The NFC South was one of the stronger divisions in 2020 sending two teams to the postseason, and of course, providing the eventual Super Bowl champions. The Buccaneers are amongst the early favourites to repeat but what of the other three teams?
The Saints who joined Tamp Bay in the playoffs last year will be beginning afresh at QB and even at this late stage, their QB1 is not decided. The Panthers similarly have hit the QB reset switch. They will be hoping to revive the fortunes of former Jets QB Sam Darnold. He is coming into a promising looking squad so there will be no excuses this time around.
The Falcons had a habit of blowing leads last year and never recovered from their 0-5 start. They have strengthened their running game in free agency and of course, drafted Kyle Pitts. If they can get the defense firing they could be looking at a winning season.
Tampa is justifiably strong favourites, however, the race for second looks wide open.
NFC South Predicted Finish
This is how we see the division panning out.
1st Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay are the first reigning champions to bring all their starters back since 1979. Is that a good thing? Well, it didn’t help the 1980 Pittsburgh Steelers who missed the playoffs that year. However, this is an entirely different situation, largely due to Tom Brady being the QB. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that he is a difference-maker and the squad could be even better in 2021.
They added a solid backup running back in Giovani Bernard and added more depth to an already stacked Defense in the draft, picking up LB Joe Tryon. As they say, you can never have enough pass rush!
The schedule is not easy and all eyes will be on their trip to New England on the 4th of October (mark the calendar now!). We can see them dropping a few games but they should get double-digit wins and home-field advantage is a strong possibility.
2nd Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons really should have done better in 2020 but their running game let them down badly. Thus they couldn’t close out games and ended up losing too many one-score games. Matt Ryan put up respectable numbers and he will love the addition of TE Kyle Pitts who is our tip of NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. That anaemic running game should improve too thanks to the addition of Mike Davies. He had an impressive season last year stepping in for the injured Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. Cordarrelle Paterson also adds a bit of depth and he will be fairly fresh given his limited use in 2020.
The secondary should also benefit from a decent crop of draft picks too.
3rd New Orleans Saints
The Saints are a veteran team who have returned a chunk of last years starters. So why the drop off from first to third? Well, we are concerned about their QB situation. Jamies Winston is a bit of a turnover machine and the WR lineup doesn’t look stellar.
The salary cap purge meant that a lot of talent walked and there are still question marks over Michael Thomas. At best he will miss the early part of the season. At worst he could be traded. Adding TE Nick Vannett helps but hardly makes up for the losses and whoever wins the starting QB job it’s not going to be easy. We don’t see them falling off a cliff but 8 wins could be their ceiling.
4th Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are quite intriguing but like the saints have questions at QB. They have turned to ex NY Jets 1st round pick Sam Darnold for the role and that to us is a risk. he has not shown much in his three seasons at the Jets but will at least have what looks like a serviceable running game to ease the pressure.
They have a formidable one-two at running back with Christian McCaffery being arguably the best in the NFL at this position. Add to this the underrated Chubba Hubbard who somehow fell into the 4th Round of the draft. He looks like a steal and along with 2nd round pick WR Terrace Marshall Jr bodes well for their future.
They have a decent defense and could be the ones to watch next year after time and the salary cap starts to catch up with the Buccs. If, and it’s a big if Sam Darnold finally lives up to his potential they could be the surprise team of the season.
NFC East Final Wins Total
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-4
Atlanta Falcons 9-8
New Orleans Saints 7-10
Carolina Panthers 6-11
So there you have it our predictions for the NFC South and in answer to our opening question, no one in the South but we will be interested to see how the others perform.
While you are here why not check out our other NFC South Posts or have a go at some of our NFL Quizzes. Go on everyone loves a Quiz, don’t they?