The NFC South is one of the most difficult divisions in the NFL to predict. Since the division was formed in 2002, it has never had a team repeat as back to back division champs. Last years winner, Carolina, was predicted by most analysts to be one of the bottom two teams along with Tampa Bay. On the surface, this division looks pretty clear and predictable this year, but in the NFC South, anything can happen.
1st place: New Orleans Saints
Everyone knows what the Saints offense brings to the table on a week to week basis. Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston & company are consistently one of the best groups in the NFL. Additionally, Rob Ryan quietly turned the usually below average Saints defense into an elite group last year. They finished the 2013 season 4th in points allowed. Look for this team to score a lot of points as usual, improve even more on defense, and end the year as the division champs.
Key additions: S Jarius Byrd, CB Champ Bailey, WR Brandin Cooks, C Jonathon Goodwin
Key losses: RB Darren Sproles, CB Jabari Greer, S Roman Harper, S Malcom Jenkins, WR Lance Moore, OLB Will Smith, ILB Jonathan Vilma
2014 Prediction: 11-5
2nd place: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers really exceeded expectations in 2013. Carolina has one of the best front sevens in the NFL. This off-season they also attempted to make a couple moves to improve their secondary, which last year coined the name “The Legion of Whom”. The Panthers also lost every wide receiver who caught a pass last year, and subsequently added Kelvin Benjamin with their first-round pick. Benjamin has looked like the real deal in the preseason and the Panthers desperately need him to be. The only other question mark for Carolina is the rebuilt offensive line. There are many unproven young players in front of Cam Newton, and it will be interesting to see how well the unit works together and jells. The Panthers will not be the 12-4 team they were last year, but they should still be very solid and compete for a Wild-Card spot in the NFC.
Key additions: WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Jericho Cotchery, TE Ed Dickson, S Thomas DeCoud, S Roman Harper, CB Antoine Cason, WR Ted Ginn Jr
Key Losses: WR Steve Smith, WR Brandon LaFell, T Jordan Gross, G Travelle Wharton, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Mike Mitchell
2014 Prediction: 9-7
3rd place: Atlanta Falcons
The way the Falcons are built, they live and die with their superstars. So when Julio Jones broke his foot, and while Roddy White was dealing with nagging injuries, this team fell apart. Atlanta had a rough time scoring with their star receivers gone, and the running game suffered along with it. Add that to the 27th ranked defense, and you have a recipe for a bad team. Now with a healthy Julio Jones, and a defense that the Falcons have been calling “tougher”, it will be interesting to see what the 2012 NFC South Champs bring to the table this year.
Key additions: CB Javier Arenas, DE Tyson Jackson, DT Paul Soliai, T Jake Matthews
Key losses: S Thomas DeCoud, OLB Stephen Nicholas, CB Asante Samuel, T Jeremy Trueblood, TE Tony Gonzalez
2014 Prediction: 7-9
4th place: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs were one of the most disappointing teams in the league last year. They were the 30th ranked offense in the NFL, and had to deal with the Josh Freeman vs Greg Schiano controversy at the start of the year. After a rough first half of the season, Tampa Bay seemed to give up on the rest of the year. Now they bring in former Bears coach Lovie Smith to clean up the mess. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Michael Johnson, and Alterraun Verner on defense, along with Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, and Mike Evans on offense. The biggest question mark is Josh McCown at quarterback. Is he the great passer he was last year? Or is he the career backup that he was before last season? Personally, I think he is a below average starter, and behind a shaky offensive line, he will under perform and bring this team down to the bottom of the division.
Key Additions: WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, T Anthony Collins, DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner
Key Losses: CB Darelle Revis, T Donald Penn, G Davin Joseph
2014 Prediction: 6-10