NFL season previews: NFC South preview with predicted finish and team-by-team verdicts

NFL quarterback Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

All eyes will be on the NFC South this season as Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers challenge the New Orleans Saints for top spot.

Predicted NFC South Finish:

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Carolina Panthers

Exact finishing order is 11/4 with Sky Bet


New Orleans Saints

There’s no doubt about it, time is catching up on Drew Brees. The 41-year-old looked a shadow of the quarterback he once was at times last season, and particularly in the Saints’ unceremonious loss to the Vikings in the first round of the play-offs.

However, this is still a team that managed 13 wins in the regular season last year and – should Brees get himself hurt again this campaign – New Orleans have Jameis Winston waiting in the wings, a man with a serious chip on his shoulder.

The Saints face stiffer competition in the South this year, but with the help of the game’s best receiver Michael Thomas and an underrated defensive unit led by Cameron Jordan, the division title should still find its way home to the Big Easy.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

They said the year 2020 couldn’t get any stranger, and then the iconic tandem of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski signed on the dotted line in Tampa Bay.

The sight of Brady in a non-Patriots uniform for the first time in his illustrious 20-year NFL career will be jarring, but it causes all kinds of weird and wonderful ramifications for the rest of the league. As for the walking spectacle that is Gronk, who knows what that will mean for the Bucs’ offence. He could be a bust who rarely sees the field, but if he plays to even 50% of his potential, Bruce Arians will have a lot of fun with the future Hall of Fame tight end.

READ: Pick 199 - How Tom Brady became a legend

The Buccaneers were a middle-of-the-road outfit in 2019, but the potential of the franchise was clear as day. Defensively, Tampa are criminally underrated, and the unit includes Shaq Barrett who broke out as one of the stars of last season due to his uncanny ability to get to the quarterback.

One the other side of the ball, it’s evident that adding Brady and Gronk to an already-explosive offence including Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should make for some must-watch football this season.


Atlanta Falcons

One of the league’s underachievers in 2019, the Falcons need to get themselves into the swing of things nice and early this season, or head coach Dan Quinn may wind up having some difficult conversations in the Atlanta boardroom.

An offence boasting former MVP Matt Ryan and Julio Jones should never have problems moving the ball up the field. Add in Todd Gurley to the mix, a running back with a serious point to prove after an odd couple of seasons in Los Angeles, and excuses will quickly dry up in Georgia if things don’t go to plan.

Defensively, the Falcons were nothing but average last season. However, they picked up Clemson cornerback prospect A.J. Terrell in the first round of this year’s Draft and bolstered their pass rush with the addition of Dante Fowler Jr in free agency. Both could prove to be very useful assets, especially after an off-season under the watchful eye of Quinn, the architect behind Seattle’s legendary ‘Legion of Boom’.


Carolina Panthers

Down in the NFC South basement, the Carolina Panthers are on the verge of an undeniable transition year. With Cam Newton long gone, and head coach Ron Rivera not far behind, there has been a clear changing of the guard in the queen city of Charlotte.

The fresh partnership of new boss Matt Rhule and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will take time to blossom, and the lack of real top-level receiver help for the former Minnesota and New Orleans passer could make things pretty dicey in the short-term. However, the Panthers still possess their ace-in-the-hole.

Christian McCaffrey is a transcendent running back talent who frightens even the hardiest of NFL defensive coordinators. His numbers jump off the page on a weekly basis, and his ability to contribute in both the rushing and passing game gives Bridgewater a highly effective outlet in any circumstance. One player doesn’t make a team, but McCaffrey is one heck of a player.


Verdict

Quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints

Nothing catches the attention of NFL fans quite like a team making blockbuster moves in free agency. Had Tampa Bay only brought in Gronk and Leonard Fournette this offseason, the spotlight would still have been shone brightly on the Bucs. But with Tom Brady also now in Florida, Bruce Arians’ team are simply at the centre of the football universe.

Busy off-seasons in the free agent market don’t always guarantee success. The media scrutiny and fan expectation has gotten the better of many a supposed contender - just ask Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, and more recently the Cleveland Browns. Can the ’20 Bucs handle the heat?

Carolina are widely considered a non-factor this season, with their next legitimate challenge three or four years away, but the Falcons are a different proposition. Atlanta really should be better than they were in 2019, and the franchise will be keen to capitalise on whatever Matt Ryan has left in the tank, before his inevitable decline.

There’s no doubt that the Bucs and Falcons will be better this campaign, but it’s doubtful they will be able to compete with the all-round might of the Saints for the division title. Drew Brees’ time in the league is coming swiftly to an end, but much like long-time adversary Peyton Manning, he will be eager to go out on top. The Saints’ stranglehold over the South may not last too much longer, but they at least have one more year.

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