NFC South 2022 NFL Preview: Are Brady, Bucs still at contender level?

Former NFL head coach Dirk Koetter joins Follow The Money to discuss how good the Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiving corps could be if healthy, after the addition of Julio Jones, going on record to say it is the best group Tom Brady has ever had.

The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about the 32 teams looking to book a trip to Super Bowl LVII.

Kickoff for the regular season is set for Thursday, Sept. 8 and today we look at the NFC South…

2021 record:
7-10, third in NFC South, missed playoffs for fourth consecutive season

Notable roster additions: QB Marcus Mariota, WR Drake London (rookie), QB Desmond Ridder (rookie), DE Arnold Ebiketie (rookie), WR Auden Tate, TE Anthony Firkser, LB Rashaan Evans

Notable roster subtractions: QB Matt Ryan, RB Mike Davis, WR Russell Gage, TE Hayden Hurst, DE Dante Fowler

The good news: There’s little pressure to post a winning record in the team’s first season without Matt Ryan since 2008 – in fact, Ryan only missed three starts in his 14-year career as the Falcons QB. From a long-term perspective, Atlanta’s season will be a success if the young stars show clear signs of progress and promise. Sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts showed superstar potential last year, posting 1,026 yards on 68 receptions. The No. 4 overall pick and first TE off the board in the 2021 draft only found the end zone once as a rookie, though. The Falcons selected Drake London as first WR off the board in 2022’s draft and he immediately steps in as the top WR on the depth chart.

Mariota knows Falcons coach Arthur Smith from their time in Tennessee and is a solid stopgap option for a team that drafted Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati as a potential future starting QB. And hey, if this experiment fails, the team has Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud to scout ahead of next year’s draft. Ebiketie should help a pass rush that lacked bite a season ago and linebacker Rashaan Evans (another former Titan) could provide the defence with some energy.

The bad news: While there remains cohesion on the O-line, bringing back basically the same unit isn’t inspiring, even though Mariota is far more mobile than Ryan was (the downside is he’s also a less accurate passer). Calvin Ridley is serving his suspension for gambling on games, so that’s one less quality offensive weapon Mariota and/or Ridder have at their disposal. Even if the returning Cordarrelle Patterson and the rest of the offence show signs of promise, this defence lacks the depth and will likely have trouble bending but not breaking most weeks. Linebacker Deion Jones and cornerback Isaiah Oliver are among the defenders starting the year on the injured reserve, which puts more pressure on standout defensive back A.J. Terrell to carry the rest of the defence.

Super Bowl Odds: +12500
Division Title Odds: +2500
Wins Total: 4.5 win (Over -120/Under +100)

2021 record:
5-12, fourth in NFC South, missed playoffs for fourth consecutive season

Notable roster additions: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekwonu (rookie), WR Laviska Shenault Jr., RB D'Onta Foreman, G Austin Corbett, DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Damien Wilson, S Xavier Woods, P Johnny Hekker

Notable roster subtractions: QB Cam Newton, C Matt Paradis, OLB Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB A.J. Bouye

The good news: This team has a motivated, new starting QB in Baker Mayfield to accompany three solid running backs (headed by Christian McCaffrey) playing behind an improved offensive line. If Ikem Ekwonu can develop into a franchise left tackle as some pundits believe he can it’ll go a long way towards helping whoever lines up behind centre in the years to come. Mayfield is an upgrade over Sam Darnold. Gritting it out and playing through injuries last season significantly impacted his performance, so the Panthers are hoping they get the Mayfield we saw go 11-5 with the Browns in 2020, not the 2021 version that finished 6-8. The other side of the ball boasts plenty of young talent, like second-year corner Jaycee Horn leading a talented secondary that benefits from the pass rush fronted by Brian Burns.

The bad news: It would not be surprising if the offence sputtered at times. When that happens and time of possession gets lopsided the defence will be tested. McCaffrey has not been able to stay healthy the past two seasons. His absence changes this offence dramatically, so the team can’t afford to have that happen a third consecutive season. Carolina’s non-divisional schedule does them no favours, including matchups with the Rams, 49ers, Bengals, Ravens and Broncos during the middle stretch of the season.

Super Bowl Odds: +6600
Division Title Odds: +1000
Wins Total: 6.5 win (Over +105/Under -125)

2021 record:
9-8, second in NFC South, missed playoffs for first time since 2016

Notable roster additions: WR Chris Olave (rookie), OT Trevor Penning (rookie), WR Jarvis Landry, QB Andy Dalton, S Tyrann Mathieu, DT Kentavius Street, S Marcus Maye, DB Alontae Taylor (rookie), defensive coordinator Dennis Allen promoted to head coach

Notable roster subtractions: OT Terron Armstead, LB Kwon Alexander, S Marcus Williams, S Malcolm Jenkins, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, head coach Sean Peyton

The good news: Jameis Winston went 5-2 in his first year as Saints starter before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Winston is back healthy and he has three new targets. Michael Thomas will return from his ankle injury that required surgery. The talented WR led the NFL in receptions in his back-to-back All-Pro seasons in 2018 and 2019 – he also led the league with 1,725 receiving yards in 2019 – but hasn’t played since December 2020. Rookie Chris Olave’s speed and Jarvis Landry’s veteran savvy, plus the fact Alvin Kamara is still there, should complement Thomas’s skill set and leave Winston with plenty of safety outlets.

New head coach Dennis Allen has been New Orleans’ defensive coordinator since 2015 so we know that side of the ball won’t be neglected even though this team’s record will largely be determined by the success of the offence that’ll be run by Pete Carmichael yet again. Adding reliable backup like Andy Dalton eases the pressure on that group, too.

The bad news: The offensive line lost reliable left tackle Terron Armstead, which leaves a huge hole. Trevor Penning was drafted in the first round with Armstead’s absence in mind but the rookie won’t be able to suit up until November after undergoing surgery to repair ligaments in his foot. Winston constantly being under pressure results in some spectacular interceptions and mounting frustration. The defensive secondary also looks different with Marcus Williams gone and Mathieu and Maye stepping in to fill that void.

Super Bowl Odds: +3500
Division Title Odds: +350
Wins Total: 8.5 win (Over -130/Under +110)

2021 record: 13-4, first in NFC South, beat Eagles in wild-card round, lost to Rams in divisional round

Notable roster additions: WR Julio Jones, G Shaq Mason, G Luke Goedeke (rookie), DT Akiem Hicks, DL Logan Hall (rookie), WR Russell Gage, TE Kyle Rudolph, S Logan Ryan, new head coach Todd Bowles

Notable roster subtractions: G Ali Marpet, G Alex Cappa, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul, S Jordan Whitehead, RB Ronald Jones, TE O.J. Howard, head coach Bruce Arians

The good news: The defence should remain a top-tier collection of talent despite losing a handful of notable contributors. Akiem Hicks and rookie Logan Hall were added to a front seven that already features disturbers like Vita Vea, Shaq Barrett and Devin White.

Also, as long as Tom Brady is healthy and he can perform as well as he has in his two years with the Bucs, they should again be a playoff team battling it out for a first-round bye. Tampa tied for the best record in the NFC in 2021 and is heavily favoured to win the division for a second year in a row. No more Gronk, but Brady will have Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Julio Jones as red zone targets.

The bad news: There are questions and slight concerns on the offensive line, specifically the interior. The Bucs acquired Brady’s old Patriots teammate Shaq Mason and drafted Luke Goedeke but can that pair replace both Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa? Brady missed some time in training camp before returning and looking a fair bit younger than 45, but preparation has never been an issue for No. 12. The first four weeks of the schedule will present challenges with road contests against the Cowboys and Saints before back-to-back home games against the Packers and Chiefs.

Super Bowl Odds: +700
Division Title Odds: -300
Wins Total: 11.5 win (Over +125/Under -145)

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