2017 NFC South Preview

1. Atlanta Falcons– In a year being in the same conference with the then-defending NFC champion (Panthers) with a reigning MVP and a conference with so many heavy hitters in Green Bay, Carolina, Arizona and Seattle and all four of those team were considered to be the class of the NFC. Arizona and Carolina both didn’t even make the playoffs and the Falcons beat both Seattle and Green Bay in the postseason to surprisingly come out the NFC and get to the Super Bowl. They went 11-5, won the NFC South for the first time since 2012 and made their second Super Bowl in franchise history and first since 1999 and they were able to have such a nice season all behind the efforts of Matt Ryan who had the best season of his career and finally put it all together and was awarded his first MVP. They had one of the toughest schedules in the league last year and that’s how they responded. The biggest move they made in the off-season was the signing of Dontari Poe, a true run stopper. Other than that, they have the same team intact from last season. It’ll be an interesting year after making the Super Bowl and blowing that lead.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– They had quite a few people talking last year. Some thought they could overtake the Falcons atop the division, but they fell short. They haven’t made the postseason since 2007, but Dirk Koetter brought out the best in this team and they won nine games in his first year as head coach Ever since making him the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston has elevated his play each year and continues to mature into a good football player and a leader, something you didn’t see much of during his days at Florida State. They have improved their win total in each of their last three seasons and are clearly headed in the right direction. This off-season, they made a big splash and added DeSean Jackson and despite the fact that he’s 30 years old, he’s still one of the fastest and most explosive receivers in the game today. In the draft, they added O.J. Howard, the star tight end from Alabama. On defense, the team signed J.J. Wilcox and everyone else from last season returns this season.

3. New Orleans Saints– I remember when they were one of the top two or three teams in the NFC. In their last three years, the Saints have finished 7-9 and failed to make the postseason. A rebuild could be on the way sooner rather than later. I won’t look past this team. They still have a good coach in Sean Payton and although he’s getting up there in age, Drew Brees has shown he can still put up big numbers and still throws for 5,000 yards per season. The biggest loss for the Saints was receiver Brandin Cooks who was traded to the New England Patriots. After Jimmy Graham was traded in 2015, the Saints offense was built around Cooks and he flourished and became Brees’ go-to guy. The Saints signed Ted Ginn Jr to replace Cooks and I like that move because he brings speed, explosiveness and a veteran presence to the offense and I look for Michael Thomas, a 6’3 receiver to also be more incorporated into their offense. The Saints also made another splash by signing Adrian Peterson to a one-year deal and I’m still curious to see how this will work because both Brees and Peterson need the football to be successful. The defense has struggled big time the last few seasons and was ranked 27th in total defense a season ago.

4. Carolina Panthers– If you had to make a list of the most disappointing teams in 2016, they were probably at the top of your list. Let’s recap everything. They were 15-1, they won the division and made it to the Super Bowl in 2015 with Cam Newton who won MVP and had a career year without his top receiver. 2016, the hype was there and now that Cam had his top receiver in Kelvin Benjamin back, they were expected to get back to the big game. It didn’t happen. The Panthers didn’t lose their first game in 2015 until week 16. Last year, they lost five of their first six games and never recovered. The offensive line was terrible and Cam barely had any time to throw the football and the defense struggled big time especially after the departure of Josh Norman who I often called the heart and soul of their defense. The Panthers haven’t finished with back-to-back losing records since 2011-12, so there’s some pressure on this franchise to right the ship and become one of the teams to beat in the NFC again.

2017 Predictions
1. Buccaneers (10-6)
2. Panthers (9-7)
3. Falcons (8-8)
4. Saints (7-9)

I like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the NFC South. After what I saw from them last season, they have what it takes to get to the top and have the other teams look up at them in the division. Jameis continues to improve and he has three weapons each to get the ball too in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and O.J. Howard. The defense also has playmakers across the board.