2018 NFC South Preview

1. New Orleans Saints– After they started the season losing their first two games, I threw the towel in on them and I even started to think this would be the end of Sean Payton in New Orleans. Was I wrong! They were one of the biggest surprises in 2017 and won the NFC South for the first time since 2011. Watching this team last year, I was reminded of the 2009 group that won the Super Bowl because of how they were able to balance things out offensively and they played defense, something that’s been a big struggle for them the last few seasons. The Saints got a boost from Alvin Kamara and once he got his chance to start, he never looked back and he became such a pivotal piece to the Saints. Mark Ingram also put together a nice season and of course, Drew Brees was Drew Brees. The defense enters the year in good shape and returns just about everyone from the ’17 team including Marshon Lattimore, the reigning defensive rookie of the year. They lost in the playoffs in a very heartbreaking way and will look to return back and show everyone that last year wasn’t a fluke.

2. Carolina Panthers– They finally returned to the playoffs for the first time since their appearance in Super Bowl 50. At the beginning of the year, they were one of the hottest teams in the league and Cam Newton showed flashes of his MVP form from 2015. I understand that Cam hasn’t really looked the same since that MVP year, but let’s be realistic here, he hasn’t had the offensive line to protect him and his skill players have struggled to help him and everything has been on him. Your quarterback shouldn’t be accounting for more than 50 percent of your offense. This year, that shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Panthers acquired Torrey Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s a player with veteran leadership and championship savviness and they also signed the veteran running back C.J. Anderson to a contract. Defensively, they will still be one of the best units in the league as long as Luke Kuechly is still patrolling the middle.

3. Atlanta Falcons– Their offense wasn’t as prolific as it was in 2016 and we saw just how important Kyle Shanahan was to their success. They got hot when it mattered and rolled into the playoffs on a nice winning streak to give the NFC playoffs three teams from the NFC South. Matt Ryan has been rewarded with a contract extension this offseason and the Falcons drafted former Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round. The thought of Matt, Julio, Austin Hooper, Freeman, Coleman and Calvin Ridley is a scary one on paper and Matt Ryan has no excuses this year. This is a loaded offense that he’ll have. Under Dan Quinn, they’ve become an improved defensive team. They open up their 2018 season where it ended last year and that’s in Philadelphia.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– Next to the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants, they were one of the biggest disappointments in the league and many people had them penciled in as a playoff team in 2017. Nothing went right for them. Their offense struggled late in games and the running game was absent, Jameis Winston was eating W’s before games and their defense was absolutely terrible and you know things are bad when 43-year-old former Buccaneer Simeon Rice is on Twitter saying the team should sign him because he can help out with the team’s lack of a pass rush. In 2017, the Buccaneers registered only 17 sacks, the fewest in the league. I think that number will improve in 2018. Tampa acquired Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants and they drafted Vita Vea out of Washington, the best defensive tackle in this year’s draft class. Can Jameis Winston stay healthy to lead this team?

2018 Predictions
1. Saints (11-5)
2. Panthers (10-6)
3. Falcons (9-7)
4. Buccaneers (7-9)

The New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South for the second consecutive season. With Mark Ingram out for the first four games, Alvin Kamara will be counted on to make more plays in his absence. As long as number 9 is under center for the Saints, they will be successful and win games. This could be one of the teams in the NFC that can possibly challenge the Eagles.