Surprise or Snooze-Fest?
As we continue our tour of the NFL for my weekly Keys To The Division article this week we are taking a trip to the NFC South. The NFC South looks to be as predictable as the rest of the conference and hopefully this article isn't too predictable either but as any content creator knows sometimes you just do the best you can with the material you're given.
And away we go.....
Saints – Offensive Line
Weird position for the Saints to be in right? No Drew Brees, no Sean Payton and for the first time in over a decade the Saints have some question marks with their offensive line when typically they have one of the better lines in the league. The Saints staple players like Jon Stinchcomb, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief and Terron Armstead are all gone. Now it looks like the Saints may be putting in rookie Trevor Penning at left tackle along with Andrus Peat, Cesar Ruiz and the biggest underperformer of the season last year Ryan Ramczyk. Pro Football Focus has the Saints offensive line ranked in the bottom-third in the NFL. OUCH. This is unfamiliar territory for the Saints but thankfully this is the NFC South and even with all the uncertainty surrounding the Saints I still think the division will come down to the Saints and the Bucs. For the sake of my co-host and resident Saints homer Damian Adams I sincerely hope the Saints have a good season. Otherwise 3rd & 3 is in for a looooonngg season!
Bucs – Front 7
The Bucs definitely have some holes to fill in that front seven and if they want to get past the Ravens in Week 8 and the Rams in Week 9 this front 7 will have to step up. JPP remains a free agent and Joe Tryon- Shoyinka is stepping in for him. The Bucs signed Akiem Hicks which was one of the better signings in the offseason. Hicks will no doubt bring that leadership presence with him on the field and he is still a dominate player despite battling back from a few injuries in Chicago. The Hicks signing also tells us the Bucs would be ok with moving on from free agent Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs second round pick Logan Hall has the opportunity to learn behind Hicks, Gholston and Vita Vea before he steps into a starting role which is great for a rookie. The NFL is such a win- now league that we forget the value of players coming in and learning behind talented veterans. Sometimes that 1 year of learning makes all the difference. The Bucs front 7 struggled a bit last year but I think this year they will be very good upfront again.
Panthers – Ownership & Accountability
Putting the blame on ownership might be a hot take for some given all problems the Panthers seem to have but at some point (much like the Giants) the finger pointing has to go straight to the top. The Panthers have had three straight- 5-win seasons with top-10 draft selections. That tells me more of the blame goes to David Tepper rather than Matt Rhule. Matt Rhule gutted the coaching staff this offseason and with every reason in the world to do so. Remember when Cam Newton said in his exit press conference that he felt not everyone was going in the same direction? Well, if you read between the lines that was Cam's way of saying there is no accountability on this team. Sure football is every man for themselves to a degree but it truly is the ultimate team sport. Think about any successful franchise or company for that matter. Everyone is accountable for doing their individual jobs but it’s also about making sure your teammates and co-workers are doing their jobs as well. The Panthers are a young team and the lack of leadership and accountability will do this team in again if they don’t make a Quantum Leap in this area.
Falcons – Quarterback
I guess you could go in so many directions with this team like their run game or miserable defense. This will be the first time since the Joey Harrington days of 2007 that a QB not named Matt Ryan will start week 1 for the Falcons. But here we are with Marcus Mariota at the helm well, for now. Who knows if Desmond Ridder will win the starting job or not but it’s not out of the question. I do wonder if Marcus Mariota can have a career re-birth just like Ryan Tannehill did when he replaced Mariota in Tennessee. Of course, we can’t count out Desmond Ridder and the very strong possibility that the Falcons will roll with Mariota for a few weeks and then go with Ridder if Mariota produces mediocre results. If they go with Ridder just how much of a chance will the Falcons give him? On some level you have to feel for Arthur Smith. The Falcons were disastrous last season and now the organization is asking him to make it work with this current QB situation, I do wonder if we will ever get to know who Arthur Smith is as a head coach. What we do know is that the Falcons have got to get the QB situation right if they want to get any semblance of respect back.
NFC South Overall:
Again, here is another division I’m not really jazzed about. Aside from a few teams in the NFC it’s kind of hard to get excited for the NFC in general but the Bucs and the Saints will make it interesting as usual. Can either the Panthers or Falcons surprise us this season? Doubtful. Both teams are too much of a hot mess to go all “surprise team” prediction on either one of them. This is Brady and the Buc’s division to lose.
What do you guys think? Can the Panthers and Falcons pull it together and make this division more interesting? Let me know in the comments or on all social media platforms @nikkinic9384