NFC South – Excuse Me?

Excuse me…Biggest Questions for every NFL Team.  

One division at a time.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Did Atlanta do enough to keep pace?

New Orleans has Drew Brees back, and has been an NFC Championship contender year after year.  Carolina is fully rebooted with a new coach and QB.  Tampa Bay has a new look and new personality with TB 12 coming to town. 

So, what’s up with the Falcons? 

Atlanta went 7-9 last year, but Matt Ryan and Julio Jones ranked near the top of their respective position rankings as always, and Atlanta won their last four games to sniff .500.  Atlanta seems to carry the weight of their second half Super Bowl collapse with them everywhere, but also the certainty that they were on the right track a few years ago.  That certainty will be sorely tested in a tough NFC South in 2020.

I liked Atlanta’s focus on defense in the draft, as they ranked among the bottom ten in points allowed last season, but the loss of Vic Beasley to Tennessee will be noticeable next season, even with the edition of Dante Fowler Jr. to the mix.  In all, it just seems like Atlanta might be in for another rough season in one of the NFC’s most crowded divisions. 

Carolina Panthers

Carolina made some big moves, but were they the right ones?

Carolina allowed more points than almost every team in the league last year (470), only Miami allowed more.  So, the departure of Coach Ron Rivera wasn’t exactly a shocker, but the hiring of former Baylor coach Matt Rhule was a bit of a surprise. 

Yes, Rhule waded in and did good work rejuvenating a beleaguered college program, but he’s completely unproven at the NFL level.  Add that to moving on from Cam Newton and bringing in Teddy Bridgewater to be the starting quarterback and you have a somewhat dangerous strategy for 2020.  Yes, Cam Newton’s lingering injuries played a part, but parting ways with the face of a franchise is always a very tricky proposition on a number of levels. 

That being said, I like the move to get Bridgewater, I think he’s a starter-level quarterback in the league, and his work last season in New Orleans shows us that. 

I flat-out loved the draft by Carolina’s new regime this year, focusing exclusively on defense for the first three rounds, bringing in the best DT in the draft, Derrick Brown from Auburn, and DE/Edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State.  So, it’s high-risk, high-reward in Carolina…do we think they’ll cash out?  I suspect they’ll be better, but probably not good enough to be in the mix for the division at the end of the season.  Maybe a wildcard contender?

New Orleans Saints

Is this the year the Saints put it all together?

Trick question?

Maybe, so let’s clarify. 

Can the Saints get over the hump and back to the Super Bowl? 

They’re coming off three straight division wins, which is pretty solid couple of years everywhere except New England.  They have one of the game’s best quarterbacks in Drew Brees and the league’s most prolific receiver in Michael Thomas. 

In the draft they added solid nuts and bolts players on the offensive and defensive lines as well as a relatively unknown pass-catching tight end from a small school.  That’s a pretty solid draft for a team that was tied for the best record in the NFC. 

In free agency, the Saints brought in some intriguing pieces.  Emmanuel Sanders from San Francisco will give Brees another top-tier target, and Malcolm Jenkins will help shore up the secondary.  As for replacing Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints now have Jameis Winston (post-Lasik surgery edition) to back up their QB1.  Is it enough to contend with San Francisco, Green Bay and others to play in the biggest game of the year?  It very well could be.  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will the Buccaneers get what they paid for?

The question for Tampa Bay is beyond obvious, and it’s this: What exactly will Tom Brady bring to the table in Florida?

On the surface it seems obvious that a reduction in turnovers can propel Tampa Bay to the promised land. It’s possible, but we need to bear in mind that Jameis Winston didn’t just lead the league in interceptions.  He also led the league in passing yards and trailed only Lamar Jackson in passing TDs.  Tampa Bay, despite the turnovers, trailed only Baltimore and San Francisco in points scored last season. 

There’s also the issue of Brady’s forty-three-year old body, and its ability to make the sorts of throws that Tampa Bay’s offense features.  Hint: they aren’t check downs and quick hits in the flat. 

Last season, Jameis Winston completed more passes of 20+ yards than every quarterback in the league.  Asking Brady to hang for extended time in the pocket and sling the ball like that will more than likely not go well.  Among Brady’s suitors, I considered Tampa Bay to be both the least likely and the worst fit.  I hope I’m wrong, for his sake.   

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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