NFC South Bold Predictions – Write these down. You can laugh at me later…
2019 Record: 7-9
The Falcons have clung to the core of a roster that had them very close to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy a few years back…until the Patriots made a comeback for the ages. This offseason was different, as it became clear that Matty Ice plus Julio just isn’t enough. They added RB Todd Gurley and TE Hayden Hurst. They added edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. Did they add enough to compete with New Orleans again?
Bold Prediction: After two consecutive 7-9 seasons, if Atlanta stumbles out of the gate in 2020, expect the Falcons head coach to be on the very hottest of hot seats. If that happens, I expect Quinn will be an early casualty of the coaching carousel. One of the hardest things to do in football is rebound after a Super Bowl loss. Add in the extreme circumstances surrounding the Falcons big game flail and things get even more complicated. The Blank family has voiced faith in Dan Quinn, as has the team. But should they? Kyle Shanahan was the true architect of that Super Bowl run in 2016. He’s in San Francisco, now. Don’t be shocked if it all comes to a head in 2020.
2019 Record: 5-11
The Panthers were not good last season. They won only one divisional game in a division with only one team over .500 and posted an uninspiring -130 point differential. It takes big moves to dig out of a hole like that. Well, luckily for Carolina, they’ve done just that. Out is head coach Ron Rivera, after almost a decade, and in is Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, the super backup who kept New Orleans in contention last year by going undefeated when Drew Brees went down. Those changes are nice, but I have a suspicion that the biggest swing will be on defense.
Bold Prediction: Derrick Brown will storm onto the scene in Carolina, turning the Panthers into a fearsome defensive unit. The former Auburn DT is one of the highest-rated interior defenders we’ve seen in years. The only comparison we can probably make is Aaron Donald, though it seems a little soon for that. Derrick Brown stuffs the run, collapses the pocket, and MUST be doubled to be slowed down. That will free up edge rushers and create havoc in the backfield. Expect the Panthers to be much, much tougher on defense this year. How much tougher? I expect they’ll allow one hundred fewer points than 2019.
New Orleans Saints
2019 Record: 13-3 Division Champs
New Orleans has been a steady contender in the NFC for years, and 2019 was no different. Despite missing Drew Brees for a five-game stretch early in the season, the Saints were tied for the best record in the conference. Tiebreakers are strange, though, and New Orleans ended up with the third seed, and needed to play on wildcard weekend, hosting the Vikings. It didn’t go well for Brees and crew, as they were sent home early from the playoffs for the sixth time in ten years.
Bold Prediction: The Saints cruise to another division title in 2020, and advance to the NFC title game. New Orleans was one of the best-rounded teams in the league last season, with few real weaknesses. They drafted well, choosing players that can improve depth and protection for their elite talent. I just don’t see them playing on wildcard weekend next year unless Brees goes down for an extended time. OK. Maybe not a BOLD prediction…but it’s a prediction.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019 Record: 7-9
Tampa Bay pulled off a neat trick in 2019. (Aside from Winston’s leading the league in both passing yards and interceptions) The Buccaneers were the only team in the league to be under .500 despite a positive point differential. They were also a better road team (5-3) than a home team (2-6) for some reason. Oh. And they have a brand-new quarterback, who’s forty-three years young, but didn’t address that defense that allowed 449 points last year, good for fourth worst in the league. So many questions here.
Bold Prediction: Tom Brady will be good. But he can’t get Tampa Bay into contention. Early season indicators look great, as Brady and this offense click on all cylinders and the fantasy stats pile up. But as the season wears on, the defense can’t get off the field, they’ll lose some close games against mediocre teams, and you’ll see LOTS of Brady’s trademarked “sideline intensity”. At the end of the season, as the Saints repeat, Tampa Bay will have to admit that Brady wasn’t the piece they needed in the offseason.
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Image Source: AP Images