Back with part six of the NFL biggest questions series. Last week, I started the NFC off with the North division. This week, I'll be tackling the NFC South. The South is one of the stronger divisions in football. First, the 2018 NFC runner up New Orleans Saints. The Saints are looking to bounce back after a blatant no call ruined their Super Bowl chances. Next up is the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons dealt with injury issues to significant contributors and missed the playoffs. Then, we have the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers couldn't get it going last year partly due to Cam Newton playing through multiple injury issues. They have a talented roster, but the health of Newton ultimately was their downfall. Last up is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are bringing in a whole new staff this year, headlined by new head coach Bruce Arians. Arians is a well known quarterback whisperer, and will look to turn around James Winston's career as he heads into a contract year. With all that being said, let's dive right into it.
Atlanta Falcons: How Good Will the Falcons Ground Attack Be?
Over the past three or four seasons, the Atlanta Falcons have had one of the most successful running back duos in the league. Devonta Freeman was the main piece, as he got the majority of the backfield touches. However, Tevin Coleman wasn't a slouch. Even in limited time, he was able to produce very good numbers, especially when Freeman went down with injury last year. Coleman had his best output last season, as he set a career high in rushing yards, while getting enough receiving yards to barely put him over the 1000 scrimmage yard hump.
Things will be much different this year though. While Freeman is still there, and will likely continue to carry a majority of the load, his partner in crime is gone. Coleman left in free agency this year, choosing to sign with his former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. The Falcons do have multiple options for the backup spot. Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Kenjon Barner and Qadree Ollison will all be battling for touches behind Freeman. Can these four match the production of Tevin Coleman? When the Falcons were at their best, their run game was efficient and set up their deadly play action passing attack. It will be interesting to see who is able to cement themself as the Falcons back up running back.
Carolina Panthers: How Much More Can Cam Newton Take?
Cam Newton has taken a significant amount of hits during his career. That's the price you pay for being a running quarterback. It's not only Newton's fault though. The Carolina Panthers offensive line has been awful for almost his entire career. The best season they had was in 2016, when Newton won MVP and led the Panthers all the way to the Super Bowl. He's suffered countless injuries, but continues to play through them. He will go down as one of the toughest players to play the game, due to the constant harassment and punishment he takes from opposing defensive players.
You have to think that Newton's career clock is starting to tick a little bit. He hasn't been the same since his MVP, despite the Panthers still having success as a team. Carolina is starting to rely more on Christian McAffery, who had a monster season as a rusher and receiver last season. But how much more punishment can Newton take? I honestly think he's got about two or three years left of affective football left in him. Cam's had a great career, but he should start to consider retirement as he really doesn't have anything left to prove.
New Orleans Saints: Will the Lack of a Deep Passing Game be the Downfall?
When you look at the New Orleans Saints, there really isn't a glaring weakness. They have great players at every level on their team. Drew Brees top five quarterback. Alvin Kamara top five running back. Michael Thomas top five receiver. Great in the trenches, and playmakers in the back end of the defense. However, if you want to point out one potential flaw, it's the lack of a deep passing game.
Drew Brees had major shoulder surgery during the early stages of his career, which always affected his ability to throw the deep ball. While he was slinging bombs during his prime, he isn't doing it much now that he's 40. Additionally, the Saints don't have a deep threat. Ted Ginn has played that role recently, but missed almost all of last season due to injury. Despite that, Brees is still incredible in the short and intermediate passing game. In addition to that, the Saints running game has been phenomenal the last two seasons. It has been the big reason why they've been great on offense. Saints fans, I apologize that I have to write this, but I had to find something and this was it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can Bruce Arians Help James Winston Breakout?
James Winston has been good, but not great during the first four years of his career. He's shown flashes of being the number one pick, but ultimately has been inconsistent and disappointed after being so hyped coming out of Florida State. That in part has been due to the instability within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization. But also, part of the blame has to be put on the shoulders of Winston. Things could change this year though.
The Bucaneers, looking for a spark, brought in former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to be the new head coach. Arians is well known for the work he's done for quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. Simply put, Arians is a quarterback whisperer. How will Winston and Arians get along? Will it be a successful partnership that sees Tampa Bay make the playoffs for the first time since the Jon Gruden era. Or will it be another disappointing season for Winston, and one that could potentially end his tenure with the the Bucs. Not only is this the Bucs most intriguing story line, it's one of the more intriguing in the whole NFL.