The NFC South is home to likely one of the best teams in football for the next few years in the Carolina Panthers. What does the rest of the division look like?
- Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl 50): The Panthers were one game away from being the 2007 New England Patriots all over again. Quarterback and reigning MVP Cam Newton took this team on a journey that very few believed was possible. While cornerback Josh Norman left for the Washington Redskins, Carolina will return a big receiving threat in Kelvin Benjamin, who was out for the year last season. All in all, the Panthers will be among the Super Bowl favorites again, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they won it all this time.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After years of disappointment, I’m finally ready to be optimistic about how the Bucs will end up. A new head coach in Dirk Koetter will hopefully revitalize a team that looked lost at the end of last year. Quarterback Jameis Winston will have healthy wide receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin in the backfield, who finally found the rhythm he had in his rookie season. If Evans limits the drops, then Tampa Bay can have one of the best offensive tandems in the league. The defense made the necessary offseason acquisitions, signing cornerback Brent Grimes from the Miami Dolphins and drafting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. And say what you want about drafting a kicker in the second round, but Roberto Aguayo is as legit a kicker as they come, and that means so much to a team whose kicking woes kept them from winning multiple games. If the schedule weren’t so tough, I’d think the Bucs could be a playoff team this year. 8-8 looks like reality.
- Atlanta Falcons: Can quarterback Matt Ryan revitalize his career, or is this the end of the road for Matty Ice? That will be the big question for the Falcons, who picked up Mohamed Sanu from the Cincinnati Bengals in an attempt to fill the void left by Roddy White. Wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman should be able to do more than their fair share for the offense, so it will come down to Ryan and the often despondent defense to see whether Atlanta can find their rhythm once again.
- New Orleans Saints: One of these days, quarterback Drew Brees will have to retire. It doesn’t seem that the Saints have much of a backup plan in place for whenever that will happen. For now, though, New Orleans will be an average team. They have some weapons, but definitely not near enough to be considered elite, unless Brees somehow manages to turn back the clock and play like it’s 2009 all over again.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Matt Weingarten