Last year saw some impactful new faces throughout the NFC South. After a strange year of Covid protocols, tight-ends playing quarterback, and a Super Bowl win we are gearing up for another wild year in this division. Drew Brees and the Saints won the division with a 12-4 record but were defeated by the Bucs in the third matchup of the year in the divisional round. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the wild card round where they snuck out a win over the newly minted Washington Football Team en route to their eventual Super Bowl Championship. In his first year as head coach Matt Rhule and his Carolina Panthers had an underwhelming season that was marred by a lingering injury to star running back Christian McCaffrey. Bringing up the rear of the division was the Atlanta Falcons who fired head coach Dan Quinn after a game five loss to the Panthers at home.
In preparation for the 21-22 season the teams set about on very different paths. The Buccaneers returned their entire Super Bowl-winning 22 man roster, a feat only ever accomplished by the 1977 Oakland Raiders and 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. The emphasis was on keeping seven-time champ Tom Brady happy and ensuring that he has plenty of weapons to utilize. This included giving the franchise tag to WR Chris Godwin and resigning WR Antonio Brown to a one-year deal. All signs point to the Bucs going all-in again to maximize Brady’s Super Bowl window, which at this point seems to be never-ending. To add insult to injury it seems like Brady is actually healthy heading into this season because news surfaced that the Super Bowl champ played with a torn MCL all last season. Vegas seems high on the Bucs' chances to make noise in the postseason setting their win total at 12 wins.
Over in New Orleans, things are not as cut and dry. The front office started in a place that we can only describe as “cap hell.” Although they were really up against it, Mickey Loomis and company found a way to restructure QB/TE Taysom Hill’s contract into long-term-non guaranteed money. Which just makes their plans at the league’s most important position even harder to decipher. Many in the football world see the former Tampa Bay Buc and actual QB Jaemis Winston as the heir apparent to Drew Brees but Peyton’s love of the versatility that Hill offers is apparently never-ending. Much later into this offseason the Saints also lost their WR1 in Michael Thomas to an ill-timed ankle surgery that will sideline him for up to 6-8 weeks of the new 18 week season. Saints fans need not fear because Chris Hogan most recently of the Premier Lacrosse League to help fill the void left by their pro-bowl wide receiver. So they should be all good there. Even without the QB situation settled, Vegas has the Saints at 9 wins this season.
Sir Purr and his Carolina Panthers started the offseason in draft position limbo with pick number eight. After moving on from former franchise QB Cam Newton last year they needed to find their next game manager to pair alongside Christian McCaffrey. Forecasting how the draft would pan out, management decided not to try to compete with other QB needy teams at the top of the order and decided to trade for former first-round QB Sam Darnold. The former NY Jets QB is looking for a fresh start here in Carolina now that he is free from the clutches of Adam Gase. The 24-year-old is still immensely talented and will get his chance to prove himself in a new offense and with the best RB in the game by his side. Now that Robby Anderson has had a year in the system and knows who his mascot is he will be helping lead a very formidable WR room that also contains veteran DJ Moore and 2021 second-round pick Terrance Marshall Jr. If the team can stay healthy we can expect solid growth from the young team who Vegas has at 7.5 wins.
Down in Atlanta the situation with the cap was just as dire as over in New Orleans. So much so that as things stood the team would not have been able to sign their draft picks. First, the Falcons started by restructuring long-time QB Matt Ryan’s contract to spread out his money over the next three years. Later that off-season the biggest move came when the management decided to move on with unhappy Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones marking the end of an era for the franchise. With the fourth pick in the NFL draft, many in the football cognoscente thought that they should look to draft a quarterback of the future. Those of us who wanted to live in the most exciting timeline encouraged them to go all-in on weapons for the former MVP. In the draft, the Falcons selected TE Kyle Pitts to pair alongside new number WR1 Calvin Ridley. To replace the warm body that was Todd Gurly last season the team signed long-time backup Mike Davis to lead their RB core. The veteran RB is poised to take any and all the touches that his monstrous hamstrings can take. Vegas currently has the team’s win total at 7.5 and if new head coach Arthur Smith can bring some of his magic from his days as the Titans offensive coordinator then we may see them hit that over.
(Cover Photo Credit: NFL & Couch Guy Sports / Yahoo Sports)