Complete NFC South Preview

Here is a look at what you can expect from the Falcons, Saints, Panthers and Bucs this season…

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are the class of the NFC South and ready to compete with the Eagles, Vikings, Rams and Packers for NFC supremacy. The offense remains one of the most dynamic in the NFL, and the talented young defense should only be better with experience. The Saints face a brutal schedule and will do well to equal last year’s 11-5 record, but they’ll again be a factor in the NFC playoff race and are a solid sleeper pick to go all the way.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are never the flashy arrival to the ball, but they stand to be one of the more competitive teams in the NFL this season. The addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley to the offense could be a stroke of genius to get back to their high-scoring ways. Rookie Isaiah Oliver might be the final piece to what could be a dominant secondary, and the youth on the defensive line could give the team some extra push in the pass rush and run support. Still, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s maturity into a capable play caller is the story to watch going forward and could be what separates a good Falcons team from a great one.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers don’t look that much different on paper from the team that finished 15-1 in 2015 and made it to the Super Bowl. Many of the core players from that memorable squad remain. But it is fair for Panthers fans to wonder if the team is wasting QB Cam Newton and MLB Luke Kuechly prime years. Personnel holes and various injuries in the secondary, at wide receiver and in the offensive line have hamstrung much of the past two seasons — and Newton has never totally regained his NFL MVP form of 2015, either.

This team could go a long way, but a lot of things have to break right. Kuechly and Newton have to stay healthy and play at an elite level. Another legitimate receiving threat must emerge. The secondary has to be better. Running back Christian McCaffrey has to take another step forward.

If all of that happens, the Panthers could win it all. More likely, this is a team that will remain in the postseason picture in the increasingly difficult NFC South.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht are on the hot seat. Licht is well aware that his reshaped roster needs to produce. And he’s confident the right moves have been made.

“Last year, there’s no sugar-coating the disappointment,’’ he says of a season in which the Bucs were 3-7 in one-score games. “I feel like we were a much better team than our record suggested, and we’ve talked over and over about the close games that we were in and the ones that we couldn’t find a way to finish. I feel like we’ve added some really quality players that have been in those situations. Not that that’s always the answer, but I just love this locker room. I love the heartbeat of this locker room. I love the vibe, and I think we’re a lot closer than some people think. I think we have a chance to do something really good.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston needs to re-establish himself as a quarterback capable of getting his team to the postseason. The schedule is much tougher, especially in September. If the rebuilt defense is successful and running back Ronald Jones II restores balance to the offense, the Bucs will be contenders again in a tight division. If not, they could easily repeat their last-place finish.

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NFL Football 2017-18 Season

NFC South Division Preview

With the days and weeks of summer ticking by, the arrival of a new NFL season continues to approach. Fans still have to wait until September 7th for Kansas City and New England to kick off in Gillette Stadium, but they don’t have to wait much longer for pre-season football starting tomorrow August 3rd at FanPicks. To get you ready for the new season, here’s an outlook of NFC South teams.

Atlanta Falcons

There is absolutely nothing to fix in the Falcons’ offense. Atlanta finished 2016 first in points scored, offensive touchdowns and points per drive. The argument surrounding quarterback Matt Ryan’s “eliteness” ended in 2016. The veteran was both statistically impressive (4,944 yards, 38 TDs, seven INTs) and a commanding force in two playoff wins.

So there isn’t much that changed in the Falcons offense beside one move on the sidelines. Former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian is taking over the offensive coordinator duties from Kyle Shanahan. Sarkisian’s play-calling tendencies in the college game promoted play-action and no huddle, which jibes with the aspects of Shanahan’s system that elevated Ryan’s game. Ryan hasn’t missed a start since the 2009 season, but Atlanta extended the agreement of backup Matt Schaub, the most reliable number 2 option the Falcons have had in years.

Running back Devonta Freeman was the breakout star of Atlanta’s offense last season. Julio Jones is arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver if not its most physically impressive. Perhaps more important for Jones (and Ryan) was that the big free-agency price paid for Mohamed Sanu was worth it (59 catches on 81 targets). Jones and Sanu thrived when Ryan consistently hit supporting targets (Freeman, tight end Austin Hooper and breakout sensation Taylor Gabriel), forcing defenses to avoid bracket and double coverage.

Carolina Panthers

Score more points. This has become the Panthers’ offseason mantra after the offense was average at best in 2016 and failed time and again in the clutch. After a 2015 season in which Carolina finished No. 1 in the NFL in scoring (31.3 ppg), the Panthers dropped to 15th in 2016 (23.1 ppg). And given that Carolina lost six games by three points or fewer, the goal this year is to once again top the 30-points-per-game threshold.

The “old” is not that old, but quarterback Cam Newton turned 28 in May and will be entering his seventh NFL season. Newton took a couple of steps backward in 2016, suffering a career low in completion percentage. Besides the inherent pressure of attempting to return to his Most Valuable Player form of 2015, Newton has the additional burden of coming back from March surgery on the partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

At running back, bruiser Jonathan Stewart returns but is nearing the twilight of his career at age 30 and in his 10th year in the NFL. Christian McCaffrey, the apparent heir of the running duties, is a far different type of back. He is more elusive and better in space, but not as effective in between the tackles. Fullback Mike Tolbert was released as the Panthers plan to go more to three-wide sets and let their new slot receiver, rookie Curtis Samuel, run a lot of the deep routes that Ted Ginn Jr. used to before he bolted for New Orleans.

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has not been able to achieve the separation he needs to from defensive backs. His on-and-off battles with weight are part of the problem as well. He has a lot to prove this season. Tight end Greg Olsen is a consummate pro and has made the Pro Bowl three years in a row. His sticky hands have made him Newton’s favorite target. Devin Funchess has been a poor man’s version of Benjamin, which is not a compliment. Like Benjamin, Funchess badly needs to show improvement in 2017. Damiere Byrd is undersized but very fast and could surprise.

New Orleans Saints

As quarterback Drew Brees goes, so go the Saints. Even at 38, Brees remains one of the elite passers in the league. He compensates for his lack of prototype size and arm strength with anticipation and an encyclopedic knowledge of head coach Sean Payton’s complex offense. Few quarterbacks are given more control at the line of scrimmage, and Brees is a master at reading defenses before the snap and beating coverages with his quick release and uncanny accuracy. Even without big-play threat Brandin Cooks, Brees should enjoy another big season.

The emergence of Michael Thomas and the acquisition of Ted Ginn Jr. made the speedy Cooks expendable. Thomas uses his powerful hands and 6’3″ frame to physically dominate defensive backs on competitive balls downfield. He compares to former Saints great Marques Colston with his uncanny body control and innate feel for getting open against zone or man-to-man coverage. With Cooks gone, Thomas is Brees’ clear go-to receiver in the red zone. On another team, Willie Snead might not be a factor, but in the Saints’ intricate, timing-based attack, he excels with his smarts, sure hands and precise route-running. He’s a favorite target of Brees on third down. Ginn fills Cooks’ role as the deep threat. Even at 32 years-old, he can still take the top off a defense with his sprinter’s speed.

Mark Ingram has blossomed into one of the league’s best all-around backs. He drives through tackles with his powerful legs and low center of gravity. Ingram has also become a dependable receiver in passing situations. He’s the clear starter. The Saints believe Adrian Peterson has plenty of juice left in his 32-year-old legs and can share the workload with Ingram. If he can stay healthy, he’ll provide insurance for Ingram, who has battled injuries throughout his career. Look for Ingram and Peterson to alternate series and share the workload.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs will face a murderers’ row of quarterbacks this season: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning in addition to NFC South gunslingers Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. Some may believe that that’s what gave the team the excuse to raise ticket prices for the second year in a row. But the truth is, the Bucs believe that quarterback Jameis Winston is more than worth the price of admission.

Winston has to cut down on his turnovers though. He’s had 42 in two seasons (33 interceptions and nine lost fumbles). The Bucs engaged in an offensive weapons spree in the offseason to help out Winston. They’ve added free-agent receiver DeSean Jackson while drafting Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and Penn State receiver Chris Godwin to go with Mike Evans and Cameron Brate.

Wide receiver Mike Evans was targeted an astounding 175 times, the most of any player in the league. He caught 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 TDs, but he won’t have to carry the offense anymore now that Jackson and Howard are on board.

Brate tied for the league lead among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions. The addition of Howard to the squad allow him to be free to run option routes down the seam.

The biggest question mark on offense is at running back. Doug Martin will miss the first three games serving a suspension for PEDs. The Bucs re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers, and both Charles Sims and Peyton Barber return. Tampa Bay used a fifth-round pick on Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols, who has the best hands and is the best pass protector among backs in this year’s draft.

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NFC South biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draft

The league’s most wide-open division looks to get even more competitive after the draft

You could argue that the NFC South is the NFL’s most talented and competitive division from top to bottom. The Falcons and Panthers have represented the NFC and each of the last two Super Bowls, and all four teams have franchise quarterbacks on their roster. Be that as it may, each of the four teams in the NFC South has flaws and holes to address on draft day April 27th. Once those holes are filled, the division is only going to become more competitive, and nobody should be surprised if yet another NFC South team makes its way to the Super Bowl this coming season.

 Atlanta Falcons

Once the Falcons got the ball rolling in 2016, they looked like the best team in the league, at least right up until the second half of the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. If not for the face plant on the biggest stage in American sports, I’d say Atlanta had a successful season. These Falcons appear to be built to last for quite some time, thanks to a young defense, a solid and deep offensive line, the best running back duo in the game, the best receiver on the planet and the reigning NFL MVP. As young and talented as this defense is, the Falcons need more solid contributors at linebacker. They could also use more help at defensive end. When it’s their turn to pick in the first round, I’ll be stunned if they don’t select a player who will start in their defensive front seven immediately.

First-round pick: No. 31 overall

Potential picks: There is no shortage of skilled defensive ends and linebackers in this draft, and there will be plenty to choose from when Atlanta is on the clock. Look for Michigan’s Taco Charlton and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis as possible defensive end picks. If the Falcons go the linebacker route, I like UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, if he’s still available.

 Carolina Panthers

The Panthers fell victim to that post-Super Bowl lost slump last season. Seemingly nothing went right for 2015 MVP Cam Newton and his squad. The Panthers finished in the lower half of the league in total offense and defense en route to a six-win season. It’s crazy to say this about a team one year removed from a 15-1 regular season record and Super Bowl appearance, but the Panthers could use help everywhere outside of the quarterback position.

First-round pick: No. 8 overall

Potential picks: Even though they brought in Captain Munnerlyn this offseason, Carolina is still without that elite, shutdown corner it used to have in one Josh Norman. Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore is a no-brainer if he’s still available. If he’s gone, Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey and Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett are both very real possibilities.

 New Orleans Saints

The Saints bumbled their way to a losing record and another playoff-less campaign last season. Injuries and a awful defense kept the Saints from being competitive in a division loaded with offensive talent. To make matters worse, their most dangerous offensive threat from the last couple of seasons now resides in New England. Even though New Orleans has done a lot of work to fill holes on defense so far this offseason, this unit still needs to add more talent. Cornerback appears to be the biggest need, which is why the Malcolm Butler rumors won’t go away. Whether that will be resolved by the draft remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if the Saints target a defensive tackle early.

First-round picks: No. 11, No. 32 (via New England) overall

Potential picks: Due to what I expect to be an early run on corners, Ohio State’s Gareon Conley, Florida’s Teez Tabor and Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie are all safe bets with the 11th pick. That said, if Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster is still available, it will be tough to pass him up based on raw talent. New Orleans could then use its other first-rounder to grab a defensive back or a lineman.

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs logged their first winning season since 2010. With a young franchise quarterback protected by a solid line a surrounded by up-and-coming playmakers, Tampa Bay made great strides and is a franchise on the rise. The Bucs fell a game short of the playoffs, but appear to be a sexy pick in 2017 to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII. The line is good, but Tampa Bay needs a long-term option at left tackle to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side. Tampa Bay also needs a dependable running back to take some of the pressure off Winston and the passing game. Defensively, outside linebacker is a need.

First-round pick: No. 19 overall

Potential picks: If Florida State running back Dalvin Cook somehow falls to them, the Bucs must pull the trigger. The more realistic option is Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson. If they choose the outside linebacker route, expect Houston’s Tyus Bowser to get the call.

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Atlanta Falcons (1-1) vs New Orleans Saints (0-2)

The New Orleans Saints will commemorate one of the more noteworthy games in franchise history when they host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in a matchup (Enter Contests) of longtime NFC South rivals. It will mark the 10-year anniversary of the re-opening of the Superdome after the venue was forced to close for one season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

About the Saints

While emotions certainly will not be as high as in New Orleans’ win over Atlanta a decade ago, the Saints can use any edge to avoid an 0-3 start after dropping their first two games by a combined four points.The Saints were horrendous on defense last season and little has changed. They rank 31st in the league with a staggering 451.5 yards surrendered and have been torched through the air for an average of 336.0 yards. Keeping the defense off the field would be easier if the Saints could crank up their running game, with lead back Mark Ingram producing 88 rushing yards on only 21 attempts, including nine carries in last week’s 19-16 loss at the New York Giants.

Quarterback Drew Brees has a potent receiving duo in Willie Snead and Brandon Cooks, who have combined for 27 catches and four touchdowns. Cooks has accumulated a touchdown catch in six consecutive home games. The Saints are 15-5 versus Atlanta since Brees and coach Sean Payton joined the team, which also includes a season sweep in 2015.

About the Falcons

The Falcons rebounded from a 31-24 home loss to Tampa Bay in Week 1 with a 35-28 road win last week at Oakland, which squeezed out a 35-34 victory at New Orleans in the season opener. Matt Ryan had his fewest touchdown passes (21) since his rookie season in 2015, but he off to a fast start with 730 yards passing with five scores and one interception while leading the league with a 121.4 quarterback rating. There is cause for concern in the passing game with star wide receiver Julio Jones sitting out his second straight practice Friday due to a calf injury, but Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said he expects him to play. Jones has nine receptions for 149 yards in the last meeting against New Orleans.

The Falcons are receiving solid production from the backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who have combined for 181 rushing yards and 11 receptions. Atlanta’s defense ranks 29th overall, allowing an average of 412.5 yards per game.

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NFL Season Preview

 2016 NFC South Fantasy Football Season Preview

With the NFL season kicking off in 4 weeks, the excitement is electrifying for this upcoming campaign and FanPicks will be previewing all eight divisions these upcoming days, continuing by the NFL’s NFC South. Take advantage of our MLB and NFL Cross Sports contests, unique in the fantasy industry but first enjoy this 2016 NFC South Fantasy Football Season Preview article brought you by Fanpicks.

 2016 NFC South Fantasy Football Season Preview

Atlanta Falcons

Just when Devonta Freeman looks like a good Fantasy pick, the Falcons schedule hits you like a ton of bricks. Four road games in the first six weeks include back-to-back games at Denver and at a rested Seattle team. They also play at Tampa on a short week and at Carolina in Week 16. Home games include the Chargers, Packers, Cardinals and Chiefs — not easy games. Freeman’s going to have to get a lot done in the passing game.


Key Additions:  C Alex Mack, DE Derrick Shelby, WR Mohamed Sanu

Key Losses: DT Paul Soliai, DE O’Brien Schofield, DE Kroy Biermann, G Chris Chester, WR Roddy White


Carolina Panthers

It’s a tougher slate than what they had in 2015 but it’s not a dangerous gauntlet. Maybe the biggest issue is that there’s no stretch where they can dominate offensively for five or six weeks at a time. Leading off at Denver, then taking on the Vikings in Week 3, then a showdown with the Cardinals in Week 8 is an example. Back-to-back West Coast games are brutal. Cam Newton should remain productive but don’t expect a year like the one he just had.


Key Additions: Di Paul Soliai, C Gino Gradkowski

Key Losses:  ED Jared Allen (Retired), WR Jerricho Cotchery, P Brad Nortman


New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees’ arm is going to fall off. The matchups are either sweet for the Saints passing game or will require the Saints to put up a ton of points to keep up. Then again, is that really different than normal? Check out this horrid six-game stretch starting in Week 6: at Carolina, at Kansas City, Seattle, at San Francisco, Denver and at Carolina on a Thursday. That stretch could be an eyesore for Mark Ingram.


Key Additions: TE Coby Fleener, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Nathan Stupar

Key Losses: WR Marques Colston, TE Ben Watson, CB Brandon Browner, HB Khiry Robinson, G Jahri Evans

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

t’s a tough start for the Buccaneers — they play at Arizona, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Denver and at Carolina in Weeks 2 through 5. But after their Week 6 bye they have a lot of good-looking matchups including a potential foursome of shootouts in Weeks 13 through 16 (at San Diego, vs. New Orleans, at Dallas, at New Orleans). Draft the Bucs and be patient with them.


Key Additions:  ED Robert Ayers, G J.R. Sweezy, LB Daryl Smith, CB Brent Grimes, CB Josh Robinson

Key Losses: G Logan Mankins (retired), LB Bruce Carter, LB Danny Lansanah


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