Written by: Kyle Newton (@KNewt22)
The NFC South is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and will be an extremely tough chase for the division crown. From top to bottom the south is stacked with talented teams all with playoff potential. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers loaded up on talent in free agency. Everybody knows about the potential Cam Newton and the Panthers possess. The Saints finally signed Drew Brees, so despite all of their off-season trouble and no Sean Payton they will once again be an NFC powerhouse. The Falcons also have tons of potential to capturing home-field advantage through the playoffs once again as well. The NFC South does have the tough task of playing the NFC East this year as well, which should lead to an even more interesting race.
Can Greg Schiano turn the Bucs around? (Courtesy Bleacherreport.com)
Let’s start with the Bucs. Tampa Bay finished last season on a 10 game skid that led to many changes to the make-up of this team. Out with Raheem Morris and in comes Head Coach Greg Schiano of Rutgers to turn this team around. The front office didnt leave it all up to Schiano though, they added several key pieces in the off-season through free agency and a very good draft. The Buccaneers traded down in the draft to get Mark Barron, a punishing safety from Alabama. With the extra pick they gained from trading down they moved back up to get Doug Martin, who is a very talented running back from Boise State. Add this draft to arguably the best free agent pick ups in the NFL in Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson and you have got yourself a very different ball club from the one who face planted down the stretch last year. Despite all of these additions, all of the pressure still lies on the arm of quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman had a very down year last year tossing 22 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns. If Freeman cannot turn things around in his fourth year than the Bucs may need to begin looking for a new quarterback in next years draft. I think Freeman will be able to bounce back and utilize his new weapons, making the Buccaneers offense very potent. However, the defense still has several holes and is destined to be a bottom 10 in the league once again. That defense is going to cost the Bucs as they will be much improved on offense but their record will not show it. The Bucs will finish 6-10 and at the bottom of the division.
The Carolina Panthersare the up and coming team in the division, riding the arm of Cam Newton. The Panthers will only go as far as Cam Newton will take them. They have a very good running game and Steve Smith showed last year that he can still be a productive player in this league but ultimately the Panthers fate will be determined by whether or not Newton has a sophomore slump. I do not see
Cam Newton energizing his team and the crowd (Courtesy USA Today)
Cam Newton taking a step back though, in fact I think people are going to see a step forward, and a big one. This young man does not like to lose and will do whatever it takes to push himself and more importantly his teammates. Having a year under his belt do not expect the Panthers to start 2-8 like last year, I would expect more of the 4-2 Panthers that finished the season. The Panthers will be greatly improved but they are still one year away from really contending. They will finish third in the division at a very respectable 7-9.
The sure bet team in this division is the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have a team that is solid all the way around. Michael Turner is an explosive runner
Can Julio Jones be the missing piece this year? (Courtesy CBS Sports)
capable of putting up 100 yard days game in and game out. The receiving core is stacked with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and of course Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan is still a very good young quarterback, and they simply do not lose very often at home in the Georgia Dome. Then the other side of the ball is not to shabby either. The defense can get after the quarterback, force turnovers, and more importantly give the offense a chance to win games. This team has been waiting to move up to elite status for a few years now and thought that they got the final piece when they drafted Julio Jones. However, now it appears Matt Ryan is the one holding them back. He is going to have to make some strides in his game for the Falcons to take that next step to be a playoff team. The Falcons will have a great year, but fall twice to the Saints and those losses will cost them the division title. They will finish 10-6 and have to settle for a wild card.
Let’s move on to the team who had the most eventful offseason, the New Orleans Saints. The Saints would be the clear cut favorite in this division if everything from this off-season hadn’t happened, but unfortunately for the Saints and their fans “bounty-gate” is all too real. The Saints have lost one of the most creative football minds in the game this season in Sean Payton, and making Drew Brees wait as long as he did for his contract can only hurt. The Saints should, however be fine with Drew Brees at the helm running the offense but
No Payton. No Problem for Drew Brees and the Saints. (Courtesy USA Today)
it is impossible to predict how the team will react to not having Payton on the sidelines. I think that the Saints will get off to a slow start and pick up steam as the season rolls along. However for the Saints a slow start could still be winning games. The Saints and Drew Brees do get 3 of their first 5 games at home and you can bet that they will defend the dome to get their season started off right. The Saints will continue their winning ways and finish 10-6 winning a tie breaker with the Falcons by beating them twice head to head.
At the end of the day the NFC South is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and will be one of the most interesting races for the division crown.