After a rollercoaster of an NFL offseason, the ride is coming to an end. The NFL season is back, baby! Sadly, this means that this draws the end to the Wizard of Auzz Fortune Telling series. But before we unbuckle our seats (’cause you know… the rollercoaster? hah!) we have the NFC South; one of the more exciting division battles to come in the 2019 NFL season.
Last year the New Orleans Saints had a relatively easy route to a division victory and first-round bye. Cam Newton battled a nagging shoulder injury; the Atlanta Falcons got bit by the injury bug early and wrecked their Super Bowl aspirations, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers… well, they had a season with Fitzmagic, so that should say enough (all eyes are on you now, Miami).
Let’s finish this and get to the new season already!
New Orleans Saints
With the start of a new season, hopes are high as ever for the Saints who were a missed call away from getting to the Super Bowl.
The Saints were a top 10 offence in 2018. However, after their 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 13, they showed signs of regression. Regardless of whether that was because of Drew Brees or the offence in general, they lacked that explosiveness we had grown to see in early 2018.
While the defence and offensive weapons remain relatively stacked, the question leading into 2019 will inevitably: How long before we see Drew Brees regress?
Saints fans have been pointing their fingers at Tom Brady entering his age-42 season as Super Bowl champion, but they are forgetting that he is the exception, not the rule. Drew Brees played lights out last year, connecting on 74.44% of his passes, throwing for nearly 4000 yards, with a TD:INT ratio of 32:5.
It becomes troubling when looking at the last four games that Brees played in during the regular season in 2018. Brees averaged a mere 215 yards/game and had a 2:2 ratio in the final four games. For a guy averaging 285 yards/game up to that point, a drop of 70 yards per game is quite the drop-off. In the playoffs, Brees had decent numbers, but again, the offence wasn’t nearly the same.
In what’s going to prove to be a very tough NFC, this team’s success hinges on Drew Brees’ consistent dominance. From a roster standpoint, this is a very talented team, but with evidence of inconsistency on offence at the end of last year, the Wizard is worried that we are about to witness the fall off of Drew Brees.
Wizard’s Prediction: 8-8
Watch out for those pesky Falcons. After a year written off by injury, they are now ready to bounce back as one of the top teams in the NFC.
They addressed their offensive line in the draft by drafting two offensive linemen in the first round. Guard Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College who was as pro-ready as they come and will be the starting Right Guard. They also drafted Kaleb McGary who was Right Tackle in college but could also move inside with Lindstrom in the event of injury.
This team is as talented on offence as one could hope for. With offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter back in the fold after a Head Coaching stint with the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Matt Ryan and Co. are looking at a bounce-back year.
On defence, this team is powered with stars all over: Grady Jarrett and Takk McKinley along the defensive line; Deion Jones back and healthy at Linebacker; and Desmond Trufant and Keanu Neal leading the way in the secondary.
Matt Ryan threw for nearly the same stats (4924 yards, 35:7 TD:INT, 69.4% completion %) that he had in his MVP season (4944 yards, 38:7, and 69.9%). With the emergence of Calvin Ridley as a 3rd WR, the Falcons are locked and loaded for a playoff run.
The Wizard wouldn’t be surprised if this team made the Super Bowl.
Wizard’s Prediction: 11-5
While the Falcons are poised for a breakout year, don’t sleep on the Panthers. Cam Newton is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery (let’s ignore the foot injury he sustained in the Preseason, ok?) and poised to bounce back from a year where he saw his 6-2 Panthers finish… 7-9. Yikes.
When Newton is healthy, he can put the Panthers’ offence to another level with his dual-threat ability. However, even in his MVP year (2015), we saw a top 10 defence that truly cemented that team as a Super Bowl contender.
This year, we might be seeing more of a 2015 style Panthers. While they don’t have Josh Norman in his prime, they have standout rookie CB Donte Jackson entering his 2nd season. Jackson and the Cornerback opposite him, James Bradberry, graded above average by PFF in 2018. They also were in the top five cornerbacks in the NFC South.
What’s more, the Panthers loaded up their front-seven by drafting Brian Burns in the 1st round, as well as signing Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin this offseason. The pressure that this front-seven can bring to opposing offences will take pressure off of the secondary, which was not the case a year ago.
IF Cam Newton can stay healthy (big IF but bear with me), this team looks lethal on both sides of the ball.
The Wizard expects big things from this Panthers team.
Wizard’s Prediction: 10-6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not going to be good in 2019.
They got QB guru for a Head Coach in Bruce Arians to come out of retirement to a hole-filled roster and salary cap issues. While Arians and General Manager (GM) Jason Licht worked some magic and freed up some much-needed cap space for next year, the team going into 2019 is simply not good.
On defence, their defensive line is decent in that it has Ndamukong Suh at Defensive End (DE), and 2018 1st round pick Vita Vea at Defensive Tackle (DT). Lastly, they drafted much-needed help at linebacker by getting Devin White 5th overall in April’s draft.
Offensively, the Bucs have pieces for whoever will be their QB next year. Mike Evans is a star and Chris Godwin is a star in the making. They are also deep at tight end, having O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate as their top two.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay fans, that’s pretty much all you got.
Things to worry about
According to Spotrac, Bucs have next to no salary cap this season, so what you see is what you get in 2019. They will not be bringing in any new faces until the new league year in 2020.
Their offensive line ranked 24th in the NFL last year according to PFF. Having signed Donavon Smith, Ali Marpet, and Ryan Jensen to large contracts that keeps them together through 2022, it is definitely a cause for concern.
On defence, the Bucs were the 27th ranked defence for yards against/game. That secondary didn’t receive much help this offseason, so look for it to continue its below-average level.
This team has a long way to go to become competitive in a very tough division, and even tougher conference. The Wizard suspects the Bucs will be at the bottom of the division for this year, and possibly longer if they cannot get some help along the offensive line, in the secondary, and at running back.
Wizard’s Prediction: 3-13
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