NFL Regular Season Preview: NFC South
Atlanta Falcons: 2015 Record: 8-8
2016 Projected Record: 6-10
Key Additions: Mohamed Sanu, Alex Mack, Dwight Freeney
Key Losses: Roddy White, Devin Hester, William Moore
Matt Ryan is heading into his 9th year as the QB of the Falcons. Ryan hasn’t been back to the postseason since the Falcons made the NFC Championship in 2012. Since then it seems like Ryan’s play has declined year after year. Even this preseason Ryan struggled to get anything going on offense. Yes I know it’s preseason but I still see a problem in his play which has been happening for the past few years now. And I can’t talk about the Falcons without mentioning the collapse they had last year. The Falcons started the season at 6-1 after that they finished the rest of the season at 2-7.
The Falcons are hoping for another productive year from Devonta Freeman. Freeman in 2015 was the 7th leading rusher with 1,061 yards & tied the league lead with 11 TDs. I see Devonta having a little less production this year because Falcons also want to get Tevin Coleman the ball. We know Julio Jones is a top 3 WR but the Falcons added Mohamed Sanu to help take some pressure off of Julio. Last year Sanu failed to score a TD so Falcons are hoping for more from him.
The Falcons defensive line is very “meh”. The Falcons have got to have a better pass rush this year after having the worst sack total in the league with only 19. The ends for the Falcons are Brooks Reed & Tyson Jackson who both finished last year without sacks. Hopefully with Dwight Freeney being a rotation guy the Falcons can create some type of pressure. Jonathan Babineaux at DT has been pretty solid for them. The Falcons are also hoping for a huge improvement in Vic Beasley. In 2015 (rookie year) Beasley only had 28 tackles & 4 sacks.
The secondary of the Falcons is definitely the strong point of this defense. At the corner spots they have Robert Alford & Desmond Trufant. Trufant in his 1st few years has started to be considered a top corner in the league. Alford has also been a very solid CB in his few years with the Falcons too. The safeties for the Falcons are Keanu Neal (1st round pick) & Kemal Ishmael. The Falcons also recently signed Dashon Goldson so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s starting before long. This Falcons team just looks like a very weak team to me & the division is improving so I see a disappointing season from the Falcons.
Carolina Panthers: 2015 Record: 15-1
2016 Projected Record: 12-4
Key Additions: Vernon Butler (draft), James Bradberry (draft), Andy Lee (Punters are people too!)
Key Losses: Josh Norman, Jared Allen
Cam Newton took a huge step forward as a QB last year. In 2015 Newton threw for 3,837 yards & 35 TDs en route to a MVP season. He also added 636 rushing yards & 10 TDs to go alongside his great passing stats. Besides the Super Bowl Newton looked very comfortable, making changes at the line, calling audibles & looked like he was having the most fun he’s had since being in the NFL. I see another improvement for Newton this year especially with Kelvin Benjamin coming back from injury.
The Panthers are still putting the running game on the shoulders of Jonathan Stewart. Last year Stewart started the most games in his career in 13 which is a good thing because he’s had a tough time staying healthy. The Panthers also want to use 2nd year back Cameron Artis-Payne to keep Stewart as fresh as possible. In 2015 the Panthers were the 2nd best rushing team with 2,282 yards. Of course the Panthers (especially Cam) are excited about the return of Kelvin Benjamin. In 2014 Benjamin had 73 catches for 1,008 yards & 9 TDs in his rookie year before getting injured before the 2015 season.
The defensive line is built from the inside out. The ends will be Charles Johnson & Kony Ealy. Johnson had a struggle last season staying healthy & only had 1 sack so hopefully he can be on the field while Ealy had 5 sacks last year. The DTs are great ones in Star Lotulelei & Kawann Short. Both of them make one of if not the best DT duos in the NFL. The linebacking corp is also very strong for the Panthers of course led by the likes of Luke Kuechly & Thomas Davis. Kuechly is the best LB in the league in my opinion the dude can affect everything an offensive wants to do.
Everyone knows the Panthers lost Josh Norman in free agency. Yes Norman is going to be hard to be replace but it’s easier when you run a zone defense to replace a star CB. The Panthers will be starting James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, & Bene Benwikere. Bradberry & Worley are both rookies so we’ll see how they do while Benwikere was injured during the year so he didn’t play much but has shown signs of being a pretty good corner. Give it a few weeks for this secondary & I see them being a good group. The Panthers went 15-1 in 2015 which I don’t see them doing again but that doesn’t take away how great of a team they are.
New Orleans Saints: 2015 Record: 7-9
2016 Projected Record: 7-9
Key Additions: Coby Fleener, James Laurinaitis, Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins (draft)
Key Losses: Marques Colston
If it weren’t for Drew Brees being the QB of this team this team might be one of the worst teams in the NFL. With Brees at the helm it doesn’t matter who the Saints are playing, they’ll have a chance to win. Brees has thrown 5,000 yards 4 times in his career & would’ve thrown 5,000 last year if he wasn’t out 1 game & he also was only 48 yards short of 5,000 in 2014. Brees might be the most talented QB if you take into consideration he’s working with less than the other elite QBs (Brady, Rodgers, & Roethlisberger).
The Saints are hoping Mark Ingram can stay healthy. Ingram has all the tools to be a great RB but has had injury problems since he’s came into the league. In 2015 he started the most games in his career (10) while gaining 769 yards & 6 TDs while also adding 50 receptions for 405 yards. The receiving corp of the Saints is going to be gfreat as long as Brees is facilitating them the ball. The receivers for Brees are Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, & rookie Michael Thomas. Cooks in 2015 had 84 catches for 1,138 & 9 TDs & has become Brees’ favorite target.
The defensive line of the Saints only has 1 guy who is a proven starter in the league in Cameron Jordan. The other end is Kasim Edebali while the DTs are 1st round pick Sheldon Rankins & Tyeler Davison with Nick Fairley being a rotational guy. The linebacking group will now be led by the now LA Rams former MLB James Laurinaitis. The OLB positions are filled by Dannell Ellerbe & Stephone Anthony. Anthony had 112 tackles in his rookie year with the Saints last year.
The biggest weakness of the Saints is by far it’s secondary still. The cornerbacks will be Delvin Breaux & PJ Williams. Williams was drafted by the Saints last year but didn’t play so hopefully he can help improve this secondary. Breaux on the other hand was right in the middle of the 2nd worst pass defense in the NFL allowing 4,544 yards & 45 TDs (which was by far the most TDs allowed). The safeties will be Kenny Vaccaro & Jairus Byrd again for the Saints. In my opinion the Saints have arguably the worst secondary in the NFL. I love the offense of the Saints as long as Brees is there but the defense will be the weak link & cause them to finish under .500 again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2015 Record: 6-10
2016 Projected Record: 8-8
Key Additions: Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves (draft), Daryl Smith
Key Losses: Not really anyone
Jameis Winston had a historic rookie season in 2015 with 4,042 yards & 22 TDs. Winston fell 9 yards short of Cam Newton to become the 2nd leading rookie passer. Winston also threw 15 interceptions in his rookie year but guys Peyton had 28, Luck had 18, & Newton had 17 in their rookie years. I see a big improvement in his game especially if Mike Evans & Vincent Jackson can stay healthy.
The Buccaneers were smart to give an extension to Doug Martin in the offseason. Martin in 2015 finished as the 2nd leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson with 1,402 yards. The Buccaneers also found a great dynamic back in Charles Sims last year. Sims had 529 rushing yards & also had 51 catches for 561 yards & 4 total TDs. The Bucs have a great WR duo in Mike Evans & Vincent Jackson. Evans in 2015 had 74 catches for 1,206 yards while only grabbing 3 TDs (had 12 in 2014) while Jackson was injured the majority of ;ast year so hopefully he comes back healthy.
The defensive line of the Bucs is led by Gerald McCoy at DT. The ends are Robert Ayers & William Gholston. Ayers in 2015 had his best year with Giants getting 41 tackles & 9.5 sacks. Gholston has only gotten 7 sacks in his first 3 years in the NFL so Tampa is hoping for him to improve. The DTs are Gerald McCoy & Clinton McDonald. McCoy is still a top 5 DT in the NFL. The linebackers are pretty good for the Bucs with Daryl Smith, Kwon Alexander, & of course Lavonte David. Alexander in 2015 (rookie year) had 93 tackles & 2 INTs.
The secondary definitely looks improved with the additions they made. First, Tampa signed Brent Grimes & then they went on to draft the local CB in Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves was my favorite CB coming out of this draft because of his elite ball skills. The Bucs also still have Alterraun Verner who is a good CB in the NFL. The safeties of the Bucs are Chris Conte & Bradley McDougald. Conte in his first year with Tampa Bay in 2015 had a solid year with 79 tackles & 2 INTs. The Buccaneers quietly had a great offseason & I see an improvement for the Bucs & Jameis Winston.
Final Prediction: Panthers win division again at 12-4.
The next division I will be doing is the NFC West.