Absolutely Way-Too-Early 2019 NFL Predictions: NFC South
New Orleans Saints
They are still one of the most consistent offenses in the NFL. QB Drew Brees in my opinion is a lock into the NFL Hall of Fame and deserves all of the credit he receives. Since his debut season in 2006, the Saints have been in the top eight in offensive yards each season, with six of those twelve seasons having New Orleans in first. The ability to utilize RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara allow him more freedom to use different kinds of routes and looks to confuse the defense. WR Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the league, and it showed again in 2018 with 1405 receiving yards. The offense since Brees' arrival has really turned this team from a laughing stock into a contender each season.
Luck? I guess? Really, they were one devastating call away from winning the NFC and heading to the Super Bowl. The past two seasons have ended in travesty, with the Minnesota Miracle in 2017 and possibly the worst missed call in NFL history. If there was something I had to pick on the Saints for, it would be the defense not keeping a lead. New Orleans would get the ball first and score, but the defense would be unable to keep the lead, and the cycle would continue until the end of the game. They do not have a first round draft pick (traded to Green Bay), but could benefit with draft day trades.
An improvement in offensive form. No, they were not at the offensive level as in the 2016-17 season, but it was a step in the right direction. QB Matt Ryan threw for almost 5,000 yards in 2018, but it wasn't enough to carry Atlanta to the playoffs. The Falcons finished 7-9 missed the postseason for the first time since 2015. WR Julio Jones is still a fantastic receiver, but Calvin Ridley has shown glimpses of greatness. The later rounds of the draft may not help with the starters on offense, but perhaps a better quality of backups.
Lacking in defense. The Falcons defense were ranked 25th in points and 28th in yards last season, a drop from 8th and 9th in the respective rankings. I am not sure what the total issue was, but the blame can go on everyone. Nobody was up to the same standard as last season and it was very visible. The draft may help their defense, with Atlanta holding the #14 overall draft pick. They need an edge rusher to pressure a quarterback to the caliber of Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Someone like Brian Burns (Florida State) or Clelin Ferrell (Clemson).
Young guns continue to show worth. RB Christian McCaffrey in 2018 appeared to be the RB Carolina needed for their future. He played a gigantic role in the rushing game, but also in play-action. QB Cam Newton is still a fantastic quarterback, but does make some questionable decisions at times. HC Ron Rivera often does a great job with his teams in getting them ready for the season. Depending on how easy or hard their schedule is, they could challenge for a NFC Wild Card spot.
Mediocrity. Honestly though, they just seem to play bang on average every game. Against the lower level teams in the league, they win for the most part. Against the greats of the league, they often struggle and lose. Finally, in games with teams their level, Carolina will look lost at times and lose those too. In an effort to give Newton and McCaffrey more protection, the Panthers may draft an O-Lineman. The contenders for me would be Jonah Williams (Alabama) and Cody Ford (Oklahoma).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The offense if going full throttle. The offense in Tampa Bay has slowly been improving over the last five years or so. QB Jameis Winston threw for less yards in 2018 than he did in 2017, mainly due to the improvement of RB Peyton Barber. Barber rushed for over 400 yards more than in 2017. The standout player for the Buccaneers in 2018 was WR Mike Evans. Evans recorded the most receiving yards in a season in his career, beating his previous best in 2016. TE O.J. Howard also has become a great player in Florida.
Turnover ratio. The combination of interceptions thrown from Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 were too many to count. They would push all the way down the field, just to throw a pick in or near the redzone. It did not help as well that the defense barely forced any turnovers. Tampa Bay ended the 2018 season 31st in turnover ratio, a recipe for disaster for any NFL team. With their #5 overall pick, they need a player like Rashan Gary (Michigan) to force turnovers on defense to give the offense more chances to score.
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