2018 NFL Predictions: NFC South

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Atlanta Falcons” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Aman Huda

This division can easily be seen as the most competitive and difficult to predict in the NFL as all four teams are capable of making the playoffs. In fact, last season, three of the four teams made it through, with the Atlanta Falcons being the wildcard team. Last season, the Falcons made it till the Divisional playoffs (surprisingly beating Los Angeles Rams along the way) in which they lost to Super Bowl winners Philadelphia Eagles. Their season was quite a bumpy road, but crucial wins against the likes of Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers got them through to the wild-card round.

The Saints had a very strong season last year, dominating the NFC South, including a six-game win streak and beating their other conference teams at least once. Their strong season came to an end in the Divisional playoffs as well in a tight 24-29 encounter against Minnesota Vikings, but this season, they’ll look to do better with some of their defensive players who performed excellently last season are returning from injury.

The team facing the most questions in this division will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who regularly place fourth in their division. They have made a signing and have successfully retained the important players on their team, but it doesn’t seem convincing enough to stand up to the other three teams. They’ll also face the issue of missing players for the first few games and will need to come up with an excellent tactical solution as to the failure of their offensive line.

 

1. New Orleans Saints

2017 OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 11-5

Postseason Result: After placing first in their division and making the playoffs for the first time in four years, they won the wild-card game against conference opponents Carolina Panthers, but then went on to lose to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Signed TE Benjamin Watson (Ravens), WR Cameron Meredith (Bears), QB J.T. Barrett, G Cory Helms, DB Linden Stephens, TE Nate Wozniak, DT Jay Bromley (Giants), LB KeShun Freeman, OT Michael Ola (Chargers),
  • Drafted DE Marcus Davenport, WR Tre’Quan Smith, S Natrell Jamerson, CB Kamrin Moore, RM Boston Scott, C Will Clapp.
  • Acquired QB Teddy Bridgewater from Jets.

Offseason Departures:

  • Released TE Coby Fleener.
  • Waived LB Adam Bighill, OL Daronte Bouldin, DB Rickey Jefferson, DB Bradley Sylve, WR Brandon Coleman, OL John Fullington, G Trevor Darling, and DB De’Vante Harris.
2018 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

After an excellent 2017 season, there is very little doubt as to the Saints failing to make the playoffs. In fact, I personally predict the Saints to top the conference. The main questions will be asked once they make the playoffs. The Saints have already improved upon their league-famous offense, and their surprising defense has only been improved with the addition of Marcus Davenport. If the Saints’ excellent offense and defense improve against the top teams, can the Saints push for the Conference Championship?

Prediction: 12-4

 

2. Carolina Panthers

2017 OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 11-5

Postseason Result: Lost to their division rival New Orleans Saints 26-31 in the first round of playoffs.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Acquired WR Torrey Smith from Eagles.
  • Signed DT Dontari Poe (Falcons), RB C.J. Anderson (Broncos), RB Kenjon Barner (Eagles).
  • Drafted CB Donte Jackson, WR D.J. Moore, S Rashaan Gaulden, TE Ian Thomas, DE Marquis Haynes, LB Jermaine Carter Jr., LB Andre Smith, and DL Kendrick Norton.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Released S Kurt Coleman, DE Charles Johnson, and RB Jonathan Stewart.
  • Traded CB Daryl Worley to Eagles.
2018 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

The Panthers had an excellent season, defeating strong teams such as the Patriots, Falcons, Vikings, and Packers, but they did struggle against some of their own conference teams, including losing to the Saints thrice last year. This year, they have made plenty of signings to improve their defense and fans will be expecting them to top their conference this season. Can the Panthers get to the top of the NFC and perhaps make a deep playoff run?

Prediction: 12-4

 

3. Atlanta Falcons

2017 OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 10-6

Postseason Result: Won wildcard match against Los Angeles Rams 26-13 in excellent fashion before losing in the Divisional round to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Signed CB Justin Bethel (Cardinals), DB Tyson Graham, DT Garrison Smith (Seahawks), DT Justin Zimmer, S Ron Parker (Chiefs), FB Jalston Fowler (Titans), WR Julian Williams, K Giorgio Tavecchio (Raiders).
  • Drafted WR Calvin Ridley, DB Isaiah Oliver, DT Deadrin Senat, RB Ito Smith, WR Russell Gage, and LB Foyesade Oloukun.

Offseason Departures:

  • Released DE Derrick Shelby
  • Waived FB Luke McNitt and WR Taj Williams.
2018 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

After a 2017 season of ups and downs, the Falcons finished third in their division, but showed massive potential when they beat the Rams and almost beat the Eagles. The Falcons have done some good business in the last few months, strengthening their defense especially. One concern will be if their offense will be just as effective, especially with the entire Julio Jones saga in which Jones didn’t show up to training camp, citing contract dissatisfaction. However, the Falcons got that sorted out.

This season, finishing third won’t be too convincing for their post-season chances and fans will be looking to push for at least second in their conference. With this being said, can the Falcons dominate in the season and carry confidence over into the playoffs?

Prediction: 10-6

 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2017 OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 5-11

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Signed DT Beau Allen (Eagles), DE Vinny Curry (Eagles), C Ryan Jensen (Ravens), OL Jerry Ugokwe, RB Dare Ogunbowale (Redskins), OT Jarron Jones, DT Nathan Bazata, CB Amari Coleman, CB Aaron Davis, TE Colin Jeter, DT Jerel Worthy (Bills), and TE Matt Weiser.
  • Drafted DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones II, CB Carlton Davis, G Alex Cappa, S Jordan Whitehead, WR Justin Watson, and LB Jack Cichy.
  • Claimed DT Adam Reth from waivers off of Philadelphia Eagles.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Waived DE Robert Ayers, Jr., OT Avery Young, DE Channing Ward, RB Dalton Crossan, PK Trevor Moore, CB David Rivers, TE Donnie Ernsberger, DT Drew Iddings, LB Shaheed Salmon, TE Colin Jeter, and WR Jake Lampman.
2018 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

It seems like the Buccaneers have done a lot of business this year, trying to improve their fractured defense and offense. However, it may be difficult for the team to come together and find a playing style which not only suits them, but can also compete against the other three teams in their conference. Tampa Bay fans will be praying they don’t finish fourth, but currently, that seems the most realistic. There are questions about Jameis Winston and if he can take the next step as their franchise QB. Recent rumors are that he may not even be their starting QB this year. Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at least make things competitive in their division and fight for a playoff spot?

Prediction: 7-9

 

Predicted Division Standings:

  1. New Orleans Saints (12-4, winning the tie-breaker)
  2. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
  3. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

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