Saints look to bounce back after back to back brutal playoff exits.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in action. Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints play in the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, Oct 1 . photo: Jed Leicester/ NFL

It’s been one of the busiest off-season’s in recent memory, following up on an NFL season for the ages. Contenders have been bolstering their rosters while the bottom of the league has committed to their rebuilding process’. 

So who is coming out on top this year in the NFC South? Let’s find out.

New Orleans Saints

Even though it was the LA Rams who lost in the Super Bowl, it’s unanimously agreed upon that the New Orleans Saints had the most heartwrenching loss of the 2018 season. 

After going 13-3 and obtaining home field throughout the playoffs, an aggressively controversial missed pass interference call with merely minutes left in regulation was the beginning of the end. The Rams would eventually hit a game-winning field goal in overtime, season over.

 New Orleans is no stranger to tough playoff losses. 2017 ended with the “Minnesota Miracle” and the consensus is that these unfortunate eliminations are piling up in the worst way. Can they rise from the ashes yet again to achieve the ultimate goal?

The good news is they might still have the strongest roster in their division. Although they’ll miss Mark Ingram, the big three of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas return for another season. Offensively, it’s still an elite unit of playmakers across the field.

The loss of Ingram will be challenging, but the Saints look to Latavius Murray and Jaquizz Rodgers to complete all-pro Kamara. 

Even with some overturn, New Orleans looks to be menacing on defence. They will remain especially menacing as run stoppers, led by Cameron Jordan. A full season with Eli Apple and Marshawn Lattimore will keep the secondary strong as well.

Although it’s currently tough to imagine how the New Orleans Saints won’t be too beaten down by the way they’ve lost in back to back postseasons. However as strong as their roster is, they should find themselves in position to make it to the Super Bowl yet again.

Atlanta Falcons

It was a down year for the Atlanta Falcons. Only two years removed from their emotional loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51.

After finishing 7-9, it’s starting to appear as if head coach Dan Quinn is on the hot seat. Matt Ryan is still an elite thrower, and the Falcons do not want to miss their window for competing for a title. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint when it’s time to fire a head coach. Marvin Lewis never made a conference championship yet he stayed on with the Bengals for almost two decades. The Cardinals fired Vance Joseph after just one season, so the formula is hazy at best.

However, with the way the Falcons lost to the Patriots, many believe that was Quinn’s only shot for getting the city of Atlanta a title.

It might be a little unfair to judge the Falcons 2018 season as harshly as some do. They were riddled with injuries from week one. After their defence was decimated, the rest of the season felt lost. Even with the heavy firepower on offence.

 2019 will be a year with lofty expectations though. Atlanta has one of the best-receiving trios in all of football, and Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu should be back to putting up big numbers.

Although there are questions defensively, the new season means being at full health. If the Atlanta Falcons can keep it that way, there is still hope for Dan Quinn.

Carolina Panthers

Sticking to the theme of lofty expectations, the Carolina Panthers are no different. From the moment they made Cam Newton the face of that franchise, the Panthers have been trusted to win. 

Carolina got off to a burning hot start in 2018. But injuries and inconsistency, especially from Newton, plagued the Panthers where they finished off losing seven games in a row. Their 7-9 end was not enough to make the playoffs, a disappointing fate for a team that started the season 6-2.

Unfortunately, things will not get any easier and 2019 might be tough from the beginning. Newton sprained his ankle in a preseason game against the Patriots and it’s uncertain when his return will be.

The Panthers relied heavily on their star quarterback as well as offensive difference-makers Christian Mccaftery and Greg Olsen last year. With scarcity at receiver and Olsen struggling to stay healthy, if Carolina needs to bank on rookie Will Grier for even a few weeks then their season might already be in peril.

If there is any good news at all, the defence looks to be a strong suit for the Panthers as it’s been for many years. Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, as well as Mccaftry, will attempt to keep their team above water until the return of Cam Newton.

Head coach Ron Rivera has plenty on his plate to keep his club from sinking right out of the gate. If Newton is healthy, there’s always a sense that the sky is the limit. The Carolina Panthers hope for a speedy recovery from his ankle injury, or the season might not make it off the ground.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Something is brewing in western Florida, enough so to bring Bruce Arians out of retirement. The QB whisperer will take over as head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, which adds quite a bit of intrigue to the basement of the NFC South. 

He will inherit two dynamic offensive talents in Mike Evans and OJ Howard, as well as the frustrating yet gifted young thrower Jameis Winston.

Gone are the days of the quarterback controversy, for now, as Ryan Fitzpatrick relocated another Florida team with the Dolphins. This is Winston’s team, for better or worse.

His new head coach will immediately inject life into an organization dying for it. Arians, along with new offensive and defensive coordinators Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, look to maximize their young talent and stay competitive.

That will be an uphill battle from day one. Aside from the fact that Winston has yet to put together a full season of consistent play, Tampa struggles to keep up with their competition after only a few weeks of play.

In 2018, an impressive 3-3 start included staple wins against teams such as the Eagles and Saints. They played the Steelers to the final minutes, but after that loss to Pittsburg, there was very little in the way of optimism for the rest of the season. They would finish 5-11.

So what’s next for the new-look Bucs? They’re a young and adept group with a lot to prove. The loss of Desean Jackson will hurt, but the rise of Chris Godwin will take the sting out of that subtraction a little bit. Running back is still a position in question, however. It has been since the rapid decline of Doug Martin.

The defence is one that’s on the rise. Devin White will make an immediate difference at linebacker as a rookie. He is a nice piece alongside players like Gerald McCoy, Vita Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul.

Will the youngsters and the talent that remain on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers be enough to take down the likes of the Saints, Falcons and Panthers?

That is the real question, and the Bucs will look to break their playoff drought. They’ve missed the postseason every year since 2008.

Predictions

Andre Dixon:

New Orleans Saints 

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

Tampa Bay Bucs

Paulie Fiorentino:

New Orleans Saints 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers