations on the Saints as soon as their game ends.

Call It: Newton or Clausen?

August, 19, 2011
It might take Ron Rivera a few days to make an official announcement, but by the end of Friday night’s preseason game between the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, we should have a pretty good idea who Rivera will decide on as his opening-day starter.

The new coach has had all of training camp to watch Cam Newton, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and Jimmy Clausen, a second-year pro. Rivera also already has had one preseason game to judge Newton and Clausen and each did some good things in that outing.

Rivera has said he wants to make a decision before the third preseason game so the Panthers can go through that week preparing like it’s the regular season. That means Friday should be the final chapter in this battle.

I think Newton will win as long as he doesn’t have a disastrous game in Miami. But it’s possible he could struggle and it’s also possible Clausen could shine and win the job.

Let’s hear your thoughts. Cast your vote in our Call It poll to the right for who you think will win the job as Carolina’s starting quarterback.

Call It: Reggie Bush a bust?

July, 28, 2011
Reggie Bush is leaving the New Orleans Saints for the Miami Dolphins. The teams reached an agreement on a trade Thursday morning.

That wraps up Bush’s time with the Saints. Some say the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft was a bust. I disagree with that. Although he never lived up to the hype associated with his draft status, Bush had a big impact at times.

He wasn’t the traditional running back. He did a lot of different things, running to the outside, catching passes out of the backfield and getting lots of work as a return man. At times, he was dynamic. At other times he was a non-factor.

Does that make him a bust?

Time for your opinion. Take a look at our Call It poll to the right and cast your vote.
In our previous post, we took a look at one projection on whether Ray Edwards or Charles Johnson would be a better fit for the Atlanta Falcons.

It’s been well documented that the Falcons are expected to be in the market for a pass-rushing defensive end as soon as free agency is over. Carolina's Johnson and Minnesota’s Edwards are widely considered to be the best free agents available.

Plug one of them in on the side opposite John Abraham and the Falcons could be a Super Bowl contender. Although Carolina is expected to make a strong effort to retain Johnson, early reports of how the calendar will work indicate their will not be a period for teams to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. Reportedly, all teams will be able to begin talking to all free agents at the same time.

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in on if you think Edwards or Johnson would help the Falcons more. Take a look at our "Call It" poll to the right and cast your vote on if you think Johnson or Edwards is a better fit.
On Tuesday, I ran this post on why I think the Atlanta Falcons will be the NFC South’s dominant team from 2014 through 2016. That generated a ton of comments and I can’t wait to open the mailbag.

I’m sure there are plenty of Atlanta fans out there who strongly agree with me. I’m also certain there are plenty of New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay fans who totally disagree.

It’s possible any of those teams could be better than Atlanta in that time period. But some things need to happen for that to come true. For New Orleans, Drew Brees and Jonathan Vilma need to avoid the aging process and the Saints need to keep importing young talent.

For Tampa Bay, the Bucs already have a big piece of the puzzle in quarterback Josh Freeman. But they still need to surround him with more players on both sides of the ball. For Carolina, the Panthers need quarterback Cam Newton to show he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Now, it’s your turn to vote on the NFC South’s dominant team from 2014-16. Hit our Call It poll to the right with your vote.

NFC South programming notes

July, 1, 2011
A few NFC South programming notes as we get ready for Fourth of July weekend.

A bit later Friday, we’ll continue our series in which we look at the Hall of Fame chances for some current NFC South players. The next installment will feature a look at two veteran defensive backs -- New Orleans safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber. If you haven’t voted for one of them in our recent Call It poll, consider this your final reminder to do so.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame and polls, jump over to SportsNation, where there is a whole package of polls about current and former players with a chance at the Hall of Fame. One of them includes Sharper. Carolina fans, if you can forgive him for leaving, Julius Peppers’ name appears on a few of the polls.

We’ll also have an item later today on how frequently NFC South teams used six offensive linemen last season. I think you’ll be somewhat surprised to see two teams used the formation more often than just about any other teams in the league.

On Tuesday, we’ll have our weekly Hot Button debate on our main NFL page. This debate is about if a team would be better off signing Plaxico Burress or Tiki Barber. I took Barber and made a case that he can help a team -- maybe even one in the NFC South, although I think that’s a long shot.

Due to the holiday weekend, we won’t be doing the NFC South chat this Friday. Also, I’ll be out next week, so we won’t have another chat until July 15 and, hopefully, the labor situation will be settled by then and we’ll have some real football to talk about. Things may be a little quiet next week, but our editors will pop up some headlines and video and you might see an item or two from a guest blogger. Heck, you might even see analysis pieces on how all four teams stand coming out of the lockout. I’ve got them written already and we can hit the button on them if we get word that the lockout officially is coming to an end. I’ll be back at it July 11.
The results are in for our Call It poll on Darren Sharper's future in New Orleans and the majority spoke quite loudly.

We asked if the Saints will re-sign the veteran safety and 68 percent of you said they will. That’s great and I totally understand that Sharper’s a fan favorite and most you were voting with your hearts. It’s understandable. In his first season (2009) with the Saints, Sharper came in, helped transform the defense and helped the franchise to its first Super Bowl title.

But the reality is Sharper is 35 and an unrestricted free agent. Malcolm Jenkins emerged last year and should be the free safety for the long term. Strong safety Roman Harper will be an unrestricted free agent and there’s no guarantee the Saints will keep him.

If Harper leaves, it’s at least possible the Saints could re-sign Sharper and move him or Jenkins to strong safety. But it’s also possible the Saints could re-sign Harper or go out and find another strong safety.

Would Sharper be happy to stay in New Orleans and accept a backup role, which probably would come with a contract that pays backup money? Yeah, it’s possible, because Sharper seems to like it in New Orleans.

But sentiments and past loyalties aren’t the deciding factor in these situations. I’m not ruling out Sharper returning to New Orleans, but I think there’s a decent chance he could land elsewhere.

He still could start elsewhere. I don’t think money is the real issue with Sharper. But he’s a proud guy, and I’m not sure he’d be content in a backup role. If someone else is dangling the chance to be a starter in front of him, I think there’s a good chance Sharper takes it.
At least for the moment, the NFC South is the home of two defensive backs who have a shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Those are New Orleans’ Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber. We don’t know exactly what Sharper’s future holds since he’s not under contract for 2011 and can become an unrestricted free agent whenever the league year opens.

Sharper has played for the Packers, Vikings and Saints while putting up some numbers that at least make him a candidate for the Hall of Fame. Barber has played his entire career in Tampa Bay and also has put up big numbers.

Sharper is a safety, while Barber is a cornerback. Those are two different positions, but Hall of Fame voters often group safeties and cornerbacks together. I’ll do the same thing this week when I take a look at Sharper and Barber and their Hall of Fame chances.

But, in the short term, let’s hear your thoughts. Take a look at the Call It poll to the right and cast your vote for whichever defensive back you think has a better shot at the Hall of Fame.