We are now a few weeks into the 2019-20 NFL season and we’ve had plenty of excitement already. The NFC South has been dominated the last few years by the New Orleans Saints, but only as recently as 2013 no team had won the division for consecutive years, providing 11 years of close competition. Will 2019 see a return to this, or will it be more glory for the Saints? So far, it looks like it will be a season of status quo, but only time will tell. Here is a look at each team in more detail.
New Orleans Saints
Off the back of their victory in the NFC South during the last two years, the New Orleans Saints are the clear favourites to repeat this for the 2019 season. So far, they haven’t been able to make it past the NFC Championship after winning the Super Bowl in 2009, with the closest being in 2018 when they beat the Eagles in the divisional playoffs but lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship.
Since last season, the Saints have picked up Latavius Murray, Jared Cook, Nick Easton, Erik McCoy and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, but have also said goodbye to Mark Ingram, Max Unger and Ben Watson. It is very possible that they could make it all the way to, and possibly even win, the Super Bowl this season, provided they have some better luck in the playoffs. With strong players like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan and Alvin Kamara, it is certainly possible they could be able to go all the way this season.
Whilst they remain favourites to win the NFC South, their biggest risk to achieving this would be either from poor performance or injury to Brees. After injuring his thumb at the beginning of the season, Brees may be out for several weeks. If this time out lasts any longer, then the Saints’ chances will dwindle significantly.
The Atlanta Falcons are currently sitting second favourite to win the NFC South this season after their second place finish in 2018-19. They have added 8 new players, including Kaleb McGary, Jamon Brown, James Carpenter and Giorgio Tavecchio, and have also had Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones all return after being hit by long term injuries early last year.
If the Falcons’ defence is able to perform dynamically and aggressively, in the way that head coach Dan Quinn wants, the team stands a chance of making it to the playoffs. Strong offensive players like Julio Jones and 2016 MVP Matt Ryan should help to give the Falcons strong contenders for the NFC South win. This could be helped by the possibility of the long term absence of Brees due to his recent thumb injury. Working against the Falcons is their schedule; they don’t play a divisional opponent for 9 weeks, meaning 6 of their last 8 games are against rivals in the NFC South. Aside from the risk, the biggest obstacle for the team remains to be injuries that cause long term player losses.
The remaining two teams have significantly worse odds of winning the NFC South than the Saints and the Falcons, with the Panthers being third most likely (or second least likely) to top the division. They have also added eight new players, including Matt Paradis, Bruce Irvin, Aldrick Robinson, Greg Little, and Will Grier. But they’ve also lost five players, including Ryan Kaliil, Thomas Davis and Mike Adams.
Just four years ago the Panthers were on a winning streak, topping the NFC South three years on the run, and making it to the Super Bowl in 2015. However, their streak was stopped by the Broncos who beat them 24-10 at the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Yet with the current line up, it doesn’t look like they’ll be repeating this success this year.
If Cam Newton is able to hold off further shoulder and foot problems and return to form, and if strong performances comes from the line defensive line of Gerald McCoy, Kawann Short, and Dontari Poe, then it may be possible for the Panthers to get a wild card spot in the playoffs. Another poor performance from the team could put Ron Rivera’s job of head coach at risk, particularly if they finish under .500 as this would be the third time in four years.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not topped the NFC South division since 2007, and they don’t look like they’ll be changing that any time soon. After a Super Bowl victory in 2002, 4 division titles, and 7 playoff appearances between 1997 and 2007, the team made a great start to the 2008 season, but lost the final four games to finish 9-7 which wasn’t enough to get into the playoffs.
The Buccaneers have added 13 new players, but also lost eight, which is a significant lineup change. Off the field, the team has also made additions to its coaching staff, with a new all-star lineup of Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich and Bruce Arians. If Jameis Winston can finally live up to the hype of being the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, whilst making use of wide receiver Mike Evans, the Buccaneers may be in for a fortune changing season.
However, despite making many additions to the defensive lineup through the draft and in free agent trading, the Buccaneers’ defense could still remain poor. This could be possible since there is a new coaching team and a large number of new defensive players, so it may take a while for them to gel together.
Overall, aside from any unforeseen injuries or some miracle performances from new players, it doesn’t look likely that any major surprises will occur in the NFC South in 2019. The New Orleans Saints continue to be favourites, although the thumb injury to Brees could change this as the season progresses. We’ll likely see some improvements in the bottom half of the division, but not enough to make much difference. It will therefore most likely be a two horse race between the Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.