Welcome To The South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2024 NBA Draft is coming up on June 26-27 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

We are going to take a look at the teams around the South and see who they might select in the first round.

# 1 Atlanta: The Hawks have the chance to select the best player in the draft. Zaccharie Risacher is a 19-year-old wing/forward the played for JL Bourg (France). He shot 38.7% from beyond the arc. He is 6’8 so he has the prototypical size for his position.

Atlanta already has one star player with point guard Trae Young. It would make sense to pair him with another talented player but there is always the chance of a surprise in the draft.

Young is only 25, so he still has several good years ahead of him. There is a chance the Hawks could take a guard like Reed Sheppard (Kentucky) and then trade Young.

#6 Charlotte: UConn center Donovan Clingan would be the ideal pick but he may not be around for the Hornets. If he were, the 7’2 Clingan would be a great fit.

Small forward/shooting guard Dalton Knecht (Tennessee) might be the player to select here. He’s 6’5 and primarily played guard in college. Charlotte already has point guard LaMelo Ball and small forward Brandon Miller.

Knecht averaged 25.5 points per game in SEC play and shot 48.4% from the field. He would help to create space on offense for Ball and Miller.

#9 Memphis: 6’7 small forward Cody Williams (Colorado) might be drafted here. He is the younger brother of OKC Thunder wing Jalen Williams.

He’s 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan. He should be able to defend multiple positions, pass and pressure the rim. He averages 11.9 points per game as a freshman.

Forward Ron Holland II can also potentially be picked here if he’s still available. He played for the G League Ignite last season and averaged 19.5 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game. The 6’8 forward was the only bright spot on the team. The Ignite were 6 – 44 last season.

“In high school I feel like I was just playing at 100 percent and running over guys,” Holland said at the NBA Draft Combine in May. “I definitely learned how to deal with it with the Ignite playing against bigger and smarter defenders.”

#15 Miami: 7’4 center Zach Edey (Purdue) is one of the most decorated college players in the last decade.

He played for the Boilermakers from 2020-24. Edey was the two-time National College Player of the Year (2023, 2024), two-time Pete Newell Big Man Award (2023, 2024), two-time Kareem Abdul-Jabar Award (2023, 2024), two-time consensus first-team All-American (2023, 2024) and the NCAA season scoring leader (2024).

He led Purdue to the national championship game and averaged 25.2 ppg and 12.2 rpg. He has a great mix of size, power and intensity.

Baylor guard Ja’Kobe Walter could also be picked here. He averaged 14.5 ppg for the Bears. He was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season.

#18 Orlando: 6’9 wing Johnny Furphy (Kansas) would be a good pick. Furphy was born and raised in Australia and came to the US for college. He struggled with being consistent last season. He averaged 9 ppg and 4.9 rpg.

#21 New Orleans: 6’10 forward Yves Missi (Baylor) is the likely pick here. He averaged 107 ppg and 5.6 rpg for the Bears.

 

Dreamers

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Summer is the time of dreams for NFL fans.

Dreams of the upcoming season, of brilliant rookie performances, of notable veteran development, of free agent deals justified by on-field production. And if the fans truly dare to dream, there are dreams of championships.

Fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars are used to dreaming, and yes, having those dreams shattered.

For the 2024 season, there’s lots for DUUVAL Nation to ponder. Quite possibly the biggest item on the list is the recent multi-million-dollar contract extension for quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

This year was to be his last of his rookie contract, and the steps backwards he took last season had a growing minority of pundits questioning whether or not #16 truly is the “generational talent” we’ve been told that he is. General Manager Trent Baalke disagreed and rewarded Lawrence with the T-1st largest QB contract in the league.

I, like many Jags fans, have given Trevor a pass in the previous years due to his disastrous rookie year under Urban Meyer, but as the seasons mount, it becomes harder and harder to use that excuse. A healthy, productive, not-turnover-riddled season would be just what the doctor ordered.

Improved performance from the offensive line would help that tremendously. Cam Robinson, Brandon Scherff, and Anton Harrison are all returning, as is Ezra Cleveland, who re-signed with the team after coming over from the Vikings in a late-season trade.

The lone OL free-agent signing is ex-Bills center Mitch Morse, which means the pieces should be in place for a squad that needs to reduce the number of sacks allowed from last year (35) as well as improving run lanes for 1000-yard rusher RB Travis Etienne.

The flashiest additions come from the receivers. With Calvin Ridley putting up a less-than-expected one-and-done season, the Jags went heavy on the upgrades to the wideouts.

After signing field-stretching veteran Gabe Davis and using the 23rd overall pick in the draft to select LSU speedster Brian Thomas, Jr, the core starters (with returning WR Christian Kirk and TE Evan Engram) seem to be in place for a much more explosive air assault.

While many put a lot of the blame for the 2023 late-season collapse on the offense, the defense was greatly responsible as well, if not more so.

The front office saw that, overhauling most of the defensive coaching staff in the offseason, starting with bringing in former Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen. His four-man rush and press coverage heavy style will suit Josh Allen and Travon Walker well.

Adding former ‘Niners DT Arik Armstead in free agency will help the lackluster run defense of last season.

One area of concern on the defensive side is the secondary. CB Tyson Campbell spent most of last season battling a hamstring injury, and Coach Nielsen’s defensive style will expect a lot out of him as well as newly acquired undrafted free agent Ronald Darby.

While it’s true that last year’s squad continued to be among the best at forcing turnovers, the run defense has to get better in order to avoid the kind of collapse suffered in 2023.

Special teams are rarely a concern with the Jaguars, but that’s not the case this time around. After the PR disaster that is the Brandon McManus saga, Jacksonville decided to take the rookie route for their PK, selecting Razorback alum Cam Little in the 6th round of the draft.

All in all, the upcoming season is one of promise for the teal and black.

How the team delivers on those promises might mean it will be a season of dreams come true for a fan base far more familiar with nightmares over the last 20 seasons.

No Where To Go

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

No where to go but up?

Well, actually, the Panthers could lose 2 more games in 2024 than they did last year. Carolina went 2-15 last year and looked absolutely horrible doing it.

This franchise has issues that start at the top and that is never a good thing.

Panthers owner David Tepper has blown through coaches at an alarming rate. He has fired 3 different coaches in five years during the season. It is the main reason they are where they are today. Good luck to first year NFL coach Dave Canales. He’s gonna need it.

In 2023 the Panthers traded up to take Bryce Young with the number 1 pick. He was a great college QB at Alabama, who was literally thrown into the fire in Carolina.

At 5’10” and 200 lbs with a very average pro arm, he was ill equipped to lead a horrible offense into the NFL wars as a rookie.

The result was a sub 60% completion rate for around 2900 yards and 11 TDS and 10 interceptions. Then take into account the second pick in that draft was C J Stroud. He ended up as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. You get where this is going…..

Eleven games into the season Tepper fired Head Coach Frank Reich. The Panthers were 1-10 at the time.

As we move into 2024, the Panthers have made some solid moves that may help them move out of the NFL cellar.

They begin on offense. Here is where they suffered the most last year. They brought in Will Harriger to coach the QBs. He has the tough job of trying to revive Bryce Young. The kid was both mentally and physically crushed last year. Take into account he was sacked SIXTY-TWO times last year.

In an effort to keep Young upright the Panthers brought in two solid guards in Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. These might be the best team acquisitions period. A reworked and improved O-line could be the key to the season in 2024.

The Panthers didn’t stop there. To their credit they went out and got WR Diontae Johnson. He brings something the WR room desperately needed. The ability to separate.

Next the Panthers made a great pick in Xavier Legette, the WR from South Carolina. Teamed with Adam Thielen, these guys give Bryce Young some weapons.

In the running back room, Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders and rookie Jonathon Brooks will be better with the improved Oline.

In 2023 the Panthers fielded an above average defense headed by Derrick Brown, one of the best players in the league. The guy is a monster. And when paired with A’Shawn Robinson and Shy Tuttle, this is a team strength.

At LB the Panthers went out and got Jadeveon Clowney and DJ Wonnum to run with the great Shaq Thompson. If these guys can play up to their potential then there will be no drop off on defense.

The secondary is led by Xavier Woods and Jaycee Horn, who are very good, although Horn needs to stay healthy.

Special teams are solid with Eddy Pineiro handling the kicking again and Johnny Hekker the punting. Hekker should have gotten overtime pay in 2023.

And finally, where do the Panthers go in 2024? My call is nowhere. The offense should be better and if it can keep the defense off the field it will help.

Keeping the offense somewhat balanced and giving Bryce Young time will be the key. But as I said the problem in my mind is at the top.

The next time David Tepper wants to fire someone, he should look in the mirror.

Swimming Upstream

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Dolphins took some salary-cap- hits on the defense this offseason, but let’s be serious: you don’t pick the Dolphins to win games because of their defense.

Their offense finished top five in total points, yards and completion percentage last season. We are still witnessing the prime of WR Tyreek Hill’s career, and Tua Tagovailoa should only improve at QB1.

Miami will hope that it can take the next step as a championship team under head coach Mike McDaniel. What does their case look like?

Oddsmakers are cautiously optimistic about the talented roster of the Dolphins, counting on the team to flirt with double-digit wins despite an incredibly competitive schedule in the AFC East.

Despite four consecutive winning seasons and back-to-back trips to the postseason, the Dolphins still haven’t won a playoff game since Bill Clinton was President.

Week 1 vs. Jaguars: Win

Week 2 vs. Bills (TNF): Win

Week 3 at Seahawks: Win

Week 4 vs. Titans (MNF): Win 

Week 5 at Patriots: Win

Week 7 at Colts: Loss

Week 8 vs. Cardinals: Win

Week 9 at Bills: Loss 

Week 10 at Rams (MNF): Win

Week 11 vs. Raiders: Win

Week 12 vs. Patriots: Win

Week 13 at Packers (Thanksgiving Night): Loss

Week 14 vs. Jets: Win

Week 15 at Texans: Loss

Week 16 vs 49ers: Loss

Week 17 at Browns (SNF): Win

Week 18 at Jets: Win

Final record prediction: 12-5 

The AFC East will be difficult as usual with the Jets expected to be far better with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. It looks like the Bills might take a step back this year  after several cap casualties this offseason.

The Dolphins have proven it can play with some of the best for most of the regular season, can it stay healthy and take the next step?

If the Dolphins get off to another hot start, they’ll be in a good position to handle another hellsome gauntlet at the end of the season with three playoff teams in the last four weeks.

The third time might be the charm for McDaniel and the Dolphins, they’ll pull out wins late in the season and claim the division title.

Remember The Titans

By: Michael Spiers

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Tennessee Titans have finished their mandatory minicamp and OTAs (organized team activities). Training camp starts July 23, but we now have a clearer picture of how the team might line up when the new season kicks off.

Will Levis is locked in as the starting quarterback heading into 2024. He had a promising rookie year, but still needs to prove he’s the franchise guy.

At running back, the Titans seem ready for a dual approach with newly acquired speedster Tony Pollard, who returns to the state after a stellar collegiate career at Memphis and five years in Dallas, and Tyjae Spears, who enters his sixth season in Nashville.

Pollard is expected to take on more early-down duties, but they’ll likely go with whoever’s hot each game.

Veteran wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who was the main target last season, will face stiffer competition for catches with the additions of Calvin Ridley, coming from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tyler Boyd, from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hopkins has an edge thanks to his existing chemistry with Levis, but Ridley is expected to share the primary receiving duties. Boyd looks set to take over the slot receiver spot, a role confirmed by first-year Titans head coach Brian Callahan.

Chig Okonkwo is expected to start at tight end unless Josh Whyle can make a strong case during training camp. Injured for substantial periods of his rookie campaign, Whyle showed potential. Okonkwo remains the clear favorite for now.

On the offensive line, rookie JC Latham is moving from the right tackle position he played at Alabama to left tackle and has shown the progress needed to start Week 1.

Titans offensive line coach Bill Callahan has called Latham his favorite player in the entire 2024 draft.

And yes, it is that Bill Callahan. The once Oakland Raider head coach, who took his team to Super Bowl XXXVII, is now the offensive line coach under his son, Titans head coach Brian Callahan. The addition of Lloyd Cushenberry at center is a big upgrade, bringing experience that will benefit Levis.

Dennard Wilson, the Tennessee Titans’ new defensive coordinator, is pushing for a more aggressive and confrontational defense in 2024 by prioritizing more press coverage.

Wilson emphasizes physicality, where cornerbacks challenge receivers right from the snap. He believes creating hesitation at the line of scrimmage disrupts the timing of the offense and forces quarterbacks into contested passes.

Last year with the Baltimore Ravens, his secondary excelled in limiting passing touchdowns while employing press coverage extensively.

The Titans’ offseason moves reflect Wilson’s philosophy, highlighted by the trade for L’Jarius Sneed from the Chiefs. Known for his physicality and proficiency in press coverage, Sneed will be a key player in Wilson’s scheme.

The Titans also signed former Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who thrives in physical, press situations.

Wilson’s goal is to create a defense that consistently challenges and disrupts opposing offenses, helping the Titans move away from last year’s struggles and develop into a more formidable unit.

Despite their significant offseason moves, the Titans aren’t getting much love from the media. Many think they’re in for a rough season and could end up with a top-five pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.

However, the team is optimistic. The new talent, including Ridley and Pollard, should make them more competitive than last year, and Levis’s flashes of brilliance as a rookie add to their potential.

Winning their division won’t be easy with both the Jaguars and Texans looking strong, but the Titans have a realistic shot at a Wild Card spot.

Training camp will be crucial as the team gets used to Callahan’s system and works to improve their standing in the AFC South.

Their first preseason game is at home against the San Francisco 49ers on August 10, and the regular season kicks off August 25 in Chicago against Caleb Williams and the Bears.

Remember the Titans!

Texas Grit

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

If 2023 was any indication, the Texans might be ready for a big step forward in 2024.

After a 10-7 regular season and a 34-10 1st round road playoff loss at Baltimore in 2023-2024, the Texans look to make a step this season under 2nd year head coach DeMeco Ryans.

And for all the talk about the phenomenal rookie season for CJ Stroud, it just might be the defense that becomes this season’s difference.

For one, Ryans was one of the best defensive players of his time, so he knows defense.

Time for a deep dive…

Answer this question. If you see your team set a franchise record in sacks, and improve its run defense from one season to the next from 32nd all the way to 6th… would you make not one, not two, but three changes to its defensive line? It just doesn’t happen.

That should give you an idea of what Demeco Ryans sees in his defense, and where he thinks they can go.

Out on the defensive line is Jonathan Greenard, Maliek Collins, and Sheldon Rankins. In comes a definite off-season homerun in 2023 All-pro Danielle Hunter. He was 3rd in the league with 16.5 sacks, bested only by the likes of T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett.

Now throw in a couple guys who had great 2023 campaigns and you have a defensive front that could dominate, come 2024. 33-year-old Deneco Autry had one of his best seasons with 11.5 sacks.

And another guy along that defensive line Ryans wouldn’t let go for even a Jeff Bezos payday, Will Anderson, Jr. Anderson looks to build off his 2023 campaign that saw him voted as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Out of Alabama, he will definitely be a great bookend to a guy like Danielle Hunter.

Ultimately, Ryans and his staff think last year’s 20.8 per game and 13th-ranked defense, is something they can build on, and become one of the league’s top 5 defensive units.

On the flip side, the offense scored 22.8 points per game and ranked 13th in the NFL. But it never really felt like a middle of the road offensive unit.

Deep dive #2….

CJ Stroud’s rookie campaign was one to remember. In 15 starts, he put up 4,108 passing yards (8th in the league) 23 TDs (13th) and just 5 INTs (tied 7th).

Stroud had the 3rd highest QB Rating for any rookie in the history of the NFL. Let’s face it. That’s phenomenal. But need we not forget, Stroud was just a rookie.

The offensive line is a good one – all intact from 2023. But It’s the playmakers that Houston lacked last year that would have made Stroud even more dangerous. They added two guys – one on the outside and at RB.

Steffon Diggs has been one of the most consistent and dangerous wideouts of the last 9 years. He spent the first 5 at Minnesota and yes, that was Diggs on the other end of “The Minnesota Miracle” in that miracle final play and pass from Case Keenum of the 2018 playoff win against the Saints.

He spent the last 4 years on the other end of Buffalo Bills gun slinger Josh Allen.

The Texans also added Joe Mixon, another veteran. Mixon spent all seven years at Cincinnati, including four 1,000-yard seasons.

By all accounts, most projections have this year’s schedule tougher than last year’s. But what DeMeco Ryans has instilled is something the Texans haven’t had in a while – grit. And when you add pure grit to a group of Texas men in oil country, things usually turn out okay.

Rise Up?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Falcons 2024 preseason kicks off August 6th down in Miami against the Dolphins and the regular season starts on September 8th at home against Pittsburgh.

We know they made a big move in the offseason by signing Kirk Cousins. He was signed in March to a four-year, $180 million contract. That seems like a move to show Atlanta is all in and ready to win now.

Surprisingly, the next month in the NFL Draft they took QB Michael Penix Jr in the first round (8th overall). That caused the entire NFL world to look at them and wonder, what’s going on? This is a move that will not pay off for at least two seasons. It would have made more sense to draft a high caliber pass rusher that can help the team immediately.

Cousins tore his Achilles in Week 8 last season, so that is concerning. Prior to suffering the injury, Cousins had reached a career-high in Pro Football Focus’ adjusted completion percentage. Cousins wasn’t as aggressive with his attempts, but his accuracy remained high when he did throw long: sixth in deep passing rating and 10th in deep yards.

The Falcons are coming off their third consecutive 7-10 season. Arthur Smith was fired and he was replaced by Raheem Morris. Morris was the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams from 2021-23. He was an assistant coach with Atlanta from 2015-20. He was also the head coach for Tampa Bay from 2009-11.

The offensive side of the ball is Atlanta’s strength. They have very solid skill position players with running backs Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts.

The offensive line is tough and physical. Guard Chris Lindstrom was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2022 and 2023. I do want to point out that Cousins did have superior talent in Minnesota and we saw what he did with that.

For London, having consistent QB play could take his game to the next level. He is 6’4, 213 pounds and he is a big, physical receiver. They have been working on timing thus far.

“I pride myself on being able to catch the ball from anybody, so I don’t really look at that,” London said on the final day of the team’s minicamp. “It’s kind of just wherever the ball is thrown, I try to go get it.”

London paused and smiled before adding: “(Cousins) throws it well, though.”

Atlanta ranked 19th in total defense and 21st in sacks. It seems like every season we talk about how they can’t rush the passer. This year will not be any different.

Safety Jessie Bates III was the other Falcon selected to the Pro Bowl in 2023.

The NFC South isn’t the toughest division but New Orleans and Tampa Bay are decent teams.

The first three games of the season are Pittsburgh, at Philadelphia and Kansas City. The only game I think they have a chance to win is against the Steelers.

The next games are New Orleans, Tampa Bay, at Carolina, Seattle, at Tampa Bay, Dallas, at New Orleans and at Denver before the Week 12 bye. The Falcons will have to at least split the games with the Saints and Bucs. Carolina should be an easy win. There aren’t any great teams here so they have a chance to win all of these.

The rest of the games are the LA Chargers, at Minnesota, at Las Vegas, New York Giants, at Washington and Carolina. Honestly, these should all be wins if the main starters are healthy.

I believe the Falcons can win 10 or 11 games.

Who Dat?

By: Colin Lacy

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Although the New Orleans Saints haven’t finished worse than a tie for second in the NFC South since 2016, the last 3 years haven’t been to the standards of the “fleur-de-lis”.

With a pair of 9-8 finishes in 2021 and 2023 sandwiched between a 7-10 debut season for Head Coach Dennis Allen in 2022, Saints fans have been looking to find the answer to get back to the offense they’re accustomed to with a run of four consecutive division championships from 2014-2020.

After a 2022 season where quarterback play left much to be desired, Saints fans were hopeful last season with the signing of veteran quarterback Derek Carr, but it did not pan out like the savior of the offense that Saints fans had hoped for.

Carr turned in a season with 3,878 passing yards, which turned out to be the fourth lowest in his eleven-year career (ten previous with the Raiders), and the lowest total in a season where he played more than 15 games (17 in 2023).

Although the yards were a low point in the career totals for Carr, he did throw 25 TDs, which were the most Carr had thrown since 2020 with the Las Vegas Raiders.

The biggest question mark I think leading into 2024 for New Orleans is can Carr be “the guy” for the Saints, or do the reigns get handed off to the next in line.

Entering 2024, one of the biggest question marks is going to be “what does the offense look like this year?” Everyone across the league knows and has heard thru minicamp and OTAs that it will be different under first year Offensive Coordinator Klink Kubiak.

Kubiak takes over his 4th ream in the past four years after serving as the OC for the Vikings in 2021, Pass Game Coordinator & QBs coach in 2022 for the Denver Broncos, and with San Francisco in 2023 as Pass Game Coordinator under Kyle Shannahan, but early indications from pre-season work between Kubiak and Carr seems to be positive coming out of the Saints practice facility.

One eye-brow raiser from Saints early pre-season work has been the selected workload of a few different players because of contract negotiations. Most notably, Alvin Kamara has attended most walkthrough portions of practice, but when full practice that is open to media comes around, Kamara heads inside.

Kamara’s deal expires after the 2025 season, but the way the deal is structured, none of the 2025 money is guaranteed. All indications say that Kamara intends on continuing with the Saints and would like to get a new deal done before kickoff of the 2024 season to extend the current deal.

One thing that raises concerns of the Saints is a couple of key injuries on the offensive side that are expected to be key targets for Derek Carr.

Tight End Juwan Johnson looked to be a big part of the success of the Saints in training camp last year, but it didn’t pan out how anyone in the black and gold had hoped, with just 368 yards on 37 catches for the year.

While Kubiak had hoped to get Johnson more involved in the offense, at least for the first part of the season, Johnson will be rehabbing from a foot surgery. While the timetable for the Johnson return is unclear, the tight end for New Orleans to start will be some combination of their Swiss-Army knife Taysom Hill and former LSU Tiger Foster Moreau.

The other key injury is also unclear, but standout playmaking receiver Chris Olave suffered a shoulder injury in his off-season weight room work that has kept him in a non-contact jersey in pre-season work.

Early indications don’t seem to have Olave missing much if any time, but how much does it affect what he’s able to do?

At the end of the day, this Saints team is a HUGE swing team depending on how the offense clicks (or doesn’t), especially in an NFC South that has struggled as a whole the past few seasons.

Realistically I could see the Saints winning the South with as many as 11 or 12 wins, but I could also see this team struggling in year one under a new offensive coordinator while 5th Round pick Spencer Rattler matures into hopefully the QB of the Saints future.

Buc-ing Their Own Trend

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised many fans last year by winning a playoff game after most expected them to be bottom-feeders.

Can they keep out of the bottom this season?

For the Bucs, their nightmare situation involves Baker Mayfield regressing from a solid first year with the team.

Mayfield’s comeback season was the biggest reason why the Buccaneers made the playoffs. He ended the year with a career-high 4,044 passing yards, finishing third-place in Comeback Player of the Year votes.

Mayfield could regress from this past year. For any QB1 there’s no promise that they’ll get better, but at least now the 29-year-old double rookie has a whole season with the Bucs under his belt. There is great opportunity for  further improvement. Mayfield may build, improve, and lead the team to yet another NFC South title.

While the Bucs do face some of the best teams in the NFL (Kansas City Chiefs,  San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Ravens), they still have the 27th-easiest schedule based on 2023 game records.

Granted, much of this stems from playing in the NFC South, but there is still plenty of possibility for the Bucs to end the 2024 season with a winning record and even another NFC South title.

The Buccaneers might not have made the splashy headline moves like the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason, but this Tampa Bay team will once again be quite formidable on both sides of the football.

The Buccaneers could very well win the NFC South, making the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season.

However, there is a big difference between just making the playoffs and winning 2 or 3 postseason games to get to the big game.

Tampa Bay has a team capable of securing one of the 7 playoff spots in the NFC, likely be winning the division again. And it proved if there is a home playoff game in Tampa, it’s a tough place for an opponent to play.

Week 1:  vs Commanders (W)

Week 2: at Detroit Lions (L)

Week 3: vs. Denver Broncos (W)

Week 4: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (W)

Week 5: at Atlanta Falcons (L)

Week 6: at New Orleans Saints (L)

Week 7: vs. Baltimore Ravens (L)

Week 8: vs. Atlanta Falcons (W)

Week 9: at Kansas City Chiefs (L)

Week 10: vs. San Franciso 49ers (L)

Week 12: at New York Giants (W)

Week 13: at Carolina Panthers (W)

Week 14: vs. Las Vegas Raiders (W)

Week 15: at Los Angeles Chargers (L)

Week 16: at Dallas Cowboys (L)

Week 17: vs. Carolina Panthers (W)

Week 18: vs. New Orleans Saints (W)

Nine wins would represent another year hot seat talk for Todd Bowles and the Bucs, who finished 8-9 and 9-8 in the previous two seasons respectively.

While the Falcons might end up as NFC South champions thanks to upgrades at quarterback and head coach, Tampa Bay will be in the hunt.

Omaha!

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Well, well, well….Ya know all those heated arguments with your buddies about the SEC vs. ACC?

And we all know, depending on which sport you’re talking about, usually there’s a dominant conference. But just like the parent that will rationalize their kid cheating on a test and somehow blame the teacher, conference fans will swear up and down their conference is the best.

‘My team beat this team and they lost to them and they beat that other team… blah, blah, blah.”

Go ahead. Laugh. You know that’s you!

Even plausible arguments like bowl games, rivalry games and RPI, can be a bit tedious and all have reasons why they might not be the best way to gauge conference supremacy. But make no mistake, for the next week or so, Omaha will be the setting for probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a proper gauge.

For the first time in the history of the NCAA College World Series, all eight teams are from two conferences and you guessed it. That would be the ACC and SEC.

Here’s my CWS outlook.

Best Offense – UVA Cavaliers-While the #1 Vols have hit the most HRs per game (2.6), it’s Virginia with the upper hand. The Cavs make their 3rd trip in 4 years to Omaha, but they bring a much more potent line-up.

They lead the country in scoring with 9.4 runs per game, but are #17 in HRs. What does that tell you? They string a lot of hits together. They lead the country with 121 occurrences of over 2 consecutive hits.

This bodes well for Charles Schwab Park, a bigger park than the college band boxes. It happens every year. The power teams struggle because of relying on the long ball. A final nugget – only one starter batting under .300 – Harrison Didiwick at .297.

Best Pitching – UNC Tarheels-Although Tennessee enters with the best team ERA (3.83), I’m rolling with the Heels. They’re team ERA (4.22) is #15, but is misleading because their home field, Boshamer Stadium, is one of the smallest stadiums in the country.

They also boast arguably the best bullpen in the country. The bullpens can simply maketeam becauseollege baseball team because starters only go 4-6 innings.

Best Player – Jack Caglianone-You’d have to be either brain dead or living under a rock, not to agree with this one. Why? The man plays both ways – Ohtani, Jr. .411, 33 HRs, 68 RBIs at the plate. 5-2, 4.11 ERA on the bump.

Just as important, Caglianone is clutch in their biggest games on the mound and was a big part of their runner-up finish last year.

Darkhorse – NC State-Yeah, I know. Why not Florida? Barely .500 on the season and just upset the Oklahoma St Regional and the #6 Clemson, all on the road. The Wolfpack boasts the #1 bullpen (Baseball America) in America.

And they’ve been the hottest offensive team in the land over the last 6 games. It’s that bullpen that’s been their mainstay and will keep them in any game.

My Winner – Kentucky Wildcats-I see the Heels out of Bracket 1 and the Kentucky Wildcats out of Bracket 2 facing off for the national title.

None of the above included talk of Kentucky, so why the Cats? Remember what I said about Charles Schwab Park? The power of teams like Tennessee, Texas A&M, and others gets neutralized in this park.

Similar to Wrigley Field, though, the wind can really be a factor. Remember the Oregon State Beavers, that just “small-balled” their way to titles in 2006, 2007 and 2018? This is that Kentucky team.