There are a few things we know to be true over the past few years… Death, Taxes and no one can predict who wins the NFC South.
Since 2002, there has been only one team to win back-to-back division titles. The Carolina Panthers did it three years in a row from 2013-15.
NFC South Preview and Prediction:
New Orleans Saints (2017 record, 11-5): Prediction, 12-4.
The Saints won 8 straight games last season and have 21 returning starters. The Saints lost a heartbreaking game to the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs. They should be hungry and fired up to secure home-field advantage throughout the post-season. It is not often that you see a division winner produce two rookies of the year. But Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore won those awards on offense and defense.
Offensively the Saints have a tremendous “Three-headed-Monster.” Running backs Mark Ingram II and Kamara combined for over 1,900 rushing yards and 1,200 receiving yards. Wide Receiver Michael Thomas’ 196 receptions are the most by anyone in the first two years of an NFL career. Drew Brees threw for 4,334 yards in 2017. At 39 years old, he is still at the top of his game. He is number 1 in the history of the NFL in completion percentage (66.9%). This offensive line doesn’t get enough credit but they are a very good unit. Ingram II will miss the first four games due to a suspension but Kamara can handle the load.
The Saints defense is not elite, but they can make plays. They had 42 sacks and 25 takeaways in 2017. This is a defense that was an absolute joke on Rob Ryan. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen will continue to improve this unit and they should be good enough to help them win 11 or more games.
Atlanta Falcons (2017 record, 10-6): Prediction, 9-7.
Dan Quinn enters his 3rd season as the Falcons Head Coach. In his first 2 seasons, he won 11 and 10 games. Atlanta has an array of talent around them on offense but somehow managed to only score 22.1 points per game. Matt Ryan threw for over 4,000 yards but had only 20 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for over 1,400 rushing yards and 600 passing yards. Julio Jones continues to be one of the best receivers in the NFL. He had over 1400 receiving yards and 88 receptions. Jones only had 3 touchdown receptions last season. He must improve on that and become the “go-to-guy” in the Red Zone.
The Falcons are not a great defensive team. One could even argue that they may be the 4th best defense in this division. Vic Beasely had 15. 5 sacks in 2016. He only had 5.5 last season. The Falcons lost Adrian Clayborn to the Patriots. Clayborn led the team with 9.5 sacks last year.
Falcons are a borderline playoff team.
Carolina Panthers (2017 record, 11-5): Prediction 9-7.
Cam Newton has only completed over 61% of his passes once in his career (2013). The last three seasons his completion percentage is.
Newton may never be a legitimate pocket passer, but he can still make plays. In 2017 he rushed for 754 yards. He must continue to make plays with his feet for this team to be effective on offense. The Panthers all-time leader in rushing, Jonathan Stewart is now with the New York Giants. That means,2nd year player, Christian McCaffrey will get more touches. McCaffrey had 80 catches out of the backfield last year. n Pro Bowl guard Andrew Norwell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This offensive line could have problems creating holes and protecting Newton.
Luke Kuechly may be the best linebacker in football and the Panthers front 7 is loaded with talent. This defense could wear down if the offense can’t remain on the field.
The Panthers just don’t have enough talent on offense to out score Atlanta or New Orleans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017 record, 5-11): Prediction 5-11.
Quarterback Jameis Winston has been an absolute bust on and off the field. Last season Winston was 3-11 as as starter. This year, he will miss the first three games due to a suspension. The talent is their on offense for Veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans are a very good wide receiver duo. Tampa averaged 3.7 yards per rush last season. They are hoping that Ronald Jones II out of USC, can change all that.
In 2017, The Bucs were last in total defense. They signed former Philadelphia Eagles, free-agent tackle Beau Allen and end Vinny Curry. They also traded for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. These veterans should all help them improve from last year.
As long as Winston is their franchise quarterback, The Bucs will never be a legitimate contender.
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