The NFC South has undergone one heck of a makeover this offseason, particularly under center.
For the first time since 2010, Cam Newton will not be at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers at the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have brought in legendary signal-caller Tom Brady.
The Buccaneers’ move to land Brady in particular is enough to possibly turn the entire division on its head.
Now that free agency and the NFL Draft are over, let’s look at the NFC South power rankings:
While the Buccaneers have a legitimate chance of winning this division, the Saints have to be considered the top dogs until they are dethroned.
New Orleans has won three straight NFC South division titles and is returning largely the same team as 2019, so there’s no reason not to put Sean Payton’s club in the top spot.
The Saints didn’t make a ton of moves this offseason, but they definitely improved, landing wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to pair alongside of Michael Thomas.
New Orleans has been in desperate need for a No. 2 wideout for quite some time, and Sanders should be able to adequately fill that role, even at age 33.
The Saints also filled their hole at center during the draft, taking Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz in the first round.
Barring a drop off for 41-year-old Drew Brees, New Orleans is a very well-rounded team and should compete for a berth in the Super Bowl again next season.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs could end up winning this division. Key word: could.
There are a lot of variables here. First of all, Brady will be 43 years old at the start of the season, and it remains to be seen if his struggles in 2019 were a sign of Father Time winning out or a direct result of the New England Patriots’ lack of weapons.
Also, while Tampa Bay’s defense is talented, it struggled in some areas this past year. So it will be interesting to see how that unit responds in 2020.
Not only that, but the Buccaneers’ running game is a big question mark, as Ronald Jones doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.
Still, Brady certainly won’t have a shortage of weapons, as Tampa Bay has wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight ends O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and none other than Rob Gronkowski. Additionally, the Bucs further addressed their offensive line in the draft, taking University of Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs at No. 13.
The Buccaneers’ ceiling is very high. This team could make it all the way to the Super Bowl. However, due to the question marks here and the Saints’ current run of dominance, it’s difficult at this point to Tampa Bay any higher than No. 2 in the NFC South.
This team was pegged as a sleeper Super Bowl contender going into 2019. And we were wrong.
The Falcons looked lifeless for most of the year, with Matt Ryan showing signs of a decline and the running game being virtually non-existent. On top of that, the defense stunk.
Just about everyone thought Atlanta was going to move on from head coach Dan Quinn, but instead, the Falcons committed to him for another year, a strange move given how much the club has fallen off over the past couple of seasons after dropping a Super Bowl to the Patriots.
Nevertheless, Atlanta is very similar on paper to last year. Yes, it signed Todd Gurley, but this is post-knee injury Gurley, so it’s not like the Falcons are getting a dynamic threat there.
Atlanta did land edge rusher Dante Fowler, who should unquestionably provide a boost for the defense, and replacing departed cornerback Desmond Trufant with Clemson’s A.J. Terrell was smart. But overall, this team just isn’t good enough to make much noise. Especially not in such a tough division.
4. Carolina Panthers
There is a whole lot of pressure on Teddy Bridgewater heading into 2020.
The Panthers handed Bridgewater a lucrative long-term deal in free agency in spite of the fact that Bridgewater has made just six starts since the end of 2017. A risky gamble, for sure.
At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that Bridgewater is anything more than a solid game manager, which is not typically what a team looks for in a franchise quarterback. But it was obvious that Cam Newton’s run was over in Carolina, so the Panthers wanted to make a change.
Should Carolina waited until the draft to take a signal-caller? The Panthers would have had to trade up to do that, as all three of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert went before No. 7, where Carolina ultimately took Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown.
Many felt that the Panthers should have gone with Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons with their first-round pick, but Brown should certainly help Carolina’s ailing run defense.