NFL Football Preview. Football gets underway next week so we continue our look at the divisions and how we feel the teams will fare. So let’s get going and see what the teams in the NFC South may look like by season’s end.
Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Carolina has developed a pattern of being a winning team every other year, and after last season they are up for winning this year. Last season, this team did get off to a very good start until the wheels came off, so there is talent on this team. Cam Newton is a high-level quarterback in this league and he can make all the throws. His playmaking with his legs makes him one of the more dynamic players in history. The only issue with Cam Newton is this team has always been too willing to abandon their offensive philosophies because they can rely on Cam to do it all. Christian McCaffrey is now coming into his third year and needs to consistently be the guy who can lessen Cam’s load, but it’s mostly on the coaching staff.
The offensive line is not bad led by Trai Turner at left guard and Matt Paradis at center. The outside weapons continue to concern me. Greg Olsen is reliable at tight end, but their receivers are inconsistent at best. They added Aldrick Robinson and with his speed and Cam’s big arm, that could be a nice weapon in the passing game. Adding Gerald McCoy to go with Dontari Poe and Kawann Short on the defensive line in the 3-4 will make this defense very stout. They will open things up for Bruce Irvin rushing the passer and Luke Kuechly will again play at an All-Pro level. James Bradberry is an above-average corner as well. Carolina has shown under Cam Newton that when they are playing well they are hard to beat, and I expect that this year.
New Orleans Saints (9-7)
I don’t see New Orleans responding well to the disappointing end to last season, and they might struggle to get nine wins this year. I think Drew Brees showed he was losing some at the end of last year, and while by no means is he done, I think that elite level he has been at for the last five seasons is not there. Mark Ingram is gone so Latavius Murray will be tasked with providing the dirty work to spell Alvin Kamara. The offensive line is underrated and frankly very good. Ryan Ramczyk has become another in a long list of high caliber Wisconsin offensive lineman, and they feel getting Erik McCoy in the second round at center was a steal.
Team them with other quality professionals like Larry Warford and that makes for a solid line to allow Brees to hit all his weapons. Of course, with weapons it’s all about catch machine Michael Thomas fresh off a new deal. What has made this team play at a high level over the past few seasons is the improvements on defense. Cameron Jordan has become a top-end pass rusher and Sheldon Rankins has really blossomed at defensive tackle. In the secondary, they are led by Marshon Lattimore who is working his way into the elite category at corner. Look for him to be on an All-Pro team this year. Opposite of him are former cast-off Eli Apple has really blossomed in New Orleans, and P.J. Williams giving them nice depth. There is still talent here, but I’ve seen some slipping and with the way the last two seasons have ended for this team, I expect some deflation.
Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the Falcons. The talent on this team is there, but they have been trending down since blowing the Super Bowl. Will this be a bounce-back or will that trend continue? Matt Ryan is more than capable and has tremendous weapons at his disposal. Of course, there is Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley could be starters on other teams. Austin Hooper fits perfectly at tight end on this team. Devonta Freeman will be the main back this year so let’s see if he can pull the load all by himself.
The line is solid as well. Alex Mack is a top-end center and Jake Matthews always provides quality left tackle play. They drafted Chris Lindstrom (guard) and Kaleb McGary (tackle) with their first two picks, but it’s unknown exactly when they will play, however. Defensively they should get a ton of pressure on the outside with Takkarast McKinley and Vic Beasley Jr. Deion Jones needs to continue to play good football at middle linebacker because they are not very deep there. I like their safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Desmond Trufant has become a good corner but not quite the elite level. How the season starts will determine if this team will be a few over or a few under eight wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Bruce Arians is now the head man in Tampa and we will have to see if he can crack the Jameis Winston code. Winston has shown flashes at times, but he has been in regress these past couples of seasons. He has weapons; Peyton Barber has shown to be an effective back, Mike Evans is unstoppable at times, and Breshad Perriman will compliment well opposite him. O.J. Howard is a nice tight end as well. This team has not adequately addressed their line, however. They addressed their defense in the draft, drafting five defensive players in the first four rounds.
Linebacker, Devin White, will be a productive pro and they added three more of those picks to address the secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III is their best corner, but I look for second-round pick Sean Bunting and third-round pick Jamel Dean to push those starters. They also let Gerald McCoy go to a division rival. We will have to see how motivated Ndamukong Suh will be in a likely losing situation. Maybe Arians can get Jameis to his full potential, with the holes on the offensive line and in the defense, playoffs will be a long shot this year.