The NFC South may be one of the most intriguing divisions to take a look at for this upcoming season. It seems like each year a new team shows up big to take control of the division. Last year, it was the Falcons, and years before it was the Bucs and the Saints. However with an emerging Carolina team, the division is up for grabs this coming season. Here’s a look at how the teams have faired this preseason and how the regular season may play out for the NFC South.
The Atlanta Falcons were certainly the highlight of the NFC South last year. With a 13-3 record, the Falcons won the division and met the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Lead by Matt Ryan, who has prime targets in Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Flacon’s have a powerful offense. The problem is, as it has been in the last few seasons, on defense. After losing Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, they did add Desmond Trufant and Osi Umenyiora hoping to bolster defensive efforts. However these efforts haven’t looked to paid off thus far, as the Flacon’s went 0-4 in the preseason. Granted it’s only preseason, but the Falcons haven’t looked impressive on either side of the ball. Atlanta will have to shake off their preseason woes quickly if they hope to make another bid to win the division and make a push for the Super Bowl. They open the season against division opponent New Orleans, so Atlanta fans better hope that Ryan has his team prepared the way that Drew Brees will have his. The Falcons were the pride and joy of the NFC South last year, but with a winless preseason, there is room to worry.
It’s only fair that we bring up the Flacons week 1 opponent next, especially since the New Orleans Saints are another important team to look for in the NFC South. A year after losing their head coach for the entire season, Sean Payton is back to lead the Saints along with Drew Brees. Add Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and the Saints could be building towards the well-rounded team that they haven’t seen since their Super Bowl XLIV win. The Saints have looked good in the preseason, going 3-1. It’ll be business as usual for Drew Brees who still has Jimmy Graham to count on when he needs to, after the tight end had a breakout year last season. We can expect the Saints to continue their preseason success throughout the season, especially with Payton and Brees back together. Whether or not they can knock the Flacons out from the top seed for the division will have to be seen, and we’ll get an idea in week one when the two face off against one another.
Along with the Saints, the Carolina Panthers have also gone 3-1 during the 2013 NFL preseason. Their wins came across some of the best teams in the league, being Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Even their loss against Philadelphia was a close game and could’ve gone either way. The biggest question mark, that could just as easily be an exclamation mark, for the Panthers is Cam Newton. Two years ago, he was stellar and had NFL fans excited for the potential of the former Heisman winner. However last year he was not as explosive or effective. And what’s worse is, when the wheels started coming off in Carolina, Newton’s character was criticized as he seemed to not have the leadership qualities that most people would expect to see in a quarterback. No less, there is still hope that Newton will show up this year and be prepared to lead his team, and handle losses more maturely. If he can, Newton is a special player that can put the Panthers on his back when he needs to most. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have concerns on defense and this could be a big element to keep an eye on. But if the Panthers come together, they should be in the thick of things throughout the season. However, if things get rocky in the beginning of the season, one would assume that the immaturity of Newton and the rest of the Panthers would be detrimental in their hopes of making the playoffs.
Another team that relies heavily on the play of their quarterback is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year the Bucs, like the Saints and Panthers, were a disappointing 7-9 after a reasonably successful 2011 season. One reason last year may not have been as fruitful as hoped, would be because of the play of quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman, like Newton, is a tall, athletic and talented quarterback who can change games. And unlike Newton, Freeman’s leadership is rarely in question. However the rest of the Bucs positions are. This offseason they picked up Darrelle Revis to help Dashon Goldson and the rest of a crew that was the worst defense in the league in 2012. Tampa only won one game this preseason, and lost their other three to Baltimore, New England and Washington. They will certainly be looking at the record of the Falcons for motivation to prove that the preseason has nothing to do with the regular season, as they enter the regular season with a season opener against the New York Jets.
The NFC South is certainly a division worth keeping an eye on early in the season. However, it could just as easily become a division that is disappointing. Aside from the Falcons, each team went 7-9 last year and will certainly have to improve this season.