1. Carolina Panthers– It was a year to remember for the Carolina Panthers. They won 17 games in a row dating back to the final three games of the 2014 season and they were victorious in their first 14 games of the 2015 season and this was all because of Cam Newton who would go on to have the best season of his career. He accounted for 45 touchdowns altogether (35 touchdown passes) and did all of this without his go to receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. He had many MVP moments. The big quarter in Seattle when he threw for 162 yards in the fourth quarter, beating the Packers a week later and orchestrating a big comeback against the Saints. This year, Benjamin will be back and the offense will have its best receiver. On defense, the Panthers lost Josh Norman but they still have Luke Kuechly patrolling the middle.
2. Atlanta Falcons– After the hiring of Dan Quinn, the Falcons looked as if they were turning things around after some down years. They got off to a very hot start and at one point last season, I considered them to be the most improved team in football due to their strong start then reality set in and the Falcons struggled, especially on the defensive side of the ball and that’s Dan Quinn’s biggest strength. The Falcons offense will be just fine with Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones and for them to win games, the offense will have to score and score a ton because Quinn has a ton of holes to fix on defense and it will take longer than one off-season to do so. 2016 will be an important year for Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons also have one of the tougher schedules in the league this year.
3. New Orleans Saints– They can beat just about anybody with Drew Brees at quarterback and Sean Payton on the sideline but the sad thing is these aren’t the same Saints that we’ve seen over the years and they’ve been extremely inconsistent especially on the defensive side of the ball. It got so bad to the point where they fired Rob Ryan during the season because of the horrible numbers the Saints were recording on defense. During the off-season, they resigned Sean Payton to a five-year deal, signed tight end Coby Fleener to a five-year deal hoping to give their offense some help at the tight end spot that Jimmy Graham left open. Brandin Cooks will be another top target for Brees down the field. The defense is still a big question mark as the 2016 season approaches.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– They was 6-10 in 2015, a much better mark than the 2-14 record they posted in 2014. The improvements weren’t enough for Lovie Smith to keep his job. He was fired and they decided to remain in house and promote Dirk Koetter from offensive coordinator to head coach. Jameis Winston was as good as advertised in his first year and not only did he mature as a football player, he matured as a person after so many senseless incidents during his days at Florida State. I like this Bucs offense with Jameis, Doug Martin, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Defensively, they hired former Falcons head coach Mike Smith as defensive coordinator. There are many nice pieces on this unit. Gerald McCoy, LaVonte David and rookie Vernon Hargreaves are a few guys to look out for.
1. Panthers (12-4)
2. Buccaneers (8-8)
3. Saints (7-9)
4. Falcons (6-10)
Once again, the Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South. Cam Newton is coming off the best year of his career and with his top receiver back, what other damage can he do? They are coming off the loss in the Super Bowl, yes and without Josh Norman now, I still like this Panthers defense especially the front seven. They had a good draft, they have a lot of depth and they enter the year as the defending champions of the NFC.