Of all the NFL’s divisions, none feature more questions than the NFC South in the early weeks of the 2019 season. Based on each team’s situation, any team can win it whether they were previously considered favorites or under-the-radar sleepers.
Let’s take a look at the current situation facing all four NFC South teams and whether or not the division is truly the most wide-open division in football.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints were the clear favorite in the division after last year’s trip to the NFC Championship game. Then Drew Brees injured his thumb, putting him out of action for six weeks. The 40-year-old Brees is the face of the Saints’ franchise. While his play has always been stellar in New Orleans, his leadership is also important. It’s unclear if the Saints will have anyone step up in Brees’ absence.
The Saints do have a capable backup in Teddy Bridgewater, and Taysom Hill recalls memories of Kordell Stewart’s ability to serve multiple roles on the team as a quarterback. The Saints were able to eke out a win against fellow playoff contender Seattle in week three – if they can tread water until Brees gets back, they should stay in contention.
Much like their counterparts in the Bayou, the Carolina Panthers find themselves without their longtime quarterback. Cam Newton is dealing with what may be a fairly serious injury. Now quarterbacking duties fall to second-year QB Kyle Allen. Allen threw four touchdowns in a win over Arizona, so it looks as though the team is in good hands for now.
But how will he last over the long haul? Newton is dealing with what appears to be a Lisfranc injury. One doctor said that the best-case scenario for a player to come back from one is 6-8 weeks, and that’s without surgery. Carolina, unfortunately, doesn’t have the luxury of playing Arizona every week. If Allen can’t replicate his Week 3 success consistently, they may not be able to contend for the NFC South title.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The book on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this preseason was that new head coach Bruce Arians was going to work wonders for the offense. While it has been dazzling at times, that hasn’t translated to wins.
Take their performance in Week 3, for example. The Bucs put up 31 points and 499 yards of offense. They also lost 32-31 to the New York Giants and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. One of their major problems was timing. The Bucs put up 25 points in the first half while totaling only six in the second. The team has put up more than 450 yards in a loss an amazing six times since 2018.
Despite the team’s 1-2 record, they still have hope. They clearly can put points on the board. If Jameis Winston and wideout Mike Evans can get on the same page (which they’ve struggled to do so far) they may be able to challenge for the division crown.
Atlanta has run both hot and cold this season. Week 1 saw them looking baffled by the Minnesota Vikings. Then, they showed promise with a hard-fought win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Week 3 saw them lose a close one to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Falcons seem to have as much stability as anyone in the HFC South right now, especially at the quarterback position behind Matt Ryan. So what’s the problem so far? While the offense hasn’t been great, the defense hasn’t played very well either.
If Atlanta can get its defense right and do a better job getting the ball to their weapons like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, they can win the division. Otherwise, it’s going to be a dog fight with the other three aforementioned teams.