NFL: 2022 NFC South Preview

Written by Jake Bowtell & Jack Johnston (@thejbse on Twitter)

ATLANTA FALCONS (Jake)

Last season

Credit to 1st year HC Arthur Smith who wrung absolutely every drop of potential out of this impoverished Atlanta Falcons team in 2021. A side that could easily have limped to 4-13 instead found itself going 7-10, though outside of a tasty win over Division rivals New Orleans, the Falcons primarily beat up on fellow cellar dwellers in the Jets, Giants, Jaguars, Panthers and Lions.

BD

Team Ins & Outs

As if the season hadn’t been hard enough to swallow, Falcons fans then watched as long-time QB Matt Ryan departed in the off-season, as Atlanta tried, and failed, to lure Deshaun Watson in. Veteran defensive presence was added with CB Casey Hayward and DT Eddie Goldman, while younger talent on that side of the ball arrived in the 2nd Rd of the Draft in the form of DE Arnold Ebiketie and LB Troy Andersen. The Draft also saw the beginnings of a potential future for the Falcons on offense, with the acquisition of 1st Rd WR Drake London and 3rd Rd QB Desmond Ridder.

CU

The Big Question

The offensive side of the ball feels like it’s in decent hands with Arthur Smith, who as mentioned earlier, made plenty of lemonade with the cupboard full of lemons he was presented with. My question is how he goes about amending the defensive side of the ball, which was exploited pretty horrendously on the ground. If Smith wants his Falcons team to be successful, he can’t neglect the defensive side of the ball, even if that’s not where his skill set lies. The moves to add experienced players from other teams, and young talent via the Draft to the defense should give Falcons fans heart that the front office and coaching staff have their priorities in a good, and balanced, place.

AJC

CAROLINA PANTHERS (Jake)

Last season

The 2nd year of the Matt Rhule Reign began about as positively as any cautiously optimistic Panthers fan could have hoped for, as Carolina sprinted away to a 3-0 start. That early season success, however, was soon punctured with a run of 2-12 in their final 14 games, as the team sat moored to the foot of the Division at the conclusion of the campaign.

ESPN

Team Ins & Outs

Carolina seemed invested, for a time, in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but ultimately lost out to the Cleveland Browns. There were reports too that they attempted to lure Russell Wilson back to the State where he began his college career. Instead, the Panthers QB room now includes 2022 Draftee Matt Corral, former Cleveland Brown Baker Mayfield, and former New York Jet Sam Darnold. The offensive line was strengthened with the addition of Ikem Ekwonu in the first round of the Draft, while the defensive side of the ball was beefed up with the signing of LB Damien Wilson and DT Matt Ioannidis.

SN

The Big Question

Can Matt Rhule finally find consistency at the starting QB position? This team has played hard and fast for their coach, particularly on defense, but the QB situation has been a raging disaster. The Panthers have had four different QBs start under Matt Rhule in two seasons, combining to complete 62.8% of their passes at 6.7 YPA with 30 TDs and a whopping 37 INTs. Matt Rhule may have a long contract in place, but a contract can be paid out or manoeuvred around by owner David Tepper if a solution at the game’s most important position fails to emerge. Baker Mayfield should win this job with ease, but can he? That QB question mark looms large in Carolina in 2022.

CNBC

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Jack)

Last season

It’s a different New Orleans outfit when longtime QB Drew Brees isn’t a part of the picture. Despite a promising start of 5-2 by Week 8, a stretch of 5 losses thereafter suffocated any sense of optimism for the Saints. That losing streak began the week after rejuvenated quarterback Jameis Winston injured his ACL in Week 8. The Saints did win 4 of their last 5 games, albeit against weaker divisional opponents, but it was too late to salvage their season.

WDD

Team Ins & Outs

The biggest Out in New Orleans this offseason came in the form of the departure of long-time head coach Sean Peyton. Peyton is replaced by long-serving DC Dennis Allen, who should provide some sense of consistency for the team. The Saints have quietly made some nice additions in the offseason, drafting first round WR Chris Olave and first round OT Trevor Penning, to replace outgoing Terron Armstead, as well as signing S Tyrann Mathieu and WR Jarvis Landry to boost their roster with an LSU flavour.

BR

The Big Question

Can Jameis Winston rewrite his legacy? He was known as a turnover machine when he played in Tampa Bay but made an effort to improve his ball security and decision making when he started backing up Drew Brees in 2020. He was given an opportunity to start last year, and impressed the NFL, but that injury in Week 8 prevented him from making any lasting impact. If he stays healthy, can Jameis Winston unleash that rocket arm and help the Saints ascend back to the top of the South in 2022? They’re still loaded on defense, so it may not be as far-fetched as one might think.

AN

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Jack)

Last season

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were poised to be the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since Tom Brady did it back in 2004-2005 with the Patriots. With the NFC South falling apart around them, the Buccs cashed in to go 13-4, before bowing out to the Rams in the Divisional round of the playoffs when their comeback fell agonisingly short. Something that seems to have escaped the memory of fans in 2022, however, is that if the Rams could have held the football, Brady and the Buccs would never have got that close.

CBS

Team Ins & Outs

Tom Brady was out, and then he was back in, with a wholly unsurprising off-season do-over on retirement. Bruce Arians was shuffled off into the front office somewhere to sip on a few rum and cokes, while DC Todd Bowles was promoted to take charge of the team. Tampa Bay have made some aggressive moves in the off season. On offense, they picked up 2 wide receivers in a pair of former Falcons, Russell Gage and WR Julio Jones, as well as one-time Viking TE Kyle Rudolph. Grabbing safety duo S Logan Ryan and S Keanu Neal helps boost that defensive secondary.

AL

The Big Question

Can the Buccs go again? Tom Brady’s offensive line has been disappearing this preseason, much like their Hall of Fame QB who took a 12 day training camp hiatus beneath a shroud of mystery. Mike Evans, too, is carrying an injury, which Tampa will hope doesn’t bleed into the regular season. However, Tom Brady is not afraid of adversity and will look at this (most likely) final season as one more opportunity to prove his critics wrong. The roster is still stacked with talent and Todd Bowles might just be the fresh voice this team needs to keep opponents on their toes. It’s up to Tom Brady to lead this team to another division title and springboard off that to go deep come January. Keep your eye on that offensive line.

NBC

Jack’s Prediction:

1. Buccaneers

2. Saints

3. Carolina

4. Atlanta

Jake’s Prediction:
1. Buccaneers

2. Saints

3. Carolina

4. Atlanta

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