NFC South Preview
The NFC South figures to be a battle ground in 2019. Boasting a Superbowl favorite and two other playoff contenders the division should be exciting to watch. This might be the swan song for Drew Brees but it’s an opportunity for the other starting quarterbacks too. Will Cam Newton return to the NFL’s elite? Will Matt Ryan be able to match his stats with big wins? Will Jameis Winston finally develop into a starting caliber quarterback? There are lots of questions surrounding the NFC South but will there be enough answers?
New Faces: OG Chris Lindstrom, OT Kaleb McGary, OG James Carpenter, DT Tyeler Davison; Obviously the Falcons felt like their offensive line was holding them back. Two first round picks and a free agency period later and they are hoping they have three starters to solidify things.
Offensive Outlook: The Falcons lost Tevin Coleman, which could be a big deal. Devonta Freeman is a good back but he isn’t capable of holding up to 20+ touches a week over an entire season. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohommad Sanu give the Falcons a deep and talented receiving corps and with Austin Hooper at tight end Matt Ryan figures to have plenty of weapons at his disposal.If the offensive line can hold up and the Falcons have a power back somewhere on their roster then they could be a very difficult team to defend against. Ryan needs to take the next step and come through in big games if the Falcons sooner rather than later.
Defensive Outlook: Tyeler Davison looks like he’s won the starting job at defensive tackle next to Grady Jarrett. The rest of the defense is mostly the same although Isaiah Oliver offers some potential as the new starting cornerback opposite Desmond Trufant and Keanu Neal will hopefully play a full season give the Falcons a much more athletic secondary..
Overall Prediction: The Falcons improved their offensive line, which should improve their overall team considerably. I still get the feeling they are the third best team in this division and will need to count on New Orleans or (more likely) Carolina stumbling in order to make the playoffs. Ultimately I think the Panthers are better suited to consistently win games than the Falcons are and I think that’ll be the difference that keeps the Falcons out of the playoffs with 9 wins.
New Faces: OC Matt Paradis, OT Greg Little, DT Gerald McCoy, DE Brian Burns; Carolina understands that they need to dominate the lines of scrimmage in order to win games. That’s their style so they upgraded both lines in free agency and the draft. Matt Paradis was a huge signing for the Panthers and was the centerpiece of their free agency signing period. Gerald McCoy was a surprise cut in Tampa Bay who realized the benefit of playing on a team with other talented defensive linemen around him, for the first time in his professional career, and signed with the Panthers also. Brian Burns and Greg Little, the teams first two draft choices should also factor into the rotation this season and will be groomed to be long term starters.
Offensive Outlook: The Panthers are finally building a team around Cam Newton. Christian McCaffery, DJ Moore, and Curtis Samuel each have speed in droves and will give Newton plenty of options as he begins to transition into a pocket quarterback (hopefully.) I expect Samuels to have a break out year and McCaffery to again be one of the league leaders in total yards and touch downs. If Newton can remain healthy this team should be more explosive than in recent memory, which will make them difficult to beat.
Defensive Outlook: This is probably the deepest defensive line in the NFL. There are three ends and three tackles that are indistinguishable, except for how great Kawann Short is. With a linebacking corps lead by Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson and a secondary with Eric Reid the Panthers have physical leadership across the board. They should be a difficult team to score on throughout the year.
Overall Prediction: Carolina appears to have stabilized their offensive line, further developed their athletic young offensive weapons, and gotten better along the strength of their team, the defensive line. With Cam Newton still a threat to create at quarterback this team looks like a playoff team. Carolina doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and that is a good recipe to win 10 games, which I think they’ll do. I’m not sure if that will get them in the playoff, but they’ll be close.
New Faces: C Eric McCoy, DT Malcolm Brown, MLB Kiko Alonso, TE Jared Cook; The realities of having a quarterback like Drew Brees under contract is that, eventually, you run out of salary cap room. With a roster full of former first round picks - which the team has done well to develop - the Saints didn’t have a ton of money to spend. Fortunately they didn’t need to spend a lot. Jared Cook and Malcolm Brown were their only significant signings and both came at a discount. New Orleans traded up for McCoy when Alex Mack retired suddenly and added Kiko Alonso just after cut downs to upgrade their linebacking corps.
Offensive Outlook: Cook gives Brees another option in the passing game. Opposite Michael Thomas, and with Alvin Kamara playing out of the backfield the Saints figure to have all the weapons they need for Brees to succeed. I would expect Cook to have a positive impact on Brees’ touch down passes this season. This remains the strength of the Saints team.
Defensive Outlook: Despite having a lot of draft capital along the defensive line the Saints defense is clearly their weak link. The secondary, despite having talented players, seems to give up big plays at inopportune times while the linebackers are really just placeholders, albeit good ones. The team just doesn’t have the money to invest in their off the ball defensive positions. Still this is a team that can make big plays in big moments and with their offense they might only need to make those big plays in a handful of games this year.
Overall Prediction: The Saints look like the best team in the NFC to me. They would have likely beaten the Patriots in the Superbowl last season, or at least they would not have been intimidated by them the way that the Rams were. It’s tough to predict a team to win more than 13 games but I think the Saints might be able to do just that. However many they win they should comfortably win the division, and probably secure a first round bye.
New Faces: Head Coach Bruce Arians, DL Ndamukong Suh, LB Devin White; Both White and Suh figure to be starters and leaders in Todd Bowles’ new scheme.
Offensive Outlook: I chose to list Arians as an offensive addition because I don’t think another coach in the NFL will mean more to his teams offensive fortune this year than Arians. Whether or not Jameis Winston finally figures out to be a pro aside, Arians’ offense always score points and with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and OJ Howard, Arians will have a bevvy of options for his play calling. It’s also a safe bet that Winston will respond favorably to Arians, since they have a warm personal relationship from before Arians took the job.
Defensive Outlook: Todd Bowles will switch Tampa to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Adding Ndamukong Suh will give him the disruptive lineman he needs and adding Devin White will give him the great middle linebacker he needs in order to make this defense effective. The Bucs have spent a ton of draft capital at cornerback in the last three seasons and they figure to have five solid cornerbacks that can play. This could be a very good defense in 2020. In 2019 it will be up and down.
Overall Prediction: Tampa Bay looks like the kind of team that is gonna lose a lot of games 38-30. They’ll score, and their receivers will have a ton of opportunities, but they are too young defensively and are still lacking talent and depth at some key positions (offensive line and running back.) They also might not win a game in their division so I expect a better team with similar results to last year