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2016 NFC South Preview

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Photo courtesy of Bill Dickinson via Flickr.com

The NFC South has been in a shuffle the last few years. Whether it was the Falcons on top of the division in 2012, the Saints’ winning the Super Bowl in 2010, or the crowning of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as MVP and winner of three straight NFC South championships, the division seems to have turned on its head. It’s safe to say that this year, the Panthers will repeat as the gem of the South. However, the question remains: even with Newton, does Carolina have the power to beat a team as strong as New Orleans? A key team in the division is the Buccaneers, who can only progress this year with great, young talent. Time will tell, but the South looks to regain some respect for a division, in its entirety.

 

  1. Carolina Panthers– The defending NFC champs are back and healthier than before. Coming off a 15-1 season, the Panthers regain pivotal player wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to help take stress off MVP quarterback Cam Newton. Benjamin returns and is a match-up problem every week. The 6’5 talent will make up from lost time last year, as he watched from the sidelines as the Broncos beat the seemingly unbeatable Panthers. Carolina will be one of the top teams in the league again, as they not only have Newton but also a great defense. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis Jr. bring their “shovel to work” and look to bring the franchise back to the Super Bowl. They have a great chance, if not the best chance, to get back.

Key Acquisitions: Kelvin Benjamin (injury), Vernon Butler (Draft)

Key Departures: Josh Norman, Jared Allen (retired), Charles Tillman (retired)

Prediction: 13-3

 

  1. New Orleans Saints– It’s hard to say that a team led by Quarterback Drew Brees won’t win the division. Yet here is a case of Brees not having a team: the Saints’ defense year after year cripples this team from going far. The offense will be solid this year, which will keep them in shootout games. Brees has a lot of weapons around him, including WR Brandon Cooks, tight end Coby Fleener, and running back Mark Ingram. Regardless, the defense (which was the worst in league history last year) will be their Achilles’ heel. With one of the best coaches, Sean Payton, the Saints will be competitive and hard to stop.

Key Acquisitions: Coby Fleener, Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins (Draft),

Key Departures: Marques Colston, Jahri Evans,

Prediction: 8-8

 

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This team has all the potential to compete with the Panthers, just not yet. Quarterback sensation Jameis Winston has produced increasingly year by year. With talent around him such as RB Doug Martin and receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, Winston will improve once again. New head coach Dirk Koetter, who was offensive coordinator last year, will keep the same schemes for the young QB. The defense has solid players at each level, including pro-bowlers in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, and cornerback Brent Grimes. However, the Panthers are much better as it stands, and Brees can handle Tampa’s defense. I see a lot of improvement and competitiveness out of this team, and an exciting bunch of young players looking to make their marks.

Key Acquisitions: Daryl Smith, Vernon Hargreaves (Draft), Noah Spence (Draft)

Key Departures: Logan Mankins (retired)

Prediction: 7-9

 

  1. Atlanta Falcons: It’s uneasy for me to put the Falcons on the bottom of the division, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a terrible year. Though they have two stud receivers in Julio Jones and newly acquired Mohammed Sanu, QB Matt Ryan hasn’t seemed to progress in the last few years. Untimely decisions in the red zone and inability to spread the ball haunted this team last year, and it will again this year. RB Devonta Freeman was a pleasant surprise last year, but I think other teams will make it a priority to contain him this year. The Falcons’ defense, much like the Saints’, is horrible. The Saints’ pairing of Brees and Payton definitely outweigh Ryan and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. This will be a competitive division, with no team having less than six wins. However, six wins only gets you so far.

Key Acquisitions: Mohammed Sanu, Alex Mack, Courtney Upshaw, Keanu Neal (Draft)

Key Departures: Roddy White, Charles Godfrey

Prediction: 6-10

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2016 NFC South Preview