Over the Past 2 seasons two teams from the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. This division could be the best offense division in football. The reasoning is simple:
Matt Ryan won the MVP in 2016
Cam Newton won the MVP in 2015
Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback
Jameis Winston was the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
Any of these 4 teams can make the playoffs. It will be the toughest division in the NFL.
NFC South Preview and Prediction:
Atlanta Falcons (Last season record 11-5) …2017 prediction, 11-5.
The Falcons blew the biggest lead in the history of the Super Bowl. They were up 28-3 midway through the 3rd quarter and lost to the New England Patriots 34-28 in overtime. To lessen the blow of their heart-breaking loss, former USC head coach and Alabama offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian will be the new offensive coordinator on a team that was first in points scored, offensive touchdowns, points per drive. For the past, few seasons, I have been making the case that the Pittsburgh Steelers had the best “Big 3” in football (Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver combination.) I think it is time to give that title to the Atlanta Falcons. In 2016, Matt Ryan threw for 4,944 yards 38 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Devonte Freeman averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught 54 balls out of the backfield. At 6’3 220lbs Julio Jones is one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL. Over the past 3 seasons Jones has caught 323 passes and accumulated 4,873 yards and 22 touchdowns. This is an offense that is loaded at the top with talent and deep in talent. Back up RB, Tevin Coleman had 8 touchdowns and Mohamed Sanu caught 59 catches. Atlanta should be one of the best offenses again in the NFL.
On defensive, head coach Dan Quinn promoted Marquand Manuel from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator. Vic Beasley, led the league in sacks (15.5) last season and he should have another great year but the Falcons must develop a pass rush around him if they want to go back to the Super Bowl. Quinn built his reputation coming through the ranks as a very good defensive minded coach. Atlanta must get off to a good start and get some wins to take the stench of the Super Bowl loss off them. If they don’t they may have a season long hang over from that devastating loss.
Carolina Panthers (Last season record 6-10) … 2017 prediction, 10-6.
In 2015, the Panthers went on a magical run going 15-1 before losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, 24-10. Carolina took a major step backwards in 2016. When they went to the championship, they finished 1st in scoring (31.3 ppg) last season they scored 23.1 ppg. I expect
Cam Newton to bounce back and be a top 5 rated quarterback. I also expect rookie running back Christian McCaffrey to win rookie of the year. TE Greg Olson and Kelvin Benjamin had 148 receptions combined and expect them to be more productive this season.
The Panthers have the best defense in the NFC South. Last season, they finished 2nd in the league with 47 sacks. Fans would be hard pressed to find a better linebacking duo than Luke Kuechly (102 tackles) and Thomas Davis (106 tackles). Julius Peppers has returned to Carolina and should contribute at least 6 sacks. Kawann Short made the Pro-Bowl in 2015 and he should be a load to move on the defensive interior.
If Cam can play close to his MVP season (2015… 45 total touchdowns and only 10 interceptions) and McCaffrey is as good as advertised, The Panthers could be a borderline playoff team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last season record 9-7) … 2017 prediction, 8-8.
The Bucs have put all their hopes on 3rd year quarterback Jameis Winston. The former number one overall pick in the 2015 draft has had some good moments and some very bad moments under center. In two seasons, he has completed less than 60% of his passes (59.6%), 7 fumbles, 50 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions. The Bucs went out and added skill players around Winston. WR DeSean Jackson signed as a free agent from Washington and they drafted Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and Penn State receiver Chris Godwin. Mike Evans lead the NFL with 175 targets last season. He caught 96 receptions, accumulated over 1,300 yards and had 12 touchdowns. There isn’t anything Evans can’t do at the wide out position. The Biggest question mark for this team is at running back. Doug Martin will miss the first three games of the season because of a PED suspension. Jacquizz Rodgers should get the starting nod opening day but I don’t know if there is an elite RB on this roster.
On defense, this team won’t be dominant. Their strength is clearly their offense but look for Redskins free agent Chris Baker to be a “big time” presence on the defensive line. Last season he had 47 tackles and 3.5 sacks. At 335lbs he takes up a ton of space and will sometimes demand offenses to double team him.
The Bucs should put up numbers but Winston is still the 4th best quarterback in this division. They have a ton of talent on offense and if all goes well they win 9 games.
New Orleans Saints (Last Season’s Record 7-9) … 2017 prediction, 8-8.
Over the past 5 years the Saints have compiled a record of 7-9,11-5,7-9,7-9 and 7-9. Drew Brees enters his 17th season as quarterback. At 38 years old, he can still dominate a quarter, a half or a game. In 2016, he completed 70% of his passes had 37 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and threw for 5,208 yards. 24-year-old Michael Thomas has become an absolute super star in New Orleans. He is 6’3, 215lbs and had 92 catches, over 1,100 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. His 21 catches in the 4th quarter led the NFL. He is clearly the #1 and #2 option for Brees. 32-year-old Ted Ginn Jr. should provide a deep threat for Brees to stretch the field. Over the last three years, Brees was ranked 4th in deep completion percentage and deep touchdown passes. No quarterback ranks ahead of him in both quarterback over this stretch. The Saints will throw deep. Running back Mark Ingram rushed for over 1000 yards in 2016 but will split time with Adrian Peterson. By midway through the season Peterson will get the bulk of the touches and he should have 12-15 rushing touchdowns. The Saints will use him inside the Red Zone constantly. Teams won’t be able to put 8 men in the box so look for Peterson to average over 5 yards per rush this year as well.
On defense, The Saints have struggled over the past 5 years. In 2016, They finished 27th in overall defensive rankings but I expect them to be better than last season. This is a team that can put up 40 points per game when they get rolling if their defense steps up they can be a borderline playoff team.
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