The NFC South has been a division dominated in recent years by the New Orleans Saints, largely due to the effervescent play of recording-breaking quarterback Drew Brees. But just how much longer will Brees be able to sustain his level of play and consequently the Saints’ stranglehold on the division?
Should New Orleans be asking for an heir to throne this Christmas? And are there any potential gifts that the other teams could receive that would help catapult them into the top spot in the NFC South?
NFC South – Carolina Panthers
It was in fact the Panthers who won the division three straight years from 2013-2015. They reached the Super Bowl in 2015. This was heavily the doing of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who put together an MVP season in the Super Bowl campaign.
This year however, Cam has been banged up and has since had surgery on his foot as well as his frequently injured shoulder. Panthers backup Kyle Allen has been…serviceable but really isn’t the answer for the organization’s future. They spent a third-round pick on West Virginia quarterback Will Grier in the 2019 draft, Grier has gotten a shot to start late in the season…but has probably been even worse than Kyle Allen. The Panthers obviously felt the need to look towards the future of the QB position last year by drafting Grier, what’s happened this season to make the future outlook any clearer? Nothing. In fact, it’s cloudier than before.
The perfect Christmas present would be a fully healthy Cam Newton again in 2020 as he is a superstar and an elite talent at the quarterback position. Unfortunately though, injuries don’t really work like that.
So top of the Panthers’ Christmas list is a new QB. If the top two QBs (Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa) are both off the board when the Panthers pick in the first round, will they fall in love with another quarterback in this class enough to potentially use a top-10 pick on them? I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
However, with Norv Turner now on the Panthers’ coaching staff, one guy we know he’s comfortable with is Teddy Bridgewater. Turner was the OC in Minnesota when the Vikings drafted Bridgewater in 2014. Top of the Panthers’ Christmas list should be a reunion of the pair for the 2020 season.
NFC South – Atlanta Falcons
I had high hopes for the Falcons coming into the year. Their roster is talented, and they have their quarterback in place in Matt Ryan. They’d not long ago been to a Super Bowl…but they’ve been so disappointing in 2019. One of the biggest disappointments has been the team’s offense.
They fired former OC Steve Sarkisian in 2018 after a lackluster offensive showing during that season. They’re currently 524 yards behind there yardage total for that season (225 passing and 299 rushing) and 61 total points behind there previous season’s tally. Clearly, there are problems on offense.
Despite using two first-round picks on offensive linemen last year, the blocking up front has still been poor for the Falcons, especially with 31st overall pick Kaleb McGary not looking too great at the moment. The Falcons could look to add O-Line early again, but having invested two premium picks up front last year there’s a chance they look to upgrade another area of the roster.
Another area that needs an upgrade is at the running back position. I’m not an advocate of drafting running backs in the first round, but luckily the Falcons have two second-round picks to play with.
The dream Christmas present for Atlanta would be for Georgia running back D’Andre Swift to fall kindly into their laps with their first second round pick. It’s not inconceivable that Swift falls out of the first round due to the de-valuation of running backs. If this happens and Atlanta don’t want to risk losing the in-state prospect, they should have the ammunition to trade up to get Swift if needed.
NFC South – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What do we with Jameis? This is the question. Winston is the current league leader in passing-yards-per-game, pass attempts, and total passing yards for the season. He’s also tops in first-down-passes-completed and first-down-passing-completion percentage. He’s second in touchdowns scored and top-5 in yards-gained-per-attempt and completion.
These stats are very impressive, but I’m under no illusions that you can win games because of Jameis Winston. He leads the league by a wide margin in interceptions and interception percentage, as well as being top-5 for most sacks taken. There are so many stupid mistakes that Winston makes that so nearly negate all the good work he does. Yes, you’re going to win games because of Jameis. But it’s quite likely you’re going to lose some because of his low moments. With his contract coming to end at the close of this season, the Bucs are in a predicament whether to extend him or not.
Ultimately, I think they should and do. They need improvement and most of all stability and reliability from Jameis moving forward. They’re asking Santa for Jameis to accept a team-friendly, short-term deal. This way he can bet on himself to show improved decision making and accuracy over the next couple of years to erase any doubts that he should be the Bucs’ franchise quarterback long term. Then he gets the contract he deserves and is paid like a franchise quarterback should be.
NFC South – New Orleans Saints
I prefaced it at the start of the article. Drew Brees is a genius and a magician, but his time in the NFL is coming to an end. Should the Saints win the Super Bowl this year, I think there’s every chance Drew decides to bow out on a high note.
His current backup, Teddy Bridgewater, is likely to demand a starting role somewhere for the 2020 season. If Brees does retire, the solution is simple, try and do all you can to retain Teddy. He’s already shown he can be a strong starter in the Saints’ system this year. But they’ll still need to look at adding a quarterback.
The usage of Taysom Hill has been fascinating in New Orleans. Listed as a quarterback, he’s pretty much used in every sense other than as a traditional quarterback. Sean Payton is a super-intelligent coach who’s been able to truly maximize Hill’s talents. Wouldn’t it be fun for him to add another weapon into the Saints’ backfield to confuse teams?
It would and that’s why he’s asking for Jalen Hurts for Christmas. Hurts has had a much-improved season for Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley. And in my opinion, whilst he may not be a top-level college passer, he’s certainly shown that he’s capable of playing quarterback in the NFL. Everyone knew about his running prowess already, but he’s been able to round out his game even more this season, from a passing standpoint.
Put him in a three-man backfield with Brees (if he doesn’t retire) and Hill and opposition teams won’t know whether they’re coming or going. An offensive weapon immediately and potentially the long-term successor to Brees, Hurts is top of the Saints’ Christmas list.