No matter what sport we’re talking about, there’s no doubt that you or someone you know made a bold prediction regarding your favorite team.
Here, I’ll be doing the same.
Today, we’ll be looking at the NFC South division. A division that featured three playoff teams, two top-ten defenses last year, and three franchise quarterbacks, the expectations for such a division are once again sky high going into 2018.
With each team undergoing a major change at each position, it’s hard not to see the NFC South being as competitive, if not more competitive for the upcoming season.
Enough of the chit-chat, let the prediction making begin.
Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley will be the key to the Falcons offensive resurgence
After fielding a historic offense in 2016 that averaged 33.8 points per game in 2016, the Falcons offense regressed in 2017 and averaged only 22.1 points per game, ranking fifteenth.
With most of the core pieces such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, DeVonta Freeman, and Mohamed Sanu already in place, there’s no reason to think that this team can’t once replicate what it did just two seasons ago.
Over the offseason, the Falcons moved on from speedster Taylor Gabriel, replacing him with another speedster: Alabama rookie Calvin Ridley.
And now, Ridley could be the key to the Falcons offense getting back to their 2016 form. While he hasn’t played a down of NFL football yet, Ridley averaged seventy-five catches and 927 receiving yards over a three-year career at Alabama.
This fall, whether Ridley is lined up in the slot or on the outside, he’ll be a valuable asset to a passing offense that’s relied heavily on Julio Jones over the past two years. With Ridley now the newest face in the Falcons wide receiver room, it won’t be a surprise until he’s actually out on the field making plays, taking pressure off both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones due to his catching ability and speed.
With Ridley essentially having a more dynamic skillset than Taylor Gabriel and Steve Sarkisian in his second full season as the Falcons offensive coordinator, more players should be comfortable with the offense, especially Ridley who played for Sarkisian for one season at Alabama in 2016.
Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore will emerge as the Panthers best offensive weapons.
In 2017, Christian McCaffrey totaled 1086 yards from scrimmage in an offense that wasn’t necessarily built to suit his needs. Now, with Mike Shula out and Norv Turner in as offensive coordinator in 2018, Christian McCaffrey is primed to have a big year in 2018.
Not far behind is rookie first-round pick D.J. Moore. The former Maryland wide receiver burst onto the scene in 2017 totaling 1094 yards from scrimmage. He averaged 12.9 yards per reception and drew praise from former Panthers great Steve Smith.
While the Panthers overhauled their receiving corps adding guys like Torrey Smith, McCaffery could be set for a bigger role in 2018, particularly in the passing game, where he had eighty receptions for 651 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per reception last season.
Most would argue that someone like Greg Olsen or Torrey Smith could play a bigger role, those two are there to contribute, but also to serve as valuable mentors to younger guys like McCaffrey and D.J. Moore.
The valuable second-year growth that McCaffrey will experience will go a long way towards helping the Panthers offense in 2018. And considering the way that Moore played in his final season at Maryland, it’s not hard to envision him becoming a regular part of Norv Turner’s offense in 2018.
For the first time ever, it seems as if Cam Newton actually has some weapons around him that will take this Panthers offense from good to great.
New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore will lead the league in interceptions
After quickly establishing himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season, expect Marshon Lattimore to be even better in 2018. He’s going to be elite.
After five interceptions his rookie year, Lattimore is on the verge of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the game. And considering he had to lock down guys like Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Jarvis Landry last season, there’s no reason he can’t take the next step.
In 2018, Lattimore will see guys like Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Antonio Brown. Three of whom are considered to be top-five wide receivers in the NFL.
Lattimore showed the ability to makes plays on the ball last year and also showed that he could be effective playing either man or zone coverage. As the season progressed, he seemed to become more and more comfortable making plays on the ball, breaking up eighteen passes, some of which could have been interceptions had Lattimore timed them right.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: An 0-4 start to the season is what will end this teams playoff hopes
Things seem to be uncertain in Tampa Bay. After going 9-7 in 2016, everyone was thinking one thing: Playoffs in 2017. However, the locker room fell out of control, while Jameis Winston was injured and failed once again to prove that he was worth taking with the first overall pick in 2015.
As Winston enters his fourth season, as of right now, he’s only set to play thirteen games. And he’s the most polarizing player on the Buccaneers roster. He essentially holds the keys to this team finally reaching the postseason.
Unfortunately for Winston and Buccaneers fans, the first three weeks of the season doesn’t do this team any favors as they’ll be playing the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers, with all three expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2018.
After that, they’ll travel to the Windy City and play the Chicago Bears. Yes, the Buccaneers and Bears have arguably equal roster in terms of talent, but with Winston’s first start expected to come in Week Four, there’s no knowing how comfortable he’ll be after not having played in an NFL game since December 2017.
In a loaded NFC, where many as many as eight teams showcase playoff potential, every game counts. And if the Buccaneers fall behind early on, it’ll be difficult to catch up as the season wears on. One loss could mean the Buccaneers are automatically out of contention for a playoff spot.