As any season goes, you must win your division first. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to “go for two”, they must make it out of the NFC South first. After all, this is the NASCAR division. One that, at one point, saw leaders change from season to season. With many new faces at key positions and trades happening around the league, who is the most dangerous opponent for the Buccaneers in the NFC South?
As with any division, there seem to be a few teams that go back and forth to take the title of champion. Unfortunately, in the highly competitive NFC South, it gets chippy really quick. Looking at divisional opponents here’s who stands in the Buccaneers’ way of repeating the most.
The Atlanta Falcons (3rd)
The Falcons are playing the team in turmoil to a “T”. Sort of. With Matt Ryan you always get a threat but now, with a huge trade, the Falcons have shipped off the biggest threat from the A-T-L. Also, the team has a new head coach, offensive, and defensive coordinator. This is a rebuild.
Offensively they added Kyle Pitts through the draft. He will perform well given his talent, but it may be ultimately wasted while Atlanta tries to rebuild. Calvin Ridley is no No. 1 wideout and is about to feel the pain of being pressured into a starring role. This could be the demise of a once-prolific offense.
As the season gets into swing one thing is about to become noticeably clear. The Atlanta defense has not done enough to improve. The Falcons were last in yards allowed in passing and fifteenth in rushing. When you allow that many yards passing, why even try to run. Unfortunately, they did little to bolster the team on defense. They grabbed a corner in the fourth and fifth as well as defensive tackles in the fifth.
I for one would like to build from the front to back. Grabbing safety in the second round will not provide the impact they need overall, and they will suffer from it.
This team did not do what it needed to do to improve. At this time they are in a downward spiral.
The Carolina Panthers (2nd)
The Panthers were in disarray last year. But that happens with heavy turnover. Turnover at key positions and in coaching. When those things happen, it takes time to regroup and reconfigure. But something tells me the happenstance of player trades and picks could propel this team to the next level. Maybe not this year but certainly next and beyond.
QB Carousel and Supporting Staff
From Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater, now to Sam Darnold. All in the span of a year. The most important position is a vital one. The quarterback needs good players around him to succeed otherwise you can see a great quarterback fail upon entry to the NFL.
Darnold has a second chance, and arguably, he has better talent around him than with the jets. With D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. -who is a second-round draft pick- the wide receivers look stout. Additionally, he has Christian McCaffrey and rookie Chuba Hubbard for a one-two punch at running back. Darnold has weapons and no excuse to fail now. Even his offensive line was bolstered with a second-round pick, with first-round talent, Brady Christensen.
Defense With Claws
Though the Panthers’ defense was lacking statistically defensively does not mean they were bad. When your offense cannot get anything going your defense pays the price, both on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet. The Panthers’, theoretically, had a defense that was a corner short of performing much better. They answered that with the first-round pick, eighth overall, corner Jaycee Horn. If he performs well he can be a play-maker. This season they will be more formidable than last.
Overall this team looks better on paper but Darnold will ultimately be the key.
The New Orleans Saints and Jameis Winston (1st)
Let’s clear the air. There is no quarterback competition. Winston will be the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. Taysom Hill is a gadget complexity to be used in emergency situations and confuse defenses. Winston will start and be the quarterback for this team. One they have been searching for since Bridgewater.
The Saints have something to work with as Winston has shown what he can and can’t do. Or has he? Given a recent eye procedure, you may see some better-quality passing decisions by Winston in 2021. With a clear vision, Winston can become something better than he was in 2019 with the Buccaneers, especially with Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, and Michael Thomas.
A Once-Strong Defense
Marcus Davenport does not seem to have too many players to back him this season outside of Cameron Jordan. Much of the Saint’s success depends on him being healthy. Another year older the possibility of a 17-game season seems bleak. They have also lost Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, and Malcolm Brown. Additionally, Kwon Alexander never panned out due to injuries. If Davenport can remain healthy, he will aid Jordan in creating a formidable defense. If not, they fail.
There are a LOT of “ifs” the Saints need to pull together to make a run at the Buccaneers. But can they do it?
It’s simple. The Buccaneers currently, before the season starts, hold the keys to the NFC South. There is little doubt that after this offseason to date why they should not win the division. The Buccaneers will win the NFC South, but the Saints will pose a challenge.