It’s safe to say the NFC South got a whole lot tougher this offseason with the addition of a few new faces — and a key free agency acquisition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in superstar Tom Brady.
This past spring also saw the New Orleans Saints’ backup signal-caller, Teddy Bridgewater, sign with division rival Carolina Panthers, and former Los Angeles Rams rusher Todd Gurley join the Atlanta Falcons.
With the NFL releasing the 2020 regular season schedule last week, let’s dive into which franchises will have the toughest and easiest roads ahead to potential postseason dreams.
4. Carolina Panthers
With the worst record in the division last season, the Panthers get the benefit of a slightly easier schedule in 2020, as the NFC South splits up one opponent per division in the NFC West and East this upcoming season. For Carolina, who finished 5-11 last year, that means playing the Arizona Cardinals (at home) and Washington Redskins (away).
The Cardinals certainly improved in the offseason, however, so this isn’t a cake walk for the revamped Panthers. Arizona added star wideout DeAndre Hopkins and selected talented, versatile Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons. The Redskins arguably added the most talented player in the 2020 draft in Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young.
However, what stands out as easier competition for the Panthers is the first half of the season sparkling with lackluster opponents. The first team Carolina faces in 2020 that finished .500 or above is the Chicago Bears in Week 6. And with two road matchups against the Saints and Chiefs in two of the follow three weeks, the Panthers only see above-.500 competition three times by their Week 13 bye.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
By virtue of last year’s standings, in 2020 the Buccaneers will face off with the NFC West’s Rams and East’s Giants—two teams one can categorically say did not immensely improve in the offseason. The Bucs start off their season with back-to-back in-division matchups, but then play sub-.500 competition until Week 6 at home against the Packers.
“Tompa Bay” also sees the champion Chiefs at home, though, along with hosting the better teams in the NFC North—Packers and Vikings—at Raymond James Stadium.
All in all, Brady’s debut season in a Bucs uniform should be tempered by a good schedule, if they can take care of business.
2. New Orleans Saints
In 2020, Drew Brees and the Saints get to play the defending conference champion San Francisco 49ers (at home) while taking on last year’s NFC East division winner Philadelphia Eagles—making their upcoming regular season a bit easier than the anticipated tough opponents.
What will be most challenging for New Orleans in 2020, though, is a relatively early bye week (in Week 6), especially at the end of a grueling season with home matchups against the Chiefs and Vikings before closing out the season on the road in Carolina two-plus months removed from a week off.
1. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons will run in the most challenging schedule among their NFC South foes in 2020 due to two teams sticking out on the schedule: the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta gets the standard yearly home-and-away matchups with the three other NFC South franchises and, along with its rivals, play the entire NFC North and AFC West in 2020. But the addition of a road game in AT&T Stadium and playing at home against the Seahawks makes for a tough go around after building momentum in the second half of the 2019 season.
Additionally, the Falcons have to play the Packers in Green Bay and defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in Kansas City—two difficult locations—and split their two-season season series with the Bucs in Weeks 15 and 17 with that Chiefs matchup in Week 16. Not fun.
Two saving graces for Atlanta may be only having to face the Denver Broncos at home in the Peach State and the aforementioned Seahawks, a wild card team last year, at home.