While NFL regular season action won’t take place until early September, it’s never too early to get into a debate about the upcoming campaign. While one team will place in first, the question suddenly becomes which franchise will hold that division title. Some teams may have the edge over others, but here is the case for each NFC South team to represent their respective division in the 2018-19 season:
The Case For The New Orleans Saints
After securing the NFC South division title last year for the first time since 2011, the New Orleans Saints were defeated by the Minnesota Vikings in a postseason game they hope to eventually forget. Ranked as one of the best offenses from 2017, the key factor for New Orleans was their defense, which was able to hold their own when it mattered most.
Another large piece of the puzzle was actually two pieces in rookies Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore. With two gems in the NFL Draft, the Saints could have very well gone on to win the Super Bowl this past season.
If the Saints go on to win the NFC South for a second consecutive season, look for Drew Brees’ passing numbers to regress slightly. Due to the efficiency of the running game, Brees threw for his lowest passing yards total since 2005. In addition, his touchdown total was his lowest since 2002 (based on a scale of 16 regular season games).
The Case For The Carolina Panthers
After securing the NFC South crown from 2013-15, the Carolina Panthers have been unable to clinch the division since Cam Newton’s MVP season. This was a franchise that didn’t electrify in any one department, but has made changes to its offense.
By signing running back CJ Anderson on a one-year deal, the Panthers will have a few options in the backfield. In addition, the team selected WR DJ Moore with the 24th overall pick in the NFL Draft, and he could very well make an immediate impact for the passing game.
If the offense can find its rhythm and steal a few in-division games, the Carolina Panthers could very well overthrow the rest of the NFC South. In order for that to happen, the Panthers need to improve upon their passing game, which was ranked 28th in the league last year.
The Case For The Atlanta Falcons
Once considered one of the most dominant offenses in NFL history, the Atlanta Falcons have found themselves back as a second-tier franchise. After barely securing a wild card slot last year, the Falcons haven’t done much during the off-season in order to show improvement.
With more transactions made on the defensive side of the ball, I expect for Atlanta to remain as balanced as they were before. Quarterback Matt Ryan was recently granted one of the largest quarterback contracts in the history of the game, but now is the time to prove it on the field.
The Falcons would need to not only go back to their dominant style of play, but would also need to see regression in the play of their division opponents. It seems as though New Orleans has seen a sign of resurgence, while Carolina is always a wild card to enter the new season.
The Case For The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To be blunt, last season was an embaressement for Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After missing weeks 10-12, Winston could not find his groove at any point in the year. That number is reflected upon when you look at his numbers, seeing that Winston threw for 2+ interceptions in four different games this past year.
On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers ranked last in the league when it came to stopping the pass, and were just 23rd against the run. After signing Vinny Curry, as well as drafting DT Vita Vea, the hope is that those numbers will decrease significantly for Tampa Bay.
With only one season above .500 in each of the last three seasons, I don’t see Tampa Bay as a contender to even sneak a wild card slot. It would take a total revamp on the defensive side of the ball, in addition to Jameis Winston playing lights-out football.
Prediction: Even with the suspension to New Orleans’ Mark Ingram, I love the Saints as the favorite to win the division this season. The fact that Drew Brees has been consistent for this long is astonishing, and I believe Alvin Kamara will prove to be one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league.
Meanwhile, I have Atlanta over Carolina in the NFC South, with the Falcons snagging a wild card slot once again. The quarterback play of Cam Newton is streaky, and I don’t believe in drafting wide receivers in the first round as much as I did a few years ago.
As for Tampa Bay, the franchise will struggle in the secondary once again, and Winston is simply not built to outscore veteran quarterbacks at this stage in his career. His quarterback record of 18-27 doesn’t reflect his talent, but rather reflects upon the front office’s inability to surround him with talent.