Atlanta (11-5). Hopefully this is the year that the Falcons really take charge of this division. As long as there aren’t any big injuries like last year and Steven Jackson and contribute a bit things should be fine. Devonta Freeman may take over a bit more for Jackson and has a chance to be the regular starter by the end of the season. Matt Ryan had a stellar season last year despite all of the issues with the receivers. Harry Douglas could continue his breakout as the slot receiver with Julio Jones and Roddy White continuing to get all of the attention. One spot that the Falcons won’t be able to rely on like recent seasons is tight end. Tony Gonzalez didn’t delay his retirement an additional year again and Atlanta will have to find a consistent replacement to attempt to fill the void. How well the defense does will go a long way in determining how far the Falcons go.
Carolina (10-6). Cam Newton is an amazing athlete and a very good quarterback. With a great defense last year he showed that he could do pretty big things with an aging receiver and a subpar running game. Unfortunately, that aging receiver is now in Baltimore and that running game is even more banged up. If Kelvin Benjamin can make a big splash as a rookie it may help a bit but the passing game will struggle and the run game won’t be spectacular. When your best running back is your quarterback you have a problem, especially in this league. The defense will be solid again but ten wins is their ceiling. Hopefully for their sake, Ron Rivera can continue to improve in the win category like the last two seasons.
New Orleans (9-7). Drew Brees just keeps doing it year after year regardless of who is catching or running the ball. For fantasy purposes this receiving corps sucks, but in general it’s pretty good. There are obvious question marks with the running game. Ingram isn’t the answer and Thomas has gone from the battering ram in the running game to the finesse guy taking over for Darren Sproles (albeit, the slower version). Jimmy Graham is the premier tight end in the NFL and will have a big year again. Not sure the defense can say the same. The Saints will win games because Brees is a fighter, but they just aren’t that good.
Tampa Bay (6-10). The Buccaneers have an emerging young defense, an improving offensive line, a healthy, dynamic young running back, potentially two stud receivers, and yet there are plenty of question marks. It all starts with the quarterback. Josh McCown did a remarkable job filling in for Jay Cutler and the Bears last year, but that was with a veteran team and less expectations. As a free agent coming to a new team, McCown will have a lot to work with but a curious coaching staff. Lovie Smith is a defensive guy and this team is set up to run and gun. Not sure how that will work out, but excited to see the possibilities. There’s just too many uncertainties to expect this team to do much of anything with a backup QB as the starter. In order to end up with a winning record, the Bucs are going to need a healthy season out of Doug Martin and some more consistency on a game-by-game basis from Vincent Jackson (who has been known to take off plays). Mike Evans has the talent to match Jackson on the other side of the field. This team has some talent, but it’s experience will be an issue for another year.