NFC South preview

Ethan Sample

Sport’s Blogger

@ethanjsample

Reigning MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers look to avenge last season's Super Bowl loss. (Guy Harbert, Flickr)
Reigning MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers look to avenge last season’s Super Bowl loss.
(Guy Harbert, Flickr)

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have one thing on their minds: finish what they started last season. After capping the regular season with an 15-1 record and making it to the Super Bowl, the only way to go is up. Expect Cam Newton to get the job done, whether it be on foot or with his arm. With receivers Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess and tight end Greg Olsen, Newton will look to move the ball through the air ferociously as if it were last season when he threw for 35 touchdowns. The Panthers will rely on running back Jonathan Stewart to lead their running game as he did last season, rushing for 989 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers were ranked third in the NFC. However, it seems the Panthers are attempting to re-tool their secondary after Josh Norman and Roman Harper were released.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons, coming off 8-8 season, will look to do much better this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan will lead the team this year with receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu as his top targets. Oklahoma State’s David Glidden was also signed to the Falcons, but it isn’t certain that he will be used or if he will make the team. Progressing the offensive line will be a main factor in the offense of the Falcons. Expect a re-tooled offensive line. Defensively, the Falcons look to improve after drafting linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal. The defense struggled to produce sacks, which is why it’s expected of them to improve on their pass rush, starting with the defensive line. This season, Atlanta should display great athleticism and versatility on defense. Offensively, it will more than likely look to target its receivers more than run the ball despite having running back Devonta Freeman.

New Orleans Saints

Last season the Saints had the second worst defense in the league. The Saints will look to improve on this with the re-signings of linebaker James Laurinaitis and safety Roman Harper, who had a two-season sabbatical with the Carolina Panters. Also, the drafting of safety Vonn Bell shows promise. It appears that the Saints are attempting to salvage what is left of their pass defense, despite having solid players such as safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Delvin Breaux. Offensively, the run game seems to be facing problems in the preseason, despite having running back Mark Ingram. The Saints are expected to work on their run blocking until the regular season begins. Quarterback Drew Brees will target receivers Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks, who totaled 2,122 receiving yards last season. The offense is expected to make plays in the pass game and as for the defense, when you’re at the bottom, the only way is up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Finishing 6-10 under rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is a considerable improvement from their 2014 campaign, which resulted in a 2-14 record. Offensively, Winston led the team with a little over 4,000 passing yards. The same can be expected this year. He will target top receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. The Bucs have some great utility running backs, who double as receivers. Expect the backfield to be involved on the ground and through the air. Running back Doug Martin will likely be the go-to in the run game after rushing for 1,402 yards last season. Defensively, the Bucs appear to be strengthening their secondary with first round draft pick cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and the signing of cornerback Brent Grimes. Tampa Bay also added defensive end Noah Spence in the second round of the draft. The Bucs had a solid defense at fourth in the NFC. It is expected that the Bucs will compete harder this season, both offensively and defensively and challenge Carolina for the NFC South title.

ozone@ocolly.com

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