One of the elements that makes this 2017 NFC South Preview so interesting is the manner in which team fortunes have changed been in the division over the past two seasons. The Carolina Panthers are no longer the powerhouse they once were, while Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have found their way to the top with a team that’s dynamic on offense and tough on defense. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a club on the move and that move is up the ladder. For the New Orleans Saints it’s a mixed bag. Drew Brees can still air it out, scoring a lot of points quickly. But the New Orleans defense is still a major question.
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) went into the playoffs looking unstoppable and they were until the second half of the Super Bowl. In that second half, Atlanta became part of a historic game where they were on the wrong side of history. QB Matt Ryan, one of the best in the league, is back, and he has plenty of talented receivers to toss to. The running game is also healthy although the O-line comes with concerns. The Atlanta defensive has been improved since last season with important additions being made in the secondary.
Cam Newton is a dynamic quarterback who will have two rookies, RB Christian McCaffrey and WR Curtis Samuel, with which to work. Both of these players may help the Carolina Panthers (6-10) get back to the playoffs, but not in 2017. The recent firing of GM Dave Gettleman by owner Jerry Richardson has created a state of unease. Plus, coach Ron Rivera needs to generate some positive results this season. We think that Rivera will have a tough time doing so, as Richardson expects at the very least that the Panthers will make the playoffs. We think that challenge comes under the heading better luck next year.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints (7-9) seem to be offering more of the same this season, which would be a very productive offense and a counter productive defense. We see QB Drew Brees as putting a lot of points on the board, but at the same time, we expect the defense to give up a large quantity of points. The New Orleans passing game is one of the best in the NFL, while the rush attack is average. The secondary does look to be improved but it will take some time for the group to be able to work together effectively. CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), who was drafted in 2017, has solid size and speed. Brees has to stay healthy for this team to be in any manner successful.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) are certainly on the upswing, as is their quarterback Jameis Wilson. In just two NFL seasons, Wilson has proven to be the real thing. For the second straight season, he’s thrown for 4,000 yards. Free-agent WR DeSean Jackson brings his speed and deep threat chops to the Bucs, while 2017 draft pick TE O.J. Howard (Alabama) will give Winston another quality pass-catcher to hit. The running game is the weak link here. RB Doug Martin faltered last season and will sit out at least three games due to his violation of the NFL drug policy. Expect RB Jacquizz Rodger, who had 129 carries for 560 yards and averaged 4.3 YPA last season, to be the go-to running back. He has to deliver. Two young players, second-year man Peyton Barber and rookie Jeremy McNichols, look promising when it comes to the ground attack. On defense, the linebacking unit is solid and the secondary improved. There are issues at defensive end that must be addressed.
2017 NFC South Preview: Final Standings
Below you’ll find our projected 2017 NFC South standings. After reading through our 2017 NFC South Preview, you can get more information on each team by clicking on the appropriate link.