Is the NFC South ready for the 2020 season?

Kate Arhar
Senior Sports Editor AFC North / NFC South

By  Kate  Arhar  //  @ClvlndK8  

Summer is here and we’d usually be talking about OTA’s and Mini-camps right now. Instead, we are trying to figure out if the NFL will even have a season this year and guessing as to what it might look like.

While fans and the media are all about speculating on what the future will bring, the teams in the NFC South have been busy trying to conduct business as usual. Or at least as well as they can during this pandemic.

Let’s take a look at how the draft and free agency has affected the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Atlanta Falcons started addressing their many defensive needs in this year’s draft. At #16 overall, they got cornerback A.J. Terrell out of Clemson followed by a defensive tackle out of Auburn, Marlon Davidson.

Quarterback Matt Ryan and wider receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will be back and better than ever. They picked up running back Todd Gurley to replace Devonta Freeman who is out testing the free-agent market. If Gurley can stay healthy and get over whatever was going on in his head the past couple of seasons, the offense will be really good.

Their schedule is pretty brutal. They start at home against the Seattle Seahawks and it gets harder from there.  There is not a “gimme” game on this schedule with teams like the Cowboys, Packers, Bears, and Chargers as their opponents. At this point, there are only two prime time games, one on a Monday night and one on a Thursday.

But the scariest stretch for them will be the last four games, facing the Buccaneers twice in the last three weeks. It’s not difficult enough that these games could decide the division winner, but with the Bucs pick up of Tom Brady as their quarterback, Ryan is sure to have some Super Bowl flashback nightmares on his mind in anticipation of these final weeks.

The Carolina Panthers are also putting a lot of thought and effort into their defensive needs. They drafted DT Derrick Brown (Auburn) and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State) in the first two rounds. Add to that the signing of free-agent CB Eli Appli (Ohio State) and there will be a lot of improvement on that side of the ball.

Offensively, it looks like QB Teddy Bridgewater will be running the show. When you’ve got a RB like Christian McCaffrey, who may go #1 in nearly all fantasy football drafts, a lot of pressure comes off the QB. I’m really not impressed by any of their receivers, but then again, many teams have gone to the Super Bowl behind a great running game and competent quarterback play so who am I to judge?

They’ll begin the 2020 campaign hosting the Las Vegas Raiders. (I really need to get used to that name!) There’s only one prime time game on their schedule, but frankly, I think that works to their benefit. They hired Matt Rhule out of Baylor to be their head coach back in January so perhaps staying out of the spotlight is best for their hopes for success this season.

Down in The Big Easy, the Saints seemed to be really focused on offense to get ready for this season. With only four draft picks, they got center Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) in the first round, followed by OLB Jack Baun (Wisconsin), TE Adam Trautman (Dayton), and finally QB Tommy Stevens (Mississippi State). After that, they signed former Buccaneer Jameis Winston to a one-year contract to provide Drew Brees with a new backup. Will Winston battle for Brees’ job? Oh, he’ll try, but if you ask me, short of injury, Brees is the man again this year.

Not much love on their schedule either when it comes to prime time games; there is one Monday Night Football appearance Week 5 vs the L.A. Chargers and then their Bye in week 6. It’s going to be a difficult run facing teams like the Steelers, Bears, Broncos, and Eagles on the road.

I saved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for last. Not because alphabetically that is where they belong, but because they made what I consider the biggest free-agent signing of the off-season: QB Tom Brady. Now that the Patriots have added Cam Newton as his replacement, we just may get the answer to the big question: Was it Brady or Bellichick that lead the Patriots to all those titles?

They took the 5th year option on TE O.J. Howard and also managed a draft pick trade to get Rob Gronkowski. I’m thinking Brady will make the most of those two weapons.

The Bucs managed to grab my favorite player in this year’s draft:  OT Tristan Wirfs out of Iowa. Who doesn’t love a Big Ten offensive lineman? They seemed to move all around the field as far as filling needs by getting S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota) in the second round and RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt) in the third. They had four more picks which turned into a WR, DT, OLB, and RB. I guess when you have needs everywhere, that’s what you get on draft weekend.

Schedule-wise, they start on the road vs division opponent Saints, then come back home for the Panthers. By Week 3 we may have a clear idea of how the Bucs plan to handle their division foes. Not sure if it’s the “Brady-factor” or what, but they’ve got THREE prime time games!

Week 5 has them traveling to Soldier Field to face the Bears on Thursday Night Football, and then they have two Monday night appearances: Week 8 against the N.Y. Giants and then Week 11 hosting the L.A. Rams. They finish the season with Atlanta on the road, Detroit on the road, and then final game hosting Atlanta. Hopefully, these Brady – Ryan rematches will be meaningful regarding the playoff picture!

 

My final prediction for the division standings? Here are mine…. send me yours!

  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-6
  3. Atlanta Falcons 8-8
  4. Carolina Panthers 7-9

Follow Kate on Twitter // @ClvlndK8 

#SmartWomen #SmartFootball

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