Red was shocked, frankly shocked, when this division produced its first NFL Champion since the Saints back in 2007. Don’t expect a repeat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5). The Bucs had a decent season at 11-5 and then had all the cards fall into place to be the first team to both play in and win a Superb Owl in their home stadium. In the regular season, it’s hard to pick out more than one quality win (Note: Red defines a quality win as one over a playoff team or a team with at least 9-10 wins depending on the schedule). In the regular season, the Bucs beat exactly one team with a winning record – with a rousing 38-10 home win over the Packers in Week 6. The only other teams with winning records (Saints, Chiefs and Rams) dispatched them. A weak season ending schedule, however, had the Bucs coasting into the playoffs as a wild card. There they drew the easiest possible Wild Card game against the winner (Washington FT) of the pathetic excuse for a professional football division that was the NFC East. It got harder from there. The Saints lost by coughing up the ball 4 times including an uncharacteristic for INTs for Drew Brees. Green Bay had plenty of opportunity to beat the Bucs but made a mess of their last series allowing TB to run out the clock. And Red need not say anything about the Superb Owl. Ugh. The Bucs have a greased skid to the playoffs again in 2021 with the 4th easiest schedule on the pre-season books. The toughest games are likely to be against the Colts, Rams, Bills and Saints. Other than that they get to play the weak sisters in the NFC East and the rather shallow AFC East. Plus they return every starter on the Championship team. Don’t expect the Bucs to beat a single decent team in the regular season. But you know what – it won’t matter. Crawl don’t run to put your money down on the Bucs to win this division.
New Orleans Saints (11-6). The Saints were probably the best team in the NFL last season but couldn’t get past division rival Tampa Bay in a rather pathetic showing in the playoffs. The big question following Drew Brees’ retirement is of course the situation at quarterback. Do they go with the error-prone but potentially explosive Jameis Winston or the multi-talented Tayson Hill. Red says go with both. Under guidance Winston plays good like a quarterback should and Hill can provide the spark when needed. And they can use multiple formations with both players in the game. Alvin Kamara likely has another outstanding season in his pocket. Put him down for at least 1700 total yards in a 17-game season. The other big question concerns the status of all-world wideout Michael Thomas. Marquez Callaway may be able to fill that gaping void for a few weeks, but if Thomas’ injury lingers the Saints could be in serious trouble. Like the Bucs, the Saints have a favorable schedule and with “all of us” could well snatch the division crown from Tampa Bay with a season sweep.
Atlanta Falcons (6-11). It’s unlikely the Falcons start off 0-5 or close the season 0-5 as they did in 2020 putting a premature end to any hopes for the playoffs and Dan Quinn’s head coaching career. There was a middling stretch (4-2 record from Weeks 6 to 12) where the Falcons were a simulacrum of a professional football team. You just kind of knew that it wasn’t going to be the Falcons year after the Cowboys game in Week 2. The Falcons had a 39-24 lead with less than 9 minutes left. The Cowboys cut that to 39-30 – foolishly going for 2 after an impressive TD drive. With less than two minutes left and no timeouts the Cowboys successfully convert what should have been an easily handled on-side kick. Maybe they just needed a big red arrow to show them where the ball was. Anyhow, the Cowboys recover and win the game on a Greg Zuerlein field goal as time runs out. It was pretty much all downhill from there for the Falcons. This year Arthur Smith has decamped from Tennessee where his excellent work in turning Ryan Tannehill into a respectable NFL quarterback earned him a spot as the Falcons head coach. Unfortunately, AS has an over-the-hill and never quite up to snuff QB in Matt Ryan, what could be the worst running game in the NFC – if not the NFL and a defense that gave up more than 30 points 6 times last year. That said Calvin Ridley is a Top 5 wideout, the addition of Kyle Pitts at TE will help and Matt Ryan is at still serviceable. The Falcons will score enough points to win some games against the lesser competition and as noted above – there is plenty of that for the NFC South teams this season.
Carolina Panthers (2-15). Repeat after Red. Darn Old Sam, Darn Old Sam, Darn Old Sam. Darn Old Sam. Not even the perhaps premier running back in the league (C. McCaffery) can help this train wreck. The Panthers definitely have a shot at being the worst team in the NFL if the Texans get lucky. And believe him, if Red could find another spot to sneak this picture in he definitely would.