NFC South preview

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September 2, 2017 by foleyb33

(Courtesy of Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Brian Foley

Football pre-season is in full swing and the beginning of the regular season is right around the corner. With the start of a new season comes the excitement that everyone’s favorite team has a fresh opportunity to do something special. With the exception of a few teams, sorry Browns and Jets fans, a lot of teams can make some noise this year. My focus here will be on the NFC South and the opportunities that await the four teams in this division.

Atlanta Falcons

2016-17 record: 11-5 (1st)

Key additions: Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian, DT Dontari Poe, DE Jack Crawford, DE Takkarist McKinley, LB Duke Riley

Key losses: Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, DE Dwight Freeney, FB Patrick DiMarco

Coming off a once in a lifetime Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, can the Falcons rebound? Is the team going to fail miserably like the Panthers did the season after their own Super Bowl loss? Or can Matt Ryan keep this team in contention?

Taking a long look at the make up of the roster and the schedule ahead of them, I can see the Falcons getting right back to where they were last year. They retained their core players while adding some help in the draft. The Falcons play against some tough teams like the Packers, Patriots, Cowboys, Lions and Seahawks while also contending with the Panthers and Buccaneers in their own division.

They also have some teams they should breeze through like the Bills, Jets, Dolphins and Bears. Overall I see the Falcons going 11-5 with a division record of 5-1. I see them dropping close games against the Patriots, Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings and Buccaneers. The Vikings are the only team I can see with the potential upset over the Falcons and I do not see the rest of the NFC South taking down the Falcons besides the Buccaneers.

With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones leading the offense they will once again put up big numbers on the scoreboard while young defense continues to improve.

2017-18 prediction: (11-5)

Team MVP: Matt Ryan

The reigning league MVP needs to continue where he left off last year for Atlanta – to be back in the hunt for a Super Bowl. With his offensive coordinator moving on to the 49ers, Matt Ryan needs to prove that last year’s performance was not because of Kyle Shanahan and I believe that he will do just that.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016-17 record: 9-7 (3rd)

Key additions: WR DeSean Jackson, TE OJ Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin, RB Jeremy McNichols

Key losses: QB Mike Glennon

Jameis Winston and Mike Evans continue to get better every year. I expect a Pro Bowl level performance from the both of them this season ending in a solid playoff run. This team has improved every year and will finally break through.

I don’t see the Buccaneers winning the division but I see them winning a wild card spot to make the playoffs. Overall I think they will have a 10-6 record and go 3-3 in the division. The Falcons are still the better team in this division and the other teams aren’t pushovers. I see Tampa winning some good games against the Packers, Cardinals, Lions and Giants, while splitting their two games against the Falcons. Not only do they have a good offense their defense is just as good. This team should be able to win at least ten games. Coach Koetter will have this team firing on all cylinders heading and I think they will make at least the divisional round of the playoffs.

2017-18 prediction: 10-6 (3rd)

Team MVP: Jameis Winston

I believe this will be his breakout year and he will be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Winston has a full array of weapons with Evans, and Martin along with new comers DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard.

Carolina Panthers

2016-17 record: 6-10 (4th)

Key additions: LB Julius Peppers, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Curtis Samuel, OL Taylor Moton, DE Daeshon Hall, CB Corn Elder

Key losses: Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott, Asst. GM Brandon Beane, S Tre Boston, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Philly Brown

The Panthers are only a couple of years removed from a Super Bowl loss and don’t seem to be back on track yet. Following a 6-10 record last year, I do not see much of an improvement this season.

The Panthers defense is still formidable and Cam Newton has a new weapon in Christian McCaffrey to go along with Greg Olsen and hopefully a healthy Kelvin Benjamin.

The Panthers won’t have an easy road this year and it seems like they have been passed by the Falcons and the Buccaneers in their division. The Panthers have games against the Patriots, Lions, Vikings and Packers this year to go along with their divisional games. A sneaky game they could lose is their match up with the Eagles. I see the Panthers finishing their season at 7-9, just one win better than last year, and having a divisional record of 2-4. I think the Panthers will be better this year I just do not see them being better than the Falcons and Buccaneers. It will be another tough year for them without a playoff berth and a sub .500 record.

2017-18 prediction: 7-9 (3rd)

Team MVP: Luke Kuechly

When Kuechly is healthy there is almost no one in the league that can stop him. I expect him to be in the running for Defensive player of the year and he will keep this team competitive. With Kuechly manning the middle of the field, the Panthers will be able to compete with the top teams.

New Orleans Saints

2016-17 record: 7-9 (3rd)

Key additions: WR Ted Ginn Jr., RB Adrian Peterson, G Larry Warford, LB A.J. Klein, LB Manti Te’o, QB Chase Daniel, CB Marshon Lattimore, RB Alvin Kamara

Key losses: WR Brandin Cooks, S Jairus Byrd, OL Tim Lelito, DL John Jenks, RB Tim Hightower

The Saints finished their season last year with a 7-9 record. With Drew Brees under center this team always has a chance to be dynamic on offense. The team as a whole however, has been disappointing for a few years. The Defense has been getting better but still is not able to stop other teams from scoring. The team relies on the offense to put up high numbers to win games. With Brandon Cooks being traded to New England, the offense has to hope Michael Thomas makes strides in his second season. The addition of Adrian Peterson will hopefully make the Saints offense harder to handle and give them a solid running game.

As far as their record goes, I do not see the Saints improving. I have them finishing the season at 6-10 ad having a divisional record of 2-4. They, like the Panthers, are not getting better fast enough to compete with the Falcons and Tampa Bay. Besides their divisional opponents, the Saints have to go up against the Vikings, Patriots, Lions, Packers, and Redskins this year. I think even the Dolphins can beat the Saints this year. If Head Coach Sean Payton can find a way to improve their defense fast then maybe they can make me look dumb.

Team MVP: Michael Thomas

Thomas had an excellent rookie year and I fully expect him to make a jump in year two.  He has a knack for getting open and Drew Brees will find him. The Saints offense is good enough to where other Teams will not be able to just focus on Thomas and he will find ways to get open

Division X-Factors

Looking at the division as a whole I could not just pick one x-factor for the whole division. I think that there are multiple players that can be x-factors. The difference between the MVPs and the x-factors is that the x-factors are players who I am not sure will have a great season compared to the players who I expect to (the MVPs).

The first player that I think is an x-factor is Christian McCaffrey on the Panthers.  I think this kid is legit. After watching him play at Stanford it is clear that his running game as well as his game catching is going to be fun to see in the NFL. If McCaffrey can play in the NFL like he did in college then he can make the Panthers better than I expect.

Sticking with running backs, another x-factor is Adrian Peterson. Peterson gets his fresh start with the Saints and has a chance to show he can still carry the workload of a starting running back. If Peterson can stay healthy I think he will regain some o his form that made him one of the best running backs the NFL has ever seen

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