Through the 2020 NFL offseason, no division has received more national media attention than the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints have won the division each of the last three years. Entering 2020, their roster is still looking stacked. But unlike past years, the race to the division crown this season will be a brutal one. Since the NFL draft has passed, depth charts are starting to form. Now that we can start seeing what rosters in week one might look like, we can begin to predict ahead. Although today we won’t be predicting the NFC South. Instead, this is an NFC South team by team breakdown.
NFC South Team By Team Breakdown
New Orleans Saints
The poor Saints have had some of the worst postseason luck in the NFL for the last three years. Despite a 13-3 record the last two seasons, the Saints just haven’t been able to capitalize come January. After their most recent failure, I wrote that the Saints Super Bowl window is still open. That prediction was spoken into existence when Drew Brees announced he would return to the team. When looking at what the front office has added in the offseason, it’s hard not to give credit where credit is due. One of the biggest weaknesses of last year’s team was a lack of wide receivers aside Michael Thomas. The club addressed that by bringing in a rock-solid Emmanuel Sanders. They signed Jameis Winston to back up Brees and kept gadget player Taysom Hill. Last year’s fifth-ranked offensive line remains together with added depth in the first-round pick Cesar Ruiz.
On the flip side, the defense remained mostly intact with a few exceptions. The most notable departures are Vonn Bell, A.J. Klein, and Eli Apple. But the Saints made up for it by reuniting with Malcolm Jenkins and drafting Zack Baun in the draft. Even though adding an extra linebacker for depth wouldn’t hurt, the Saints look like the favorites early.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Right on the heels of the Saints figures to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. By adding Tom Brady, the Bucs became contenders in the eyes of many. Adding Rob Gronkowski only made those opinions stronger. Brady is surrounded by a surplus of weapons that he lacked last year in New England. Surrounding Brady with the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin. As well as other options at tight end, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. In the draft, the Bucs gave Brady some more help by adding running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to compliment Ronald Jones. The cherry on top was drafting stout tackle Tristian Wirfs in round one to help an offensive line that improved greatly last season.
Unfortunately, a team by team breakdown shows flaws, and there are some concerns on defense. Mainly their secondary which is extremely young and is riding on recent draft picks to live up to their potential. Their projected starting safeties and corners are all under 25. In a division with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, having an inexperienced secondary is concerning. Yet the linebacker group in Tampa is as good as you’ll find. Shaquil Barrett lit the league on fire with 19.5 sacks in 2019. He will be counted on to keep up that level of production once more alongside Jason Pierre-Paul. In addition, their defensive anchor Lavonte David is still calling the shots, and Devin White looks to remain healthy and breakout after a flashy rookie season. If Brady has some magic left in him, this team can be in play come January for the first time since 2007.
The Atlanta Falcons went 7-9 last year and had a very eventful offseason. For starters, the Falcons cut a ton of veteran players. Longtime stout cornerback Desmond Trufant is gone. Former draft picks Vic Beasley and De’Vondre Campbell are gone, along with Austin Hooper, Wes Schweitzer, Devonta Freeman, and Adrian Clayborn. Although it makes sense why some of these moves were made, it’s still a lot to replace. To replace Freeman, the team took a gamble and signed enigma running back Todd Gurley II. They traded for Hayden Hurst to help soften the loss of Hooper. Pass rusher Dante Fowler was brought in after his best season as a pro. And finally, they drafted A.J. Terrell in round one hoping that he can start day one at cornerback.
Their big three of Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley remain Atlanta’s biggest strength. These three alone will win them some games. But If Atlanta wants a chance at being truly competitive, these three will have to carry them. Head coach Dan Quinn was almost fired in 2019 but was kept for one last chance to prove himself. The defensive side of the ball is Quinn’s calling card, but the defense finished with the third least sacks in 2019 and gave up the tenth most points per game. Entering this year, Quinn needs his top defenders Deion Jones and Keanu Neal to remain healthy. Neal specifically has only played four games in the last two seasons. For Atlanta to exceed middling expectations, the defense needs to stay healthy, the defensive and offensive lines need to improve greatly from a year ago, and Gurley needs to be a positive addition.
In this team by team breakdown, no team lost as much as the Carolina Panthers. Matt Rhule is leading his club into a rebuild, and it’s not a soft rebuild either. If you thought Atlanta lost a lot, Carolina managed to lose more. Obviously moving on from Cam Newton is the first place to start. In his place is now Teddy Bridgewater who’s getting his first chance at running a team since the 2015 season. Luckily, Bridgewater has talent around him, most notably his otherworldly running back Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers also signed Robby Anderson to play alongside Curtis Samuel and breakout star D.J. Moore. Along with Cam, longtime tight end Greg Olsen is also gone. The team still drastically needs offensive line help and trading 26-year-old stud, Trai Turner for a soon to be 32-year-old Russell Okung was a head-scratching move.
The defensive side of the ball is where Carolina is most different. One of the greatest players in franchise history, Luke Kuechly retired, leaving an insurmountable hole at linebacker. Along with Kuechly, the Panthers moved on from James Bradberry, Eric Reid, Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, Vernon Butler, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe. Granted, it is a rebuild, but that’s a lot of talent to lose. To combat this, Carolina used all seven draft picks on defensive players. Entering 2020, the defense of the Panthers can be summed up by one word: potential. Much like the Falcons and Bucs, the most specific area of concern comes in the secondary. Outside of Tre Boston and Donte Jackson, there’s very little to offer in terms of proven players. The results of the young pass rushers Carolina has stockpiled is going to be one of the focuses for the front office in 2020.
NFC South Will Be An Offensive Showcase
After conducting this team by team breakdown, one takeaway stands out most. All four of these teams have the ability to light it up offensively. The Saints, Bucs, Falcons, and Panthers are all loaded with superstars on offense. The main thing separating these teams is the status of their defenses. While the Saints have a great defense, the other teams are relying on young and inexperienced secondaries. Regardless, if you’re a fan of offense and high scoring games, this is the right division for you.
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