Joy Divisions – NFC South

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

NFC South:

This could be the best division in football. Don’t be surprised if both wildcards come from this division again. If you fancy this division to produce a Super Bowl winner this year, you can get some good value. Which ones do we fancy?

TIM

New Orleans Saints

Saints were 1 play away from the championship game and last season would’ve left a bad taste in the mouth of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. A lot of people may have felt that last year was the last chance for Brees to get ring no.2 but if they play to the same levels this year, I don’t see why they dont get another crack at the Championship game this year.

Alvin Kamara was the name on everybody’s lips towards the end of the season and it seems like decades ago we had the Adrian Peterson experiment here. Mark Ingram is suspended this year for the 1st 4 games and you can certainly see him sign with another team next seasonbecause I think the Saints have never been too sold on him, despite the former 2009 Heisman Trophy winner and 2011 1st round draft pick being more than productive in his stint in the NFL (career 4.5yards per carry and 48 Total Touchdowns).

At Wide Receiver, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr are still there but have signed Cameron Meredith in Free Agency and have brought back Benjamin Watson at Tight End. Meredith missed the whole of last season due to injury sustained in the preseason with Chiacgo and he is a sleeper pick. Ben Watson is a sneaky last round dart throw in redraft leagues as he is a great target in the redzone and has previous with the Saints and Drew Brees, having his first stint in 2013-2015 (2015, when Jimmy Graham left, Watson had 74 receptions, 825 yards and 6TDs).

The defence was a major improvement for the Saints last season from previous years of bottom 5 finishes in terms of yards and points allowed (thank Rob Ryan for that mostly and i guess a hint of high scoring offence). The majority of pieces are still there and added to it, the 1st round pick of Marcus Davenport, whom the Saints traded up to go get for their 1st round pick next year.

Big gamble, will it pay off?

Key Storyline: Can the Saints repeat last seasons performances and make amends after the Miracle of Minnesota?

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta were never quite going to hit the heights of their 2016 year, but I doubt many thought that they would have regressed as much as they did.

I say that, but the Falcons still returned to the playoffs, losing to the Eagles after taking down the Rams. 2017 saw a new Offensive Co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian come in after the dynamic Kyle Shanahan leave for San Francisco, move in to a new stadium so to actually achieve what they did I think is overlooked. Their main struggle was getting the ball in the endzone which Julio Jones owners and Matt Ryan owners can attest to (and Matt Bryant owners too – tied 3rd in kicker scoring).

The yards and the offence still moved and still was productive, just the sscoring wasn’t quite there. I think this year you will have the old adage of positive regression, where the scoring will go up in terms of touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is the big signing from the draft and should immediately be able to come in an get receptions, Julio Jones has agreed to end his stay away and that can only help the franchise. Tevin Coleman is in a contract year so expect him to get volume before leaving next season and Devonta Freeman is usually overlooked in 1st round of drafts but provides first round value in this offence.

Don’t forget that the Falcons team struggled in year 1 under Kyle Shanahan in 2015 before their blistering season the year after so I would expect a similar trend here.

Their defence is a sneaky play too in fantasy. Watch out for Takk McKinley.

I think that the Falcons think they are very close to a reappearance in the Super Bowl…and I agree.

Key Storyline: Can the Falcons turn the FGs in to TDs?

Carolina Panthers

Carolina are a team that peoples opinion are split on, mainly because of their QB Cam Newton (one of the most inaccurate Quarterbacks ever, if you listen to former Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin).

The Christian McCaffrey breakout took a little longer than people expected and Greg Olsen was lost for the majority of the season due to a broken foot. Olsen tinkered with the idea of going to the broadcast booth in the offseason, but was beaten to it by Jason Witten. Though he has come out since and said he is still committed, you have to have that nagging doubt in the back of your mind when you are taking him in the mid rounds of drafts. Although they aren’t the force of old, Carolina were a top 10 defence last season and should be again this season. The opener vs Dallas will tell us a lot about both teams for the season and although it’s only week 1, it could go a long way in deciding wildcard teams.

DJ Moore brings a great route running, reliable wide receiver that will finally fill the boots of Steve Sith (as claimed by the man himself). The 1st round pick for the Panthers will be an intriguing watch this season and could a piece that opens up the passing game for not only himself and Cam, but Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen too. CJ Anderson is an upgrade on Jonathon Stewart as the grinder in the backfield, whilst you can expect 2nd year RB Christian McCaffrey to see a slight up tick in production and receptions in the Danny Woodhead type role. Carolina’s fate will be in their own hands come December – playing the Falcons and Saints twice in their last 3 games. If they are around the 8 win range come week 15, it could get really fiesty, just last last season. I think the Panthers are a slight tier below the previous 2 teams, but certainly have Wildcard eligibility if Cam Newton steps up a touch from his erratic passing last year. For Fantasy, Cam has top 3 QB finish potential, but also has a floor of a QB worse than 12. He’ll go in a wide varying set of rounds in drafts but usually goes around the 5th….your choice.

Key Storyline: Can Cam Newton be more consistent this year and cut out the errors?

Tampa Bay

I was ready to be all in on Tampa Bay as the dark horse this year.

Improved depth and talent on defence in both Free Agency (Jason Pierre-Paul, VInny Curry) and draft (Vita Vea), Jameis Winston on fire towards the back end of last season and a new shiny running back in Ronald Jones.

Since the draft, Winston has been suspended, uncertainty over the starting running back and the depth chart has seemed to take the wind out of my Buccaneer sails.

The division is so tough that you cannot go in to the season like the Bucs are. Dirk Koetter not committing to having Winston as their QB and you have to wonder if he is done with the franchise, nor committing to a starting RB. Jones, Rodgers, Barber and Sims all in this cloudy backfield and could end up being a hot hand approach here…not something you wanna hear when you are taking Ronald Jones in the 5th and 6th Rounds. Whilst he is by far the best back, it could take a little while before we see that replicated in the backfield touches.

At WR, pretty much all the same as last year. I expect DeSean Jackson to fend off Chris Godwin for the first part of the year in 2 WR sets. Jackson could provide value in drafts, after everyone giving him a seal of disapproval from last year. A few plays here or there and we could’ve been seeing Jackson going in the 8-10th round. Godwin will no doubt breakthrough at somepoint because of his talents, but Adam Humphries is there too still, as are Tight Ends Cameron Brate (signed a massive multi year deal in the offseason) and OJ Howard. There are a lot of mouths to feed here and for the first four weeks its Fitzmagic once again.

No thanks.

Key Storyline: Jameis Winston done with the Bucs?

Summary:

This will no doubt come down to the wire and I would be shocked if no wildcard places are picked up by this division come January. The Saints set the standard on last years performance but the Falcons could leapfrog them if the same improvement is seen in year 2 under Steve Sarkisian as they witnessed under Kyle Shanahan. Carolina will continue to be hot and cold and could play party poopers for the Saints and Falcons in week 16 and 17. Tampa can be expected to prop up the division again this season. As an outright bet, I’ll take the Falcons to put things right in 2018.Fantasy wise, give me Matt Ryan at QB, CJ Anderson as a later round RB, Julio Jones at WR (if early 2nd round pick) and Ben Watson at TE.

Predictions:

  1. Atlanta Falcons
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Carolina Panthers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LEE

Another day, another great division! Talking football is all about opinions so some may disagree with the ordering but the NFC South along with the NFC North and AFC South make up the top three divisions in the game, in my opinion.

I’ll kick this off with the Saints, whose season ended in heart breaking circumstances last year, with a Marcus Williams missed tackle leading to the Miracle in Minnesota.

Had the tackle been made it could have been a lot different because the offense lead by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara was electric last year. That’s right, Drew Brees took a little bit of a back seat and the offense flowed through the two backs. However the Saints may have to revert back to their norm this year, due to Ingram having been suspended for the first four games of the season. The team have also said that this won’t mean an increase in snaps for Kamara and they will fill the void with other players.

This could be good news for Brees and Michael Thomas as the Saints will look to do more damage through the air. Thomas is actually one of my favourite receivers in the league and after this season I feel like he’s going to be talked about as an elite wide receiver.

The moral of the last couple of paragraphs for your fantasy teams are; don’t over draft Kamara but get Thomas early if you can! Brees will also be a solid QB as usual in fantasy.

On defense, the biggest talking point is that the Saints traded up to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport in the spring. I feel like giving up next year’s first round pick was a really risky move by New Orleans and puts the front office and an extremely raw player under pressure to perform immediately. Obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing but the Saints could have just waited, kept next year’s first and got Harold Landry, who went in the second round and ended up with a player who is more complete as of this moment.

Whether Davenport works out or not, the Saints still have enough to be there or thereabouts come the business end of the season.

Another team who will be there or thereabouts is the Atlanta Falcons.

If you look through the Falcons depth chart, you will see it’s a very deep and pretty complete roster with high end players at each level of the defense and in every unit on offense.

One of the big reasons for that is that the Falcons have drafted well for a few years in a row now which has given them a strong nucleus of young talent, most of whom are still on rookie contracts. Which should allow them to extend Julio Jones next season and keep their star man in town.

At this point, when it comes to draft night, the Falcons can sit back and take luxury players, which is exactly what they did in the first round with Calvin Ridley. Atlanta already has Jones and a very capable number two in Mohamed Sanu but they went out and got Ridley anyway and built strength on strength.

Ridley has the quickness and route running abilities to be a success in the league for a long time. Definitely someone to target late on in the fantasy drafts, as are all the starters for Atlanta. You can’t go wrong with Jones, Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Austin Hooper is also an up and comer who could be in with a shout to be a good sleeper pick.

Just to touch on the defense quickly, it’s just as strong on the offense. Deion Jones is one of my favourite players in the league, the new breed of linebacker/safety hybrid that’s becoming in vogue all over the league. Finally a quick mention to one of the best but least talked about cornerback tandems in the league; Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. Those guys are awesome and should get more recognition.

What does this all boil down to? Atlanta are winning 10 or more games.

Just a tick behind the two teams I’ve already spoken about are the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina are a tough one to work out in all honesty. They are a good team and they are in that second tier around the league below the teams who are complete and have expectations to go far in the playoffs. Carolina probably have hopes to go far. That’s the difference.

The thing is, they don’t truly excite me because you look through their roster and they have some serious holes; the offensive line in general, who is catching the ball for them on a consistent basis? Why is Julius Peppers still their best pass rusher at the age of 38? Don’t get me wrong, Peppers is great and still productive but he was drafted in 2002.

Each side of the ball is essentially pinned to the form and fitness of Cam Newton or Luke Kuechly. Both players are potential superstars on each side of the ball and elevate the team and the players around them and can both make game changing or even game winning plays.

I just don’t know if they have enough around them or behind them in the event of an injury, which as I said earlier, really stops me getting really excited about. I struggle to see the potential in a lot of players that the Panthers have.

I know Cam is Superman but I just don’t know about the rest.

Fantasy wise; McCaffrey is going to be a PPR monster, Cam is always a top fantasy QB due to his rushing prowess and first round pick D.J Moore could be a nice late round pick/dynasty pick too. Otherwise, I won’t be shopping in Carolina on my draft nights.

Last but by no means least in this division are the Bucs. They’re probably the “worst” team in this division but talent wise I find then way more exciting than the Panthers in all honesty.

I also find them exciting because they’re another team who killed the draft this spring! Vita Vea, Ronald Jones, M.J Stewart, Carlton Davis, Alex Cappa and to a degree, Jack Cichy, have the potential to be solid starters or better in the NFL. If that’s how it pans out, then that’s a fantastic draft haul for Tampa!

I also like what Tampa did in free agency and trades in recognising that they had to beef up their defensive line and pass rush after finishing 32nd in run defense and not registering nearly enough sacks last year. The additions of Vinny Curry, Beau Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul should help this when added to the likes of Gerald McCoy, William Gholston and the now much larger, Noah Spence.

Spence is actually my one to watch for the Bucs. He had a bit of bumpy road to even get to the league and hasn’t really set it alight in first two years but this past offseason, by all accounts, he has gained 35 pounds through an eating regime which has him eating 9 meals a day coming to a total of around 9,000 calories. That is a simply mind blowing amount to me. Some of it will be through protein shakes and other drinks but still, it’s a lot for anyone’s body to go through. What makes it interesting time though, isn’t only the sheer volume of calories but the fact that Spence came into the league as a speed rusher. Will he be able to maintain that speed at a much heavier weight, especially when the weight has been gained over such a short period of time. I think it’ll literally be the making or breaking of his career in the league.

The other storyline surrounding Tampa Bay is that Jameis Winston is suspended and that coupled with their hellish opening schedule means that the Bucs could be playing from behind the 8 ball once their starting QB is allowed back on the field.

No bueno.

Fantasy wise, RoJo and Mike Evans are going to be great and I also really like O.J Howard and Cameron Brate but how much are they going to hurt each other in fantasy land?

 

Prediction time:

  1. Falcons
  2. Saints
  3. Panthers
  4. Buccaneers

 

Note: This division could have three play off teams or they could take enough wins off each other that they screw each other other and it could end up with just one. So tough to call! I really want to have the Bucs higher and I do think they’ll show encouraging signs this year.