Projected NFL Standings: NFC SOUTH EDITION
Tom Brady is a Buccaneer. I still haven't fully grasped that sentence. But it's not just Brady, Gronk followed Brady to Tampa as well. The NFC South will be a fight between two historic quarterbacks. While the Saints are the favorite, I believe they'll have more competition than most think. The Falcons and Panthers will take a backseat to the two-team race between the Bucs and Saints.
New Orleans Saints: (14-2)
Regardless of what the Buccaneers did this offseason, the Saints are still the team to beat in the NFC South. The Saints are loaded at almost every position on the field. After bringing Drew Brees back this offseason, the main objective for the Saints became finding a number two receiver. The Saints accomplished their goal by signing Emmanual Sanders to a two-year deal. Sanders and Michael Thomas should be enough at the position, but the Saints could look to add another veteran wideout in free agency. Overall, the Saints offense lacks any real concerns.
The Saint's defense is also in good shape. The biggest concern for the defense is the secondary. The concerns aren't major, especially after the Saints brought in safeties Malcolm Jenkins and D.J. Swearinger to fill the void at strong safety. I think the Saints could also use another corner to help in the slot. Aside from concerns in the secondary, I think the Saints have a good pass rush and a good rush defense. Because the Saints are such a complete team, they'll hold off the Buccaneers for the NFC South crown.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (12-4)
What an offseason for the Bucs. First, they added Tom Brady, then they added Rob Gronkowski. I'm not sure anyone could have seen this coming, even a few months ago. On offense, the Bucs have one of the top receiving cores in the NFL. At running back, the Bucs selected Ke'shawn Vaughn in the 3rd round. Ronald Jones II will also get a chance to contribute on the ground. We can't forget the potential of the Bucs tight ends. Gronk, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, need I say more? The big question will be the offensive line. As Brady gets older, it's imperative the Bucs provide a solid offensive line. The Bucs selected tackle, Tristan Wirfs number 13 overall. Wirfs should be able to fill in right away at right tackle. The real question mark is Donovan Smith at the left tackle spot. If Smith holds up, the offensive will be even more powerful.
As the season went on last year, the Bucs defense got better. It's a young group, especially in the secondary. The Bucs added another young member to the secondary when they selected Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round of the draft. Other than signing Brady and Gronk, free agency was mostly about retaining their defensive pieces. Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre- Paul, and Ndamukong Suh were all resigned. The Bucs could still use some backup pass rushers. Expect the Bucs to be active later this summer for cheap defensive depth. In my opinion, the Bucs are being overlooked by some. The defense isn't the best in the NFL but it won't be one of the worst either. Combine that with one of the top offenses in the league and you get a 12 win football team.
Atlanta Falcons: (6-10)
The Falcons enter the season in a tough spot. Dan Quinn will be on the hot seat, and their division got much harder. I don't think the Falcons are a bad team, but the schedule will be tough. Though the schedule is tough, the Falcons offense will produce points as they always do. After losing Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper, the Falcons added running back, Todd Gurley II and tight end, Hayden Hurst. Both should produce in the Falcons offense. Add in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley and that's a strong offense. The offensive line has had struggles, but the Falcons have drafted many young guys to help the position the past few seasons. I expect the Falcons to get more production out of the young guys this season.
The defense is where things can get ugly for the Falcons. Let's start with the good news. The defensive line has a good chance to be the strongest group on the defense. The Falcons signed edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. to a three-year deal, and they drafted interior defensive linemen Marlon Davidson in the second round. The new additions will join Grady Jarrett and Takkarist McKinley on the defensive line. The bad news is the secondary. Yes, the Falcons drafted A.J. Terrell in the first round, but I thought that pick was a bit of a reach. Even if Terrell pans out, the depth at cornerback is weak. The Falcons also need to address the safety position. I like Keanu Neal, but the depth is nonexistent as safety as well. In a division with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, a bad secondary is dangerous news. The Falcons need to revamp the defense before they can be a serious threat in the NFC South.
Carolina Panthers: (3-13)
The Panthers will enter the 2020 season with a new head coach and a new starting quarterback. I think Teddy Bridgewater is a decent quarterback, but not enough to carry this Panthers team. The strength of the Panthers clearly lies within their offense. The 2020 NFL Draft was proof of that. Every single player selected by the Panthers plays on defense. The offense is by no means perfect, but the defense has serious issues. On offense, the Panthers have one of the best running backs in the NFL, Christian McCaffery. The Panthers have a solid receiving core with Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, Seth Roberts, and Curtis Samuel. The Panthers offensive line is average. Their tight ends are the weakest position on offense. Greg Olsen took off to Seattle, leaving the Panthers with nothing at tight end.
The Panthers' defense was one of the worst in football, one season ago. The Panthers will have to rely on a ton of young guys playing critical roles on the defense. In my eyes, the first four draft selections (Derrick Brown, DT Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Jeremy Chinn, Safety Troy Pride Jr., CB) will all have significant roles in year one. It's not ideal to have 4 rookies playing a majority of snaps on defense. The other worries for the Panthers come at the cornerback and linebacker positions. Just as I said for the Falcons, a bad secondary in this division is dangerous news. Alongside the secondary, the linebacker position will also struggle after the retirement of Luke Kuechly. The Panthers will need to address the middle linebacker position. This feels like the start of a rebuild for a very young Panthers team.
Let me know what you think happens in the NFC South!