With the 2014-15 NFL season set to kickoff, the NFC South looks to once again be both competitive and one to watch.
Holding the proud distinction of never having a team win back-to-back division titles, the NFC South—which features three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton,the NFC South figures to be up for grabs throughout the entire season.
Without further ado, here are my predictions.
4th place: Carolina Panthers (7-9)
The current defending division champions, the Carolina Panthers lost wideouts Steve Smith, Ted Ginn Jr and Brandon LaFell in free agency to Arizona and New England respectively, drafted BCS title game hero, Kelvin Benjamin, former Ohio State wideout Philly Brown and signed veterans Jerricho Cotchery, Ed Dickson and Jason Avant to offset the losses.
The question is, will it be enough?
For Cam Newton, it will have to be, as both DeAngelo Willams and Jonathan Stewart have proven to be less than effective and due to a lingering chest injury, Newton will have to carry more of the load on offense.
On defense, the six-game suspension of defensive end, Greg Hardy is a big blow to a defense that already saw Captain Munnerlyn(Vikings) and Mike Mitchell(Steelers) leave in free agency.
While reigning Defensive Player of The Year, Luke Kuechly and veteran free agent addition from the rival Saints, Roman Harper will be sure to help, Carolina could find themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball in the ultra-competitive South.
3rd place: Tampa Bay Buccanners (9-7)
Thanks to the additions of new head coach Lovie Smith, offensive lineman Logan Mankins and veteran quarterback Luke McKown, Tampa Bay should be a very interesting team to watch.
In addition to having future franchise quarterback, Mike Glennon waiting in the wings, the Buccaneers also drafted former Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans to line up across from perennial vertical threat, Vincent Jackson, former Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and third-year running back, Doug Martin, Tampa should be competitive immediately under Smith.
Defensively—which is Smith’s calling card—the Buccaneers could boast one of the best units in the league that features Adrian Clayborn, Lavonte David, Dashon Goldson and Johnthan Banks that will be able to hang with the high-powered NFC South playmakers.
A year away from challenging for a division title, Tampa has a bright future on offense and talent abound on defense.
2nd place: Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
Despite to the loss of tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Atlanta Falcons return to the top half of the division after a down year in 2014, but are still an elite player away from being a NFC heavyweight.
While franchise quarterback Matt Ryan set career highs in completions (439) and attempts (651), the Falcons fell from the NFC penthouse due to a rash of injuries to Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson and Sam Baker.
All healthy now and with a bolstered offensive line that includes top-five draft pick in tackle, Jake Matthews, a late-round steal in Devonta Freeman and the free agent pickup of Devin Hester to play out of the slot, look for the Falcons to soar once more in the South.
1st place: New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Led by future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees and All-World tight end, Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans Saints are the class of the South.
Next to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Saints have the most feared quarterback-tight end combo in football. Couple that in addition to drafting Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State to both bolster their deadly passing attack and replace Darren Sproles and the Saints have a top-five offense.
While still having Marques Colston, the Saints would recently bring back former Saint wideout, Robert Meachem, figure to give NFC South defenses fits. If former Heisman Trophy winner in running back Mark Ingram can have a breakout year in the Big Easy, no one would want to face the Saints in the playoffs.
On defense, while not as stout as fellow South rivals, Tampa Bay or Carolina, New Orleans may have one of the most under-the-radar defenses highlighted by the free agency addition of Jarius Byrd and current playmakers such as Keenan Lewis, Curtis Lofton and Brodrick Bunkley.
Led by the always creative and bold Rob Ryan, it may be the Saints defense—not their heralded offense—that turns heads in the always topsy-turvy NFC South.
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