It wasn’t too long ago that the NFC South was at the absolute bottom of football. The football was terrible, the division was bare of supreme athletes and no one thought any of the teams should be part of the playoff makeup. Fast forward to the likes of Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and of course the elevated play of Matt Ryan and Drew Brees; you have a division that has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl the last two seasons.
Yes, I know that in getting to the “Big Game,” the NFC South has lost to Denver and New England, respectively. But the brand of football is becoming ultra-competitive. Free Agency and this past weekends’ draft has upped the ante for this 2017 season in the South. This upcoming campaign is going to be fun, and at least on paper shapes up to be the BEST division in pro football.
The best division in football? How in the world could you draw that conclusion? Well, I have my reasons. Let us look at what just came in.
The talent brought in through free agency for all the teams is of high quality. The “cellar dweller” New Orleans Saints just brought in future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who even at 32 years old still has some punch left in his game. In addition, WR Ted Ginn and LBs A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o should help improve this squad. The draft for New Orleans was solid with Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to help the secondary, and local product Alvin Kamara will have some instant impact.
For the Carolina Panthers there was a sharp decline in record after their Super Bowl run. Both offensively and defensively the team took a step back. The need to protect Newton was paramount, so they went and got Matt Kalil from Minnesota to pair along with his brother Ryan. They also brought back former players Captain Munnerlyn to help the back four and franchise sack leader Julius Peppers, who is still very effective and rushing the passer. In the draft, they picked up dynamic playmaker Christian McCaffery along with solid runner Curtis Samuel. Taylor Moton out of Western Michigan will also compete for playing time on the offensive line.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were not that far away from making the playoffs last season. Head coach Dirk Koetter is continuing to build a very solid football team, and judging by its free-agent pickups, the Bucs are ready to take it to the next level. To upgrade the defensive line they got Chris Baker from Washington. They also added to pair with Mike Evans, the speedster DeSean Jackson. This will be a force to be reckoned with immediately. In the draft, Tampa picked up TE O.J. Howard, safety Justin Evans, and LB Kendall Beckwith. They also got Jeremy McNichols to run the football as Doug Martin is in question.
For the Atlanta Falcons, coming of a Super Bowl loss, especially one of that magnitude and disappointment, you would think they would stand pat with an already young team. But picking up free agent DT Dontari Poe from Kansas City gives this defense some additional punch to go along with its speed. Along with that they signed DL Jack Crawford and G Hugh Thornton for continued depth. In the draft the Falcons picked up DE Takk McKinley from UCLA, who is expected to bookend Vic Beasley for years to come. They also picked up LB Duke Riley, G Sean Harlow, and to head coach Dan Quinn’s own heart, cornerback Damontae Kazee, a ball-hawking playmaker.
All of these teams have done so much to upgrade their status, but this is only a piece of why the NFC South is the best division in football.
The NFC South has the best collection of quarterbacks in the NFL. From top to bottom, the signal callers for each team keep them in ball games and can be relied upon to win a few if needed. Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, in conjunction with head coach Sean Payton, is always dangerous and can beat any squad in the NFL. Jameis Winston is going into his third year and showed last season that his stock is going up. He is a great field general that is savvy enough to use his legs when needed. Newton, despite the decline after his MVP season, is still one of the most dangerous weapons at the quarterback position. Finally, reigning MVP Matt Ryan took ultimate command of the offense last season and is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League.
When the league is always clambering for quality QB play, the NFC South has four, high-level stars.
So when I say the NFC South is the best division in football, it’s not just because I’m within its borders. I have sufficient reasons for the thought process. This year, as the schedule makers have seen fit, the division games will be at the back quarter of the season, which will make for some interesting and intense football.
The Falcons won it last year, but up until Carolina won it back to back to back over the previous three seasons, no team had conquered the division in consecutive years. It will not be a cakewalk for Atlanta, as each team is fully capable of beating the other on any given Sunday.
This year will be fun.