By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports activities NFL Analyst
The NFC South has soccer’s greatest star, Tom Brady. It has one of many NFL’s most constantly aggressive groups, the New Orleans Saints, seeking to show it could maintain that up with out quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. It has a staff with some promising items that searches for an id, the Carolina Panthers. And it has one other squad within the very early levels of a rebuild, the Atlanta Falcons. That form of narrative selection is uncommon, and it means we’ll be capable of observe lots of completely different tales from this group.
New Orleans Saints
With out Sean Payton on the sidelines, the Saints are moving into a brand new period with a brand new set of problem-solvers on the headsets. Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael will try to unravel the championship puzzle that has eluded the franchise in recent times.
Whereas Allen has a protection that’s primed and able to compete with the elites, Carmichael should work out assist QB Jameis Winston play at a excessive degree whereas getting every of the Saints’ perimeter playmakers (Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara) sufficient touches to allow them to make an affect on the sport. If the staff’s new playcaller can get it achieved, the Saints may march by means of the NFC behind a proficient roster that appears like a championship contender on paper.
Strengths: It’s laborious to discover a higher defensive lineup than the one Allen trots out every week. The Saints have affect gamers at each degree (Cam Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore and Tyrann Mathieu) with the power to take over video games. The intelligent defensive architect makes use of a mixture of blitzes, simulated pressures and conventional zones to befuddle opponents whereas unleashing a pack of massive hitters who like to thump runners and receivers all around the subject. When the Saints carry power and energy to the sphere, notably at dwelling video games, there are few quarterbacks and opponents who can stand up to the stress.
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Weaknesses: The lack of Payton robs the Saints of an elite playcaller. The long-time head coach is a grasp at making in-game changes that alter momentum. With out Payton on the sidelines, the Saints’ offense may lose a few of its explosiveness whereas breaking in a brand new playcaller. Though Carmichael has expertise calling performs, he has large sneakers to fill because the chief of an offense with excellent firepower. Given the “Super Bowl or bust” mentality that hovers round this franchise, the stress is on Carmichael to maintain the offense buzzing this season.
Breakout Participant: Linebacker Pete Werner may turn out to be a family identify as an rising tackling machine for a top-five protection. Werner’s instincts, consciousness and anticipation allow him to remain across the motion as an off-ball linebacker with pure playmaking abilities. With Demario Davis commanding a lot consideration on the within, Werner may emerge because the silent killer on a protection that sparks a deep postseason run.
Win-Loss Prediction: 12-5
Matt Rhule has searched close to and much for a franchise quarterback to assist the Panthers recover from the hump. The commerce for Baker Mayfield on the eve of coaching camp might need solved the staff’s greatest challenge whereas additionally respiratory a bit life into the constructing. The fifth-year professional has swagger and unshakable self-belief to enrich a stable set of abilities as a passer. When he’s edgy and on his sport, Mayfield is a harmful playmaker with the potential to reverse a franchise’s fortunes.
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Energy: The Panthers’ protection has flourished underneath defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The grizzled defensive architect has blended artistic school ideas with a standard NFL scheme that has enabled the Panthers’ younger protection to wreak havoc on foes across the league. With a group of energetic playmakers like Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown and Shaq Thompson anchoring the unit, the Panthers have the capability to torment opponents with a wide range of completely different appears to be like and ways that maintain opposing quarterbacks guessing within the pocket. If this group can keep away from the harm bug, the unit may emerge because the disruptive power that sparks a playoff run.
Weaknesses: The disappointing play the Panthers have gotten from their quarterbacks within the Rhule period has been the most important cause why the staff has fallen wanting its playoff objectives. The revolving door on the place has prevented the offense from growing an id and the requisite chemistry wanted to play at a excessive degree. Though Mayfield is actually an improve over his predecessors on the place, the jury remains to be out on whether or not he can single-handedly elevate the play of the offense.
Breakout Participant: The departure of Haason Reddick as a free agent creates a possibility for Yetur Gross-Matos to emerge for the Panthers. The additional-long move rusher possesses the bodily instruments to take over the sport off the sting, however he should show extra consistency. If the third-year professional can discover his groove as a move rusher, the Panthers’ protection may overwhelm opponents with its particular person and collective expertise.
Win-Loss Prediction: 10-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The return of TB12 might need prompted most throughout the soccer world to pencil the Buccaneers into Tremendous Bowl LVII, however a spate of accidents and an impromptu trip may derail the staff’s plans earlier than the season will get going.
The losses of Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie weakened the inside of an offensive line that retains the bullies away from Brady in the course of the pocket. With Ali Marpet’s shocking retirement additionally impacting the unit, the road in entrance of the seven-time Tremendous Bowl winner has instantly turn out to be an enormous query mark.
Though Brady has routinely overcome personnel deficiencies up to now, it’s laborious to anticipate a 45-year-old quarterback to hold an offense that can’t defend him within the pocket. Maybe he can pull one other rabbit out of the hat, however Brady’s magic may run out as a result of a collection of accidents that impacts the supporting solid round him.
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Energy: The Buccaneers’ successful pedigree will give them an opportunity regardless of the accidents which have rocked their beginning lineup. Brady has routinely discovered methods to win with short-handed lineups all through his profession, and his mere presence will elevate the extent of perception across the program. With TB12 within the huddle, the Buccaneers know they’ve an opportunity to win each time they run onto the sphere, and that confidence may allow them to beat some deficiencies that might crush the goals of most squads.
Weaknesses: Injuries and defections among the many offensive line will make it laborious for the offense to discover a rhythm early within the season. The shortage of chemistry and continuity throughout the group may result in some blown assignments and identification errors that find yourself with their ageing quarterback being hit extra usually. Though TB12 will assist his offensive line together with his fast launch and distinctive pre-snap diagnostic abilities, it may be a while earlier than the Buccaneers’ offensive line performs sound soccer on the line of scrimmage.
Breakout Participant: Second-year professional Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is poised to place up monster numbers as a delegated move rusher enjoying alongside a pair of monsters on the inside. Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks will command severe consideration on the line of scrimmage, which ought to free Tryon-Shoyinka to reap the benefits of one-on-one matchups on the surface.
Win-Loss prediction: 9-8
Arthur Smith labored minor miracles a season in the past by squeezing out seven wins with a roster that lacked supreme expertise at a number of marquee spots. The artistic playcaller might want to get away his A-game once more to chalk up extra wins using a shell sport that retains opponents from honing in on his star gamers on all sides of the ball.
Though it’s laborious to win constantly with a “smoke and mirrors” strategy, the Falcons have sufficient firepower to maintain video games aggressive when they can play on their very own phrases. With Marcus Mariota including some management and play-making to an offense that options an elite playmaker in Kyle Pitts, the Falcons may be capable of rating sufficient factors to masks a few of their defensive deficiencies in 2022.
Energy: Though video games are extra impacted by the performances of prime gamers than scheme tips, the Falcons have an A-plus play designer on the controls diagramming performs for blue-chip skills like Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson. As a chalkboard wizard with a knack for creating big-play alternatives for his finest gamers, Smith’s creativity will check the minds of defensive coordinators making an attempt to place a vise grip on these two playmakers. If the Falcons can get one other prime receiver on the perimeter — they actually hope first-round choose Drake London is that man — you could possibly see the Soiled Birds spherical right into a formidable foe by the top of the season.
Weak spot: The Falcons have struggled on the defensive aspect of the ball for years. Defensive coordinator Dean Peas has proclaimed that the struggles will finish this season, however it’s laborious to check the protection becoming a member of the ranks of the elite and not using a assortment of blue-chip gamers within the lineup. Whereas AJ Terrell and Grady Jarrett are All-Professional-caliber gamers, the remainder of the lineup lacks the firepower to disrupt and dismantle opposing offenses. Maybe a couple of difference-makers will emerge all through the season, however the present lineup appears to be like like it could’t compete with the heavyweights within the convention.
Breakout Participant: Former quarterback-turned-tight finish Felipe Franks may turn out to be a key contributor within the passing sport as a flexible playmaker within the staff’s heavy formations. The second-year professional has impressed the teaching workers together with his bettering blocking abilities and sticky fingers. The Falcons’ new Swiss Military knife may blossom right into a sneaky big-play weapon down the highway.
Win-Loss Prediction: 5-12
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports activities. He usually seems on “Speak For Yourself” and likewise breaks down the sport for NFL Community and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Comply with him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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