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2016 NFL Forecast : NFC South

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Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

Last season, the Panthers ran away with the South division, posting a 15-1 record in route to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. It was Carolina’s third consecutive division title and they appear to be the class of the division again next season.

The Beatdown staff agrees on the Panthers being the division champions once more. Could a wildcard team emerge from the NFC South?

First Place : Carolina Panthers

Even though they came up short of the title, the Panthers had a fantastic season last year. They went 15-1 in the regular season, and Cam Newton cruised to the MVP with a rag tag group of receivers. Well this year, Newton gets Kelvin Benjamin back from injury. Benjamin is a stud and could bring this offense to a new level. The defense is still solid, but it will be interesting to see how the secondary fares without Josh Norman. - Matt Cohen

This is THE TEAM in not just in this divison but in the NFC. Cam Newton is coming off an MVP season and he also came into his own as a winning quarterback in this league. He now gets back WR Benjamin to make the offense even deadlier, along with a dominant defensive front. Secondary will be a concern with the loss of CB Norman, but they will still go 12-4 and be the top seed in the conference. - Evan Mazza

The Panthers are built around winning the trenches. They posted the #2 rushing offense in the league last season with Newton and RB Stewart leading the charge. The return of Benjamin will give Newton a second potent receiving option along with veteran TE Greg Olsen. Their defense is stout up the middle with DT Kawann Short, LB Thomas Davis and all-world LB Luke Kuechly. The loss of Norman coupled with a tougher schedule will result in Carolina regressing a bit and failing to earn a playoff bye this time around. - Vasilis Lericos

Second Place : Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After getting off to a good start, the Bucs lost their last 4 games to finish 6-10 and fired head coach Lovie Smith for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Despite that, this is still a team on the rise with Jamies Winston leading an offense with the likes of Doug Martin, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, and Charles Sims. The defense should be better with the signings of Robert Ayers, Brent Grimes and Daryl Smith not to mention the draft picks of Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence. The Bucs should be a team to watch for in the NFC wild card picture. - Evan Mazza

The Bucs are an improving team. Jameis Winston proved many doubters wrong in his rookie season, and returns multiple big targets to throw to in Evans, Jackson and TE Sefarian-Jenkins. RB Martin just signed a big contract, but it will be challenging to replicate his production from last season. The strength of the defense is on the line, lead by DT Gerald McCoy and ends Gholston and Ayers. The secondary is a work in progress, Hargreaves will need to be an immediate difference maker if they hope to make the playoffs. - Vasilis Lericos

Jameis Winston had a stellar rookie season, and he can only improve on it this year. Winston has a great group of receivers led by WR Evans, as well as RB Martin to hand the ball too. The defense was decent last year, but got much better with the addition of cornerback Hargreaves and defensive end Spence. - Matt Cohen

Third Place : Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones is simply unstoppable and shifty RB Devonta Freeman will continue carrying the load behind recently signed center Alex Mack. Quarterback Matt Ryan must cut down on the turnovers (24 last season), if the Falcons hope to sniff the playoffs. Their defense is relatively young and will rely on ends Vic Beasley and Derrick Shelby to cover up weaknesses at linebacker and safety. - Vasilis Lericos

Julio Jones keeps getting better every year, but he has almost no help from other receivers. Matt Ryan has been incredibly inconsistent and unreliable. Devonta Freeman had a sensational start to the year, but tailed off dramatically. Despite going heavy on defense in the draft, the Falcons defense is just not very good. - Matt Cohen

The Falcons collapsed after an impressive undefeated start last season to go 8-8. Don't expect such a hot start again this year, but don't be surprised if the Falcons are able to surpass last year's win total. - Jacob Louque

Fourth Place : New Orleans Saints

Once a powerhouse, now an afterthought, this team has been horrifically mismanaged in the twilight years of all time great Drew Brees' incredible career. It's hard to see why they should be exponentially better after a bad season last year, and if they aren't, it's probably time to begin the rebuild in NOLA. - Jacob Louque

This team gets a lot of hype every year because of one man, quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is great, but this team is a complete mess and has been greatly mishandled over the last couple of years. The defense has been flat out garbage during that span and last year was no better as they were 31st in total yards allowed and gave up an NFL-record 45 touchdown passes. Newly acuired James Laurinaitis and Nick Fairly will try to rejuvinate this defense. Until the defense gets fixed, it will be The Drew Brees show in The Big Easy, co-starring Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram and Willie Snead. - Evan Mazza