One of the more interesting divisions in the NFL. Last season, the Panthers were impossible to predict but rode their defense and improved coaching to an impressive record (12-4) along with their first division title in five years. But this is a new year and things might not be so fortunate for Carolina. We’ll get to them specifically in the next paragraph but compared to the standings from last season, the NFC South could very well look like a much different division. The Falcons (NFC title game just two seasons ago) are coming off a terrible season but with a healthy roster, they’re definitely a team that others won’t be able to just roll over. And what about Tampa Bay? Offseason moves are showing all the signs that point to a big improvement from last season.
Carolina Panthers: Much the like the Chiefs, the entire sports world is predicting that this team will regress. Their offense, questionable last season, will be even worse this season. The Panthers weren’t able to replace Steve Smith with another #1 option and the rest of the receiving core has not shown that they can pick up the slack. Not only is the offensive line in bad shape, but Cam Newton has suffered a rib injury that probably won’t be fully healed with all the pressure that will land on him throughout the season. But can their defense and improved coaching prevent things from getting so off-track? Ron Rivera will continue his improved ways from last season but don’t expect the defense to be as stout. Tough prediction but, I expect the Panthers to be under .500 this season.
New Orleans Saints: This team will score plenty of points this season. With Drew Brees and Sean Payton leading the way, there isn’t a doubt that New Orleans will be one of the best teams in the conference. Jimmy Graham, with his shiny new contract, will be the go-to receiver on offense as they try to take advantage of their robust home field advantage. Despite their obvious advantages inside of their dome, their road woes will continue to be a question. Their 3-5 on the road last season is something that must improve. Can the defense also continue to improve and ease some of the load from the offense? Brees is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league but even he can’t continue to shell out massive games for 17 straight weeks. Saints will top the division and compete for the best record in the NFC.
Atlanta Falcons: This one of the hardest teams to predict not only in this division, but the entire league. Plagued by injuries last season, the Falcons quickly fell into a disappointing spiral and finished tied for last place in the NFC South just one season after playing in the conference title game. So what’s changed this season? Well, for one, they’re fully healthy and it will help their offense immensely. Look for a nice bounce-back year from Matt Ryan with lots of weapons around him. Despite their improvements on offense, the question will continue to be on the defensive side. The complete lack of pass rush from their front line results in plenty of time for opposing quarterbacks to take their sweet time in making decisions. Atlanta won’t fight for the division but they could get a wild card berth.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Tampa Bay defensive line is pretty much the exact opposite of the Falcons and there isn’t a doubt that the Bucs WILL get pressure on other team’s quarterbacks. That will be the team’s strength and what people will know about them throughout the season. New head coach Lovie Smith makes this team better almost immediately and with their new look on offense, things could in a positive direction very quickly. It will take some time for the points to mount but I could very well see the Bucs giving any other team in the NFC a fight. Remember, this team was very close to beating the Seahawks in Seattle last season. Expect more of that team, rather than the one that finished 4-12 last season. I expect around .500 but they could very well surprise everyone and do much better.