This week marks the beginning of preseason, and we’ll have the first kickoff of the 2021 regular season on Thursday, September 9th at 8:20 PM EST. Every team worked tirelessly this offseason in hopes to raise the Lombardi Trophy in February. With the season only now days away, here is everything you need to know about the NFC South before kickoff!
The current Falcons team is going to look a little different from what we’re used to. Their all-time leading wide receiver, Julio Jones, is in Tennessee, which leaves Calvin Ridley now to take over as the number one WR. Not to mention, Atlanta drafted a TE in this year’s draft with their number four overall pick, making him the earliest drafted TE in league history. Kyle Pitts was electrifying on Florida’s offense the past two seasons, and his style isn’t that of a traditional TE, so it will be interesting to see him develop as a player. The changes continue, as Arthur Smith takes over for Dan Quinn (head coach for six years), which should bring a new culture to Atlanta that will hopefully get them back into the winning tradition. Quinn brought the Falcons to the February title game once and lost in an unforgettable comeback to none other than Tom Brady himself. Arthur Smith will have work to do if Atlanta is to finish at least over .500.
Sam Darnold is the first thought on almost every Carolina fan’s mind for this upcoming season. After trading away a decently productive Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers think they have found an answer at the QB position with Darnold. He’ll be loaded with weapons around him, such as Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore, plus he gets the benefit of arguably the best RB in the league coming back off IR, Christian McCaffrey. The young Panthers defense has a tough road ahead this season that will hopefully harden them into a better unit. Brian Burns is transitioning into a top-five DE and the secondary is filled with young ball-hawks, so there is definitely something to get excited about in this group. In year two of Matt Rhule’s tenure, the Panthers are looking for a better result than last season, and their offense will be the biggest key.
New Orleans Saints
The offseason for the Saints was headlined by the departure of all-time great, QB Drew Brees, but that has not been the only question mark surrounding the team. The defense played very poorly in the last part of the season, causing them to lose to Tampa Bay in the playoffs. Since then, they have lost a few players on defense, so we will have to see what this unit can do very early on, with linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Marshon Lattimore having a lot of work to do this year. The biggest question mark, unfortunately, is who the passer will be in week 1 for the Saints. The front-runner, as of now, is Jameis Winston but will the highly paid Taysom Hill challenge that before the season? We’ll get our first look on August 14th, when they play against the Ravens.
The Saints also subtly signed former Falcon Devonta Freeman to a one-year contract in the last week, adding to the already stacked running back group of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. This unit should take the burden off of whoever may be getting the call at QB in week 1. Controversy has been another devastating factor this offseason, as Lattimore was arrested (and is possibly facing suspension), DT David Onyemata was suspended, and WR Deonte Harris was also possibly facing a suspension after being arrested. As if that weren’t enough, star WR Michael Thomas will be missing an unknown amount of time while recovering from a lingering ankle injury, leaving them very thin at WR. It’s so thin that WR Chad Johnson (Ochocinco), the former Bengals great, has asked to play until Thomas returns, for no pay at that! Fortunately, they will not have to go through such a thing, as they have signed WRs Chris Hogan (after his stint in the Premier Lacrosse League) and Tommylee Lewis for the time being. HC Sean Payton has also expressed frustration about the timing of Thomas’ surgery, which just adds to the mess they’re going through. Lastly, they’ve also signed G J.R. Sweezy and CBs KeiVarae Russell, Prince Amukamara, and Brian Poole in the last few weeks to have some more depth in the trenches and secondary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
And the title defense begins…
The reigning Super Bowl Champions didn’t change the recipe to last season’s success and managed to retain all 22 of their starters. If anything, they have gotten better! First-round draft pick Joe Tyron, out of Washington University, has received high praise during training camp and will look to play a role in this season’s success. He will only add to what is the best linebacker core in the NFL. The Bucs’ other draft picks over recent years have also been valuable, with productive players like second-year tackle Tristan Wirfs and second-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Pair all of that with, conceivably, the best QB in the league and you get a tough defending champ! Oh, and for anyone who forgot, Antonio Brown is still the WR3 on this team. Are the Bucs going back to back? We’ll find out soon enough! Can’t wait until then!
Edited By: Rupayan “Abs” Samanta.