2018 NFC South Predictions

Within the past decade, the NFC South has been a very competitive division that some years has produced more than one playoff team and had teams make deep runs in the playoffs. Since the start of the 2009 season, three different teams from this division have reached the Super Bowl once. However, the only Super Bowl champion that has come out of that division during this time span came in 2009 when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

Last season was a perfect example that showed how competitive the NFC South can get as three of the four teams from this respected division clinched a playoff berth and each had at least ten wins. It is typically very difficult for three teams from one division to reach the NFL postseason, but will we see a repeat of that with the NFC South for the 2018 season? There is certainly a possibility.

  1. New Orleans Saints: 12-4

When most football fans think of older NFL quarterbacks still having success late in their career, the first name that usually comes through everybody’s minds is the 41 year old Tom Brady. However, the Saints have a veteran quarterback that is still playing at a high level at age 39 known as Drew Brees. Since joining the Saints prior to the 2006 season, the Saints have only made the playoffs six times under Brees, which isn’t many appearances considering that he has been a top five quarterback throughout that span.

However, last season the Saints have finally seemed to find some stability on the defensive side of the ball, something they have lacked for years since Drew Brees came in.  They were usually always heavily reliant on Brees and the Saints offense to put up at least 30 points per game to have a chance to win games. But now they have a solid defense that gives them a much better chance to win football games as defensive secondary rookies, Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams each burst onto the scene last season to help sure up that secondary. Their defensive front also includes some big names such as Cameron Jordan and 2018 first round pick, Marcus Davenport. In 2017, the Saints defense was in the middle of the pack when it came to yards and points allowed per game and I expect that to improve in 2018 as these youngers such as Lattimore, Williams, and Davenport still have room for improvement.

This takes a huge weight off of Drew Brees’ shoulders knowing that he finally has a solid defense behind him and that is not the only thing the Saints have going for them. Their running game is also elite as 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara was great last season and I expect him to get better this season with him getting some more carries. Even though veteran running back, Mark Ingram is suspended for the first four games of the season, I don’t think the Saints offense will miss a beat to start the season as Kamara is a young elite running back and the Saints offensive line is one of the best in the league.

With a defense full of young studs, a two headed monster at running back with Kamara and Ingram, a quality offensive line, and three reliable wide receivers with the youngster Michael Thomas, the veteran speed demon Ted Ginn Jr., and the newly acquired Cameron Meredith, I think the Saints are poised to have another breakout season and will repeat as NFC South Champions in 2018.

  1. Atlanta Falcons: 11-5

Even though the Falcons did go 10-6 last season and reach the postseason for the second consecutive year, everybody could tell they were somewhat suffering from a Super Bowl loss hangover in a season after blowing Super Bowl 51 to the New England Patriots. Franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan threw 18 less touchdowns, five more interceptions, and saw his QBR drop 26 points from his MVP year in 2016 to last season.

I think Matt Ryan will have a bounce back season and will put the Falcons in a good position to win games, even in the challenging NFC South. He still has a top three wide receiver in Julio Jones, a solid number two receiver in Mohammad Sanu, a two headed threat at running back in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, a top tier offensive line, and now he has another weapon to work with on the outside as the Falcons drafted wide receiver, Calvin Ridley out of Alabama with their first round pick in 2018. Overall, I think the Falcons may have the best all-around offensive arsenal around their quarterback, which gives Matt Ryan a very good chance to have a bounce back 2018 season after playing below his full potential a year ago.

As for their defense, it is very similar to the Saints. Wasn’t that great a few years ago, but now have a good amount of young talents on that defense that can make plays headlined by defensive end Vic Beasley, safety Keanu Neal, and cornerback, Desmond Trufant. So if you look at the Saints and Falcons, you will see a lot of similarities. A great franchise quarterback with an explosive offensive arsenal around them with a good defense with some young rising talents.

But there are two reasons why I give the Saints the edge over the Falcons in the NFC South in 2018. The first is that Drew Brees is the more experienced quarterback who has won some big games late in the season while Matt Ryan is a veteran who typically seems to be a one and done in the playoffs with the exception of the 2016 season where the Falcons made the Super Bowl. The second thing that separates these two teams is the coaching staff. The Saints have a top tier head coach in Sean Payton while the Falcons have a good coach in Dan Quinn, but he is certainly not a top five head coach in the league. So overall, I think 2018 will be a successful season for the Falcons, but will fall just short of winning the division.

  1. Carolina Panthers: 9-7

Even though the Panthers are overall a pretty talented team that has been a consistent playoff contender throughout the past five seasons, they are talented in different ways compared to the Saints and Falcons. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Panthers defense has consistently been amongst the top ten in all of football as they have a dangerous linebacker core with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson supported by veterans in the secondary such as cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Adams. So unlike the Saints and Falcons, the Panthers rely more heavily on their defense to win games.

On the offensive side, they do have possibility the most athletic quarterback in the league with Cam Newton, but for years there has been questions about his consistency and durability. Even though he has played in at least 14 games each season since his rookie year in 2011, there is always concern on how long Cam can keep playing football as he takes a ton of beatings due to the fact that he is a quarterback that likes to run a lot. As for his consistency, he has only had one season since joining the league where he threw for more than 24 touchdowns, completed more than 60 percent of his passes, and threw less than 12 interceptions.

Sure Cam Newton has been a great franchise quarterback for the Panthers since his rookie season, but the reality is he is the third best quarterback in the division and with a very thin wide receiver core the Panthers have, that can prevent Cam and the Carolina Panthers from getting over the top in 2018.

The Panthers did bring in free agent running back, CJ Anderson from the Denver Broncos in a hope that maybe their running game behind Newton can improve in 2018 and I think he will do fine along with secondary year receiving running back, Christian McCaffrey. Overall, I do like the talent that is there on this 2018 Panthers team, but I think it might be a little bit too much for Cam Newton to try to catch up with the Falcons and Saints with such a thin wide receiver core, which could prevent the Panthers from making the playoffs in 2018.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3-13

It was just two seasons ago where the Buccaneers went 9-7 and looked like they could be the next young dynasty in the making behind an exciting young core. However, lots have changed within the past two years. 2015 first overall pick, Jameis Winston had a down year last year where he only threw 19 touchdowns and had 18 turnovers and missed a few games due to a shoulder injury.

Now entering his fourth NFL season, he is going to be suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for an assault of an Uber Driver. With all of this surrounding Winston, it seems very unclear if whether or not the Buccaneers want Winston as the primary signal caller moving forward. They have a veteran backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick who has had some success when given an opportunity, so who knows if Winston will even have the starting job once he returns from his suspension.

But regardless of who their main quarterback will be throughout the season, the reality is the Buccaneers are below average at just about every facet on offense. Other than their big number one wide receiver, Mike Evans this team lacks talent on offense. DeSean Jackson is an older declining receiver, O.J. Howard is an unproven young tight end, their offensive line is amongst one of the worst in the league, and their main running backs consist of journeyman Jacquizz Rodgers and unproven youngsters in Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber. So overall, their offensive unit looks like a mess.

Their defense may have a few big names such as linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and newly acquired defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, their defense still looks below average and certainly won’t make up for their potential dumpster fire of an offensive unit. Last season, Tampa Bay ranked dead last in the league in total defense and even though it could improve in 2018, it won’t be enough to help them win more than three games.

Wins will be tough to come by for the Buccaneers in 2018 considering that six of their games are against the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers and in my opinion, they would be lucky to win one of those games. I expect the Buccaneers to be the punching bag of the NFC South in 2018, which could lead to them not only having the worst record in the division, but the worst record in the league to give them the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, which I believe they will use to find Jameis Winston’s replacement at quarterback as 2018 will be Winston’s final season in a Buccaneers uniform.

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