There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the NFC South being wide open. With the retirement of Tom Brady, the sharks smell blood in the water and are ready to crown a new king of the south. There is some truth to this thought process.
Most people are writing off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are reigning back to back division champions. With household names like Brady, Julio Jones, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Fournette gone, it’s proven to be too difficult for most to analyze this Nucs roster. As a result, it has become common to see Tampa Bay projected as one of the worst teams in the NFL next year.
In theory, this leaves the door open for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. With no dominant team among this group there can be a case made for any of them. This also means that a case can be made against them.
In this series I will highlight the teams in the NFC South and why each of them have a clear path to failure. Each team is flawed and any of these flaws could be the downfall of a given team.
It is often said that the two most important positions in football are the quarterback and pass rusher. The ability to throw the ball down field and prevent the other team from passing the ball effectively is what the modern day NFL is all about. However, the Falcons don’t seem to believe that to be the case.
The two biggest question marks In Atlanta are their second year quarterback Desmond Ridder and a pass rush that has been one of the least talented and productive groups in the NFL in recent years. Not a weakness you want to have if you want to make a playoff push.
Ridder was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft. He sat the bench most of last season, but did get four starts at the end of the season. In those games he threw for 708 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. While these numbers aren’t bad for a young quarterback who is just getting his feet wet, it’s also not enough of a resume to feel confident that a third round pick can lead this offense to the playoffs.
The Falcons ranked 31st in team sacks last season. They were led by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett with 6.0 and linebacker Andre Carter with 4.0. They have also added Calais Campbell (5.5 sacks in 2022), but he is turning 37 in September. Bud Dupree was also a big name addition this offseason, but he has only had 4.0 and 3.0 in the last two years respectively.
While these two names might be upgrades to what they had in place, these aren’t the type of upgrades that will save the Falcons pass rush. In fact, I would go as far as to say that these signings are more sizzle than substance.
Credit Where It’s Due
It’s worth acknowledging that the Falcons could have the best rushing attack in the NFL this year. The addition of rookie Bijan Robinson should take this aspect of their offense from great to incredible. So in this passing league, they will likely be the best offense in the NFL when it comes to….not passing.
However, they don’t just stop their own passing offense. The Falcons have the makings of a very good pass defense as well. The likes of cornerback AJ Terrell and newcomer Jesse Bates at safety create a dynamic duo on the backend. If they can buy seven or eight seconds for the pass rush to get home then this defense might be serviceable this season.
The combination of these two things makes me believe that the Falcons won’t be the worst team in the division. After all, even though they aren’t strong in the most important aspects of the game, elite strengths can take a team far. I could even see them pushing for a wild card spot if Ridder pans out to be at least league average.
With that said, it’s hard for me to see a pathway to them winning the South. Especially with the likes of nose tackles Vita Vea and Derrick Brown in the division to help slow that one dimensional rushing offense. It’s just too much to expect for the Falcons to go from worst to first in 2023.