NFL Predictions: NFC South

It’s our final week of predictions, which means we’re finally in the “Dirty South” portion of these articles. The NFC South is rather stacked, and will likely have two playoff teams in the post season, while one has the potential to be “in the hunt.” This division will be electric all season long, and could contain two of the top teams in the league in general.

The New Orleans Saints are stacked and reloaded to make another attempt at a possible Super Bowl run. Can Drew Brees continue his consistency to get them there? Tom Brady and Rob Gronkwoski joined the Buccaneers this offseason, and look to aim for a deep playoff run with a new team. The Atlanta Falcons have had a difficult time recovering from that Super Bowl loss to the Patriots just a few years ago, but could this be the year they turn their luck around and soar in the right direction? And the Carolina Panthers are in a clear rebuild mode, but Panthers fans have plenty to be excited about in Carolina.

The Dirty South

New Orleans Saints

I know, there is a lot of hype around the Bucs right now due to their exciting offseason, but the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC South. I like New Orleans chances to challenge for the number 1 seed in the NFC this year, with the Bucs closely behind them. Vegas believes this team ends with 10 wins on the season, which puts them just behind the 49ers in their predictions.

This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league… again. There aren’t many holes on this squad, and I don’t know if there’s much else you could do to improve this franchise offensively. Michael Thomas and Drew Brees are arguably the best QB/WR duo in the entire NFL, even though Brees is getting up there in age (he’s 41 this year). Drew has been a phenomenal QB in this league, and despite what people might think of him after those comments about kneeling/protesting (luckily, his teammates spoke with him and he has the open mindedness to listen), the guy hasn’t shown any decline in his play. Even if the future Hall of Fame QB starts to decline this year, the Saints offense has so much versatility that they can rely on the players around the QB to succeed. Michael Thomas is easily a top 5 WR in the NFL, and the front office signed veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders, which gives Brees one of the best route runners to throw to as well. Additionally, Jared Cook is a top 10 Tight End, and has been a reliable target the last few years. Not to mention, RB Alvin Kamara is a freak athlete that has a unique ability to pinball off tacklers, and keep gaining yards. I also loved the Saint’s first round pick selection, Cesar Ruiz, who has the talent to make an immediate impact on this O-line. You can expect the Saints to have one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL this year.

The Saints defense will have one major advantage over their opponents this season, which is the fact that they’ll likely be slept on throughout the year. Cameron Jordan is still one of the top DEs in the league, and will continue his dominance in 2020. The New Orleans secondary is going to be top notch, as Marshon Lattimore has made his mark in this league during his young career. The guy is one of top Corners, and should show even more improvements this year. On the opposite side of the field, the Saints have CB Janoris Jenkins, he’s not the most exciting name, however, Jenkins has been much more consistent in the NFL than most people give him credit for. Additionally, the LB core should be stout, as Demario Davis and Kiko Alonso lead the way at the position. They’re not the top LBs in the league or anything, but these dudes play well enough to earn respect across the NFL. The front office also draft rookie LB Zack Baun, who could be the biggest steal in the draft. This kid can play ILB, or OLB, as he’s capable of stopping the run, pass, and attacking the QB.

New Orleans will be scoring A LOT of points, and their defense is good enough (on paper) to put them within the top 10. Sean Payton is one of the best coaches in the league, and he has the privilege to coach one of the best rosters as well. Expectations for the Saints are high this year, especially with Brees being 41. I for one, believe this team will end the year with the best record in the NFC.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There is SO much offense in the NFC South this year! The Bucs will be closely competing with the Saints (and the Ravens, and the Chiefs) for the top offense this season. The real question is, can their defense hold up? I think they can, and Vegas has the Bucs winning 9-10 games in 2020.

Tom Brady in Tampa Bay just sounds weird. But as a Titans fan, I’m just glad the guy is out of the AFC! However, now that he’s on the Bucs, Brady aims to win a Super Bowl ring without his long time coach, Bill Belichick. Brady showed some decline in his play last season, but luckily for him, the Tampa Bay front office went all out to give him the best chances to succeed. I’m making a declaration right here, right now, and I’ll argue anybody over this… Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the best WR duo in the National Football League. Both guys put up over 1000 yards a piece last season, and have the potential to play even better now that Jameis Winston won’t be throwing interceptions every 5 minutes (at least it felt that way). GRONK comes out of retirement, and joins his long time QB in Tampa Bay, which gives Brady the familiarity he’ll need to adapt with a new team much faster. On top of that, a ton of people are sleeping on OJ Howard. This makes sense, as Howard has been underwhelming so far in his career. But the fact that Evans, Godwin and Gronk will be the main focus opposing defenses will game plan around, OJ Howard could finally emerge and play at the level everyone expected him to play at since his rookie year. Obviously, the passing game in Tampa Bay is going to be elite, but what about the rest of the offensive lineup? RB Ronald Jones II isn’t a bad player, and actually played rather well in the final part of the regular season last year. The front office also made sure to acquire protection for Tom Brady. With a new improved O-line, and so much focus and attention on the passing game, this could be Ronald Jones II’s year to surprise the league. Although Brady will be 43 at the start of the season, the Bucs offense has so many weapons, that a declined Brady will still play at a high level.

Much like their division rivals, the Saints, the Buccaneers defense is going to be slept on. Last year, the Bucs defense ranked number 1 in stopping run, and they brought back a majority of players that helped pull off that feat. Ndamukong Suh isn’t the player he used to be, but his ability to plug holes and stop the run makes him an elite run stopper for this unit. Tampa also has one of the best LB groups in the league, and somehow, they’re still criminally under rated. You can easily make a case that Levonte David is the best ILB in the NFL, and he plays alongside guys like Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, and Shaquil Barrett. So, between the D-line, and the LB group, not much is getting past this Bucs D. The only weak spot this defense has is in the secondary. They don’t necessarily have any big name players in those positions, and pass heavy teams will look to attack this team through the air.

On paper, the Bucs look like a team that’s ready for a Super Bowl run. We’ll see how it goes, as Brady will be 43, and did show some decline in his abilities in 2019, and this years Bucs defense will likely give up a ton of yards (and possibly points) through the air. Despite those two negatives, Bruce Arians is a phenomenal coach in the NFL, and there is so much talent on this team in general that it’s hard to imagine this franchise struggling at all. The Saints should win the NFC South, but the Bucs will be a VERY strong 5 seed in the playoffs this year.

Atlanta Falcons

I have the Dirty Birds finishing 3rd in the NFC South, but, they have the potential to be “in the hunt.” If Atlanta can finally pull themselves together, they’ll be a team you won’t want to face late in the season (similar to 2019). I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, and Vegas predicts them winning 7-8 games.

The Falcon’s offense is by far the strongest asset for this franchise. Matt Ryan is still a top 10 QB (arguably top 5), and he’s still throwing the ball to top wideout, Julio Jones. These 2 have been putting up the numbers for what seems like forever, and they should continue connecting through the air in 2020. Calvin Ridley is a WR that emerged as a solid WR2 for this offense, and should expand his abilities even further next year. I also liked how the front office picked up TE Hayden Hurst via trade, which gives Atlanta a solid replacement for Austin Hooper. Furthermore, the Dirty Birds signed RB Todd Gurley, who is aiming to bounce back from his poor play a year ago. Gurley is a smart player, and is still athletic enough to make opposing defenses lose sleep at night. A lot of people have written Gurley off, but I like his chances to still play at a high level (hoping he’s recovered from his past injuries). He’s one of my candidates for Comeback Player of the Year. Either way, this franchise has some amazing talent on this offense, and will be the reason why the Falcons stay competitive throughout the season.

This defense however is a different story. They’ll likely be average at best, which is rather shocking, as just a few years ago, the defense looked like they were stacked with young talent. Sports analysts and myself believed Atlanta would have a top 5 defense by now, but for whatever reason, nothing has really gone the way this franchise was hoping for since giving up that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The front seven will likely be the focal point of this unit, as Allen Bailey leads the way on the D-line, and Deion Jones is one of the more consistent LBs in the league. The front office released CB Desmond Trufant after failing to find a trade partner. Trufant is still a talented CB, but the Falcons replaced him with exciting rookie AJ Terrell. I don’t have high hopes for this defense, and this will likely be the reason why Atlanta misses out on the postseason.

Ultimately, the Falcons front office has made some great progress this offseason in their attempt to get back on top of the league. They won’t beat out their division rivals the Saints or the Bucs, but if the Falcons can put it all together, this could be a dangerous team to play against late in year. At least Falcons fans can be excited about possibly spoiling another franchise’s playoff hopes.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are in an obvious rebuild mode, as nearly everything about this team is brand new. With an entirely new coaching staff along with a bunch of new faces on the roster, the Panthers are setup to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year. Vegas seems to agree with me, as they have the Panthers only winning 5-6 games, which is tied for 3rd worst in the league.

For the first time since 2011, Carolina will be without QB Cam Newton. Despite public opinion of Newton (at least outside of the Carolinas), the guy has a tremendous track record. He’s won the National Championship in college, the Heisman trophy, NFL Rookie of the Year, NFL MVP, and led a below average team to a Super Bowl damn near by himself… But all that is for a different article for another time, as we’re here to focus on the 2020 Carolina Panthers. This year, Carolina will be led by RB Christian McCaffrey. This dude is just an amazing athlete, and is easily the best dual threat RB in the world. Not only is he a top 5 RB, but he also puts up receiving numbers that places him in the conversation with some of the best WRs in the NFL. The Panthers have an absolute superstar to build around, which puts this franchise in a great spot during this rebuilding period. Furthermore, this offense doesn’t look all that bad after signing Teddy Bridgewater to replace Cam Newton under Center. He’s not the best, but he played well enough last year for the Saints to gain attention. Now he’s the starter for Carolina, and has a chance to prove himself again. The WR group is pretty good too, as DJ Moore played rather well last year, and the front office signed speedy WR Robby Anderson, who gives the Panthers a legitimate deep ball threat. The weak spots on this offense are the O-line, and the TE positions. This team probably won’t put up points at the same rate as the Saints and the Bucs, but this offense is a great starting point for this rebuilding process.

The defense is really where the problems lie for this franchise, as there just isn’t much exciting talent on the roster right now. The Panthers had a fantastic pass defense a season ago, which could be something this group relies on this year. However, the front office put all of their focus on the defensive side of the ball in the draft (which was incredibly smart), which means the Panthers may have 4 rookie starters on the defense this season. With so many holes on this squad, it’s going to be difficult for the Panthers to contain their opponents in 2020.

The Panthers likely won’t be too much of a threat this year, but fans should be excited about the future of this franchise. Carolina had one of the best drafts this offseason, and if those selections work out the way the franchise hopes, this team could develop into something special down the road. As for the 2020 season, you can expect to see a ton of growing pains, as the Panthers have a new coaching staff, bad O-line, bad TE group, and a very young defense.

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