Who will win the NFC South in 2016?

The Carolina Panthers dominated the NFC South in 2015. The Panthers won the division en route to making NFL history by becoming the first team to win the NFC South for three consecutive years. Is there anyone in the NFC South that can give Carolina a run for their money in 2016?

The Carolina Panthers are prohibitive favorites to win the NFC South in 2016.

The Carolina Panthers steamrolled their way through the NFC last season. The Panthers amassed the NFL’s best record at 15-1. They won their first 14 games of the regular season.

Carolina dominated the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals en route to their second Superbowl appearance in franchise history. The Panthers lost by two touchdowns to the AFC champion Denver Broncos in Superbowl L.

2016 looks like another year where the Panthers are prohibitive favorites to win the NFC South. Carolina possesses an explosive offense that can do damage in their air and on the ground. MVP quarterback Cam Newton had the best season of his career in 2015. Newton will get his top receiving target back: Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin will join a core of quality receivers and tight ends that will make life very easy for Newton.

Running backs Jonathan Stewart and Cameron Artis-Payne will combine to develop Carolina’s running game in 2016. The offensive line is expected to continue meshing as a solid unit in both pass protection and run blocking.

The Panthers will boast one of the NFL’s top defensive units in 2016. The front seven is among the league’s best. The pass rush and ability to stop the run will be pivotal to their success. The secondary took a big hit with the loss of defensive back Josh Norman. Norman will not be replaced, but Carolina still has talent at the back end.

The Carolina Panthers are the best team in the NFC South. Their record will not mirror the one from 2015. This division is still theirs until someone else can take it from them. Win-loss prediction: 12-4

The Atlanta Falcons’ future will be determined throughout the 2016 season.

The Atlanta Falcons started the 2015 season with an impressive 5-1 record. The Falcons sputtered shortly after. They lost seven of their final 10 games to finish with an 8-8 record.

The Falcons improved in certain areas on offense in 2015. These improvements need to continue in 2016. Quarterback Matt Ryan did not have a spectacular season. Ryan performed decently, despite throwing for over 4,500 yards. Wide receiver Julio Jones played extraordinarily well last season. The Ryan/Jones duo can still be one of the league’s best. Receiver Mohammed Sanu is only going to add more firepower to the Atlanta passing attack.

The running game flashed potential and promise. Running back Devonta Freeman sparked more balance and consistency that has been missing for a little while. Freeman will get his fair share of carries and catches in 2016. Expect to see improvements in the balance of the Falcons’ offense. The offensive line is not spectacular, but it is not bad either. This will decide whether Atlanta can have a good or shaky offense this season.

The Falcons are improving on defense. Work still needs to be done, but progress is noticeable. Expect the sack total to increase in 2016. Nothing less than 30 sacks, the Atlanta defense will take a major step forward. The linebackers are talented. The secondary got exposed a lot in the second half of last season. Expect more of the same this year because they are not at that top level just yet.

The record may not matter for the Falcons as much as the progress made on the field. This team could finish with an 8-8 record again. Showing legitimate improvement over last season, however, will make the 2016 Atlanta Falcons season a success regardless of the record. Head coach Dan Quinn is heading into his second season. This will be an important year for this franchise. Win-loss prediction: 8-8

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are an up and coming team to be on the lookout for.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of only a handful of young teams that fans need to pay close attention to in 2016. The Buccaneers finished with six wins in 2015. Last year’s record does not indicate how quickly this franchise is on the rise.

Head coach Lovie Smith was shown the door. This move surprised most of the football world. New coach Dirk Koetter is taking over the reigns this season. The Buccaneers might not be a playoff team in 2016. Another year of growth, however, will turn this team into something interesting in three years time.

The Tampa Bay offense is young and promising. Quarterback Jameis Winston proved himself to be the franchise player in 2015. Running back Doug Martin played very well and provided a much needed balance and insurance policy to Winston. Wide receiver Mike Evans performed well in his second season. These will be the three focal points to the Buccaneers’ offense in 2016.

Tight end needs to step up and provide a spark down the seams. The offensive line improved during the 2015 season. Pass protection is still a problem. The Buccaneers need to keep an eye on the line’s ability to protect Winston.

Tampa Bay’s defense struggled for most of last season. The ranking in the top 10 does not indicate how stagnant they actually were. Youth and talent exists all over the defensive unit, but the pass coverage needs immediate improvement.

The front seven provided a solid pass rush. The Buccaneers should improve in this category in 2016. The linebackers are very impressive. This looks like the strength of the Buccaneers’ defense. They flashed potential in 2015. Look for this core to continue getting better against the run. Expect them to improve against the pass as well.

Tampa Bay is a young team with a bright future. Koetter needs to play his cards right in 2016. He is potentially setting himself up for a lengthy run as perennial NFC South contenders in the future. The Buccaneers will only continue to improve. This team will be dangerous in a few more years. Win-loss prediction: 8-8

The New Orleans Saints are on the verge of rebuilding and it needs to happen.

The New Orleans Saints suffered another seven win season in 2015. The Saints played extremely well on offense last year [the passing game, to be specific]. The inconsistent running game left much to be desired, however. The defense struggled mightily, again. New Orleans ranked close to last place in almost every major defensive category, again.

The Saints do not look much better heading into this season. Head coach Sean Payton is now on the clock. Payton needs to spark something to get fans excited about the future again.

Quarterback Drew Brees is a future NFL legend. Brees will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. Until then, get the man some help! Saints fans understand how prolific the passing attack is. That is not the issue.

The running game better step up and improve in 2016. What is one way to achieve that? RUN THE FOOTBALL. The continual inconsistency and lack of use makes it tougher for Brees to keep the Saints at a competitive level against opposing teams. Paging anyone in the organization who cares to listen: RUN THE FOOTBALL.

If not, Brees will have another statistically great season overshadowed by another seven win record.

The defense is atrocious. This unit needs to be upgraded everywhere. The linebackers flashed potential in 2015, although very little. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is the best player on the defensive line. The interior pass rush is bad. Take Jordan away, the exterior pass rush is not that good either.

The secondary is horrific. They will be consistently exposed this season. Enough said.

The Saints boasted the league’s fourth best defense just three years ago. It is funny how quickly everything can change. 2016 is going to be another rough year for this unit.

The New Orleans Saints’ 2016 season is going to depend on how well they can run the football. Everyone already knows the defense is going to be bad. Everyone already knows Brees is going to have another strong season. If the Saints can run the football, and run it well, this could be an interesting team to watch. If not, they will finish 7-9 once again.

Something says they are going to abandon the running game once again. Win-loss prediction: 7-9

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