The NFC South is expected to be a loaded division in 2018. The Saints, Panthers, Falcons and Buccaneers combined to finish an impressive ten games over .500 last year. New Orleans won the division and defeated Carolina in the wild card round before losing a tight game to the Vikings in the divisional round. Atlanta upset the Rams in the wildcard round but fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles the following week.
Over the last ten seasons, the division crown has rotated between the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, with each franchise winning the division at least three times. Perhaps the strongest division from top to bottom, the South is known for outstanding quarterback play from former league MVPs Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, likely future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and former first overall draft pick Jameis Winston.
Baltimore Beatdown’s NFC South forecast:
1. New Orleans Saints
17-year veteran Drew Brees will rely heavily upon tailback Alvin Kamara and wideout Michael Thomas as his primary playmakers behind an improved offensive line. The Saints also added former Bears receiver Cameron Meredith and former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson to round out their receiving corps. Lockdown corner Marshon Lattimore completely changed their defense last year and he should take the next step into elite status in his second season. Defensive end Cameron Jordan supplies the pass rush, but their linebackers remain vulnerable. New Orleans will need further improvement from their defense, including rookie first rounder Marcus Davenport, in order to matchup with the top teams in the NFC. - Vasilis Lericos
The Saints were a fluke play away from being in the NFC Championship last season, and I unsurprisingly expect them to be right back in the mix in 2018. Drew Brees is getting a bit older and we all know that the drop off point is for older quarterbacks is a slippery slope. As a result, I think they’ll be all in on trying to get another ring out of him in the next year or two while he can still sling it around. You can see that in some of the moves they’ve made this offseason such as jumping up to grab Marcus Davenport in the first round of the draft. They’ll need all they can get out of him and the rest of the additions they made if they want to make that aforementioned run. - Jacob Louque
The New Orleans Saints are poised to defend their divisional title, ranking in the top five for total offense (YPG), passing (YPG) and rushing (YPG) in 2017. At 39-years-old, Drew Brees still posted an above 100 passer rating last season and shows little signs of slowing down. This offseason the Saints signed former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who was Baltimore’s second leading receiver in 2017, and running back Terrance West. The Saints will look for an immediate impact out of their first round selection Marcus Davenport. The 6’7” defensive end finished his career at University of Texas San Antonio with 22 total sacks and 186 total tackles. - Sage Morander
2. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons added rookie receiver Calvin Ridley in the draft to alleviate pressure from Julio Jones, Mo Sanu, and a two headed rushing attack featuring Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s offense is one of the most versatile in the NFL. Atlanta’s defense is predicated on speed at all three levels. Deion Jones is the best cover linebacker in the game today and the defensive back trio of Desmond Trufant, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen compare favorably within the division. Up front, Grady Jarrett leads the charge, while the team is hoping for more pressure off the edges from Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. The Falcons could be in store for another deep playoff run if everything comes together for Dan Quinn’s squad. - Vasilis Lericos
Atlanta is facing some tough questions heading into training camp this season; will Julio Jones’ contract situation get sorted out? Will Steve Sarkisian be employed by the team after the season? Will Calvin Ridley give them the jump start the offense needs after being taken in the first round? Even if they’re not all answered in a satisfactory manner, it’s hard to imagine the talent not winning out here. The Falcons are pretty stacked at every level and I’d expect that to culminate in a playoff run in 2018. - Jacob Louque
The Falcons had a strong season in 2017, ultimately losing to the Super Bowl champion Eagles in the divisional round. While there is concern surrounding Julio Jones’ future in Atlanta, Matt Ryan has not thrown for under 4,000 yards in a season since 2010. If negotiations were to fall off track between Jones and management, the selection of Calvin Ridley at pick 26 could prove more critical than anticipated in April. Linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., who enters his fourth season in the league after being drafted 8th overall by the Falcons, will look to return his 2016 form when he lead the league with 15.5 sacks. Atlanta was able to avoid the post Super Bowl nose dive in 2017 and has the assets to be a threat this season. - Sage Morander
3. Carolina Panthers
Ron Rivera’s group often exceeds expectations. The strength of the Panthers is clearly their linebacking corps of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. They brought in Dontari Poe to team with disruptive defensive tackle Kawaan Short this offseason, yet Carolina’s secondary can be exposed on occasion. Norv Turner will take over an offense that has transformed itself from a plodding unit into a group that fields an abundance of quick, versatile playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey, rookie D.J. Moore and second-year man Curtis Samuel. If remains to be seen if this change in offensive strategy can work with Cam Newton’s skillset. - Vasilis Lericos
The Panthers usually fluctuate between mediocre to bonafide great, and there’s a case for either of those two scenarios to become reality this season. A lot of that will be determined by what Norv Turner brings to town. Cam Newton has seen a fair share of shake up around him throughout the course of his career and having to adjust to both Turner and some of the young talent they’ve brought in may prove challenging. Carolina should be in the conversation to make the playoffs this season but it wouldn’t shock me if they’re ultimately on the outside looking in as they enter into a transitional period under new ownership. - Jacob Louque
Carolina struggled last season within the division, finishing the season with a .500 record. While Cam Newton’s mobile play making ability has propelled the Panthers to success, it has also caused the quarterback to struggle with concussions and a right shoulder injury over the last two years. If the Carolina offensive line can better protect Newton, the Panthers have the opportunity to make a run in the division. The extension of long time tight end Greg Olsen and the selection of Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore provides Newton with the weapons to succeed. - Sage Morander
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite winning just five games last season, Tampa Bay was quite competitive down the stretch. They are an ascending team that could make some noise next season. While their secondary remains a liability, the linebacking corps is rock solid with Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Kendall Beckwith. Furthermore, the Bucs surrounded All-Pro tackle Gerald McCoy with Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Vita Vea on a line that should be much improved. Former Ravens Ryan Jensen will bring some much needed toughness to the other side of the ball. Head coach Dirk Koetter is hoping for more consistency from Jameis Winston. He certainly has the weapons to create a high scoring offense in tight end O.J. Howard, as well as receivers Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. - Vasilis Lericos
The Bucs are once again a tough team to figure out. The “first overall pick shine” on Jameis Winston is starting to wear off, and that’s only been aggravated by the three game suspension he is now facing to start the year. I wasn’t crazy about their chances to put it all together before that was announced, but now it seems pretty clear Tampa Bay is facing another tough season. It was a surprising move to retain Dirk Koetter following 2017 and I now think it’s fair to wonder if he’ll even be employed by the team before the end of the season. - Jake Louque
After finishing the 2017 season as the only NFC South team with a losing record, the Buccaneers will likely be without quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games due to suspension. On defense, Tampa Bay ranked dead last in total defense (YPG), passing (YPG) and sacks last year. The signing of former Ravens center Ryan Jensen was one of the highlights of Tampa’s offseason as well as the extension of wide receiver Mike Evans. Coming off a singular divisional win, the Buccaneers are a franchise searching for leadership in a division that has three active quarterbacks with Super Bowl experience. 2018 is likely to be an arduous road for a team that has not appeared in a playoff game since January of 2006. - Sage Morander
Who will win the NFC South?
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