With rosters in place and training camps inching closer, it is time to evaluate what we know about each team. In this series, TGH will predict where each team will land in their division, and whether or not they will be in contention for the playoffs. Today, the NFC South predictions are up.
First Place – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There may be no other team in the past few decades who had as great of an offseason as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just did. They signed Tom Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion. That should be enough right there, the Bucs were not done yet.
Tampa Bay and Brady coaxed Rob Gronkowski, one of the best tight ends of all time, out of retirement. They wasted absolutely no time in filling their biggest hole via the draft, taking Tristan Wirfs to protect Brady and keep the 42-year-old upright.
With their six remaining picks, they balanced the offense and defense further, and provided depth. The only stinging losses during the offseason were the departure of Carl Nassib and Peyton Barber, whose productions they can fill one way or another.
The Buccaneers already featured the league’s best run defense this year, and the pass defense is poised to improve. Tampa Bay also had the first two receivers in NFL history to collect over 1,000 yards on the same team, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Couple that with one of the best to ever play the game and subtracting Winston’s 30 interceptions, and the offense is scary.
Simply put, this is a two-horse race between the Saints and the Bucs. But Tampa Bay’s flood of offensive talent and their well-above average defense may just be too much for New Orleans to overcome this time. Look for the Bucs in the playoffs even if they do not win the NFC South.
Second Place – New Orleans Saints
First and foremost, the Saints will have Drew Brees back for another year. That in and of itself is a huge offseason win, as the future Hall of Fame quarterback decides to lace them up for at least one more season.
The rest of the roster also stayed pretty constant during the free agency frenzy. New Orleans supplemented all of their losses almost immediately. It was not broken, so why fix it?
Vonn Bell was replaced by Malcom Jenkins, on a four year deal. Tedd Ginn, Jr. sees Emmanuel Sanders come take his place, and Zack Baun was drafted to take A.J. Klein’s space. The most interesting move was swapping out Jameis Winston for Teddy Bridgewater, especially since the Saints have Taysom Hill ready to roll. This must speak to their lack of complete trust in Hill to be productive in anything but gadget plays.
New Orleans’ is set to return to form in 2020, and very well could take the NFC South crown yet again. But with Brady and a stacked offense in the division now, it will make things hard enough to justify them finishing second. Regardless, they will almost absolutely be a playoff team.
Third Place – Atlanta Falcons
Who would have thought just a few seasons ago that the Falcons acquiring Todd Gurley would be second or third biggest NFC South offseason move?
Either way, the eternal questions about Gurley’s health and ability to play now fall squarely on the shoulders of Atlanta. They take on his large contract, but the Rams ate a few million in the process. Speaking of former Rams, linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. also enters the fold, as Los Angeles could not pay him what he desired. Another great pickup, albeit for maybe a bit more than the team should have paid.
Losing red zone threat Austin Hooper hurts, there is no way around that. But grabbing Hayden Hurst from the Ravens should ease the pain at the tight end position. Vic Beasley had to be let go, as his only good year was 2016, and the Falcons did not need to hold out hope for any longer. Franchise stalwart back Devonta Freeman also left, but Atlanta plans on using Gurley, so the move made sense.
To round their offseason out they also took two great players with their first two picks in the 2020 draft. A.J. Terrell is a national champion cornerback who will produce right away, and Marlon Davidson was one of the most underrated players in the draft at defensive tackle.
All in all, it seems like the Falcons should take a step forward. But with the Buccaneers reloading for a shot at the Super Bowl and the Saints’ roster holding fast, it is hard to see the Falcons clawing their way out of third place.
Fourth Place – Carolina Panthers
Now, from three teams who got better, to one who is embracing a rebuild whole cloth.
After releasing Cam Newton, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater, who has always been a better quarterback than he was given the credit or opportunity for. Last year, in Drew Brees’ stead he won five games which helped the Saints reach the playoffs. If he survives this rebuild, he can be their quarterback of the future.
Their other free agent additions were not bad either, with the likes of Eli Apple, Russell Okung and Robby Anderson joining the team. Where Carolina’s rebuild really starts to take focus is in their free agency losses.
Greg Olsen, Trai Turner, Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, James Bradberry, Mario Addison and (as previously mentioned) Cam Newton all left the team. That is a certified host of good players, and it is not even the entire list. To add a question mark to all of this, their draft was mediocre at best.
Clearly brand new head coach Matt Rhule has a plan, here. And it would not be completely off base to think this rebuild will not take but two years or so. But the Panthers are in for a very underwhelming season, and may even get swept by the rest of the NFC South.
Featured Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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