2021 NFL Preview: NFC South Division

by Wayne Root

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Win total: 11.5
The Super Bowl champs finished 11-5 in the regular season last year for second place in the division. One of Brady’s biggest strengths throughout his career has been to motivate his team to success even after winning it all the season before. However, we’ve seen it plenty of times in his career where Brady’s teams look good during the regular season but really turn it on come playoff time. I’m not going to be the millionth person to predict the demise of Brady over the last decade, but too much can happen over the course of a season to justify predicting Tampa Bay to reach 12 regular season wins.

Coach Bruce Arians
QB Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert,
Kyle Trask
RB Ronald Jones II
Defense: Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh,
Will Gholston
Brady gets a chance to go back-to-back as a champion for the second-time in his career. Backing up Brady is Gabbert, who Bruce Arians recently called “the most underrated player in the NFL”. The hope is that second-round pick Kyle Trask eventually becomes the Bucs starter after Brady.
Additionally, the Bucs bring back all 22 starters from a team that lifted the Lombardi Trophy in February.
New Orleans Saints, Win total: 9
One of the strangest items to look forward to in the 2021 NFL season is the New Orleans Saints without Drew Brees under center. With his retirement, the Saints are left with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill as the quarterback options. Hill is the jack-of-all trades of jack-of-all trades but has never been the No. 1 guy. The last time Winston was a full-time starter, he threw 30 interceptions and the year after he left, his former team won the Super Bowl. The Saints played incredible defense last season, and they will need to keep that pace or be even better to reach this win total.

Coach Sean Payton
QB Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill
Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RB Alvin Kamara
Defense: Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins, Demario Davis, and Cameron Jordan.
The Saints are one of the few teams in the NFL with an open competition at the quarterback position, although most expect Winston to win the job over Hill. Last year’s No. 2, Hill was surprisingly solid, going 3-1 as a starter and completing over 72 percent of his passes. In 2019, Winston fumbled 12 times, was sacked 47 times and threw 30 interceptions. His numbers shouldn’t be that bad in the Saints’ more high-percentage offense, and Winston should be able to bring a vertical element. 

Carolina Panthers, Win total: 7.5
The Carolina Panthers finished 5-11 last season without their main offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey, who appeared in just three games in 2020. He will be back to help improve an offense that finished about average last season. Teddy Bridgewater appears to be the starter heading into the season after an okay season last year. Carolina could definitely try and grab a quarterback with their first round pick, so it will be interesting to see where they go at No. 8 overall. McCaffrey is a very good player, but he isn’t enough to improve the Panthers by three games.

Coach Matt Rhule 
QB Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Will Grier
Tommy Stevens
RB Christian McCaffrey
Defense: Derrick Brown, Bravvion Roy,
DaQuan Jones 
Sam Darnold will take the reins in Carolina. He’ll be out to prove that Adam Gase was the problem in New York. Walker threw five interceptions on 60 dropbacks last year, while Grier has been a disappointment as a third-round pick two years ago. Stevens could be the Panthers’ version of Taysom Hill, if they can develop the Saint’s versatility.
Atlanta Falcons, Win total: 7
The Atlanta Falcons struggled to a 4-12 season in 2020 and despite the bad record, they allowed just 18 more points than they scored throughout the season. Work needs to be done to improve that record, but that slight point margin suggests their record should’ve been better. Defensively, Atlanta needs to improve quite a bit on last year, but they continue to have some dangerous weapons on the outside for Matt Ryan. The Falcons should take advantage of the bad schedule they are likely to see as teams that finish last place in the division typically will have.
Coach Arthur Smith 
QB Matt Ryan,A.J. McCarron,
Feleipe Franks
RB Mike Davis
Defense: Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson and John Cominsky
While his arm seems to have declined some, Matt Ryan is still one of the more mentally sharp and accurate passers in the NFL. If something happens to Ryan, the Falcons might be the worst team in the NFL. McCarron hasn’t been great when given opportunity, and Franks might not be practice squad-worthy.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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