How the NFC South Became the League’s Most Stacked Division in 4 Days

By Saransh Sharma & Pranav Thiriveedhi

The NFC South for many years was the most QB-driven division in the NFL, with the record-breaking quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees leading the Saints, and NFL MVP’s Matt Ryan and Cam Newton leading the Falcons and Panthers, respectively (somehow Brees has never won an NFL MVP award). For years, it was a division which saw Newton and Ryan’s teams going on playoff runs, and Brees being left out to dry with no help, or having to pull a Houdini act just to get to the playoffs, and then there’s the Buccaneers, who had famed 2015 No. 1 pick and National Champion Jameis Winston at QB, and despite some up-and-down seasons from him, the team hadn’t gone to the playoffs since 2007. However, since Newton and Ryan’s Super Bowl chokes, Brees and the Saints have built themselves through the NFL Draft, Ryan and the Falcons cannot get over their 28-3 blown lead in Super Bowl LI, Newton is being scapegoated for getting injured in one of the most dangerous sports in the world, and Winston throws nearly as many interceptions as he does touchdowns. Newton and Winston are currently free agents, and have been replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, and Tom Brady, the Greatest of All-Time. So now, the ship is re-written, with the NFC South back to being elite and QB-driven, but these weren’t the only big moves in the division:

Tom Brady Chooses the Florida Beaches

Let’s start with the obvious: Tom Brady. If it wasn’t for the Coronavirus pandemic, the Buccaneer’s signing of the six-time superbowl winning quarterback would be the top headline across the United States. Tom Brady joined the NFL in the year 2000, where he won six Super Bowls, nine AFC Championships, and 17 Division Titles with the New England Patriots. But now, in the year 2020, in one of the craziest offseasons in as long as I can remember, Tom Brady is leaving the team he played on for almost half of his life. Even though it is still months before the regular season’s start, no one can tell if this move was worth it for Tom Terrific. On March 16th, when free agency opened its door, several teams were in the bidding race for Brady, including the Patriots (of course!), Titans, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders, and Buccaneers. But on March 20th, Tom Brady officially signed a 2 year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His new contract in Tampa guaranteed a $50 Million deal, also included with $9 Million in incentives. But the most interesting part of Brady’s new contract with the Bucs is the prohibited clause. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not allowed to use their franchise tag or trade Tom Brady while he is under that same contract. 

So, why did Tom Brady join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It obviously wasn’t for the money because other teams were offering Brady $30 Million per year or more. I think, and I’m going to go on a limb here and state that Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his fit on the team, and the elite group of receivers the Buccaneers possess. The Buccaneers are home to two of the most explosive, elusive wide receivers in the game today: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Last season, the previous starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, threw for an astounding 5,109 yards with those two firing on all cannons on the offense. Now imagine what would happen if you were to take a league average Jameis Winston out of the center and replace him with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. What are the odds Tom Brady and the Buccaneers don’t do something special next season? Tom Brady finally got his A grade receivers for the first time since he had prime Wes Welker, his top 10 offensive line, and a team more younger and healthier, something he never got on the Patriots. If the Buccaneers and Brady don’t make a run for the playoffs next season, I wouldn’t even know what to tell you.

Todd Gurley Goes Back to Georgia

Just two years ago, Todd Gurley was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year after having over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. That season was the best season of his career and the Sean McVay Rams offense looked like it was going to be dominant for years to come, despite an early Wild Card loss to the Atlanta Falcons. In 2018, Gurley had over 1,800 scrimmage yards and 21 total touchdowns, and this time, led his team to the Super Bowl, where he and the offense could get nothing going, getting embarrassed and putting up just 3 points total. Going into that game, however, the big storyline was that Gurley had some knee issues which slowed him down a bit in the playoffs, but mainly in the Super Bowl, where Super Bowl 50 hero CJ Anderson took the majority of the carries at Running Back. Just a month after the Super Bowl loss, Gurley was told by doctors that he had arthritis in his right knee. Gurley got surgery, yet the ‘arthritic component’ to the knee injury still remained, meaning that the arthritis could cause him to be injured yet again. Gurley went into the 2019 season with the possibility of being benched for guys like Malcolm Brown or Darrell Henderson, and there was even trade talk during the season. Gurley finished with career lows in carries and yardage, but was still 5th in the league in touchdowns. The lack of carries and yardage played a big role in the Rams lack of success this past season, going 9-7 and missing the playoffs. 

However, despite the rough year and the arthritis issue still looming, Gurley still is amongst the top in the league in terms of carries, yards, and touchdowns for running backs since he was drafted in 2015. The part that is hard to put together about him getting released is the fact that he produced great stats even with the injury scares and such, and even in his down year, it was his team that lost faith in his ability, as he just simply did not get the ball enough. 24 hours after being released, Gurley signed with the Atlanta Falcons for a 1-year prove-it deal, but I expect this to become long-term and a lethal combination for years to come, with Gurley being the clear favorite in the backfield, and QB Matt Ryan and WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Gurley now has the best offensive line he has had since 2018, has an offense that is Super Bowl-caliber when healthy, and is very balanced. Expect Head Coach Dan Quinn to have the offense run through him early on in the season, and Gurley to just cruise to another great season from there.

Teddy Bridgewater is Officially a Starting QB Again

580 miles north of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Panthers in Charlotte have also grabbed a new franchise quarterback, at least for the next three years. Teddy Bridgewater, star on the Minnesota Vikings (before his devastating injury), and savior on the New Orleans Saints, just signed a three year, $63 Million deal with the Carolina Panthers. The deal included a signing bonus of $15 Million and a number of incentives sprinkled in. Teddy Bridgewater just got his bag in Charlotte, but that means the exit for one the best quarterbacks in the NFC South, Cam Newton, who has been on the decline the last few years with the Panthers. I love Teddy Bridgewater’s new signing with the Carolina Panthers, but something feels wrong for me. The Carolina Panthers are not exactly the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings, both teams with one of the biggest and loudest fan bases in the country. And the way Teddy has moved throughout his NFL career, he has thrived on loving fanbases, something I feel Carolina won’t give him immediately. 

Teddy Bridgewater is also the man under center for one of the few teams in the NFL, where the fanbase believes a running back, in this case Christian McCaffrey for the Panthers, can lead their team to success. Bridgewater needs to “bridge” a great relationship with CMC off and on the field, because a great tandem of players in the backfield would really help the Panthers move ahead in an already stacked NFC South. Bridgewater also has great depth and deep threats through receivers DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and newly signed Robby Anderson (wideout who played for the Jets last season). With an offense possessing the ability to do really great next year, only time will tell for Bridgewater. A strong start to the season and no injuries will propel Teddy Bridgewater into the limelight with his new Carolina Panthers. 

Emmanuel Sanders Tries to Go for 4 Super Bowls with 4 Teams

As seen by the headline, Emmanuel Sanders has the chance to go to his 4th Super Bowl and for his 4th NFL team, something that no NFL player has ever done. Sanders’ career resume is one of the most consistent you will ever see in terms of stats, but he has not had his chance to shine ever since Peyton Manning retired from the NFL in 2016, leaving the Broncos with limited talent at the quarterback spot, hindering Sanders the most. Despite all of that, Sanders gave it his all in Denver for the next 3 seasons, before getting traded midseason this year to the San Francisco 49ers, who were 7-0 at the time, and eventually became the NFC Champions, and if Jimmy Garoppolo did not overthrow him in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, he probably would have won a Super Bowl with them, and stayed with the 49ers.

The move to go to New Orleans was a rather shocking one by Sanders. Many believed he would go to Dallas or Washington, the teams that showed lots of interest in him and needed a veteran presence at the wide receiver position, and were pass-happy offenses. But Sanders instead went to the most pass-happy offense in the NFL in New Orleans, and he has the chance to play with Drew Brees, the 3rd quarterback that will be a future-Hall of Famer throwing the ball to him. Much like in Pittsburgh and Denver, Sanders will play second fiddle behind Michael Thomas, as he was behind Mike Wallace and Demariyus Thomas in Pittsburgh and Denver. That being said, Brees now has Thomas, Sanders, Jared Cook, Tre’Quan Smith, and Alvin Kamara as his targets, which presents the scariest core of receivers in that department. With Sanders now in the mix, the Saints receivers have the edge over teams like the Buccaneers, but the big question will be, can Brees outplay Brady, and can he keep the Saints as not only NFC South favorites, but Super Bowl favorites? Sanders will play a huge role in deciding that, and consider his luck in the NFL, he will probably go to a Super Bowl as a Saint as well.

TB12 to TB: How Brady’s Move Down South Affects His Legacy

Tom Brady might not have shocked the world by saying he was leaving the New England Patriots just two days back, but if you said that to me after he signed a 2-year, $41 million extension in 2016 after a season where Brady was one drive away from yet another Super Bowl appearance, I would have said you were crazy. If you said that his destination would be Tampa Bay, I would think you were even crazier. Either way, Brady in 2020, did just that, but he earned that right. Since that extension, Brady went to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and won 2 of them. Though he just left New England, here’s when the dominos started to fall, which led to the door opening for Brady to leave:

The First Fallen Domino: Jimmy G

Through all that, he endured the Deflategate suspension, nagging injuries to guys like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, a new face in town in Jimmy Garoppolo, whom coach Bill Belichick loved, and much more. Keep that name in mind, however. A guy who was drafted in the second round in 2014 by New England after having won another Super Bowl, their first in 10 years. When Brady accepted his 4-game suspension in 2016, however, Belichick put in Jimmy G, who won his first 2 games, and then led the Pats to a third straight win before getting hurt and handing the ball over to rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett. But Belichick seemed to have fallen in love with Jimmy G and found his successor to Brady. Brady felt disrespected, and it fueled him to win another Super Bowl, in the infamous 28-3 blown lead by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Second Fallen Domino: The Unsung Hero, Danny Amendola

I wrote back after Super Bowl LII that New England’s demise had begun, as Brady had lost to backup QB Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in what is, in my opinion, the best Super Bowl I have ever seen. That offseason, he ended up losing receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks in free agency. The big name here is Amendola. Amendola for years had been the ‘third guy’ behind Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, but he may have been the unsung hero for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Through the Super Bowl runs where New England beat Seattle and Atlanta, and lost to Philadelphia in an epic, Amendola was the one whom Brady used to always find in the clutch, his ‘Ol’ Reliable’, per se.

To me, I thought New England made the mistake of letting Amendola go instead of Julian Edelman or Chris Hogan because Amendola was a guy Brady counted on and was close with on and off the field. Amendola seemed to be the guy that would make the big catches and touchdowns in 4thquarters of close ballgames, most notably his game-winning touchdown catch against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game in 2017 to save Brady from being beaten by… Blake Bortles. Funny, right? Amendola wound up going to Miami, then Detroit with former Pats Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, and he’s still there now. Looking back on the past two years, however, and seeing how the offense played, Brady could have used Amendola in many clutch moments.

The Third Fallen Domino: Antonio Brown

I understand what Bill Belichick was thinking back in October 2018 when Antonio Brown got released. Great player, but we need to know if this guy is well-minded. The last thing Belichick wanted was to get a guy on his team that would be a distraction to the team, like Aaron Hernandez. At the time, AB had been lashing out many times on social media, such as with his former teammates in Pittsburgh, and at that time, when he hired marketing agents to get himself off the Oakland Raiders. Safe to say that Belichick doesn’t normally think players like AB would fit in ‘The Patriot Way’, but somehow, he signed him. AB lasted 11 days on the team before getting released again after sexual assault allegations (which had been going on when Belichick signed him).

But Brady grew a chemistry with AB in the short time. While the stats did not show it, their love on Twitter certainly has, when Brady showed respect for AB even after his departure from New England, and even now, with Brady now in Tampa, Antonio Brown still shows up on Brady’s radar. But this was where it all fell down for Brady in New England. Brady was not happy that a guy with the talent of AB was released, but by ‘The Patriot Way’, he was not the right guy. But with Gronkowski retired and AB gone (along with Chris Hogan gone in free agency and Demariyus Thomas traded midseason), Brady just had Edelman and James White to rely on. Those guys did not stay relatively healthy, the offensive line Brady relied on got hurt as well, and Brady wilted under the pressure a bit after the 8-0 start. He had a great last season in New England, but the team had no pieces around him to keep him from leaving.

So, Tampa is Home. Now What?

Well the legacy of Brady does not require him to win a Super Bowl necessarily. Like LeBron James when he went to the LA Lakers, Brady is putting himself in the toughest position possible, going into an NFC South division with Super Bowl contenders like the New Orleans Saints, who by the way, are led by Drew Brees, a top 5 QB of all-time, an Atlanta Falcons team that just signed Todd Gurley, and a young Carolina Panthers team. Brady easily just put himself in the most stacked division in the NFL, and with the new 14-team playoff (so 7 per conference), all 4 of these teams can be playoff and Super Bowl contenders in Brady’s way. Not to mention that the NFC also has Aaron Rodgers, another top 5 QB of all-time, a near-MVP in Carson Wentz, and the defending NFC Champs in San Francisco. (Side Note: My top 5 All-Time QBs are: Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Drew Brees). Brady is definitely not expected to win a Super Bowl, but as a 43-year old who has shown he can still win 10+ games every year and win Super Bowls, the expectations are high. Brady will probably have to at least get Tampa Bay to the playoffs, something they haven’t done since ’07, and then a playoff win (or more). This is a team that before Brady never had hope, but he brings it. Fans are already flocking to get season tickets, players want to play for Tampa, life is good in Tampa right now. I mean, warm weather, a stadium with a pirate ship, and Tom Brady, what more do you need?

To me, Tampa can contend for a Super Bowl with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as Brady’s weapons, his best since he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but the task is rather daunting. It’s hard to keep expectations low with Tom Brady, so I believe that he probably will take Tampa to at least one NFC Championship Game throughout his current contract (he signed a 2-year deal for $50M, fully guaranteed, with $9M available in incentives) to keep his legacy cemented as it is right now, which is as the Greatest of All-Time.

2020 NFL Playoff Predictions: Who Wins the NFC East, and Who Can Beat Baltimore?

The 2020 NFL Playoffs are soon to commence, with many of last year’s better teams are fighting for better playoffs spots, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, those fighting for dear life just to make the playoffs like the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, and newcomers like the Buffalo Bills. In what has been one of the most interesting years for playoff races, here are my predictions for who makes it and what damage those teams could do:

Who Takes the NFC East?

Remember when Dallas started 3-0 after beating the Miami Dolphins and people thought they could win the Super Bowl? Well, whoever actually said and believed that might not have a job by the end of this year, because beating the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Miami Dolphins, teams that will have 3 of the top 4 draft picks come this May, is not an accomplishment. In fact, since then, they have only beaten one team that is .500 or over, which was last week against the Rams.

The Philadelphia Eagles, on the other hand, at one point looked like a team that had no chance of making the playoffs, first when they were 3-4 following blowout losses to Minnesota and Dallas, and then just 3 weeks ago, when they lost at Miami as part of their 3-game losing streak. Now, sure, the Eagles have lost every offensive weapon possible at some point during the season aside from their QB Carson Wentz, have had no secondary to work with all year, and have had play-calling and locker room issues. Yet despite all that constant adversity being faced, they sit here 7-7 with a home date this Sunday evening against Dallas, where the winner takes the East (if Dallas wins they will be guaranteed the East, while Philadelphia, although very unlikely they don’t win, need a bit to go in their favor).

In the division that has been the laughingstock of the NFL this year, one must make the playoffs and then prove that they are worthy of being there. The past two weeks, Philadelphia has looked like they have figured things out, with a new two-headed monster in the backfield with rookies Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, new wide receivers like Greg Ward stepping up and filling the voids at that position, and the defense finally being healthy, Philadelphia looks like a team who, while they may not make a playoff run, they look like a team that can give a fight. This Sunday, Philadelphia takes the win and division.

The 6-Seed Battles, Who Takes Which?

Currently, the NFC’s 6-seed is the Minnesota Vikings and the AFC’s 6-seed is the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Minnesota’s remaining schedule being at home against the Green Bay Packers, and at Chicago to play the Bears. Pittsburgh gets the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, both road games. If the Steelers were to lose one game, which would be the Ravens game, and the Tennessee Titan were to win one out of the two games remaining for them (they are at New Orleans and at Houston), then they would take the spot of the Steelers.

For Minnesota, if they lose out, and the Rams win out (they are at San Francisco and then at home against the Cardinals), then they would take the 6-seed. Aside from that, no scenarios seem very interesting to me. Pittsburgh will split their last two games, yet will keep the 6-seed, as I do not see the Titans beating either New Orleans or Houston. As for Minnesota, neither game is easy, as Green Bay could potentially be the 1-seed in the NFC, and the Bears are no cakewalk either considering how well their offense has played lately. Also, I see LA beating both San Fran and Arizona and seeing their way into the playoffs.

Who Can Challenge Baltimore?

In the preseason, I said that the Super Bowl would be Kansas City and New Orleans. While New Orleans looks like they are the favorites in the NFC (don’t count out the Packers, however), Baltimore is the CLEAR favorite to make the Super Bowl. All that being said, however, I still believe in Kansas City.

The early season challenges of not having a solid run game, and having a lack of weapons outside of Travis Kelce, have been fixed. The defense has stepped up mightily since last season, Mahomes has found his MVP-touch again, and the run game is getting back in shape, as LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams are picking up the slack. The Chiefs have also fixed their biggest flaw from last season, which was taking time off the clock on offense. The Chiefs were one of those teams that scored very quick touchdowns late in games, but then would set the opposing offense with too much time to score and run out the clock. This year, however, they have gone with more of a balanced attack which has allowed them to keep wins late in games. Come playoff time, that, along with the experience in favor of the Chiefs, is enough for me to believe that they present a challenge to Lamar Jackson and Co. and go to the Super Bowl. Don’t count them out.

2019 NFL Midseason Predictions

The first half of the NFL season has presented us with many surprises, and a surge of a new generation of NFL talent. The San Francisco 49ers remain the only undefeated team in the NFL currently, the Cincinnati Bengals remain the only winless team, and players like Christian McCaffrey are taking over the league and putting on an MVP-worthy performance. Here is what has happened this season, and what will continue throughout the season.

The Panthers are 5-3 Without Cam Newton, and Will Make the Playoffs

Currently, the Panthers are on the outside looking in as the 8-seed in the NFC and 2ndin the NFC South, but their 5-3 record, Christian McCaffrey’s video-game numbers, and the new-look defense has put them in a position to compete with Kyle Allen, not Cam Newton, at quarterback. Allen, who took over for the now-on-IR Newton in Week 3, has gone 5-1 as the starter, losing only to the undefeated 49ers. Allen hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, just played mistake-free, smart football that has kept his team in a position to win. Sure, they have 2 dates with New Orleans, a home game against Seattle, and tough road games against Green Bay and Indianapolis, they should be able to win the home games, Indianapolis, and potentially one game against New Orleans to go at least 9-7, and considering how teams like the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams have struggled this season, Carolina should be able to get the 6-seed in the NFC.

Like I Predicted in Preseason, Aaron Rodgers Will Be the MVP

Aaron Rodgers got off to, well, a sluggish start in the new Matt LeFleur offense, but Green Bay’s defense stepped up big. Then, Rodgers said that the offense needed to ‘step it up’, and A-Rod and the Pack offense has not looked back since. Currently standing at 6-2 and the 3-seed in the NFC, they will be one of the top NFC Super Bowl contenders along with the Saints. Rodgers is currently 5thin passing yards and 4thin passing TDs, is among the top of the MVP race along with Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffrey, and if he keeps this pace up, he can outpace Wilson in the MVP race and get his 2ndNFL MVP award.

Lamar Jackson Proved Everyone Wrong… and He Won’t Stop Anytime Soon

Lamar Jackson was critiqued by Bill Polian before last year’s NFL draft and was told to convert to Wide Receiver. Jackson was drafted in the first round as a QB by the Ravens and guaranteed that they would get a Super Bowl out of him. He eventually took the starting job from Joe Flacco and led the Ravens to the playoffs. This season, Lamar has been able to use his arm along with his legs and become an elite QB. Last Sunday, he beat the record-setting Patriots defense and the GOAT Tom Brady to end their undefeated season up to that point. Now, he put the Ravens in position to potentially go to the Super Bowl, currently leading the Ravens to the 2-seed in the AFC, good enough for a first-round bye and homefield in the AFC Divisional Round. Expect Lamar to keep playing the way he always does, prove people wrong, and keep winning.

The Eagles Need to Sign Either Dez Bryant or Antonio Brown

So, yeah, Philadelphia, the Super Bowl 52 Champions, have changed a lot roster-wise since then. They have lost LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, a plethora of signings that have not worked out, such as DeSean Jackson and Zach Brown, and many underperforming players, such as Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and just about everyone on defense. Oh, and they lost their savior Nick Foles, but everyone knew Wentz would be starting either way. Anyways, the Eagles have lost many games this season due to their poor receiver play, most notably Agholor. Wentz has been let down by receivers dropping passes than I could catch, and has lost many winnable games because of it, like the game at Atlanta where Agholor dropped the ball, the game at home against Detroit where rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside dropped a wide-open TD. The other games they lost, being to Dallas and Minnesota on the road, they’ve simply been blown out due to poor overall team play. If Philadelphia really wants to compete and be the Super Bowl-contending team they once were, they NEED to sign a big-name wide receiver. They missed out on Josh Gordon, as he went to Seattle to join Russell Wilson and his already-stacked WR core, so now that leaves them with Dez Bryant, who tweeted today that he is ready to reach out to teams soon, and of course, the drama-king of the NFL, Antonio Brown. While both risky due to character issues and health, either would be an immediate impact to a team that desperately needs hands. With AB, the Eagles can challenge Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans, and with Bryant, they can at least win the NFC East if not contend with Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans. Whoever they decide out of these two, they need to sign one of these in order to be a legit contender.

My Saints-Chiefs Super Bowl Prediction Remains the Same

I still see these two teams meeting in the Super Bowl. In the AFC, do I think that the Ravens are ready? Not yet, simply because the defense has been suspect for the majority of the season. Does New England beat Kansas City in the playoffs again, if they meet up? No because the offense isn’t at the point where they can keep up with Kansas City. Their inconsistency in the run game will outweigh the consistency of Julian Edelman, James White, and Mohamed Sanu’s production. In the NFC, is Green Bay good enough on defense to sustain the play of A-Rod and the offense? To me, this is the very-early frontrunner to win next year’s Super Bowl, but not this year. Seattle lies in the same realm, with their defense not being able to get to the level of Wilson and the offense. The Saints and Chiefs have complete rosters, and defenses good enough to meet the level of the offense and keep them in it. Kansas City has dropped games this year due to Mahomes playing through injury and not because they have regressed as a team. If anything, they are probably better, especially with their run game, and New Orleans, the NFL’s most complete team currently, just has everything you want in a team, with their next-man-up mentality, going 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater replacing the injured Drew Brees and Latavius Murray replacing the injured Alvin Kamara, and their big-play ability on defense as well. So, expect some fireworks in Miami on February, and expect the Saints to take home the Lombardi.