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2019 NFL Preview: NFC South

Drew Brees Saints

After just missing a Super Bowl appearance, the rest of the NFC South should be worried about the Saints’ revenge tour.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

After the New Orleans Saints ran away with the NFC South last season, it looks like they’ll do the same in 2019. While the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons both seem to have had solid offseasons, will it be enough to keep up with the mega-talented Saints?

New Orleans Saints 12-4 (4-2 division)

With Mark Ingram gone, expect Alvin Kamara to take on an even bigger role in the Saints’ offense. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Key Additions: Latavius Murray, Jared Cook, Erik McCoy, Mario Edwards

Key Losses: Mark Ingram, Max Unger, Alex Okafor, Benjamin Watson

The Saints were arguably one bad call away from reaching the Super Bowl last season, losing a heartbreaker in the NFC Championship. They’ll enter the 2019 campaign with revenge on their minds and one of the best quarterbacks of all-time still under center. Drew Brees posted a career-high 115.7 quarterback rating last season, finishing second in MVP voting. He has an elite wide receiver and running back by his side in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, making this Saints’ offense one of the most lethal in the NFL.

The team lost veteran center Max Unger but replaced him with rookie Eric McCoy. New Orleans also had to replace Mark Ingram’s backup running back role with Latavius Murray and tight end Ben Watson with Jared Cook; neither of those replacements should exhibit much drop-off in production. The Saints also return most of their defense from last season while adding Mario Edwards for some depth on the defensive line. This is a very well-rounded team that should dominate the NFC South for the third straight year.

Atlanta Falcons 9-7 (3-3 division)

Can Matt Ryan regain his 2016 MVP form and lead Atlanta back to the playoffs? (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Key Additions: Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Adrian Clayborn, James Carpenter

Key Losses: Tevin Coleman, Jordan Richards

The Falcons entered this offseason knowing they needed to improve the offensive line and they certainly did. They took a pair of linemen, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary, in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. With that, Matt Ryan should be protected much better than last season when he was sacked 42 times. Still, the former MVP was terrific in 2018 with a 35:7 TD:INT ratio and 4,924 yards through the air.

The loss of Tevin Coleman may hurt the offense, but it’ll mostly rely on whether or not Devonta Freeman can stay healthy for a full season. He suited up for just two games in 2018, hindered by a variety of lower-body injuries. On the other side of the ball, the defense remains fairly unchanged besides bringing back former Falcon standout Adrian Clayborn. It was a mediocre defense last season and will likely be carried by Matt Ryan once again.

Carolina Panthers 7-9 (3-3 division)

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) celebrates his touchdown run against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
The Panthers are hoping Cam Newton can regain his form after an injury-riddled 2018 campaign (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Key Additions: Matt Paradis, Brian Burns, Greg Little, Chris Hogan, Bruce Irvin

Key Losses: Devin Funchess, Ryan Kalil, Julius Peppers, Thomas Davis, Mike Adams

The Panthers have another former MVP trying to lead them back to the postseason in Cam Newton. His success will rely mostly on staying healthy; he spent 2018 playing through a shoulder injury and it was fairly obvious. He underwent surgery this offseason but he should be good to start the season. Newton will also have a new target in Chris Hogan, brought in to replace the ever-inconsistent Devin Funchess.

Since 2013, Carolina has finished with a winning record in every odd-numbered year and a losing record in all the even-numbered seasons. That history suggests that the team finishes above .500 in 2019, but it feels like that trend might fade out. The team’s mediocre defense should improve slightly with the addition of Brian Burns while also helping the team get a little younger. The secondary is suspect at best and will likely get exposed by the talented quarterbacks that Carolina has to face this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11 (2-4 division)

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) looks to throw against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half. [AP Photo/Michael Conroy]
Will 2019 be Jameis Winston’s last chance to prove his worth? [AP Photo/Michael Conroy]

Key Additions: Devin White, Shaquil Barrett, Breshad Perriman

Key Losses: Kwon Alexander, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Brent Grimes, Vinny Curry

Then, finally, there’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While it seems like the Saints are a lock to win the division, the Buccaneers feel just as likely to finish in last place. Once thought to be the face of the franchise, time seems to be running out for Jameis Winston to figure things out. Over the last two seasons, the 25-year-old has played 24 games, averaging roughly 270 yards per game and accumulating a mediocre 38:25 TD:INT ratio. Things won’t get easier this year though; he lost DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, who combined for nearly 1,600 yards in 2018.

Tampa Bay’s defense was dreadful last season and it doesn’t look much better on paper right now. The team lost Pro Bowler linebacker Kwon Alexander but quickly replaced him first first-round pick Devin White. Still, the secondary is thin, yielding the seventh-most passing yards last season. They also forced just 17 turnovers and gave up the second most points in the NFL. Things aren’t looking great for the Buccaneers in 2019.

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