Neil Reynolds' Division Preview - NFC South

The NFC South has belonged to the New Orleans Saints for the past three years but there is a star-studded bunch in Tampa who might change that narrative in 2020. The Tom Brady-led Buccaneers are going to push the Saints all the way and with Atlanta and Carolina also in the mix, this is a very competitive division.

Neil's Predicted Finish

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Carolina Panthers

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

State of the Franchise

A team with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL has to find a way to get over the playoff hump while Drew Brees' Super Bowl window is still open. For three straight years, the Saints have entered the postseason with high hopes before exiting in heart-breaking fashion each time. For me, the Saints have everything they need to be the class of the NFC and to make it all the way to the Super Bowl.

Star Man

Big-bodied and complete receiver Michael Thomas is the Saints' biggest star and he has the numbers to back it up. Thomas caught an NFL record 149 passes in 2019 and now has 470 in five sensational years.

Secret Superstar

Expectations have been high for defensive end Marcus Davenport since being drafted in round one in 2018. After registering 10 ½ sacks in his first two seasons, look for Davenport to up his numbers.

By the Numbers

8… The Saints committed just eight turnovers in 2019 – the fewest in a single season in NFL history.

37-11… The Saints have a regular season record of 37 wins and 11 losses over the last three seasons – best in the NFL during that span.

116.3… Drew Brees had a quarterback rating of 116.3 in 2019 – the highest in NFL history for a quarterback aged 40 or over.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

State of the Franchise

With a 67-year-old head coach in Bruce Arians and a 43-year-old quarterback in Tom Brady, the Bucs have no time to lose if they are to make a run at the Super Bowl. Hence the arrivals of tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy and first-round tackle Tristan Wirfs. The Bucs are going all in and the results should at least be a first playoff berth since the 2007 campaign.

Star Man

Mike Evans and Gronk get more headlines in the passing game, but Chris Godwin has become one of the league's best receivers; especially after the catch. He topped 1,300 yards last year and can go higher in 2020.

Secret Superstar

Keep an eye out for second-year cornerback Jamel Dean, who should shine in a growing secondary. When he became a starter in Week 9, Dean was second only to Stephon Gilmore in coverage grades handed out by Pro Football Focus.

By the Numbers

19 ½… Shaq Barrett recorded an NFL-high 19 ½ sacks in 2019. Prior to that, he registered 14 in the previous five seasons.

78… Rob Gronkowski has caught 78 TD passes from Tom Brady – double the next-closest target (Randy Moss, 39).

2,490… Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for 2,490 receiving yards last season – most among any pairing in the league.

ATLANTA FALCONS

State of the Franchise

Getting out of the gate fast is going to be vital for an Atlanta team that has the potential to be very dangerous on its day. The Falcons have stumbled through September and October in recent seasons, but they did finish strong in 2019, winning six of eight including games against San Francisco and New Orleans. With 10 former first-rounders on offense, that unit will be fine. But what about the defense?

Star Man

While not your typical talkative receiver, Julio Jones lets his play scream from the rooftops on Sundays. Over the past six seasons, he has averaged 1,565 receiving yards and he will be elite once more in 2020.

Secret Superstar

Guard Chris Lindstrom will be a great addition up front. The 2019 first-rounder got hurt in Week 1 but returned to help Atlanta win four straight at the end of the year. He did not allow a sack in five games.

By the Numbers

9… Quarterback Matt Ryan has compiled nine straight 4,000-yard seasons.

68.3… Since spraining his knee in 2018, Todd Gurley has averaged just 68.3 scrimmage yards per game.

119… Ryan has thrown 119 TD passes over the past four seasons – second only to Russell Wilson (121) during that span.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

State of the Franchise

No team has undergone as much change as the Panthers in one offseason. They lost players totalling more than 180 combined starts in 2019, including quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Luke Kuechly. There is also a new head coach on board with Matt Rhule replacing Ron Rivera. It feels like a rebuild year but those inside the Panthers' building are quietly confident of proving us wrong.

Star Man

As long as Christian McCaffrey is in the backfield, the Panthers have a shot at winning every Sunday. McCaffrey became just the third player in NFL history to top 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season in 2019.

Secret Superstar

After recording seven and a half sacks as a rookie, it would not be a surprise to see explosive edge rusher Brian Burns double that total in 2020. There is room to grow but this kid has already flashed All-Pro talent.

By the Numbers

19… Curtis Samuel led all NFL wide receivers with 19 runs in 2019, gaining 130 yards.

22-12… Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a 22-12 record as a starter, including going 5-0 in relief of Drew Brees in New Orleans last season.

29.4… The Panthers allowed 29.4 points per game in 2019 – 31st in the NFL and the worst output in team history.

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