The NFC South was the most dominant division in the NFL in 2017, continuing its success in 2018 will the question as consistency hasn’t been its best trait
The NFC South surprised the entire NFL in 2017 as they had three teams appear in the playoffs — the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.
This comes one season after the Falcons won the division at 11-5 and their divisional rivals all finished under .500 with the exception of the Buccaneers at 9-7. Atlanta was also the only team from the NFC playoffs in 2016 to make consecutive playoff appearances.
What the NFC South did in 2017 is impressive but critics want to know if they’ll be able to duplicate their success and bring the same consistency and talent in 2018. The Falcons regressed in regards to their offense but found a silver lining with a top 10 defense that secured many close wins.
The Saints finally found an elite defense after a decade of dismal play. The Panthers continued to have a solid defense led by Linebacker Luke Kuechly but struggled to generate a dominant offense with quarterback Cam Newton’s inconsistency in the passing game. This often resorted him to tuck the ball in and scramble.
If the Falcons are able to address flaws in their offense through free agency or the draft at the guard and tight end position, then they will be in prime position to revert back to their dominant 2016 offense.
Only getting a field goal out of very long possessions plagued Atlanta this season with this possibly being the result of failing to utilize wide receiver Julio Jones. If they had another threat on offense such as free agent tight end Jimmy Graham, they may average 30-plus points again.
The Saints’ offense has been a juggernaut ever since Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006. Brees has not had a star target on offense since Jimmy Graham, although many could argue Brandin Cooks was that before they sent him to New England.
Brees was been able to obtain dangerous receivers in Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, Jr. in 2017 so New Orleans’ offense will continue to shine. The x-factor for the Saints in making a return to the playoffs is their defense.
They had a complete defense but their secondary needs to make plays in coverage, unlike when safety Marcus Williams missed the tackle that resulted in a playoff win for the Vikings on a Stefon Diggs miracle catch. If key secondary players such as Williams, Marshon Lattimore and Kenny Vaccaro are able to swarm the ball and start to become more aggressive, New Orleans will be back in the postseason.
2017 was very rough on the Buccaneers. On paper, many expected them to win the NFC South. The result was the opposite as they finished 4-12. Quarterback Jameis Winston was not able to deliver accurate passes and was very turnover prone at times.
Wins were not obtained despite Winston being presented dangerous weapons such as DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard. Tampa Bay’s defensive line, which was led by six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, was impressive but their secondary was a detriment.
Head coach Dirk Koetter is definitely on the hot seat in Tampa Bay and that pressure may force him to crumble as this Bucs team fails to put something special together on both sides of the ball year after year.
With two NFC contenders in the Falcons and Saints hovering over them along with a developing Panthers team, it will be very difficult for them to squeeze into the playoffs in 2018. Doing very well in the draft along with free agency will be factors that give Tampa Bay any sort of chance at making noise in 2018.