Since it was created in 2002, the NFC South has been the most competitive and exciting division in the NFL. In fact, the NFC South has never had a repeat champion in it’s 12 seasons of existence, which is bad news for the Carolina Panthers who took home the division crown in 2013. Let’s break down the four teams and their individual chances of winning the coveted NFC South title in 2014:
Carolina Panthers: Things are not looking good for the defending division champs: the Panthers lost two franchise players this offseason, offensive tackle Jordan Gross and Wide Receiver Steve Smith. There is a small upside to the Panthers offseason—they signed defensive lineman Greg Hardy to a four year deal; and they drafted Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of the NFL Draft. Despite these offseason moves, the Panthers may not be ready for a schedule as tough as theirs. The Panthers have a stretch in the middle of the season where they have to play five teams in a row who made the postseason this past season. Do not be surprised if the Panthers struggle to go 8-8, and do not expect them to make history as the division’s first repeat champion.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Unlikely the Panthers, the Buccaneers have had an extremely productive offseason. The Bucs acquired big names like cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson, and quarterback Josh McCown over the offseason, while only losing Wide Receiver Mike Williams. Possibly the biggest offseason acquisition for the Bucs is new head coach Lovie Smith, most famous for leading the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl XLI. Smith’s services will definitely be needed on defense, because the Bucs lost arguably the best cornerback in the league, Darrelle Revis, after one season with the team. The Bucs have one of the easier schedules in the NFL this season, but if they want to win the division they will have to perform very well against their division rivals. The Bucs may be able to sneak into the Wild Card round, but it may be a stretch for them to beat the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Atlanta Falcons: After an injury riddled 2013, the Falcons are ready to start winning again. The Falcons were relatively quiet this offseason, signing a good number of players but no one overly notable. The biggest offseason acquisition for the Falcons was Wide Receiver and Return Specialist Devin Hester. The Falcons also took a huge blow to their offense losing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. First round draft pick Jake Matthews will definitely be a big help to the Falcons offensive line, but it may not be enough. The Falcons have a tough schedule, but nothing they should not be able to handle. The Falcons biggest games this season will be against the Saints: the Falcons will probably need to win both games against New Orleans in order to take home the division title in 2014. All things considered, the Falcons are a good team—but the Saints are better.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints are easily the favorites to win the NFC South this season. With the additions of safety Jairus Byrd and first round draft pick Brandin Cooks the Saints are ready to make another run for not only the division but possibly even the conference. The Saints have a tough schedule, but they are more than ready to handle it. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has assured Saints fans that he will change the game this coming season; and as for the offense, the combination of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees has not failed yet. The Saints have only one the division once since their victory in Super Bowl XLIV, so they are long overdue. Expect a deep playoff run from the Saints in 2014.