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NFL Season Preview: NFC South

:Headline: NFL Season Preview: NFC South:
Sports Mole previews the 2014 season for the teams in the NFC South.
By , Reporter | 5y

The Carolina Panthers claimed the NFC South title for the first time in five years to shake up the division, but were unable to make an impact in the post-season in 2013.

Ron Rivera's men posted the second-best record in the NFC but crashed out in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers, while the New Orleans Saints fell victim to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Atlanta Falcons went from the NFC championship game in the 2012 season to a 4-12 record in 2013, while the Buccaneers struggled under Greg Schiano.

Every side in the NFC South will be looking for improvement in the 2014 season and here Sports Mole breaks down their prospects.


New Orleans Saints


Last season: 11-5 - Divisional-round loss

Notable ins: Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills), Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers), Brandin Cooks (Draft)

Notable outs: Darren Sproles (Philadelphia Eagles), Roman Harper (Carolina Panthers), Charles Brown (New York Giants), Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles)

Outlook: The Saints ended their 2013 season with a defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks for the second time in three seasons. Sean Payton's side were outmuscled in their divisional-round loss as Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham failed to find their peak form at CenturyLink Field, while Marshawn Lynch ran all over their defense for 140 yards. New Orleans did have a chance late in the game to go for the endzone but Marques Colston took matters into his own hands and ended their hopes.

Despite their defeat, the Saints aren't too far away from competing for the Super Bowl, and indeed their off-season acquisitions and growth from their recently drafted players should see them reach at least the final two in the NFC. Jairus Byrd is one of the best safeties in the NFL and paired with Kenny Vaccaro could create a tandem that can rival the Seahawks.

Offensively, Brees remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL while Graham is one of the best receiving threats in the game. The duo are almost unstoppable when on form, and if they can harness for the season along with contributions from Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks and Colston, then the Saints could be poised for a showdown with an AFC team at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Prediction: 14-2 - Super Bowl champions – The Saints will this time have enough to edge past the Seahawks as they will face them at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome, as Graham will get one over the Seattle defense who gave him so much trouble in the 2013 divisional round and the defense will stand firm. The NFC will continue their recent dominance in the Super Bowl as the battle-hardened Saints will prove too much for their opponents.


Atlanta Falcons


Last season: 4-12 - Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Paul Soliai (Miami Dolphins), Tyson Jackson (Kansas City Chiefs), Jon Asamoah (Kansas City Chiefs), Jake Matthews (Draft)

Notable outs: Tony Gonzalez (Retired), Peria Jerry (Retired), Asante Samuel (Free agent), Thomas DeCoud (Carolina Panthers)

Outlook: The Falcons went from one play away from the Super Bowl in the 2012 season to one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2013. Their season was a horror show as they were decimated by injuries and their lack of depth in key areas was exposed.

The club made a concerted effort to beef up their defensive and offensive lines in the Draft and free agency to quell the idea that the Falcons are a finesse-only team. Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson on the defensive line should make Smith's side stouter against the run, but there is no real pass-rushing threat apart from Osi Umenyiora.

Matt Ryan is still an excellent quarterback and will be boosted by the return of Julio Jones to full fitness along with Roddy White, who had injury issues last year. The biggest impact will be the loss of Tony Gonzalez, which will be of huge detriment to the Falcons as he was Ryan's favourite target in the endzone. A lot will be asked of Levine Toilolo to replace his predecessor.

Prediction: 9-7 - Miss playoffs – Although the Falcons might not be the best rounded in the division, Ryan's quality at the quarterback position is good enough to win games on his own and he may be forced to do just that. Smith's side will bounce back from their disappointing campaign, but the overall quality of the NFC will see them miss out on the post-season.


Carolina Panthers


Last season: 12-4 - Divisional-round loss.

Notable ins: Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta Falcons), Roman Harper (New Orleans Saints), Jason Avant (Philadelphia Eagles), Kelvin Benjamin (Draft)

Notable outs: Steve Smith (Baltimore Ravens), Brandon LaFell (New England Patriots), Mike Mitchell (Pittsburgh Steelers), Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings)

Outlook: The Panthers recorded an excellent campaign in the 2013 season, which earned head coach Ron Rivera the Coach of the Year award. They didn't quite have the experience to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the post-season, but their defense proved to be one of the best in the NFL and that should give the franchise a lot of hope for the future.

Their problem this season lies on offense as quarterback Cam Newton has had a disruptive off-season due to injury and the club have also lost their top three wide receivers from the last campaign, including the influential Steve Smith. His loss will be felt greatly on and off the field and could be a reason for struggle along with a lack of familiarity between Newton and his wideouts.

Prediction: 8-8 - Miss playoffs – The Panthers have been predicted to have a sharp decline, but their running game is still quite potent and new receiver Kelvin Benjamin looks to be playmaker. Their front seven is one of the best in the NFL on defense, so they should have enough to win at least eight matches.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Last season: 4-12 - Missed playoffs.

Notable ins: Josh McCown (Chicago Bears), Logan Mankins (New England Patriots), Michael Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals), Clinton McDonald (Seattle Seahawks), Alterraun Verner (Tennesee Titans)

Notable outs: Darrelle Revis (New England Patriots), Tim Wright (New England Patriots), Carl Nicks (Retired), Jeremy Zuttah (Baltimore Ravens), Davin Joseph (St Louis Rams)

Outlook: The Buccaneers have a new head coach in Lovie Smith, who spent a year out of the game following his departure from the Chicago Bears after the 2012 season. Smith has been touted to change the fortunes of the franchise around after two years of struggle under Greg Schiano. His approach should be lot different from the disciplinarian figure that Schiano proved to be in his tenure.

A lot rests on the fortunes of new quarterback Josh McCown who did well for the Bears last season when deputising for the injured Jay Cutler. However, the talented receiving corps from Chicago didn't travel with him although Vincent Jackson is a quality receiver, and newly-drafted Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins have undoubted talent. Doug Martin will also return in the running game and if he returns to the form of his rookie year, behind Logan Mankins the Bucs could have success.

Defensively, linebacker Lavonte David will be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year, but the club need to see more from high-round Draft picks Adrian Clayborn and Mark Barron if they are to get near the playoffs this season.

Prediction: 6-10 - Miss playoffs – There is undoubted talent on the Buccaneers roster, but as talented a coach as Smith is, it may take him more than one year to turn the franchise around. Quarterback Mike Glennon played well last season and shouldn't be held behind McCown, and it may be for that reason the club don't reach their potential. body check tags ::

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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool22211052143864
2Manchester CityMan City23153564273748
3Leicester CityLeicester23143648232545
4Chelsea2312383930939
5Manchester UnitedMan Utd239773627934
6Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2381053430434
7Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd238962522333
8Tottenham HotspurSpurs238783631531
9Crystal Palace237972226-430
10Arsenal2361163032-229
11Everton2385102633-729
12Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2385102234-1229
13Southampton2384112942-1328
14Burnley2383122638-1227
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2367102631-525
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham2265112634-823
17Watford2358102034-1423
18Aston Villa2364132944-1522
19Bournemouth2355132036-1620
20Norwich CityNorwich2345142345-2217
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Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool22211052143864
2Manchester CityMan City23153564273748
3Leicester CityLeicester23143648232545
4Chelsea2312383930939
5Manchester UnitedMan Utd239773627934
6Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2381053430434
7Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd238962522333
8Tottenham HotspurSpurs238783631531
9Crystal Palace237972226-430
10Arsenal2361163032-229
11Everton2385102633-729
12Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2385102234-1229
13Southampton2384112942-1328
14Burnley2383122638-1227
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2367102631-525
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham2265112634-823
17Watford2358102034-1423
18Aston Villa2364132944-1522
19Bournemouth2355132036-1620
20Norwich CityNorwich2345142345-2217
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