Here we are again, another day, another preview of an NFL division. We're now on the NFC South, the swampiest division in the NFL and the current home of Josh McCown.
New Orleans Saints - "New Orleans Tuba Craziness"
For years, the Saints have operated like an impatient 17-year-old playing Madden: throwing deep all the time on offense, blitzing all the time out of a dime set on defense, and ignoring some of the boring parts of Franchise Mode, like making sure you draft a running back who isn't terrible. Four years ago, they started the second half of the Super Bowl with a surprise onside kick—the kind of thing you do when you're a little drunk and just screwing around on Xbox while you wait for someone to text you back—and it worked.
That's the remarkable thing about the Saints: Not only are they one of the most entertaining teams in the league, they're always in the playoffs. And if they get ground to dust by a better team in the divisional rounds (the Seahawks last year, the 49ers in 2011), so what? They go down swinging. That 2011 loss in San Francisco was a classic, and so was that 2010 loss in Seattle when Marshawn Lynch ran over the entire Saints team, and so was that Super Bowl against the Colts, and so was that 2009 overtime win against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game… The list goes on. This year, the Saints used their first-round draft pick on Brandin Cooks, yet another versatile, incredibly athletic receiver who will no doubt be tearing across the field catching long bombs from Drew Brees from Week 1 onward. Football isn't usually thought of as a joyous sport, but the Saints play the game with a swaggering, exhilarating freedom.
With all the militarized rhetoric surrounding the NFL, all the talk of strategy and execution of plays, we sometimes forget that the game is supposed to be fun, at least to watch and hopefully to play. If you're a guy with a tuba, you learn how to play that fucker, and if you know how to play a tuba, you go into the streets and honk away until everyone takes notice. Similarly, if you have an NFL team, why not stock it with speedy receivers who can score a touchdown at any moment? Why not try out all kinds of weird things on defense? The Saints aren't thought of as a top-tier team in an insanely deep NFC, but man oh man are they going to be great to watch.
Carolina Panthers - Van Halen, "Cabo Wabo"
Steve Smith has been one of the most productive, electrifying wide receivers in the NFL over the last decade or so. He's aged a bit in the past few years but he's still a powerhouse, a fountain of strutting, jeering rage: In other words, he's the David Lee Roth of the NFL.
Like the aforementioned frontman, Smith is no longer with his original outfit. He's over on the Ravens, and he's been replaced with some combination of Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, Marvin McNutt, Tiquan Underwood, and first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin—the Sammy Hagars of the NFL. Like Van Hagar before them, these additions do not inspire much confidence in what was once an exciting outfit. I mean, this is about as good as "Dance the Night Away."
The thing is: David Lee Roth was important, sure, and so was Steve Smith, but what makes Van Halen Van Halen is obviously the virtuoso work of Eddie VH on the guitar. A song that sucks as bad as "Cabo Wabo" is salvaged by Eddie doing his thing up and down the fretboard. So goes it for the Panthers. Yes, Smith, one of the greatest Panthers of all time, a man who can probably do the splits while wearing leather pants if he ever wanted to, is gone, but the real genius is still there in Cam Newton.
It's a pretty clean comparison since Netwon, while technically sound, is much more of a jazz improviser on the field, more Coltrane than Yngwie Malmsteen. So too with Eddie—he played classical piano as a child, but never bothered to learn how to read sheet music. He'd win competitions where he winged it and be praised for his interpretation of a piece. Even without a decent receiving corps, Newton is still going to get some wins. And with that defense, he'll only need about 20 points a game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Brendan Benson, "Spit It Out"
In Tampa Bay, things are looking up, relatively. Greg Schiano's reign of terror is over, and Lovie "At Least I'm Not Greg Schiano, Seriously, That's Pretty Much What I Bring to the Table" Smith. The new head coach has been doing some smart things, like hiring quarterback guru Jeff Tedford as offensive coordinator. Tedford's QB options are Josh "Replacement Level" McCown and a project in second-year guy Mike Glennon, who if nothing else has the best neck in the NFL since Merton Hanks.
Whoever takes the most snaps will have fun, though, presuming the offensive line holds up. Doug Martin is back from an injury and is aiming to be a top-tier back again. Rookie Mike Evans is as physically imposing as fellow wideout Vincent Jackson. The Bucs are going to run a lot of plays that are essentially "eh, fuck it, one of the tall guys will get it so just chuck it." The defense? The defense will be fine. It's a Lovie Smith team, don't worry about it.
Is this team a Bobby McFerrin song? No. They're something with a hint of an edge. They're potential, balled up and ready to explode into something worth watching. They're the most Raconteurs NFL team we've had in quite some time. Wouldn't it be more exciting if they were also the most Brendan Benson NFL team we've seen in a while?
Atlanta Falcons - Outkast "SpottieOttieDopaliscious"
Last year the Falcons' status as a contender ended abruptly as all of a sudden their players either injured themselves gruesomely or abruptly aged into mediocrity. This year they'll have receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White back, but the team's deeper problems were its terrible defense and its signing of Steven Jackson, a 1,000-year-old running back who has carried the football 2 million times in his career. Worse still, they're trapped in a division with the Saints and the Panthers, meaning they have no realistic chance to make the playoffs. You can't blame folks from Falcons country being more interested in the SEC.
OK, so the football part is out of the way. Now let's talk about "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," a track off OutKast's underappreciated Aquemini that starts off sounding like what people had smooth-ass sex to in the 90s but then veers off into spoken word territory and then Big Boi is talking about providing for a family and it's like, "What?" and also like, "Ummm, can you get a condom?" and also like, "Jeez, yeah, am I gonna be a good dad? I'm not ready for fatherhood." It's the sort of song you listen to when you come back from a night out that got stressful and all you want to do is smoke weed, lie down on the roof, and look up at the sky. That's where the Falcons are right now—still in their "going out" shirt but not wearing pants, dizzy-drunk off whatever desperately branded tequila the club was promoting, composing a long email to their ex that they will never send.