Written by: Joe Carlino, @joecarlino14
The NFC South division had an average year, with one team seeing postseason play en route to a potential Super Bowl berth. Here at Blitzalytics, we’ve done previews and recaps of every game this year, along with general content about the team’s performance over the regular season. Now, with the season behind us, it’s time to grade each of the teams, both individually and as a division.
Name of Team: New Orleans Saints
Expected Grade: B-
2018 Record: 13-3
Outlook: Last season, the Saints’ season ended on the “Minnesota Miracle”, and most people thought that would cause the team to regress down to the mean. However, after a week one shootout loss at home to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs, New Orleans got nuclear hot, winning game after game until being cooled off against the Dallas Cowboys in week 13. Drew Brees became the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader, and with this team’s weapons in the running game, receiving game, and on defense, they clinched the #1 seed in the NFC for only the second time in franchise history. And while the postseason didn’t end the way “#WhoDat” Nation would’ve liked it to, their season was one for the history books. If this core unit can finally figure out a way to move on from January 20th, they’ll be right back in contention. If they can’t, next season is going to be rough.
Final Grade: A-
Name of Team: Atlanta Falcons
Expected Grade: B+
2018 Record: 7-9
Outlook: Atlanta’s season went on a downward spiral twice this season: early in the year and late when they had a possible wild-card berth (by mathematical proportions). In the first three weeks, they lost safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, linebacker Deion Jones, running back Devonta Freeman, guard Andy Levitre, and had to deal with heartbreaking results in weeks Three and Four at home. A mid-season win streak helped out exponentially, but then the wheels came off again, losing to Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Green Bay before ending the year on a three-game win streak. Atlanta has recently let go of corner Robert Alford and highly reliable kicker Matt Bryant to save cap space, and it remains to be seen if Isaiah Oliver and Giorgio Tavecchio will be the answers there. One thing’s for sure: Atlanta is getting all their main pieces back. They’ll #RiseUp and be a contender for the playoffs. Super Bowl? That’s predicated on making the dance first.
Final Grade: C+
Name of Team: Carolina Panthers
Expected Grade: B
2018 Record: 6-10
Outlook: Like Atlanta, Carolina’s team went on a nasty downward spiral late in the year, with the wheels starting to fall off with that kerfuffle in Pittsburgh. The team also had to deal with a key injury, this time to franchise quarterback Cam Newton. His shoulder injury prevented him from being able to really launch passes downfield and also made it painful to scramble due to the level of contact he would receive on the other end. Resting him and getting that shoulder taken care of was smart on the Panthers organization, but it remains to be seen if it’ll change anything in Charlotte. Carolina is a tough out when they can get hot, but if I were the Panthers, despite what doctors say, I’d do what Indy did with Luck and keep him out for a whole year. It’s safer to ensure he comes back to #KeepPounding at 100% instead of having him get injured at a critical moment next year and potentially lose his career.
Final Grade: D-
Name of Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Expected Grade: B+
2018 Record: 5-11
Outlook: Everything just seemed to go wrong in Tampa Bay, and that came after everything seemed to go right those first three weeks of the season. Ryan “FitzMagic” led the team to a 2-1 start with wins over the Saints and defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in back-to-back weeks. From the Bears game, however, that’s where it went south fast. Returning to Jameis Winston helped out a little, but then he played terribly, and Fitzpatrick came back, and then vice versa. They also fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith mid-season and head coach Dirk Koetter after the season. The hires of Bruce Arians (HC), Byron Leftwich (OC), and Todd Bowles (DC) makes this coaching staff arguably the best one in the division. However, they’ve got a massive task on their hands with Jameis in his fifth and final year of his rookie deal. If Arians, who said he is a big fan of Jameis, can correct his problems in the passing game, Tampa Bay could #RaisetheFlags and be next season’s surprise team. But, their division is still the toughest by far, so it remains to be seen what could happen.
Final Grade: D