It’s almost that time again, on September 8th, there will be a Super Bowl 50 rematch to kick off the new NFL season. This series is being used to go through each division to do a preview of each team and where each team is going to place within each of their divisions.
This division will be interesting because none of the teams really took control of this division last year and kept losing whenever an opportunity was presented to them. Two of the teams had some coaching changes and each team had interesting off-seasons for various reasons. All of these changes will, hopefully, make this division more interesting and not a one-team race like last season was.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some real progress last season to give their fans some hope going into the future. Jameis Winston showed flashes at the end of last season that he could certainly be a future top quarterback in the NFL. Doug Martin showed that he is still a top running back in this league and earned himself a fairly large five-year contract. Mike Evans improved from his first to his second seasons and should improve even more entering this season. Vincent Jackson isn’t what he was a couple of years ago, but with Evans on the other side, Jackson doesn’t need to be the main receiver. The offensive line, however, is a bit of an issue. They weren’t particularly good in running or passing situations, but two of them were rookies last year that had to adjust quickly. Hopefully, they can form together a little bit better going into the 2016 season and help the Winston progress as he enters his second year.
The Tampa Bay defense is going to hold this team back until the young players can adapt to the pro game and there is a little more talent around the unit. Their best player, by far, is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, but he can’t do it all himself. They did bring in some defensive ends in Robert Ayers and second round pick, Noah Spence, to help up front. Noah Spence was arguably the most talented rusher in this year’s draft, but fell due to character concerns from his time at Ohio State. He seems to have put all of that in the past and if that’s true, he could be a force in this league once he develops. The linebacker corps is fairly weak on this team beyond Lavonte David. Kwon Alexander and Jeremiah George are average linebackers and will need a lot of help from the rush and secondary if they want to be successful.
Unfortunately, the secondary isn’t that great either. They brought in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, their first round pick, to sure up the corner spots, but there are questions with both. Grimes used to be a top corner in the league, but hasn’t been that player in the last couple of years with Miami. Hargreaves has the talent, athleticism, and mechanics to be a really good corner in this league, but his size and learning curve, not to mention the difficulty for rookie cornerbacks, might put a damper on his rookie season. Their safeties, Chris Conte and Brad McDougald, are both average at their positions and could prevent the Buccaneer defense from being good.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback in the NFL that runs his offense better than almost anyone in the league. Mark Ingram is a good three down running back that complements Brees nicely, but he is not spectacular. CJ Spiller is a good playmaker, but not a very good pure running back and hasn’t been MR. Reliable when it comes to health. Brandin Cooks, Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead are all solid receivers, but are all elevated because they play with Brees. It will be interesting to see if their second round pick Michael Thomas can become a viable NFL receiver. He has really good size and hands, but is lacking in athleticism, the Saints are hoping that Drew Brees can help the learning curve for Thomas. They did bring in Coby Fleener to fill the void left by Jimmy Graham last season. He isn’t the threat that Graham was for them, but he is still a really good tight end that would surely help this offense. The one thing that this team definitely has is a good offensive line. There is no real weakness along the line and they are only going to get better this season and keep Brees healthy.
This defense is not very good. The have a really bad front seven that can hopefully get better throughout the season. They couldn’t stop the run last year and it doesn’t look like there will be a huge improvement this season with the exception of first round pick, Sheldon Rankins. Rankins has the potential to be a good defensive tackle for this team that can help with their run defense. He has good size and speed to produce some force off the line, but needs to have better anticipation. Cameron Jordan is a good rusher, but the rest of line has some issues and needs to over-perform for this defense to be successful. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Dannell Ellerbe aren’t that good and have had some serious problems against the run as well. The Saints secondary is an average unit that can hopefully hold this defense up a little bit. Delvin Breaux is an underrated corner that breaks up a lot of passes, but has made some big mistakes at times. Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd make for a good safety combination, but they have aged and aren’t quite as good as they used to be.
The Atlanta Falcons started out really hot at the beginning of the 2015 season, but tailed off towards the end. Matt Ryan is still one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league. It helps any quarterback when you have a receiver like Julio Jones. After dealing with a nagging foot injury in 2014, Jones showed that he is still one of the best receivers in the game that can play on either side or even from the slot. Mohamed Sanu is a good replacement for Roddy White that will compliment Jones very nicely. Devonta Freeman came into his own last year and showed that he is one of the top running backs in the league. Tevin Coleman had an injury plagued rookie campaign, but will be a good backup to Freeman. Their offensive line is a really good unit that could be able to make the offense even better.
The defense is the weakness of this team and not up to par with what people expect from a Dan Quinn defense. The front seven have some problems, but they still have Vic Beasley and brought in a good pass rusher in Derrick Shelby. Other than those two, there isn’t a lot of talent and they need to find something for this team to be successful. The secondary is troubling as well though. Desmond Trufant is a solid cornerback and they picked up Keanu Neal in the first round, but will be sidelined for the first few weeks of the season with a knee injury. Neal is a really good tackler and has the athleticism to develop into the safety that Quinn needs in his defensive scheme. The rest of the secondary either average or has serious questions coming into this season and could hold this team back.
The defending NFC champs only lost one regular season game last year and there is no evidence saying that they won’t be really good again this year. The reigning NFL MVP, Cam Newton, is still a beast of a quarterback that can pass and run with some of the best in the league. Jonathan Stewart is still a really good running back in this league and Mike Tolbert is a good fullback that can run the ball as well. Their receiving corps took a hit last season when Kelvin Benjamin missed the entire season with an injury, but he should come back and return to his 2014 form. Ted Ginn is a solid receiver with some good speed on the other side and Greg Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the game. The Panthers offensive line is one of the best in football as well. There is no real weakness across the entire line, and they are one of the best pass protecting lines in the league and are pretty good against the run as well. The more time this line gives Cam, the better chance he has at making a remarkable play.
The offense wasn’t the only reason for them winning fifteen games in the regular season last year, but their defense was really good as well. Luke Kuechly is arguably the best linebacker in the league and possibly the best defensive player overall, not named JJ Watt. Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson are both good compliments to Kuechly to make a really good linebacker unit. The defensive line is really good also with players like Kawann Short, Star Lotulilei, and Kony Ealy; they can hang with any defensive line in the league. The biggest problem with this team is their secondary. Most of the key secondary players from last year, like Josh Norman, are gone and they are going to have to rely on potentially three rookies to pick up the slack. James Bradberry, David Worley, and Zack Sanchez are all rookies and it isn’t likely for all of these guys to hit for this team. Hopefully their front seven can help the secondary make some plays and prevent them from getting beat constantly.
4th Place: New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have a good offense around Drew Brees, but he needs to make everyone better if this team wants to do well this season. This defense won’t do any favors for him and they could be the potential downfall of this team. The hope is that the defense can just keep the team in play and let the offense win some games. The Saints will win somewhere around five games and will need to find a way to rebuild before the Drew Brees window shuts.
3rd Place: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This Tampa Bay offense is really young, but has the ability to make some really good progress this season. Jameis Winston should make some really big strides this season and improve his chemistry with the rest of this offense. The front seven on defense should be better than they were last year, but the secondary might hold this team back to a certain degree. This team should jump up a spot or two in their division and win seven or eight games.
2nd Place: Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons should be really good on offense with Ryan, Jones, and Freeman. The ability for this team to mix things up offensively will confuse opposing defenses and give them the ability to compete each and every week. This team’s defense will hold this team back and will cause them to lose some games that they should probably win. This team will probably miss the playoffs this season with eight or nine wins.
1st Place: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers won fifteen games last year and were the NFC champions last year. They were really good on both sides of the ball and should be this season again. They probably won’t win that many games this season, but Cam Newton should be better this year, especially since his best weapon is coming back in full force. The front seven should be just as good as they were last year, but their secondary will probably hold this team back a little bit. They will win around twelve games and run away with this division.
My name is Sean, I have been a fan of the NFL for at least 25 years and want to get my thoughts out to the public. Please visit the main site for more posts