We started in the North and now we’re heading down south to King’s Landing — I mean New Orleans.
- New Orleans 11-5
- Carolina 11-5
- Atlanta 10-6
- Tampa Bay 5-11
Last season the NFC South was easily the best division in football. Many critics and football gurus thought that the Buccaneers, with their high-powered offense led by Famous Jameis, DeSean Jackson, and Mike Evans, would have a breakthrough season. But as the season wore on and the Bucs continued to struggle mightily, that ideology proved to be a fallacy.
New Orleans was probably the biggest surprise of the group of top-tier teams, led by an incredible rushing attack of Mark Ingram, showing his best Heisman stuff, and rookie Alvin Kamara, who burst onto the scene as, maybe, the best dual threat running back in the league. Carolina improved greatly over their disappointing 2016 campaign, looking more like the team from 2015 who steamrolled their way to the Super Bowl (to get embarrassed by lackluster play, highlighted by Cam Newton’s failure to make an effort to recover his own fumble). Atlanta had a down year compared to their Super Bowl loss the season prior, but still managed a good record behind less-than-stellar performances from Matty Ice and Julio Jones.
All of these teams should be just as solid as last year, and the fight for the division title will be a three-team race once again. Let’s break it down.
New Orleans Saints
Key Addition: Marcus Davenport
Cam Jordan has been a one-man wrecking crew at DE in New Orleans, taking the offensive line’s best shot every week without a pass rusher opposite that could garner any attention himself. Davenport fills that role here. I see a breakout season from the rookie out of UTSA. That’s right, University of Texas – San Antonio. A diamond in the rough is gonna become a gem in the Big Easy.
Eye Test: 20/20
This Saints team is seeing crystal clear, even with the impending four-game suspension of All-Pro running back Mark Ingram. Alvin Kamara was THE star rookie last year while sharing the backfield with Ingram, so don’t expect production from the position to suffer in Ingram’s absence. Drew Brees is poised to have yet another Top 5 year at QB and Michael Thomas is the #1 target that Brees has really lacked in New Orleans, even in the days of Marques Colston. An improved pass rush and another year of meshing on offense has this Saints team poised for a deep run in the playoffs.
Key Addition: Calvin Ridley
Among a bevy of “eh” prospects at WR for this years draft, Ridley was the guy I had my eye on the whole time. I believe the Colts should have tried to trade into position to take him, but alas, they did not. Ridley is big and he’s fast. Julio Jones’ contract situation is now under control (dumb dumb dumb move by ATL, btw) and he will line up opposite Ridley. I would look for 2nd-year OC Steve Sarkisian to take a break from hitting the bottle and dial up some combo formations with Ridley and Jones creating havoc on the same side of the field. Expect a lot of zone coverage which will allow Matty Ice to revert back to MVP form and pick apart the weak defenses of the NFC South.
Eye Test: Lasik needed
After a disappointing follow-up to an MVP and Super Bowl season, Atlanta found it hard to adjust to life without play-caller Kyle Shanahan. But after an offseason of setting things straight and making the right decisions, the Falcons are on a clear path to contention once again. Expect the Falcons pass rush to be in the top 10 in sacks again this year with the high-powered offense creating a lot of pass-first possessions for their defense. This division is a toss-up with Atlanta and New Orleans looking so strong, so I won’t be surprised if the Falcons end up on top. Both will show promise moving into the playoffs. You heard it here for the hundredth time.
Key Addition: DJ Moore
Another first-round WR in the NFC South. But don’t get too excited here. Moore is fast. He is very, very fast. But playing on a sub-par Maryland squad without a pro-level quarterback to throw to him hasn’t set him up for immediate success. High hopes for Moore will be met with disappointment and the Panthers will once again rely on Greg Olsen and…Devin Funchess? Norv Turner may deploy some interesting formations to try to get Moore the ball in space, but there’s another guy on the roster that is much, much, better suited for that gameplan and his name is Christian.
Eye Test: 20/60
Carolina’s prescription just got worse and they are still wearing last year’s contact lenses. A first round fix isn’t going to bolster the passing game, and Christian McCaffrey isn’t going to be able put the team on his back. I like McCaffrey as a top-5 running back this year for you fantasy footballers out there, but Cam Newton’s MVP years are behind him and question marks on the offensive line and defensive secondary will keep this team on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Addition: Defensive Line
The Bucs added about thirty-two defensive linemen in the offseason. Actually make that thirty-one and a half since we can’t count Jason Pierre-Paul as a ‘whole.’ Behind All-Pro Gerald McCoy, the depth seems to be there. Pressuring the opposing quarterback shouldn’t be too much of a problem with the defense running a fresh man out there every single play. That’s a joke, folks. Bolstering the defensive line, however, does not negate a 3-game suspension for Famous Jameis.
Eye Test: One Eye Blind
The Buccaneers, in classic pirate form, have put an eye patch on a problem that needs a complete rejuvenation. Jameis is out for 3 games. They will lose those first three games, and not because Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a good replacement, but because they play the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers. Jameis was supposed to make the jump last season into an upper tier of quarterbacks but all he did was make us cringe on Hard Knocks and try to scrub from our memory that he ever gave a pre-game pump up speech, let alone used the phrase “Eat a Win” while doing so. Sorry Bucs fans, but maybe next year. Actually, maybe never.