As of late, there’s been no question as to who owns the division. That title has belonged to the Saints for some time now. But the division is getting better. The Buccaneers have decided to challenge and go all in on the 2020 season, signing future first-ballot Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The Falcons are also feeling the pressure to produce a winner after the disappointments they’ve turned in since Super Bowl LI. But the kings at the top still reside in New Orleans, and they grow more desperate by the season after each postseason elimination.
New Orleans Saints (O/U 10.5)
The regular season has basically just been preparation for New Orleans the past couple seasons. Where they’ve struggled is in the playoffs. The Minneapolis Miracle has been something of a curse. Since then, the Saints were ousted in the NFC Championship on a blown pass interference call that would’ve completely changed the outcome of the game, and upset in their own building by the same Vikings team that beat them in 2017. The championship window is closing it would seem as Drew Brees nears retirement, and the time is now for New Orleans. They have MVP-caliber players at all of the skill positions on offense, and thanks to an outstanding draft in 2017 – there’s no shortage of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball either. The division is tougher, but NOLA has built one of the best teams in football. If they can stay relatively healthy, expect the Saints to reign again.
My Prediction: 13-3
I think this is New Orleans’ time. It feels more and more like it’s now or never for them. Drew Brees is a year older, and they won’t be able to retain their collection of young, cheap talent under the salary cap for much longer. Similar to the Ravens in the AFC, the Saints haven’t been able to get the monkey off their back in the playoffs recently. Health is always the one caveat, but the Saints are stacked once again. I’m picking them to win this year’s Super Bowl, and if their week one win over the Buccaneers is any indication – they’re off to a good start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (O/U 9.5)
The talk of the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look drastically different from a year ago. Their ex-starting QB is now the backup in New Orleans and possibly the greatest quarterback ever is now under center. They also grabbed his security blanket, another sure-fire Hall of Famer, to play tight end in Rob Gronkowski. As if that wasn’t enough, they signed RB Leonard Fournette just weeks ago to help out a backfield that already includes Ronald Jones, Keyshawn Vaughn, and Lesean McCoy. The team was bad on defense last year, but expect some regression to the mean on that side of the ball. They dealt with injuries and their QB threw 30 interceptions, leaving them in some terrible spots. The Bucs have completely veered course from where they were at this time last season. Sure they’ll be a great story, but will all the moving parts work?
My Prediction: 11-5
Whenever there’s a polarizing issue, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle of the two ends. I think that’s the case with the Bucs, and I think they’ll get better as the season chugs along. Especially with an extra playoff spot up for grabs in each conference, I feel pretty good about Tampa Bay occupying one of the three wild cards. I don’t believe they have the juice to overtake the Saints, but they’re still a solid ball club with a high floor. I don’t think they have the personnel to contend for a Super Bowl, but they have enough to get to the dance.
Atlanta Falcons (O/U 7.5)
Every year it seems a large pocket of people are keen on the Falcons. I’ve been one of them in the past, but I’m done. The story is 10 of their 11 offensive starters are first round picks, and they’ve made some moves to acquire some intriguing players, but through one week the returns aren’t great. HC Dan Quinn barely survived 2019 with his job and it feels in the end it'll just turn out to be a stay of execution. They have the pieces on offense, but ever since Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco, the production hasn't come close to what it was when he was there. On defense they're starting to experience turnover, and several of their most recent draft picks on that side of the ball have been underwhelming. Atlanta isn't a bad team, but don't bet the house on them winning 10 or 11 games.
My Prediction: 5-11
Every year when I start evaluating teams, I get to Atlanta and think: "Maybe?" They are stellar on paper, especially offensively. Even on defense, they have Dion Jones, Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen, and before this fall - Desmond Trufant. But I think I've finally solved the Atlanta mystery. The fact is the team was elevated because of Shanahan's brilliant offensive mind, and they need a coach of his caliber to return to what they once were. The moment he left and they hired Steve Sarkisian in his place, they were no longer Super Bowl contenders. That's not a knock on Dan Quinn, so much as a compliment to Kyle Shanahan. But I think this team needs fresh eyes and a new scheme.
Carolina Panthers (O/U 5.5)
While the Bucs have gone full tilt on 2020, the Panthers have taken a much more measured approach. They hired Matt Rhule from Baylor to be the coach, Joe Brady from LSU to run the offense, and waved goodbye to Cam. The new ownership is here, and a new era has arrived. Carolina is clearly willing to be patient and build their team, which is a good thing. But the common misconception in the NFL as it relates to all other major sports is that tanking now will give you a better team in the future. Regardless of where they pick in the draft, they still have to nail those picks, and they have some exciting players on the roster right now. It'll be exciting to see how this brand-new staff with little NFL experience adjust's from the college game, just don't measure their success on wins and losses quite yet.
My Prediction: 3-13
It's not necessarily a tank-job, but the Panthers are absolutely rebuilding. They have totally new leadership, and I have to imagine they'll be first or second in line to draft their next franchise QB in the spring. This fall is all about finding out what works and what doesn't. The majority of the coaching staff will be adjusting to the NFL as well, so I'd expect some bumps along the way. They have Christian McCaffrey and a couple other flashy pieces, but the roster needs churning on the whole. With the other three teams in the division hoping to make the playoffs, I don't expect a large number of wins from Carolina.