The NFC South is the most wide-open division in the NFL heading into the 2022 season.
With the additional possibility of Aaron Rodgers getting shipped to a team in the AFC and the overall lack of talent on many of the NFC rosters, this means that the division titlist, regardless of who it may be, could almost inadvertently forge a favorable path towards the NFC Championship Game, if not even the Super Bowl.
There is nothing in sports quite like momentum; whichever team established itself as the top dog could glow red-hot, similar to the Washington Commanders (then Football Team) in the late 2020 season. Until then, however, nobody quite knows what to make of the NFC South.
The NFC South
The Panthers needed to call upon a recently-waived Cam Newton to fill in for an underperforming Sam Darnold, just a few months after they traded a draft pick to get him. Their cornerstone piece in running back Christian McCaffrey is also frequently injured, which has limited the offense’s production and, because of his contract, hamstrung them on the open market.
Head Coach Matt Rhule has failed to impress since leaving Baylor for the position and probably fired his offensive coordinator last season as a desperate attempt to deflect blame and retain his position.
The upside for Carolina is its defense, which has lots of young talent that is still blooming; add in corner Jaycee Horn, who did not appear last season after suffering a nasty injury, and the Panthers have a lot to look forward to.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is not much that needs to be said here— Tom Brady retired, Tampa Bay does not have much salary cap space nor a long list of free-agent QBs to target, and veteran players are likely to pursue new opportunities on teams ready to contend for more championships rather than sticking around to see what the post-Brady era is like.
Another worrying factor is that HC Bruce Arians has already retired once and could be out the door soon again, especially now that his leader and best player is enjoying life after football. Tampa also dealt with tons of injuries last season, which will result in roster turnover and uncertainty over different players’ futures.
New Orleans Saints
One year Drew Brees retires with arguably the most impressive statistical resume ever, the next Sean Payton steps down with a reputation of being a top-five play-caller in the league. New Orleans is also without a guaranteed man under center and faces an interesting situation in the salary cap battle, with Taysom Hill’s salary eating up a chunk of money that could instead be used to attract a new asset.
NO is maintaining some continuity by promoting former Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen to the vacant head coaching spot, but they are losing a real leader in Payton. The Saints have been doing their best to stave off an imminent decline, and their defense is still elite, but they are not getting any younger and do not have a player to help transition them into the future.
The division’s usual bottom-feeders have been irrelevant since they blew a 28-3 lead in the 2016 Super Bowl. Matt Ryan has also started regressing and is now no more than a middle-of-the-pack QB with limited weapons and a weak offensive line. Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley (who needed a mental health break last season) are solid pieces of the offense, but aside from them, mostly everyone is expendable.
On the other side, their defense is very similar: too many somebody’s and not enough “him’s,” or standouts. The Falcons need at least a couple more drafts and successful free agency periods to get back into high-level contention, regardless of how they finished the 2021 season.
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