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2023 Best-Case/Worst-Case: NFC South


Photo Credit:Atlanta Falcons, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Atlanta Falcons


Arrivals

  • DE Bud Dupree

  • DE Calais Campbell

  • S Jessie Bates III

  • DT David Onyemata

  • TE Jonnu Smith

Departures

  • CB Casey Hayward Jr.

  • QB Marcus Mariota

  • OT Germain Ifedi

Notable

  • RT Kaleb McGary re-signs on three-year deal

  • RG Chris Lindstrom signs five-year extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • RB Bijan Robinson – Rd. 1 (#8)

  • DE Zach Harrison – Rd. 3 (#75)


Best-Case: 11 - 6, 1st in NFC South


Following back-to-back 7 - 10 seasons, the Atlanta Falcons waded deep into free-agency waters and came back with quite a haul. Defensive linemen Bud Dupree, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata will help shore up a leaky front alongside mainstay Grady Jarrett, while safety Jessie Bates III teams up with stud corner A.J. Terrell to shore up the back end. On offense, the transition to second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder will hopefully open up a passing game that was pretty non-threatening under Marcus Mariota. With weapons like wide receiver Drake London, tight ends Kyle Pitts and the newly acquired Jonnu Smith, Ridder should have a much easier time moving the ball downfield. The Falcons bucked the trend of avoiding running backs high in the draft, opting for the explosive Bijan Robinson with the #8 pick. With a running game that was already one of the league’s best, Robinson can take the Falcons to another level with his rushing and receiving ability. The NFC South is there for the taking, and if everything comes together, the Falcons will be in the mix to host a playoff game this year.


Worst-Case: 5 - 12, 4th in NFC South


The pieces for a division-winner might be in place, but without a competent signal-caller, it’s all for naught. Sadly, this is the position the Falcons might be in this season. Ridder was…fine in his first four NFL starts, avoiding turnovers but throwing just two touchdown passes. He’s going to have to be more than fine if the Falcons are going to make any noise this season and, unfortunately, even that might be a tall task. Ridder fell to the third round because he’s a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none sort of QB. He’s got good size, but isn’t the towering, physical specimen like Cam Newton. He’s athletic, but not Lamar Jackson athletic. He’s a good decision-maker, but not at Joe Burrow’s level. He’s got adequate arm strength, but he won’t be launching any 30-yard sideline bombs like Justin Herbert. Without that one superpower to raise the level of his teammates, it’s going to be up to Ridder’s teammates to elevate him – and that might be too much for an Atlanta team that’s struggled with consistency over the last few years. Combined with a defense that just hasn’t been good in years and a head coach in Arthur Smith that’s starting to feel some heat, a rough year could be in the works.


Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Carolina Panthers


Arrivals

  • HC Frank Reich

  • DC Ejiro Evero

  • OLB Justin Houston

  • S Von Bell

  • WR Adam Thielen

  • TE Hayden Hurst

  • RB Miles Sanders

Departures

  • WR D.J. Moore

  • QB Sam Darnold

  • QB P.J. Walker

  • RB D’Onta Foreman

Notable

  • Traded up from #10 to #1 in the 2023 NFL Draft

Impact Draft Picks

  • QB Bryce Young – Rd. 1 (#1)


Best-Case: 11 - 6, 1st in NFC South


Young was the most accurate, consistent, and talented QB coming out of the draft and the Panthers made a gutsy move to trade up and fill a void on their roster. They should improve just by virtue of improving at QB, and in a weaker division like the NFC South, that could be just enough to squeak out a surprise division title. Like the Falcons, the Panthers added a huge influx of talent which significantly raises their floor, particularly on offense. Hurst is a smart, low-key addition. He’s great at working the flats and is athletic enough to get open during Young’s inevitable scramble drills. The defense was solid last year, and if corner Jaycee Horn can stay healthy, he and Donte Jackson form a tremendous CB duo that will suffocate even the most explosive passing games. The playoff clock is already ticking for new head coach Frank Reich because of the draft capital surrendered to acquire Young, but this is a roster that has the goods to make a playoff run.


Worst-Case: 6 - 11, 3rd in the NFC South


Acquiring Young took more than just draft picks: the Panthers had to include top wideout D.J Moore in the deal, removing a bonafide, top-tier target from their passing game. Moore might be just below the tippy top of NFL receivers, but he’s damn good and losing him will absolutely hurt the Panthers’ deep passing attack. The Panthers did add Adam Thielen and DJ Chark, but neither has the same ability to dictate coverage the way Moore did. There’s also the question of hiring Reich in the first place. While most of his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts was hamstrung by middling QB-play, Reich’s Colts teams were also known as perpetual underachievers. In a weak division and with a new QB with excellent accuracy and decision-making traits, it’s hard to see the Panthers falling to the basement in the NFC South, but finishing a game worse than they were last year is certainly in the cards.


Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


New Orleans Saints


Arrivals

  • QB Derek Carr

  • RB Jamaal Williams

  • DT Nathan Shepherd

  • LB Jaylon Smith

Departures

  • DT David Onyemata

  • DT Shy Tuttle

Notable

  • RB Alvin Kamara suspended 3 games

  • DE Cam Jordan resigned on two-year deal

  • WR Michael Thomas restructures contract

Impact Draft Picks

  • DT Bryan Bresee – Rd. 1 (#29)

  • DE Isaiah Foskey – Rd. 2 (#40)

Best-Case: 12 - 5, 1st in the NFC South


Derek Carr signed with the Saints in the offseason after spending the first nine years of his career in Oakland/Las Vegas, and he’s quite the upgrade over the Andy Dalton/Jameis Winston experience of last year. Carr might not be a superstar, but he’s shown the ability to distribute the ball to his playmakers. Fortunately for him, he has plenty of playmakers in New Orleans, particularly if receiver Michael Thomas is back to his Offensive Player of the Year form (of course, that’s a huge “if”). Even if Thomas never reaches that level again, Carr has plenty to work with. Running back Alvin Kamara, once he completes his three-game suspension, is arguably the most dangerous receiving back in the league, and newly signed Jamaal Williams led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year in Detroit. Second-year receiver Chris Olave looked like a six-year vet as a rookie, and speedster Rashid Shaheed was dynamite in small spurts. The defense too should continue to be above average, with stars like defensive end Cam Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis and safety Tyrann Mathieu at every level. There isn’t a more well-rounded team in the NFC South, and should the Saints put everything together under second-year head coach Dennis Allen, they’re easily the class of the division.


Worst-Case: 5 - 12, 4th in the NFC South


Just because Carr is an upgrade doesn’t mean he’s that much of an upgrade. He's still turnover prone and he isn’t much of a threat with his legs either. He’s going to need to rely on his playmakers – and that’s not a given in 2023. Kamara will miss the first three games of the season, and he wasn’t the same receiving threat last year that he’s been in the past. Thomas is a complete wild card, and there’s a good chance he’s totally washed up. Olave should still be a dangerous deep threat, but Carr has been reluctant to pull the trigger on deep passes. The most concerning part of the Saints, though, has to be Allen's track record. While it’s unfair to lay all the blame at his feet – given he took over the job after former HC Sean Payton’s abrupt resignation – Allen has never been at the helm of a winning team, dating back to his time with the Oakland Raiders. If Allen can’t cut it, and if the offense sputters, the Saints could be in for a rough season.


Photo Credit: Jh8h, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Arrivals

  • QB Baker Mayfield

  • RB Chase Edmonds

Departures

  • QB Tom Brady

  • LT Donovan Smith

  • OC Byron Leftwich

  • OG Shaq Mason

  • RB Leonard Fournette

Notable

  • Exercised LT Tristan Wirfs’ fifth-year option

Impact Draft Picks

  • DT Calijah Kancey – Rd. 1 (#19)

  • RG Cody Mauch – Rd. 2 (#48)


Best-Case: 9 - 8, 2nd in NFC South


No NFL team suffered a greater loss than the Buccaneers when Tom Brady announced that he was finally hanging up his cleats for good after the 2022 season. Brady might be a half century old, but he could still sling it. He will be difficult to replace, to put it mildly. The Bucs now turn to Baker Mayfield, a player that could not be more different than Brady in every way. The brash, divisive, highly drafted, Mayfield is now on his fourth team and could be looking at his last chance to be a starter in the league. As far as reclamation projects go, Mayfield isn’t the worst option. He looked horrendous in Carolina, but he was quite competent in a much worse situation in Los Angeles. He might not be the superstar he was hoped to be in Cleveland, but he’s got talent and is on a team that was in the Super Bowl just three years ago. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are still excellent, and the offensive line is still solid. Mayfield should have time and options. The defense may be getting a little older, but it’s still filled with impact players. Defensive tackle Vita Vea is a load in the interior, while linebacker tandem Lavonte David and Devin White are two of the league’s best. If rookie defensive tackle Calijah Kancey can come close to those Aaron-Donald comparisons that were thrown around during the draft process, the Buccaneers could surprise on offense and defense in 2023.


Worst-Case: 3 - 14, 4th in NFC South


The 2023 Buccaneers feel like a team in the middle of a massive transition. They were disappointing last year, and that was with Tom Brady. Mayfield will be asked to reverse a severely declining roster, and by now, it’s hard to feel optimistic that Mayfield has that kind of performance in him, especially with him sharing reps with second-year Kyle Trask in training camp. While the loss of left tackle Donovan Smith might actually be addition by subtraction, the rest of the line is aging, with 32-year-old center Ryan Jensen being of particular concern coming off a knee injury that kept him out most of the 2022 season. And while the defense is still littered with big names, this was a group that massively underachieved. If they can’t find that spark again (and without Brady lighting the fire for this team, that seems incredibly likely) the defense could fall flat once again. Mayfield will have to play out of his mind to avoid a total team collapse, and even then, that might not be enough. The Buccaneers will be in play for the top pick in next year’s draft – though honestly, that might be part of the plan.

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