The NFC South saw a lot of changes this off-season with stars leaving and joining like crazy. Tom Brady faked a retirement and now the NFC South will continue to run through Tampa. Will there be a team to knock off the GOAT? Here’s a look at the offseason moves and a preview of predictions for the NFC South.
NFC South Preview
4. Atlanta Falcons
Key losses – RB Mike Davis, DE Steven Means, TE Hayden Hurst, OLB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Fabian Moreau, LB Foyesade Oluokun, LS Josh Harris, SS Duron Harmon, WR Russell Gage, P Thomas Morstead. QB Matt Ryan
Key additions – QB Marcus Mariota, CB Casey Hayward, OLB Lorenzo Carter, LB Rashaan Evans, RB Damien Williams, WR Bryan Edwards, WR Drake London, DE Arnold Ebiketie, LB Troy Anderson, QB Desmond Ridder, RB Tyler Allgeier
Re-signed – RB Cordarrelle Patterson (2-years), CB Isaiah Oliver (1-year), S Erik Harris (1-year)
Extensions – OT Jake Matthews (3-years, $52 million), DT Grady Jarrett (3-years, $50 million)
In head coach Arthur Smith’s first season in Atlanta, the Falcons went 7-10, finishing 3rd in the NFC South. This would be quarterback Matt Ryan’as last season in red, as he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The rebuild is underway for the Falcons and they need to find their franchise QB.
The offense last season finished 29th in the NFL in total offense. They were horrible running the ball, finishing in the bottom three of the league in both yards per carry and yards, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get better this season.
The offensive line is one of the worst in the league, with only two quality starters: tackle Jake Matthews and guard Chris Lindstrom. This doesn’t seem to bode well for Cordarrelle Patterson, who is looking to prove last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke.
Tight end Kyle Pitts looked good in his rookie season, but is hoping to breakout in a big way this season. The receiving weapons are weak, so Pitts needs to step up. The next most important wideout is rookie Drake London. Two young players could be the focal point this season, and possibly a third if quarterback Desmond Ridder ends up playing. It’ll be another long season for this Falcons offense, as they look to find their identity without Matt Ryan.
It wasn’t pretty on the defensive side last season for the Falcons, either. They finished 26th in total defense, as they were one of the worst teams against the run. The defensive line is better, but still one of the worst in the league. Lorenzo Carter was their biggest upgrade this offseason, so they won’t have to worry about defensive tackles Grady Jarrett getting all the attention.
The linebacker corps isn’t any better than the defensive line. Deion Jones was once thought to be the next great linebacker, but that is proving to be wrong. Rookie Troy Anderson will be the one to watch this year, as he looks to be the spark in the group.
The secondary is the lone bright spot of this defense. A.J. Terrell is one of the best corners in the NFL, with Casey Hayward and Isaiah Oliver creating a solid trio at that position. Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins still have a lot to prove as the safety tandem, but are above average. This defense looks to struggle again this season, hoping to find their long-term solutions at several positions.
The Falcons continue to try to find a way back to the playoffs, and I don’t see that happening this year. They’ll be one of the worst teams in football, finishing 4-13 and will go 1-5 against the NFC South this season.
3. Carolina Panthers
Key losses – DT DaQuan Jones, OLB Hasson Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, ILB Jermain Carter. RB Ameer Abdullah, C Matt Paradis
Key additions – OG Austin Corbett, S Xavier Woods, P Johnny Hekker, LB Damien Wilson, DE Matthew Ioannidis, C Bradley Bozeman, QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekwonu, QB Matt Coral
Re-signed – CB Donte Jackson (3-years), CB Rashaan Melvin (1-year), TE Ian Thomas (3-years)
Extensions – K Zane Gonzalez (2-years, $4.5 million), D.J. Moore (3-years, $61 million)
The Panthers finished dead last in the NFC South last season after going 5-12. However, they traded for quarterback Baker Mayfield to take over. They now have two of the top three picks, both quarterbacks, from the 2018 NFL draft. We’ll have to see if Baker can turn it around in Carolina.
Last year’s offense was ranked 30th in the NFL, and that’s part of the reason they brought in Mayfield. He is hoping to help improve from being the 29th ranked passing attack from last season. Wideouts D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson provide solid weapons for Baker to throw to. Moore specifically was given an extension and is looking to prove the money was worth it.
The offensive line is below average, as a lot depends on how rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu will translate to the NFL. They have potential to become an average line this season, if Ekwonu can breakout. The line will look better if running back Christian McCaffery can stay healthy. He is the most electric back in the league when healthy, as he is elite in both the run and pass game. This offense’s success will ultimately come down to Baker Mayfield and if he can turn it around from last season.
The defense was a different story last season. They finished second in total defense after being lockdown against the pass. They lost some pieces to that defense, so I expect a dip in production. The line is young, with veteran defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis now leading the way. I have this group as borderline top 20 in the league.
The linebacker corps is the best part of the defense, with Shaq Thompson looking like a star. They have Frankie Luvu next to him to provide a solid duo in the group. Even after losing Stephon Gilmore, the cornerbacks are still solid. Jaycee Horn looks to come back as strong as he was before the injury, and Donte Jackson is a consistent corner next to him. The safety duo of Xavier Woods and Jeremy Chinn is solid, as they both thrive in different areas of the game.
Going from Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfield is an upgrade, but won’t be enough for the Panthers this season. I believe they will finish 6-11, going 2-4 in the NFC South. This will be the year to see if Mayfield can be a starter down the road.
2. New Orleans Saints
Key losses – FS Marcus Williams, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Terron Armstead, WR Ty Montgomery, ILB Kwon Alexander, S C.J. Gardner-Johnson
Key additions – HC Dennis Allen, FS Tyrann Mathieu, FS Marcus Maye, QB Andy Dalton, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Chris Olave, OL Trevor Penning, CB Alontae Taylor
Re-signed – QB Jameis Winston (2-years), WR Tre’quan Smith (2-years), CB P.J. Williams (1-year)
Extensions – LB Demario Davis (1-year, $12 million), CB Bradley Roby (1-year)
In Sean Payton’s last season as the Saints head coach, they went 9-8, just missing the playoffs. New head coach Dennis Allen will look to do better this season and challenge the Buccaneers for the division title. A solid offseason will give them a chance in a weak NFC.
The offense in 2021 finished 28th in the NFL, and was easily the weak point in this team. They have Jameis Winston at quarterback, who is fully capable of leading the passing attack. He gets some weapons this year, with wideouts Michael Thomas coming back from injury, and Jarvis Landry coming over from Cleveland. Add rookie Chris Olave to the mix, and they should jump up from their 32nd ranked passing attack last season.
The run game is still elite, with Alvin Kamara leading the way. He is a key part to this team’s success, and could be heavily leaned on. The offensive line will be key, as they have rookie Trevor Penning eyeing to show he is the future at left tackle. Besides Penning, they need to get more from their offensive line, as it’s a top 20 group at-best.
The strong point of this team was the defense. They finished seventh in total defense and will be looking to continue their greatness. They have a top ten defensive line that includes edge rusher Cameron Jordan bringing the pressure. The linebacker corps is one of the best in the league, headlined by Demario Davis, who is back on a one-year deal.
The defense is backed by a strong secondary. Marshon Lattimore is one of the league’s best corners, and Paulson Adebo is looking to improve going into his sophomore season across from him. They have Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu deep as the safety tandem, and that should be a top duo.
The Saints are still looking for their identity on offense since Brees retired, and I believe Jameis Winston can be the guy to help find it. I have the Saints finishing 10-7 and going 4-2 in the NFC South.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key losses – P Bradley Pinion, OG Alex Cappa, RB Ronald Jones II, S Jordan Whitehead, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Rob Gronkowski, OG Ali Marpet
Key additions – WR Russell Gage, DE Akiem Hicks, WR Julio Jones, TE Kyle Rudolph, SS Keanu Neal, CB Logan Ryan, DL Logan Hall, OL Luke Geodeke, RB Rachaad White
Re-signed – RB Leonard Fournette (3-years), DE William Gholston (1-year), LS Zach Triner (2-years), QB Blaine Gabbert (1-year), CB Carlton Davis III (3-years, $44 million), C Ryan Jensen (3-years),
Extensions – WR Chris Godwin (3-years, $60 million), DT Vita Vea (4-years, $73 million)
The 2021 Buccaneers would finish last season losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. It was still a successful season as they went 13-4, running away with the NFC South. With Tom Brady back at quarterback, they should have another successful season.
The offense ranked secnod in the NFL last season, with the top passing game in the league. They should still be ranked in the top five in passing this season. Brady has weapons to throw to with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin still there, and tight end Cameron Brate looking to make a huge impact.
The offensive line is still elite, even with the losses they’ve endured. Shaq Mason and Tristan Wirfs lock down the right side of the line as an elite duo. This should open up lanes for running back Leonard Fournette, who is looking to help Tampa rise from the 26th ranked rushing attack last season. With the GOAT at quarterback, the Bucs should scare any defense.
Defensively, the Buccaneers finished 13th in the NFL last season. They didn’t lose anyone who would change that either. With Vita Vea and Shaquil Barrett, they will be bringing pressure from all over. On top of that, a top ten linebacker trio doesn’t hurt either. Lavonte David has been elite for years now, and Devin White is looking to get back on track next to him this season.
The scariest part of the defense is the secondary. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting create a top-tier trio that can be lockdown every week. Add in elite safety in Antoine Winfield Jr. next to a high-quality starter in Logan Ryan as the safety tandem, and it becomes a top five secondary in the league, easily. This defense could be the strongest part of this team this year, and will look to lead them to a playoff run.
They ran away with the NFC South last season, and I expect the same this year. I have Tampa Bay going 13-4 after going 5-1 against the rest of the NFC South. Tom Brady is still there — and won’t be missing the playoffs any time soon.