Since it’s existence no team has ever won two straight division titles in the NFC South. Will this be the season someone does it? Let’s find out!
4th-Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman took more than one step backwards last season. After having a breakout 2010 season, Freeman basically crapped the bed last year in which he threw six more interceptions than touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount was another downfall on this offense last year. After gaining a little over a thousand yards and five yards a carry, Blount gained only 781 yards in 14 games which was one more than he played his rookie season. The Bucs bolstered their running game which ranked 30th last year by drafting Doug Martin by trading back into the first round. I also love the signing of receiver Vincent Jackson which will give Freeman a deep threat and a nice compliment for third year man Mike Williams.
It wasn’t that long ago Tampa had a very intimidating defense. For them to get back to that point they need to improve on their 21st ranked pass defense and dead last in rushing defense. The Bucs have spent high draft picks on guys such as Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn. This past year they spent the number seven pick on Alabama safety Mark Barron. The addition of Eric Wright who is a pretty good corner will also help bolster a secondary that needs help.
Win meter- 4-5
Biggest question- Can the high draft picks on this team put it all together?
The Panthers had one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL last season. Cam Newton proved the NFL was not too big for him by making highlight runs and building a great reputation with Steve Smith and Greg Olson. However he needs to cut down on his interceptions and improve on his decision making. The running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart might be the best in the league with the perfect combination of size, power and speed. Steve Smith had a revival to his career last year putting up 1,394 yards and 7 touchdowns. For this offense to continue to grow they need to find a legit number two wide-out.
This defense needs to improve. They have an offense has the ability to be in the top ten every year but unfortunately when you have a defense that ranks 24th against the pass and 25th against the run, your explosive offense is going to be stuck on the sideline. Charles Johnson got paid a lot of money last year. He put up nine sacks last season but for getting as much money as he got, he needs to be in at least double digits. The Panthers are also relying on linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason to recover from injury shortened seasons. Davis is trying to come back from three torn ACL’s. The pick of linebacker Luke Kuechly out of Boston College will upgrade this rush defense. This secondary also needs someone else besides Chris Gamble to step up.
Win meter- 7-8
Biggest Question- Can this defense step up step up to help out this explosive offense?
Matt Ryan had a rough start to the season last year, ended strong but suffered another disappointment with a 20-2 loss in the Wild Card round. Ryan needs to take that next step to becoming an elite quarterback. Like Tony Romo he puts up good regular season numbers but he needs to win in the postseason. Michael Turner had an inconsistent year running the ball and even though he is 30 I think he still has a couple good seasons left in him. His first four years he had limited touches as a backup to Landanian Tomlinson. Julio Jones is ready to be a game changing wide receiver. Teaming him with Roddy White gives the Falcons a great duo of wide receivers. Tony Gonzalez still has another year in him to be a productive tight end in the league.
The Falcons front four has good combination of pass rush and run stopping ability. Their run D finished 6th in the league last year. However they ranked 20th against the pass. When you play teams that have Drew Brees, Cam Newton and a possible revival of Josh Freeman, you need to have a good secondary. Brent Grimes is one of the more underrated corners in the league. And for as much as I rip Asante Samuel for not being physical, getting him for a 7th round pick is a pretty good value.
win meter- 9-11
Biggest question- Can this team make a deep playoff run for the first time in Matt Ryan’s career?
1st-New Orleans Saints
Yes, there will finally be a repeat division champ in the NFC South. I know Sean Payton is suspended for the whole year and is instrumental in running this offense but the playmakers on this team will be able to make up for it. Drew Brees still has plenty of weapons in Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson and Darren Sproles. However their running game The Saints ranked 6th last year running the ball but I want to see guys like Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas to stay healthy. Also how will the loss of Carl Nicks affect this running game?
On defense the Saints had an awful ranking of 30th against the pass. The loss of Tracy Porter will hurt this secondary because a guy like Patrick Robinson has proved that he can get burned by a lot of teams. The loss of Will Smith for four games will hurt the pass rush and the Saints run defense. They also need someone in their linebacking core step up with the potential loss of Jonathon Vilma for the season.
Biggest Question- Will the loss of Sean Payton hurt that much?