NFC South: The Optimist's & Pessimist's Guide

By Kyle Madson & Ronnie Hampston

At the top of each NFL season, some fans are brimming with confidence. Other fans are brimming with... the opposite of confidence. While nobody is certain about which teams will be good and which ones won't Ron Hampston and Kyle Madson provide the overly optimistic and overly pessimistic preview for each team.

OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO THE NFC SOUTH

Carolina Panthers (defending NFC champions)

The Panthers' offense was incredible last season (save the Super Bowl), and they had approximately one half of one NFL wide receiver. Now Cam Newton will get Kelvin Benjamin back and this offense could be near unstoppable this year.

That improvement on offense will make up for the departure of Josh Norman on the defensive side. This was a talented defensive unit and they should have no trouble despite losing a top-end defensive back. Carolina went to the Super Bowl last year, and might have only gotten better this season. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be championship contenders. -KM

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta was almost there last season under the guidance of new head coach Dan Quinn. Quinn had the Falcons off to a 6-1 start and had them looking like a complete football team for the first time in a long time. But then the train came off the rails and they last seven of their final nine games to finish 8-8.

This was still at top-10 offense in terms of yardage despite finishing 21st in points scored. They’ll find ways to punch the ball into the end zone this year, and Quinn will have this middle-of-the-road defense taking another step up this season. The points will come for this hyper-talented offense. If the defense can find a way to make some stops, Atlanta could threaten Carolina atop this division. -KM

New Orleans Saints

Somehow even when they’re bad, the Saints are scary. With Drew Brees under center, it’s hard to ever count the Saints out. They still scored the eighth-most points in the league last year despite losing Jimmy Graham in a trade prior to the season. This offense is going to score a ton.

However, as good as they’ve been offensively they’ve been equally bad defensively. In 2014, they were 28th in points allowed, and then 32nd (dead last) in that category last year. If they can elevate themselves to even a top 20-25 defense, they’ll be able to compete for a playoff spot this year. -KM

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston is going to be really good in this league. He’s going to break out eventually, and what better time than now when he has nothing to really lose. The Bucs aren’t exceptionally talented, but if you have a hot quarterback, good things can happen in the NFL. If Winston gets ahead of his development schedule and can emerge as a top-10 quarterback this year, Tampa Bay could gain some momentum and get a roll that nobody saw coming. -KM

PESSIMIST’S GUIDE TO THE NFC SOUTH

Panthers

Now that the ‘dab’ is officially dead, the Panthers don’t have a reason to celebrate after every play. The reigning NFC champions lost several key components to their elite defense, and in large part, it’ll be hard to repeat the same success without Norman, their former All-Pro cornerback.

Newton, last year's league MVP, is the catalyst to make things go and adding a healthy Benjamin should scare the hell out of the rest of the NFL. But before Panthers fans makes plans to head to back-to-back Super Bowls, Cam will have to ditch the straw hat and blonde goatee in order for the team to reach its peak. -RH

Falcons

Atlanta started off the 2015 season looking like Super Bowl contenders as they preyed on the lowly NFC East. As time went on, we found out quickly that the Falcons weren’t really good.

The Falcons will score points and their defense will be better in their second year under defensive genius Dan Quinn, but something is still missing. On paper, the Falcons appear to be a threat to win it all, but it’s a far-fetched vision in reality. Like in years past, Atlanta will make some noise, but it will tone down as the season evolves. When all else fails, just blame Matt Ryan for not making the trip to Super Bowl 51.(Sorry Matt, quarterbacks tend to take the blame even though it’s not always their fault.) -RH

Saints

This offseason was crucial for Sean Payton and the Saints. The team infused some youth on offense and defense. However, those new Saints will have to grow up in a hurry to help both units.

The lack of quarterback pressure will be one of many reasons why the Saints won’t be yelling ‘Who-Dat’ at Super Bowl 51.

The Saints finished 25th in sacks the past two seasons, and despite adding Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins to help All-Pro Cam Jordan up front, it won’t be enough. Brees will continue to put up monster numbers as he inches close to 40 years old, but the total team effort will be lacking, causing the Saints to have even more questions about the future entering the 2017 season. -RH

Buccaneers

Winston's evolution has been stunning, but the Buccaneers are still a ways from being a legitimate contender.  Under the new regime of head coach Dirk Koetter, the Bucs will face growing pains, but despite the bumps in the road, the team will show a lot of promise. Making an appearance in Super Bowl 51 is a bit premature for this team, but in the next three or four years, they may be in the conversation. -RH

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