Top Of The Hill – 2021 NFC South Preview

Ab Stanley

The NFC South as a division will have a boat load of questions for most of the teams. Three teams will have to find answers under the shadow of the defending Super Bowl champions. One things for sure: the race for second place in this division should be interesting.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Record in 2020: 4-12

Key Player: Running Back -Mike Davis

Player To Watch: Tight End- Kyle Pitts

New head coach Arthur Smith has bought a culture shock with him to Atlanta. A new formula surrounded around running the football a heck of a lot more as opposed to the drop back, pass heavy offense of recent years. Newly acquired Mike Davis will pose as the lead back and will have plenty of help in the backfield.

Matt Ryan is will enter his fourteenth season in the league without super star receiver Julio Jones. Ryan has already built a great rapport with Calvin Ridley, who is now solidified as the number one target overall. Rookie tight end Kyke Pitts could be considered the best player in the NFL draft and may be the new mega-weapon in the Falcons’ offense.

With the new running style of play, guys like Pitts and fellow tight end Hayden Hurst will see a ton of action in the passing game. The offensive sets will probably look heavier with two tight ends rather than the three wide receiver sets we’ve seen in recent years.

The defense should be improved under coordinator Dean Pees, especially with a good combination up the middle with tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. He will need to improve a pass rush that produced only 29 sacks during the 2020 season. Rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji has shown some flashes in training camp and could start at defensive end.

A.J. Terrell showed he’s a solid cornerback on one side last season, but the Falcons need to figure out the other side, quickly. Opponents won’t be afraid of a team that can’t rush the passer and only cover one side of the field Prediction: 9-8

 

Carolina Panthers

Record in 2020: 5-11

Key Player: Linebacker- Shaq Thompson

Player To Watch: Quarterback- Sam Darnold

The Sam Darnold era has begun in Carolina. After being jettisoned from New York, Darnold has a huge chip on his shoulder to prove he’s a legit NFL starter. One big difference will be running back Christian McCaffrey in his backfield. McCaffrey is a massive offensive weapon, already scoring 45 touchdowns in 51 career games.

The receiving unit has some potential, featuring D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, who both went over 1,000 receiving yards in 2020. Second round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. should also turn some heads and should see plenty of one on one matchups. Darnold finally has the weapons to prove whether or not he can get the job done.

First round pick Jaycee Horn should improve a middle of the pack defense that allowed 239.1 pass yards per game. With Jeremy Chinn and Shaq Thompson, they have two wide ranging tacklers that cover most of the field. They will have to find another pass rusher to go along with Brian Burns (9.0 sacks in 2020). Prediction: 5-12

 

New Orleans Saints

Record in 2020: 12-4

Key Player: Running Back – Alvin Kamara

Player To Watch: Linebacker- Pete Werner

The Saints are a team that’s used to having solidarity at the quarterback position. Coming into the 2021 season they not only have a huge hole to fill, but they also have a controversy surrounding who should fill it. Taysom Hill is penciled in as the starting quarterback over Jameis Winston, but nothing there is written in stone.

Whoever ends up the starter, they will be without Michael Thomas for a while. Thomas was placed on the PUP/reserve list and might not see the field until midseason. Nobody else on the roster could be considered a top wide receiver.

The Saints will have a great backfield once again with Latavius Murray and the dynamic Alvin Kamara. Kamara led the NFL last season with 21 total touchdowns. The team will lean heavily on the run game this year and the backs will have to help more than ever in the passing game.

The defense will take a hit with the suspension of David Onyemata and the loss of Trey Hendrickson to free agency. They drafted two defenders early in the draft in Pete Werner and Payton Turner. Both will get more playing time than expected with the aforementioned losses.

The unit should still be solid with veterans Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Marshon Lattimore. It will be hard to maintain their top five ranking, especially with the potential offensive woes. Prediction: 8-9

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record in 2020: 11-5

Key Player: Safety- Antoine Winfield Jr.

Player To Watch: Linebacker- Joe Tryon

Tampa Bay comes into the season with pretty much the same team that won the championship. The immortal Tom Brady returns for another year of being on a title contending team. The team is stout with major receiving targets like Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.

The Buccaneers backfield is also loaded with Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and Giovanni Bernard. The team will definitely run with the hot hand to keep the pass rush off of Brady. The big difference this year is the familiarity the team has with each other.

A top ten defense that won the Super Bowl and has returned all eleven starters will be bad news for the rest of the NFL. Rookie Joe Tryon will get plenty of reps to show off his pass rushing skills. Overall the Buccaneers probably have the best front seven, with an improving secondary. Prediction: 13-4

Ab Stanley

Atlanta, GA

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