2020 NFC South Season Preview
The NFL schedule has been released and the draft is over, so now it is time to take a look at how the teams stack up this year. Today, I will be taking a look at the NFC South, so let’s get to it. You can find more divisional previews from our great writers by visiting Winners & Whiners, StatSalt, and PickPapa. Be sure and check all of their content out as the guys put in a lot of hard work on them.
1) New Orleans Saints
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 11/2
Odds to Win NFC South: 10/11
Draft Picks: C/G Cesar Ruiz (No. 24), LB/DE Zack Baun (No. 74) TE Adam Trautman (No. 105), QB Tommy Stevens (No. 240)
The New Orleans Saints had another solid season last year as they went 13-3 during the regular season. The postseason did not go as planned as the Saints were upset 26-20 (OT) in the wildcard round by the Vikings. It was the 3rd year in a row that the Saints had made the postseason but it was also the 3rd year in a row that the New Orleans season came to an end by one score or less with the last two year’s ending in OT. This team is still one of the best in the league but the gap has closed some in the South Division with the Buccaneers winning the tom Brady Stakes. Can the Saints win their 4th division title in a row? Can the Saints get over the hump and finally make it back to the Super Bowl? We shall see.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 9th in total offense (373.9 ypg), 7th in passing (265.3 ypg), 16th in rushing (108.6 ypg), and 3rd in scoring at 28.6 ppg.
The New Orleans offense was one of the better in the league last year as you can see from the stat rankings above. They did most of their passing with just one huge target and that was Michael Thomas, who led the league with 149 receptions and 1725 yards receiving while posting nine TDs. Thomas was a one-man show for the offense but he will have some help his year after the saint went out and got Emmanuel Sanders from San Francisco. Sanders and Thomas will form one of the most feared wide receiver duos in the league. The tight end spot is all set with Jared Cook, who had 705 yards receiving and nine TDs while Alvin Kamara is a threat out of the backfield with 533 yards receiving and a TD a season ago. Drew Brees is 41 years old and he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year, he threw for just 2979 yards with 27 TDs and four INTs but he also missed five games due to a thumb injury. Teddy Bridgewater replaced him in those five games and the Saints were a perfect 5-0 with him running the show. Bridgewater is gone, so backing Brees up this year will be Jameis Winston, who was let go by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will put up a tone of yards when he plays but the Saints need him to cut out the INTs as he had 30 of them a season ago.
New Orleans also drafted Tommy Stevens, which is a whole different story in itself as the Saints traded into the 7th round just to steal him from the Carolina Panthers. Still, if he makes the team, he could be used in the same capacity that the Saints have used Taysom Hill. The running game was not as strong last year as it finished 16th in the league/ Alvin Kamara had 797 yards rushing and five TDs while Latavius Murray had 637 yards rushing and five TDs. Taysom Hill was 3rd with 156 yards and one TD. The offensive line has been solid for years and they added C/G Cesar Ruiz in the first round. The line will again be solid and the New Orleans offense as a whole will be in the top five in the league.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 11th in yards allowed (333.1 ypg), 20th against the pass (241.8 ypg), 4th against the run (91.3 ypg) and 13th in points allowed, giving up 21.3 ppg.
The defense was very average last year but it should be a bit better this year. The defensive line is the strength of this group and it will again be solid. The linebacking corps got an upgrade in the 3rd round with the drafting of Zack Braun from Wisconsin, who many felt is one of the biggest steals of the draft. He should play nicely alongside Kiko Alonso, who had his contract restructured this offseason. The secondary was a weak spot for the Saints last year but they did address that need through free agency with the signing of Malcolm Jenkins, who had 11 INTs, 58 passes defended, 12 forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries in his last six years, which were with the Eagles. This will be Jenkins’ 2nd turn with the saints as he did play his first five years here. The secondary and defense overall should be improved this year.
Conclusion: The saints won 13 games last year and they won the division by six games, which was tied with the Ravens for the biggest discrepancy in the league. I realize that the Tampa Bay Bucs had a banner offseason but they did not close the gap enough to take the division away from the Saints. New Orleans has upgraded their offense linebacking corps, and secondary this year and that is from a team that won 13 games a season ago. This is still one of the best teams in the league and they will again win the NFC North. I also feel that the saints have made enough of the right moves in the offseason to finally break through and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009. This is a dangerous team.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 12/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 6/1
Odds to Win NFC South: 8/5
Draft Picks: OT Tristan Wirfs (No. 13), S Antoine Winfield Jr. (No. 45), RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (No. 76), WR Tyler Johnson (No. 161), DT Khalil Davis (No. 194), LB Chapelle Russell (No. 241), RB Raymond Calais (No. 245)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were just 7-9 last year, which was good for 2nd place in the NFC North. It was just the 2nd time in the last nine years that the Bucs did not finish in the basement of the division. It was also the 12th year in a row that Tampa Bay failed to make the postseason. That streak has a chance to end this year as the Bucs had a banner offseason, which included the signing of both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs finished six games out of first last year. Did they close the gap enough to steal away the division from the Saints? Can Tampa at least end their long playoff drought? Let’s dig in and see how they will stack up this year.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 3rd in total offense (397.9 ypg), 1st in passing (302.8 ypg), 24th in rushing (95.1 ypg), and 4th in scoring at 28.6 ppg.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored big in the offense with the signing of Tom Brady, who is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year for the Pats, he threw for 4057 yards with 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The interceptions are key here as Tom has thrown just 29 of their in his last four year while Jameis Winston had 30 of them last year along. He is now New Orleans’ problem, but only as a backup. Still, the Bucs will be happy to see many of the mistakes disappear with Brady at the helm. The 42-year-old has averaged 4402 yards, 32.8 TDs, and 8.4 INTs in his last 12 seasons in which he played 12 games or more. Winston threw for 5109 yards and 33 TDs last year but it was the 30 INTs that killed him. The Bucks also scored big by luring Rob Gronkowski out of retirement and then trading for him. Gronk averaged 873.4 yards and 8.8 TDs per season over his nine years with the Pats. Brady Could have a big year as along with Gronk, he also has Chris Goodwin, who had 1333 yards and nine TDs last year and Mike Evens, who totaled 1157 yards and eight TDs a season ago, to throw to. The Bucs could have a scary pass offense again, but this time, the mistakes won’t be there.
The Bucs struggled to run the ball last year and that could be an issue for them this year. They were led by Ronald Jones, who rushed for 724 yards and 6 TDs in his second year in the league. Backing him up is Peyton Barber, who had 470 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns. After those two, it was Winston that was 3rd on the team with 250 yards. The Bucs will not get 250 yards on the ground from Brady, who rushed for 64 yards or less in each of his last eight years. The Bucs did draft Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd round. He had 2272 yards and 21 TDs in two years at Vanderbilt. One area of concern was upgrading the offensive line t0 protect the aging Brady and the Bucs did just that by taking Tristan Wirfs with the 13th overall pick in the draft. He was one of the best offensive linemen in the draft. This offense will be one of the best in the league again.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 15th in yards allowed (343.9 ypg), 30th against the pass (270.1 ypg), 1st against the run (73.8 ypg) and 29th in points allowed, giving up 28.1 ppg.
The reason the Buccaneers missed the postseason last year was due to a defense that had more leaks than a screendoor on a submarine. Well, at least the pass defense did. The run defense was the best in the league but that is a bit deceiving as the Bucs were 3rd in the league in rushing attempts per game against at 22.6, compared to passing attempts per game against at 41.5, which was last in the league. Why would teams run against the Bucs when they could have great success throwing against them? Tampa looked to shore up their secondary by taking DB Antoine Winfield Jr in the 2nd round. The pass defense will still be the weak link of this defense but it will not be as bad as last year’s unit that ranked 30th in the league.
Conclusion: The Buccaneers have missed the postseason in each of the past 12 seasons and I will call for them to just miss out on the postseason this year. Tampa Bay has closed the gap some in the division but until they fully fix the secondary this is just a nine-win team while the Saints will post at least 11 wins. The offense will be one of the best but Brady is getting older and if he goes down then the Bucs will be in trouble without a solid backup. One thing that is for sure is that the Bucs will be involved in many high-scoring games as they have an explosive offense and a pass defense that will struggle. 9-7 for the Bucs this year.
3) Atlanta Falcons
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 60/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 20/1
Odds to Win NFC South: 6/1
Draft Picks: CB A.J. Terrell (No. 16), DT Marlon Davidson (No. 47), C Matt Hennessy (No. 78), LB Mykal Walker (No. 119), S Jaylinn Hawkins (No. 134), P Sterling Hofrichter (No. 228)
The Atlanta Falcons did not have a good season last year as they went just 7-9 overall. It was the second year in a row that they finished with that record. We do note that Atlanta started the season at 1-7 but they went 6-2 down the stretch, the Falcons will now look to build on the momentum they had at the end of last year. Atlanta has made some moves nice this year and they are hoping that is was enough to challenge for a wildcard slot in the NFC. Did they make enough of them? Can they reach at least the .500 mark after a pair of 7-9 seasons in a row? We shall see.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 5th in total offense (379.9 ypg), 3rd in passing (294.6 ypg), 30th in rushing (85.1 ypg), and 13th in scoring at 23.8 ppg.
Atlanta’s offense was very solid overall last year but it was also one-sided with the good side being the passing game and the bad side was their ground attack. The Falcons hope that they have solved their problem in the ground by bringing in Todd Gurley from the Rams. Gurley had just 857 yards rushing last year but he was playing hobbled all season and he combined for 2526 yards and 30 touchdowns the two previous seasons. When fully healthy, he can be a beast in the backfield, and having a strong running game would make Matt Ryan’s job much easier. Ryan did have a strong season last year as he threw for 4466 yards with 26 TDs and 14 INts. The INTs were a bit too many, but still, it was an outstanding season for Matt and he has now thrown for at least 4000 yards in each of his last nine seasons.
Ryan will have another big year, especially with the weapons he has to throw to. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the league and he had 1394 yards receiving and six TDs a year ago. That was his lowest yardage total in the last six years. Calvin Ridley was 2nd on the team with 866 yards and seven TDs. He now has 1687 yards receiving and 17 TDs in his first two years in the league. Russell gage and Blake Christian are both young but they are talented and will see more of them in this offense this year. The Falcons did lose Austin Hooper, who is one of the best tight ends in the league, but overall, this passing game should flourish once again. Atlanta used just one draft pick on offense as they selected center Matt Hennessy in the 3rd round. The offensive line could have used a bit more help after ranking 27th in sacks allowed per game at 3.1.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 20th in yards allowed (355.8 ypg), 22nd against the pass (244.9 ypg), 15th against the run (110.9 ypg) and 23rd in points allowed, giving up 24.9 ppg.
The defense was an issue for the Falcons but they did make some improvements this year. Will it be enough to make it to the postseason? We shall see. The secondary got an upgrade with the addition of CB A.J. Terrell, who the Falcons grabbed in the first round. He has six INTs and 13 passes defended in three years at Clemson. He was an excellent cover corner. The also added some depth to the defensive backfield by drafting safety Jaylinn Hawkins in the 4th round. The defensive line also got a boost with the addition of DT Marlon Davidson in the 2nd round. He had 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for Auburn a year ago. LB Mykal Walker was taking in the 4th round giving Atlanta at least one pick at every level of the defense. Atlanta also brought in LB Dante Fowler, who had 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss with the Los Angeles Rams a year ago. This will be an improved defense for the Falcons.
Conclusion: Atlanta is an improved team this year, especially on defense. The upgraded all three levels of the defense through the draft or free agency but I do not feel that it will be enough to get them to the playoffs this year. I do feel that they will make it to at least .500. The offense is strong and it should be a bit more balanced with the addition of Todd Gurley, as long as he stays healthy. Losing Hooper at the TE spot is a blow, but Matty Ice still has plenty of weapons to work with. The schedule is not easy as they have four games against the Saints and Bucs plus a home game against Seattle and roadies against Dallas, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Kansas City. 8-8 at best for the Falcons but they could be a team to be reckoned with next year.
4) Carolina Panthers
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 125/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 60/1
Odds to Win NFC South: 14/1
Draft Picks: DT Derrick Brown (No. 7), DE Yetur Gross-Matos (No. 38), S Jeremy Chinn (No. 64), CB Troy Pride (No. 113), S Kenny Robinson (No. 152), DT Bravvion Roy (No. 184), DB Stanley Thomas-Oliver (No. 221)
The Carolina Panthers had a very rough 5-11 season last year and this year does not promise to be a whole lot better for them. It was the 2nd year in a row that Carolina has failed to make the postseason and it also was a season that cost Ron Rivera his job. Riverboat Ron is now the head coach of the Redskins and taking over his spot here in Carolina is Matt Rhule. The Panthers tapped into the college ranks for their next coach as Rhule was the head man at Temple and Baylor and the Panthers hope he is the guy to get them back on track. It should be an interesting season in Carolina, especially with the coaching change and the fact that Cam Newton is no longer around. Let’s take a look at the Panthers, shall we?
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 19th in total offense (341.8 ypg), 20th in passing (228.1 ypg), 14th in rushing (113.7 ypg), and 20th in scoring at 21.3 ppg.
The Panthers were a below-average offensive team last year but they are hoping for better things this time around. Cam Newton is gone after playing in just two games last year. He spent nine years with the team and is now looking for a new home. Kyle Allen got the bulk of the playing time last year and he threw for 3322 yards with 17 TDs in 13 games but he also had 16 INts. Allen will have a battle on his hands to keep the starting spot as the Panthers have brought in Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 last year in backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans. Bridgewater could very well lead the offense to some nice numbers but he does need help in the receiving game. Carolina did lose a solid weapon in TE Greg Olsen, but they do still have DJ More, who led the team with 1175 yards receiving last year. Curtis Samuel was the 2nd leading wide receiver with 627 yards while RB Christian McCaffrey was 2nd on the team in receiving yards at 1005. The Panthers did not use one pick on the offense in the draft and they really could have used a wide receiver.
The Panthers do have perhaps the best all-around weapon in the league in McCaffrey, who not only had 1005 yards and four TDs receiving but also totaled 1387 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. He is a fantasy owner’s dream and has now rushed for 2486 yards and 22 TDs while catching 223 passes for 1872 yards and 10 TDs the last two years. McCaffrey is a monster and should have another big year but with Bridgewater at QB he may not be asked to do it all by himself on offense. The Panthers were 31st in sacks allowed per game at 3.6 and they will need to address that as Bridgewater is injury prone.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 23rd in yards allowed (374.5 ypg), 13th against the pass (231.0 ypg), 29th against the run (143.5 ypg) and 31st in points allowed, giving up 29.4 ppg.
The Panthers had a bad time on defense last year, as they were 31st in the league in points allowed, giving up 29.4 ppg. Because of that, the Panthers used all seven picks in the draft on the defensive side of the ball. That does make sense as Rhule is a defensive-minded coach. He had some solid defenses at Temple and last year, Baylor was 19th in the nation in points allowed, giving up just 19.8 ppg. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown had 22 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks for the Auburn Tigers last year and the Panthers selected him with the 7th overall pick in the draft. In the 2nd round, they got a gift when EDGE rusher, Yetur Gross-Matos fell all the way to number 38. The line should be vastly improved ad so should the secondary as four of their final five picks were used on shoring up a unit that actually wasn’t horrible against the pass last year. The big hole on defense was created when Luke Kuechly retired. He was the heart and soul of the defense. Oddly enough, the Panthers did not use one of their picks on a linebacker. There is still a huge hole in the middle of the defense but overall, this unit should be a bit better than last year’s group.
Conclusion: The Carolina Panthers still have a long way to go to reach respectability but they did take some steps in the right direction. The first was hiring matt Rhule to take over the head coaching job. Second, was getting rid of Cam Newton. Third was bringing in Teddy Bridgewater to take over the QB spot and 4th was shoring up much of their defense. They still have a huge hole in the linebacking corps but overall, it should be a better defense. The offense has some talent at the skill position and Bridgewater could be the guy to really jumpstart this offense. Still, Carolina is not a playoff team or even a .500 team, especially since Atlanta and Tampa Bay are improved while the Saints are one of the best teams in the NFC. Carolina will need to work on their offense in next year’s draft and they need to find a replacement for Kuechly but this is a team that will be more competitive this year and they could pull a huge upset or two.