The 2017 NFL season is slowly approaching with all 32 teams going through their preparations for the new campaign.
The NFC South has sent teams to the Super Bowl in the last two terms. Unfortunately both the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons were defeated in their quest for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Both of those sides will be desperate to return to the playoffs, with the Falcons aiming to defend their NFC South crown.
Dan Quinn’s men impressed in the last campaign posting an 11-5 record to end the Carolina Panthers’ stranglehold over the division since 2013.
Matt Ryan’s performances earned him the MVP award and drove the club to the Super Bowl, where they claimed a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots, only to lose the contest with a monumental collapse.
Their rivals in the south will be determined to capitalise on any hangover and wrestle back the initiative. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team on the rise, while the New Orleans Saints are always a threat with Drew Brees as their quarterback.
The Falcons were in a dominant position in Super Bowl LI in Houston against New England. They held a 28-3 advantage in the third quarter and were seemingly 18 minutes away from their first Vince Lombardi trophy, but Tom Brady led the Patriots on a historic comeback to break Atlanta’s hearts.
Quinn has spoken at length about helping his side get over their loss, although no side that has lost the Super Bowl has returned to compete for the crown the following season.
Ryan enjoyed an outstanding campaign to lead the number-one ranked offense in the NFL. He deservedly won the MVP due to his high level of play, but will be challenged following the departure of Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers. Steve Sarkisian steps into the role of offensive coordinator and the two must build a rapport quickly to keep the offense rolling.
The key pieces on offense remain with Ryan and All-Pro wideout Julio Jones, while running back Devonta Freeman has penned a new deal. Should they maintain their form, Atlanta should be on course for a return to the post-season.
Defensively the Falcons were run ragged by the Patriots, but return a solid core for the 2017 term. Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett and Keanu Neal had excellent rookie seasons, while the return of Desmond Trufant from injury will solidify the secondary. The defensive line will be boosted by the addition of Dontari Poe and the selection of Takkarist McKinley in the draft.
It might not be a Super Bowl run, but the Falcons look good enough to retain the NFC South at odds of +180 with Marathon Bet.
The Panthers were the victim of a Super Bowl hangover last season, failing to get over their loss to the Denver Broncos. They faced their conquerors of Super Bowl 50 in week one last term and their season was summed up by Graham Gano’s missed field in the last second that would’ve handed them an opening-day win.
Carolina finished a lowly 6-10 just one season removed from a 15-1 record. Ron Rivera is now tasked with rebuilding the club’s confidence and that of quarterback Cam Newton, who lacked the consistency that earned him the MVP award the previous term. He’s had shoulder issues through the off-season, and if that lingers it could spell trouble.
General manager Dave Gettleman was fired before the start of training camp with his predecessor Marty Hurney returning to the club. It should not have a huge affect on matters on the field, although it may play a role in the decision making regarding the 53-man roster.
One of the decisions that may have resulted in Gettleman’s exit was to allow Josh Norman to leave the club in 2016. The Panthers had issues in the secondary throughout the season, but rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley did make progress towards the end. Should they take a step forward and Luke Kuechly returns to full fitness then the Panthers have a chance to bounce back.
A lot will rest on the fitness of Newton, but players like Kelvin Benjamin and rookie CJ McCaffrey make ease the burden. As a result, backing them at +105 with Unibet to reach the playoffs could be a solid option.
The Buccaneers enjoyed a strong first season under the tenure of Dirk Koetter. They posted a winning record for the first time since 2010, although a return to the playoffs evaded them, with their drought extended to 14 years.
However, this could be the campaign that they return to the post-season should Jameis Winston take the next step forward in his development. The 23-year-old has the ability to become a top-10 quarterback in the NFL and has the weapons around him to do serious damage to propel the Bucs forward in their quest to reach the playoffs.
Tampa Bay’s offense could be one of the best in the NFL in 2017. Mike Evans is already a stud, having been named to the Pro Bowl last season following his 1,300-yard 12 touchdown campaign. The club added DeSean Jackson and selected tight end OJ Howard in the first round of the 2017 Draft, handing Winston a quality attack to duel it out with the rest of the NFC South.
Defensively the Buccaneers need to make major strides, although they’re not devoid of talent. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves form a solid cornerback tandem, while Lavonte David is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. However, the unit needs to come together and maintain a level of consistency that was not present last term.
It might not be good enough to reach the playoffs considering the fierce competition in the NFC South along with the rest of the conference. Backing the Bucs to win over 8.5 games at -130 with Bovada sportsbook is a decent punt to take on.
The Saints finished 7-9 for the third season on the bounce and pressure is beginning to build on head coach Sean Payton. Their Super Bowl triumph in the 2009 season is a long way in the past now, while Drew Brees is approaching the end of his career and has just one year left on his contract.
Therefore the franchise needs results this term, although the strength of their roster does not suggest that a run to the playoffs is on the cards. New Orleans traded away one of their high-quality receivers Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for a first-pick that was used on offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, while cornerback Marshon Lattimore also arrived in the 2017 Draft.
The club opted not to attempt a trade for Malcolm Butler, putting faith in Lattimore to shine as a rookie, while Delvin Breaux proved to be a quality corner before he suffered an injury last season. The need for pass-rush was somewhat met by selecting Trey Hendrickson, but the Saints need to support Cam Jordan in their attempts to get to the quarterback.
Brees has showed no signs of slowing down and he continued to put up outstanding statistics. He will have support on the ground this season from Adrian Peterson, with both men aiming to squeeze a few more terms out before they bid farewell to the league. Michael Thomas was extremely impressive as a rookie and should kick on this term – hence the departure of Cooks.
However, the Saints have proven in the past that not even their excellent displays on offense are enough to keep them in the picture for the playoffs, with odds of -260 with TopBet sportsbook not to reach the post-season.
Atlanta Falcons To Win The NFC South
Carolina Panthers To Reach The Playoffs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers To Win Over 8.5 Matches
New Orleans Saints Not To Make The Playoffs
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