This is the Post-Season NFC South Report! Here we are at the end of the football calendar, and the NFC South Division was viewed by nearly most fans to be the worst division in the NFL. In fact, it was the only division where all four teams had a losing record. I have done an extensive research to confirm that is not ideal.
All four teams are poised to add a quarterback in 2023, so an active offseason will be in store for this division. Today we will take a brief look at what went wrong and look at the latest moves, or potential moves, these four teams are making to ensure a much more fruitful 2023 season. Let us start with the divisional champion: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-9 | 1st in Division | Lost in Wild Card Round
(My Prediction: 12-5 | 1st in Division)
Draft Picks Available in the First Three rounds: Rd. 1-19, Rd. 2-50, Rd. 3-83
This season was the “Murphy’s Law” type of season for Tampa where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Major injuries caused the team to lose key contributors including Aaron Stinnie and Ryan Jensen. This was paired with a 45-year-old pocket passer whose primary weakness is pressure in his face which spelled a recipe for disaster.
Byron Leftwich mic’ed up talking to Tom Brady on a critical 3rd down pic.twitter.com/sXnPgAMaNA
— RosterWatch (@RosterWatch) December 26, 2022
The offense was discombobulated and seemed to never hit its rhythm, scoring only 21 points in five of its 17 regular season games. Now Tom Brady has retired (as of this moment), and Byron Leftwich has been fired. The team has interviewed candidates Keenan McCardell, Todd Monken, and Bengals QB coach Dan Pitcher to fill the role and a hire will be announced soon.
The Defense performed admirably under the defensive-minded Todd Bowles, finishing in the top ten in passing yards allowed per game, total yards allowed per game, and total sacks with 45. That’s even more impressive when factoring in the season-ending injury suffered by the teams’ top edge rusher Shaquil Barrett in Week 8.
The team is currently 55 million dollars over the cap (per Overthecap.com). Because the team still owes Brady two years on his contract, his status might remain in flux while the team determines how to approach the future without the goat.
There are many different paths the organization may follow in the coming weeks while they navigate the murky waters without their star quarterback. They can move talented veterans with big contracts and pay the price for going all in the past two seasons. Another option might be to attempt to squeeze one more year with the current roster and try for another shot at the Lombardi. At this time, the team has not made any indication as to what it plans to do this offseason. However, it is highly likely we see potential big cuts such as Donovan Smith or Leonard Fournette.
Carolina Panthers: 7-10 | 2nd in the Division
(My prediction: 5-12 | 4th in division)
Draft Picks Available in the First Three Rounds: Rd. 1-9, Rd. 2-39, Rd. 2-61, Rd. 3-93
This season was a tale of two stories. The first five games with Matt Rhule were brutal. They started 1-4 and looked completely outmatched. David Tepper removed Rhule and hired Steve Wilks, a Carolina Native, to take over. While his coaching style wasn’t flashy, it was effective, spurring the team onto a 6-6 finish after trading away Christian McCaffery for draft capital and releasing Baker Mayfield. Not many teams can finish at .500 after losing arguably its best player and the team’s starting quarterback.
Unfortunately, that was not enough for Wilks to keep the job. The team signed former Panthers quarterback Frank Reich to be the new head coach. At this time, he is currently assembling his coaching staff. It appears he hit a home run with his defensive coordinator hire Ejiro Evero who had been interviewing for head coaching jobs.
Terrace Marshall took a step forward after a quiet rookie year. He finished with the No. 2 highest first down rate of all receivers in 2022 (Min 25 rec.) – 85% (!) of his catches went for a first down. Between him and D.J. Moore, the new quarterback will have weapons available to him, and it’s up to the new coaching staff to put the team in position to succeed on the field.
Who will that new quarterback be? While it is expected the team takes a quarterback with its first-round selection, many expect Reich to reunite with former Colt Jacoby Brissett. Brissett would take on a mentor role for the rookie that is drafted.
Defensively, the team may look to lock up edge rusher Brian Burns and build around him during free agency and the draft. Burns was easily the team’s best defensive lineman. After finishing the last two seasons with nine sacks each, he finally broke into the double digits with 12.5 sacks. A potential move that may take place is the trade/release of Shaq Thompson. Thompson is a fine linebacker but carries a $24 million dollar cap hit. That’s not ideal for an off-ball linebacker.
New Orleans Saints: 7-10 | 3rd in Division
(My Prediction: 11-6 | 2nd in Division)
Draft Picks Available in First Three Rounds: Rd. 1-29, Rd. 2-40, Rd. 3-71
This one hurt to write. I was wrong about this Saints squad. Many expected them to win in the playoffs, and they couldn’t even finish above .500. I went into the year expecting a strong defense and a capable offense. While the defense was good (No. 5 in yards allowed per game), they lacked the ability to create turnovers. They finished No. 31 in the NFL with 14 takeaways.
Siri: Show me an Alpha WR…
“Ok. Here is the Top Result…”
Target/Route Rate: 10th ✅
Open Rate: 7th ✅
YPRR: 10th ✅
Chris Olave is an ascending alpha.pic.twitter.com/1BYcfHhzV3
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) January 28, 2023
There were moments of hope with the offense. However, as we all know, Andy Dalton can only do so much. There were flashes of hope with skill position players including tight end Juwan Johnson and wide receiver Rashid Shaheed. However, Chris Olave is officially that dude for the Saints.
Moving on from Michael Thomas
Additionally, these ascending receivers, paired with the news that Michael Thomas can now be cut after agreeing to a restructuring of his contract that allows the saints to cut him with minimal financial repercussions. The team will be in the market for a quarterback. Ironically, Dennis Allen was the coach that drafted Derek Carr when he was the head coach for the Raiders.
The Saints also will be in the market for an interior defensive lineman after allowing 130 rushing yards per game (No. 24 in the NFL). After losing defensive coach Ryan Nielsen, the team acquired defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who historically has rolled out a run funnel defense.
Lastly, with the Denver Broncos signing Sean Peyton, the Saints acquired the Broncos’ 2023 first-round pick (No. 29 overall) and 2024 second-round pick for Payton and the Saints 2024 third-round selection. So even though the team traded away its own first during last year’s draft to get Chris Olave, they find themselves back in the first round with the trade for Sean Payton.
Atlanta Falcons: 7-10, 4th in Division
(My prediction: 8-9, 3rd in Division)
Draft Picks Available in First Three Rounds: Rd. 1-8, Rd. 2-44, Rd. 3-75
The second season for head coach Arthur Smith and his staff led to some mixed results. This slow-motion rebuild is wrapping up the second season under the current administration. We have another 7-10 season with a strong defense but a struggling offense. Most of us reading this play fantasy football, so I must address the elephant in the room: Kyle Pitts and his lack of use. Pitts played in only ten games after experiencing a season-ending knee injury. However, the numbers were quite lackluster for such a talented pass-catcher.
He had only three games with 20-plus routes run compared to 15 games with such route participation. That is a clear step back in the passing game, and the passing game on this team is void of talent outside of Drake London. Did Desmond Ridder show enough to keep the job? If anyone knows for sure, it’s Arthur Smith. He finished the year with zero interceptions after his four starts. Additionally, this team wasn’t full of passing weapons, but he still found a way to move the ball and avoid turnovers.
Ridder or Someone Else?
The Falcons were in on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. If Lamar Jackson is available, I find it hard to see them being completely satisfied with Ridder. One lone bright spot in the offense was the development in the backfield as rookie Tyler Allgeier led the backfield and finished the season as the team’s leading rusher.
The only rookie RB with 1,000+ rushing yards (as of now):
Tyler Allgeier https://t.co/J7ZDIZxLEx pic.twitter.com/d4U3agc8mu
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) January 8, 2023
But the big news surrounding this team is that defensive coordinator Dean Pees has retired. The team replaced him with Ryan Nielsen, who was with the Saints for the last six years. Nielsen spent time as both a co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. The defense had a strong finish, having one opponent finish with more than 350 yards of total offense after Week 9. Nielsen will have big shoes to fill.
The Falcons have the most cap space available of all NFC South teams. They have needs at the quarterback, wide receiver, and outside linebacker positions. Look for them to make a splash this off-season. I hear a certain quarterback in Baltimore is possibly hitting the market. If Lamar Jackson is traded this offseason, wouldn’t it make sense for the Ravens to move him to the NFC so they wouldn’t have to face off against him regularly?