2013 NFC South Final Standings
Carolina Panthers: 12-4
New Orleans Saints: 11-5
Atlanta Falcons: 4-12
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-12via NFL.com
Don’t expect the battle for the NFC South this season to be anything like it was in 2013, with only the Panthers and the Saints having a real shot at the title all year. Expect next season to be a dog fight for the top spot, with the NFC becoming increasingly better than the AFC. Next year, much like what we have seen this year in the NBA, there will be teams in the NFC that don’t make the playoffs, but win 10 or 11 games and would have been a top seed in the AFC.
The NFC South is a division that has never been won by the same team in consecutive years. The 2013 champion Carolina Panthers are a team that has a monster defense, and can repeat this feat, but their chances did take a hit this offseason with the loss of the entire receiving corps. In a controversial move, the team cut Steve Smith, the face of the franchise for over a decade. Steve Smith was shaping up to finish the last year on his contract, and retire as a Panther. But to General Manager Gettleman, it made sense to cut Smith, even if the fan base greatly disagreed. The Panthers also lost receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Lafell and Domenick Hixon to free agency. They have added Jerricho Cotchery, who caught 10 touchdowns with the Steelers in 2013, and other decent receivers in Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. But the passing game for the Panthers will most likely be worse than it was this past season. This team has an uphill battle to repeat as champions.
The Falcons 2013 season was a mistake, only scratching out 4 wins. One year prior to this, this team had a magnificent 13-3 season and grabbed the top seed in the NFC. What changed? The major problems were the holes in the offensive and defensive line. Also they were greatly affected by key injuries at receiver, with Julio Jones suffering a season-ending injury in only their 5th game, and Roddy White battling ankle problems all year. They have done a good job this offseason in patching the line, by signing players such as Jon Asamoah at guard, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and more. With Julio Jones healthy, the Falcons will be right back in the mix this season, looking more like their former 2012 selves rather than how they looked this past season.
The Saints are always a competitive team, and because the team retained their star tight end Jimmy Graham, things will be no different this season. Despite having made many cuts on defense to free up cap space, as well as losing Darren Sproles, a key part of their offense, they signed a solid free safety in Jarius Byrd. They have made the playoffs each of the last 4 years that they have been under Sean Peyton, including winning the Super Bowl in 2009. This team has one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Drew Brees. In my opinion, the Saints are favorites to win the division in 2014 simply because they have had sustained success under Sean Peyton and Drew Brees. The Saints will definitely have to fight their way to the top in this tough division, but they are very capable of doing so.
The Bucs have been a terrible team for so long, but they recently made major changes. They hired a new head coach, Lovie Smith, who spent 9 years with the Bears. He won 3 Division Championships and 1 Conference Championship with the Bears. They signed a new QB in Josh McCown, former Chicago Bear, as well as defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner. With a solid receiver in Vincent Jackson, as well as a great young running back in Doug Martin (who was injured for half the season in 2013), we could see vast improvement in the Tampa Bay offense. The Buccaneers are set to evoke into a new era, one of experience on the coaching and quarterback side, and an era of possible success.
Each team presents a talented roster for this upcoming season, and each team will be hard to beat. This division is made up of 4 teams looking to make a playoff push, and it will be one of the most competitive divisions in 2014.