Saints, Buccaneers, Panthers, Falcons: NFC South fans preview the 2022 NFL season

Tom Brady, Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston

In the latest in our fan preview article ahead of the 2022 NFL season, we head to the NFC South to see what those who live and breathe their teams make of how they’re shaping up.

The 2021 season saw a slight changing of the guard in the NFC South, as for the first time since 2016, the division title didn’t go to the New Orleans Saints, that instead went to perennial winner Tom Brady as he was in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

However, at the age of 45, it’s very much up in the air whether or not he’ll be around to hold onto that crown for much longer. And in other quarterback news, the Carolina Panthers took their next step in trying to find a franchise QB as they acquired Baker Mayfield, whilst the Atlanta Falcons moved on from the man who’s been leading their team since 2008 as Matt Ryan moved to the Indianapolis Colts.

What do all those changes, to name just a few, do to the state of the division? We reached out to a number of fans from all teams in the NFC South and asked them their views on their respective franchises, asking five of the same questions to each responder before giving them one unique question each, after which we will reveal our prediction for how the division will look come the end of the regular season.

New Orleans Saints, @BtBoylan

What went well for you last season?

Despite not making the playoffs for the first time since 2016, and losing multiple key players to injury, New Orleans found a new bright spot in 2021 with their defense. Led by Demario Davis and Cameron Jordan, the Saints changed the stigma surrounding the defense by becoming one of the top rush defenses in the league. Paired with a young and star-studded secondary, the Black and Gold proved that their defense can shoulder the load and lead the team to victory.

What area do you need to improve on?

The Saints young receiving corps struggled mightily last season, finishing as one of the worst in football. Headed into 2022, New Orleans needed a breath of fresh air at the position and did so with the additions of Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave, paired with the return of Michael Thomas from injury, New Orleans’ biggest area of concern suddenly becomes a strong suit.

How confident are you going into this year and what do you expect your record to be?

Based off talent alone, the Saints could easily be NFC contenders. However, health and how quickly chemistry can be built among the new additions will be key. Finishing 9-8 a season ago with four different quarterbacks and injuries galore is a good sign of the fight and resilience in this team. I expect New Orleans to finish with 11 or 12 wins this season and clinch the NFC South title.

Who is winning MVP and the Super Bowl?

Personally I hate making predictions for the MVP of the league and Super Bowl matchup this early because a lot can happen but if I had to pick right now… MVP would go to Buffalo’s Josh Allen. The kid continues to grow year by year and has shown a swagger that can catapult his team into being a contender year in and year out.

Super Bowl Matchup… I’ll take the Bengals vs. Arizona. I really think Burrow is going to be the face of the league for years to come and the Cards could surprise a lot of people and dominate the NFC.

Who is going to end up with the worst record in the league?

Atlanta is the least talented roster in the league right now and I do not see any major upgrades for them coming in the near future. After parting with their franchise cornerstones Julio Jones and Matt Ryan over the past few seasons it is evident the Falcons are in rebuild mode and it will show on their record this season.

How long do you think it will take for the Saints to get back to being seen as perennial contenders again like they were during the Brees/Payton era?

Honestly, as I stated prior, I believe all the pieces are in place for the Saints to contend right away. Between a coaching staff that for the most part have all been with the organization in years past, and an ultra-talented roster. The Saints should return to the “glory days” fairly quickly maybe even this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, @ThePewterCast

What went well last season?

Coming off their Super Bowl victory in 2020, the Buccaneers were able to retain not only their coaching staff, including the head coach and all coordinators, but they were also able to return all 22 starters to the roster for 2022. For the first time in team history, they went into the draft not having ANY immediate needs to fill. They were drafting purely for depth and talent development. That didn’t stop them from nabbing a stud OLB in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.

The team picked up right where they left off, going 13-4 in the regular season, setting a new franchise record for highest wins in a season. QB Tom Brady had a banner year himself, throwing for 5316 yards and 43 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. All of this led to the team winning the division for the first time since 2007.

What area do you need to improve on?

It’s hard to find areas that Tampa Bay needs to improve on based on their performance last year, but since there is always room for improvement, the DB’s are the first place my mind goes when thinking about biggest areas of needing improvement. The Bucs have a baller at CB in Carlton Davis III, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr has the potential to be a perennial name in the Pro-Bowl conversation.

But after those two, it gets murky. Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean seem locked in a stalemate for who will start opposite Davis on any given week, and safety Mike Edwards has yet to emerge as a consistent ball hawk to play opposite Winfield. With the loss of Jordan Whitehead this off-season, Edwards is going to have to step up to show he’s the guy now. Oh, and special teams….Tampa Bay’s entire special teams unit is mediocre at best, and terrible on a good day…with the exception of the placekicker and long snapper.

How confident are you going into this year and what do you expect the record to be?

As the old saying in football goes, “As goes the offensive line, so goes the team.” Ok, I’m not really sure if that’s a saying, but it is still true. During training camp, the injuries piled high for the Bucs offensive line as a unit, beginning with the loss of center and the attitude – Ryan Jensen.

2020 third round draft pick Robert Hainsey was filling in nicely for Jensen until an injury in the pre-season pulled him from the game. Another season-ender to the Super Bowl guard Aaron Stinnie, an oblique injury to All-Pro Tristian Wirfs, and the loss of Ali Marpet (retired) and Alex Cappa (signed by the Bengals) leaves the Bucs’ offensive unit as the spot that most shakes your confidence in this year’s team.

That said, I still expect the Bucs to have an absolute floor of 11-6, which should still be good enough to win a very weak NFC South division, and a ceiling of 13-4, matching their total from last year.

Who’s winning the MVP and the Super Bowl?

I could be a total homer and talk about Tom Brady getting screwed out of winning MVP last year when he was clearly better than Aaron Rodgers, but I won’t. I think this year will show the same crop of names for MVP and the same teams vying for a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. If I had to lay money right now on who I think gets it, I’d look to Josh Allen and the Bills for both, but not a single snap of this season has occurred as I write this.

Who is going to end up with the worst record in the league?

This one might be best answered by saying who ISN’T going to end up with the worst record in the league, and that’s going to be the Jacksonville Jaguars. I don’t think they’re winning any divisions, but they’ll improve enough to clear the way for a new cellar dweller in the league this year and I say that team is…the Atlanta Falcons.

Bringing in Marcus Mariota as the successor to Matt Ryan says one thing and one thing only, they’re pushing hot and heavy into the sweepstakes for the number 1 pick in 2023. That team is in full “blow it up” mode before they begin the rebuild.

Do you see this as being Brady’s final year? And if so, who takes over as the team’s QB in 2023?

Win, lose, or draw, I do see this as Brady’s final year in Tampa. Will it be his final year in the league? Probably. But if we do see him back under center next year, I expect it’s in different colors. This is Brady’s final year on his contract with Tampa and I don’t see him signing on for more years. He’ll want to explore other experiences in the league. But my best guess is that this is his swan song.

As far as taking over for Tampa in 2023, I don’t see the team doing bad enough to warrant a top pick to grab a new stud QB, and last year’s second-round pick, Kyle Trask, has shown great improvement this off-season, putting together some nice film from pre-season. Not a lot should be made of Trask still being number 3 on the Bucs QB depth chart, the team likes him a lot.

But in the likely event that Tom does not re-sign with the team, I would fully expect the team to knock on the door of a few other free-agent veteran QB’s before handing the reigns over to Trask, but given the names of potential QB free agents in 2023, that veteran would likely come to Tampa to lose the competition to Trask.

Carolina Panthers, @MeowMixPodcast

What went well for you last season?

The Panthers defense improved over the previous season, particularly the pass defense, and ended as the 2nd ranked defense overall (by yardage allowed). WHAT ELSE?

What area do you need to improve on?

Where to begin… The Panthers did a lot of work adding to the offensive line in the offseason, and that group’s play needs to improve significantly over last season. The QB position was also a major issue last season, which the Panthers have addressed by adding Baker Mayfield.

Coach Rhule needs to improve his in-game adjustments, as evidenced by the Panthers being the worst 3rd quarter team in the NFL last season as well as losing 10 games in which they held a lead. The overhaul of the coaching staff should help with that. The Panthers’ best player, Christian McCaffery, needs to stay healthy this season as his presence on the field cannot be replicated.

Finally, the TE position needs to improve as new OC Ben Macadoo is known to utilize the TE in his offense, and the current Panther’s TE group has been historically…uninspiring.

How confident are you going into this year and what do you expect your record to be?

We’re confident the team will have the best season under Matt Rhule and will finish the regular season at 8-9. Will that be enough to save Rhule’s job? Maybe if they sneak into the playoffs, which at 8-9 would be a stretch.

Who is winning MVP and the Super Bowl?

MVP – Joe Burrow

Super Bowl Winner – Buffalo Bills

Who is going to end up with the worst record in the league?

Atlanta Falcons

Do you think that Baker Mayfield was the right option to pursue as a quarterback, or would you rather they took someone else?

The Panthers pursued Deshaun Watson hard and were ultimately out-bid by the Browns. As a consolation prize, Baker Mayfield is a pretty good one. Given the money the Panthers are paying Baker, the minor draft pick compensation they gave up and the fact that Baker is a significant upgrade over Sam Darnold, we do believe they made the right decision to bring him to Carolina.

There were other QBs we thought the Panthers could have pursued (mainly Gardner Minshew), but they never really seemed interested in anyone other than Watson and, ultimately, Mayfield.

Atlanta Falcons, @hthompsonNFL

What went well for you last season?

The Falcons overachieved last season which was a pleasant surprise. The emergence of Patterson as an offensive weapon along with Kyle Pitts kept the offense fun and should give Smith some toys to work with next season.

What area do you need to improve on?

The Falcons’ trenches last season were atrocious on both sides and is something they desperately need to improve on in order to build what Smith and company see fit.

How confident are you going into this year and what do you expect your record to be?

I think the record is going to be 7-10 repeating last season. Falcons improved the roster across the board but have a tough schedule. I think we’ll see an improved defense under year two of Dean Pees, and Arthur Smith has new toys that should help propel the offense to being competitive in some regards.

Who is winning MVP and the Super Bowl?

Josh Allen personally. He’s a dominant threat through the ground and the air and should lead Buffalo to the playoffs again and should be super bowl contenders. And they’re actually my pick for the Super Bowl winners.

Who is going to end up with the worst record in the league?

Worst team I think is the Jets. I think Wilson struggles personally and I’m not sure LaFleur is creative enough to make the pieces come together and work fluently.

Is the quarterback of the future already on the roster, or does the team need to start looking for talent elsewhere?

I think so. The coaching staff seems to love Desmond Ridder at this point and schematically he seems like a perfect for what Arthur Smith wants to run.

GiveMeSport predicts: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons

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