Way-Too-Early NFC South Projections

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NFC South Projections
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 20: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints calls a play against the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 20, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

NFC South projections in July? Okay, it may be way too early to begin thinking about the NFL season, but who else can’t wait until fall? In this way-too-early series, I will give my take on each of the NFL divisions and how I believe they will shape up. The NFC South is home to a team that blew a 28-3 in the Super Bowl and a team that was a miracle and a blown-call away from potential back-to-back Super Bowls. Who will end up on top?

Way-Too-Early NFC South Projections

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) (2-4)

Wins: Carolina Panthers (week 6), Arizona Cardinals (week 10), Atlanta Falcons (week 17)

Losses: San Francisco 49ers (week 1), at Carolina Panthers (week 2), New York Giants (week 3), at Los Angeles Rams (week 4), at New Orleans Saints (week 5), at Tennessee Titans (week 8), at Seattle Seahawks (week 9), New Orleans Saints (week 11), at Atlanta Falcons (week 12), at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 13), Indianapolis Colts (week 14), at Detroit Lions (week 15), Houston Texans (week 16)

2019 will be a long year in Tampa Bay. Unless Blaine Gabbert is able to beat out Jameis Winston for the starting quarterback position and supply the Buccaneers with a miracle, it’s going to be a long season. Offensively, Tampa Bay is very hot and cold. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are a dynamic one-two punch. Tight end O.J. Howard will begin to really make his mark, but the running back position leaves something to be desired. On defense, it seems like the Buccos could be solid. First-round linebacker Devin White will make an immediate impact. He’ll line up behind veteran defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul.

When it comes to scheduling, there really isn’t an easy section to be found. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, they reside in a division with the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints. Each of these teams has the potential to do something, so wins will be at a premium. Tampa will struggle with the AFC South and NFC West, sporting a combined 1-7 record. If they can’t steal a few wins early, watch out because some big names could be moved.

Carolina Panthers (5-11) (1-5)

Wins: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 2), at Arizona Cardinals (week 3), Tennessee Titans (week 9), at Green Bay Packers (week 10), Seattle Seahawks (week 15)

Losses: Los Angeles Rams (week 1), at Houston Texans (week 4), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 5), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 6), at San Francisco 49ers (week 8), Atlanta Falcons (week 11), at New Orleans Saints (week 12), Washington (week 13), at Atlanta Falcons (week 14), Indianapolis Colts (week 16), New Orleans Saints (week 17)

Just like with Winston, 2019 could be a make-or-break year for former-MVP Cam Newton. Even with options like Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen, Newton may not be able to return to his 2015 form. If Carolina gets off to a less-than-ideal start, circle their week seven bye as the week that Will Grier begins to get first-team reps. Luke Kuechly and first-round draft pick Brian Burns will lead the Panthers defense. With the focus on these two, Bruce Irvin and Gerald McCoy should look like their old selves.

After their tough week one matchup against the Rams, the Panthers should right the ship by beating Tampa Bay and Arizona. From there, Carolina will have to claw their way through the season. Although the Panthers are viewed as a middle-of-the-road team in these NFC South projections, they could vault themselves into the playoff discussion by succeeding against the AFC South. Each game is winnable for this team. Honestly, if Newton can be good enough to keep defenses honest and McCaffrey can stay healthy for the whole season, look for the running back to be a dark horse candidate for MVP. Even on a bad team, McCaffrey causes headaches.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9) (3-3)

Wins: at Minnesota Vikings (week 1), Tennessee Titans (week 4), Los Angeles Rams (week 7), at Carolina Panthers (week 11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 12), Carolina Panthers (week 14), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 16)

Losses: Philadelphia Eagles (week 2), at Indianapolis Colts (week 3), at Houston Texans (week 5), at Arizona Cardinals, (week 6), Seattle Seahawks (week 8), at New Orleans Saints (week 10), New Orleans Saints (week 13), at San Francisco 49ers (week 15), at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 17)

Yes, I had to mention the Super Bowl in the introduction. If you blow a 28-3 convincing lead in the third quarter of the Super Bowl against the hated New England Patriots, you deserve to be reminded. Anyway, former-MVP Matt Ryan should have another solid season. On offense, the Falcons field a great wide receiver corps in Mohamed Sanu, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley. Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith will be a solid running back tandem to take some pressure off the pass. The biggest question mark going into this off-season is the offensive line. Atlanta promptly answered that by using two first-round picks on Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Defensively, the Falcons will have to be solid. Six of their projected starters were either first or second-round draft picks.

The worst part of the season comes directly after their week nine bye: they play New Orleans twice in three weeks. Like Carolina, the Falcons need to take care of business against the AFC South. Outside of the division, their matchups against the Rams and Seahawks should prove to be crucial. If they can manage to steal either of these games, as well as take care of business, the Falcons could very well be vying for a wild card birth.

New Orleans Saints (13-3) (6-0)

Wins: Houston Texans (week 1), Dallas Cowboys (week 4), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 5), at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 6), at Chicago Bears (week 7), Arizona Cardinals (week 8), Atlanta Falcons (week 10), at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (week 11), Carolina Panthers (week 12), at Atlanta Falcons (week 13), San Francisco 49ers (week 14), at Tennessee Titans (week 16), at Carolina Panthers (week 17)

Losses: at Los Angeles Rams (week 2), at Seattle Seahawks (week 3), Indianapolis Colts (week 15)

Statistically, Drew Brees has been the most dominant quarterback of this generation. Although, if you have Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook, your 19th season very well could be your best. Last year, the Saints were one of the top teams in the NFL. How did they get better? By signing a top veteran tight end who was able to put up impressive stats in Oakland of all places. In the past few years, the defense has been the Saints’ weakness. While they may not have added any new pieces, it must be said that this defense was still solid. Solid enough to nearly have this team make back-to-back NFC Championships and, potentially, Super Bowls. Brees will have yet another MVP-worthy season in 2019. The question is, will they finally reward this man with the award?

When The Saints Come Marchin’ In

As of today, Drew Brees holds 21 NFL records. With the 2019 edition of the Saints, expect more records to fall. While these NFC South projections make it seem like the division will not be competitive, it will be the opposite. This division has been quite even over the last ten plus years. On paper, New Orleans is far-and-away the best team. However, Atlanta and Carolina have the potential to be special.

Recap

So, that’s it! All eight divisions are done! Let’s recap:

AFC:

West: Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
East: New England Patriots (12-4)
South: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
North: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Wild Card 1: Los Angeles Chargers (13-3)
Wild Card 2: Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

NFC

South: New Orleans Saints (13-3)
North: Chicago Bears (12-4)
East: Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)
West: Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
Wild Card 1: Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Wild Card 2: Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

Watch out for all of the Last Word On Sports divisional quarterback rankings, coming soon!

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