NFC South betting preview: Can Brady and Gronk recapture their magic?
After winning the NFC South by six games last year, the New Orleans Saints have a new challenger in town, and it might take some of the pressure off of them. Right now, everyone is talking about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or rather, it’s mainly about what the Bucs added, which was the duo of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
The NFC South will be quite competitive this season, with the Saints and Bucs expected to fight for the title, and the Atlanta Falcons hoping to sneak into a wild card spot. Let’s break down last year’s performances, which key players have come and gone, and what each team will need to do to improve.
NFL 2020/21 - NFC Championship
Mon, November 30 2020, 10:05 AM
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers
Los Angeles Rams
New York Giants
New Orleans Saints
2019 record: 13-3
Key Additions: WR Emmanuel Sanders, C Cesar Ruiz (1st round pick), Jameis Winston, S Malcolm Jenkins
Key Departures: LB A.J. Klein, G Larry Warford, QB Teddy Bridgewater
The battle for the backup role for Drew Brees should be an entertaining one. Taysom Hill and Winston will fight to be the number two, and will likely see time as the older Brees missed five games last season. Whoever is taking snaps will be happy to have Sanders lining up across the formation from Michael Thomas, and the new wideout should see opportunities given the attention Thomas demands. The dominant offensive line filled the hole left by the departing Warford by drafting Cesar Ruiz, and will be expected to take some pressure off Brees by opening more holes for Alvin Kamara.
The other side of the ball must make improvements if they want to hold onto the division title. Outside of Demario Davis, there are glaring weaknesses in the linebacker corps, but the return of Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins from injury should help quite a bit. At the end of the day, the onus will fall on the offense, as it often does in New Orleans, to hold off the Bucs and reclaim the divisional crown.
2019 record: 7-9
Key Additions: RB Todd Gurley, DE Dante Fowler Jr, TE Hayden Hurst, WR Laquon Treadwell, G Justin McCray, CB A.J. Terrell (draft)
Key Departures: CB Desmond Trufant, RB Devonta Freeman, DE Vic Beasley, TE Austin Hooper
The Falcons won six of their final eight games last year to nearly salvage a disappointing season. Now they have made some key changes, upgrading at defensive end with Dante Fowler and replacing Austin Hooper with Hayden Hurst via trade. They also addressed a huge need with the drafting of A.J. Terrell, who will immediately be expected to be their number one corner.
The addition of Todd Gurley to replace Freeman is a very risky gamble. If Gurley can regain his form from earlier in his career, the gamble could pay off handsomely. Freeman often dealt with injuries, so they might be replacing him with the same thing, but a healthy Gurley may very well be an upgrade.
The good news is that the deal was only one year and is cap-friendly, so if the gamble fails, the Falcons won’t pay for it beyond this year. Anything they get from him will help an offensive attack that will still heavily rely on the play of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley in the passing game. However, it probably will still be a tough ask to reach .500, much less the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019 record: 7-9
Key Additions: QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, OL Joe Haeg
Key Departures: QB Jameis Winston, DE Carl Nassib, WR Breshad Perriman, DT Beau Allen, RB Peyton Barber
The pressure is on in Tampa Bay, and they are going all-in on winning a Super Bowl this year. Their offense was outstanding in 2019, but the turnovers from Jameis Winston killed them in many games. Those turnover issues should be solved with the addition of Tom Brady, who will be salivating at the thought of throwing to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Gronk. Throw in the additional TE weapons they have with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and this offense looks to be an extremely fun one. There are questions at running back, but that has never been an issue with a Brady-led attack.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs were able to re-sign three major components in Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul to keep their pass rush together.
The Bucs defense last year forced the fifth-most turnovers in the league, but it meant little when the offense turned it over fifteen times more than they got it back. That should not be an issue this season, which means a solid defense might be even nastier, especially if that front four gets to pin back their ears. Look for the Bucs to challenge for the divisional title as their fans demand Super Bowl or bust.
2019 record: 5-11
Key Additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Robby Anderson, DL Derrick Brown (draft)
Key Departures: QB Cam Newton, LB Luke Kuechly (retirement), DT Dontari Poe, S Eric Reid, DL Gerald McCoy, TE Greg Olsen
The Teddy Bridgewater era begins as Cam Newton departed for New England. Bridgewater moves over from the Saints, and will immediately be an upgrade over Kyle Allen. He will have the workhorse Christian McCaffrey to hand the ball off to, and will be able to manage the game a bit. He has some great weapons in the passing game, but they will miss Greg Olsen’s production.
First year head coach Matt Rhule will come in from Baylor, and with Joe Brady taking over the offense he will look to employ many of the passing schemes he used at LSU, meaning McCaffrey could be even bigger in the passing game this year. WRs D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson will also be relied on heavily to produce and should be targeted heavily. All that said, major questions still exist with an offensive line that struggled last year, and did not get much improvement in the offseason.
The defense will be the biggest issue, as the abrupt retirement of Luke Kuechly leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the field. Their defensive captain was by far their best player, and they have nobody close to what he provided in terms of play and leadership.
With the switch back to a 4-3 under Rhule, they will look to improve on a run defense that allowed 31 rushing touchdowns last season, the most allowed in the NFL in more than a decade. Doing so without Kuechly will be extremely difficult, but the addition of Derrick Brown should help shore up the middle. Unfortunately the defense will simply not be good enough to challenge for a playoff spot, no matter how well the offense might play.