Atlanta Falcons: 8-8 in 2015 (2nd in NFC South)
The Atlanta Falcons are just constantly disappointing. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman as the core of this offense, and the team still can’t win. That is just under-achieving. I don’t expect that to change much as the Falcons haven’t made any significant changes to their roster. The defense continues to look suspect and toothless. The offense will continue to focus way too much on Jones and Freeman, while ignoring other valuable weapons. Honestly, the Falcons have a case of “Maddenitis”. They run the same plays and “hit the X button” way too much. Atlanta needs to develop some versatility to their attack, or else teams are going to continue to have them figured out and be able to beat them down. There is too much core talent on this roster for the Falcons to not be in the division title picture every year.
Prediction: 8-8 (3rd in NFC South)
Carolina Panthers: 15-1 in 2015 (1st in NFC South)
The Carolina Panthers made a lot of pundits and analysts look pretty foolish in 2015. The Panthers rolled across the league as quarterback Cam Newton dabbed his way to his first MVP award. Carolina came up short in the Super Bowl, but it was still a very impressive year. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the Panthers can match that kind of success in 2016. No, the team did not change very much. Except for Josh Norman, there weren’t any huge losses. The problem this year is that the Panthers are going to face a murderous schedule that will take its toll on the team. Super Bowl losers have a very poor track record in their follow up season. The upside here is that the Panthers are getting Kelvin Benjamin back, which should definitely upgrade the passing game. It will be interesting to see just how far the Panthers can go in 2016, but I expect they will be banged up pretty well by the time the playoffs come around.
Prediction: 11-5 (1st in NFC South)
New Orleans Saints: 7-9 in 2015 (3rd in NFC South)
The New Orleans Saints are about as dysfunctional an organization as you can find in the NFL. Here is a team with Drew Brees, in a dome, with plenty of receiving talent…yet they are losing. Why? Well, lots of reasons, but the big one is that they allocate so much cap space to one player (Brees) that they can’t field a solid roster around him. Drew Brees has a $30 million salary cap hit in 2016. That’s almost 20% of the Saints cap room. This is why the team couldn’t afford to pay Jimmy Graham and had to trade him away. The Saints have been forced to make a lot of money-based moves to accommodate the contract of Drew Brees, and the results have been obvious on the field. New Orleans needs to find a way to open up resources to rebuild this franchise. Instead, they are looking for ways to pay Drew Brees even more money. The definition of insanity…
Prediction: 6-10 (4th in NFC South)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-10 in 2015 (4th in NFC South)
Every season sees a team make a big jump from the basement to the top, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are my pick to do it in 2016. Quarterback Jameis Winston really seemed to find his stride last year, and with a nice stable of weapons around him, it should be expected that he continue to improve. The Bucs also have some quality weapons on defense that should keep them within striking distance in most games. Playing in the NFC South doesn’t hurt, as Tampa Bay should be able to take wins from the Saints and Falcons. This team is well built for future success, but they get their foot in the door with a Wild Card berth this year. This is a team that people should be getting excited about for the future. The basic tools and needs are there, some refinement and development are all that are missing.
Prediction: 10-6 (2nd in NFC South)
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