Not all is perfect in Atlanta going into 2020, but they know who will be under center, and that’s more than you can say about the rest of the NFC South.
The soon to be 35-year-old Ryan had a bit of a down year for his lofty standards, and he still threw for over 4,400 yards with 26 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. He’ll tell you himself he needs to cut down on the turnovers, but as the 2019 season went on, Ryan took care of the ball much better, and that’s been one of his strong suits since 2016 when he won the league MVP.
Many Falcons fans take what Ryan’s been able to do for granted, and eventually, he is going to start seeing some regression because of his age. But judging by the way quarterbacks are cruising into their 40s and still competing in Pro-Bowls, one would expect Ryan’s greatness to continue for at least a couple of more seasons, meaning the Falcons will be competitive.
Around the rest of the NFC South, there is QB turmoil everywhere. Starting with the Saints, they don’t even know if Drew Brees will be back next season. The 41-year-old is mulling retirement, and according to ProFootballTalk, it isn’t all for show. Brees is seriously considering retiring. However, I’d be shocked if Brees — who is coming off another Pro-Bowl campaign — decided to hang it up. But if he did, the Saints would have a decision to make.
There’s been a lot of talk about Taysom Hill taking over the reins at QB whenever Brees decides to retire, and if you watched the Saints divisional matchup against the Vikings, you are well aware of just how versatile Hill is. But after three years of being the Saints jack-of-all-trades, Hill has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has a completion percentage below 50. Acting as if things will be the same in New Orleans with him under center is blasphemy. However, the Saints could opt to hang onto Teddy Bridgewater, who was fantastic in relief this past season, going 6-0 while Brees recovered from a broken thumb.
This makes the situation even more complicated for the Saints because Bridgewater is going to command a hefty salary in free agency. If Drew Brees doesn’t retire, there is no way New Orleans can retain Teddy, leaving their future at QB unclear. Then again, there is no way they want Brees to retire. I don’t think he will, but the Saints’ situation isn’t nearly as bad as the other two teams in the NFC South.
Bruce Arians and Tampa Bay have to find out if Jameis Winston is their guy for the foreseeable future. While there is no denying his explosive capabilities, he might be the worst decision-maker in the history of football (among quarterbacks that were long-time starters). In his fifth NFL season, Winston recorded the highest interception total in league history with 30 but also threw for over 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. On top of that, it’s worth noting that while Winston has always been careless with the football, he had never thrown more than 18 interceptions in a season before 2019. I think the Bucs would be fools to move on from him, but this is Bruce Arians’ team, and he may be willing to start from scratch.
The worst situation, however, lies in Carolina. I’ve never been a Cam Newton fan because — in a passing league — he can’t pass. He’s consistently among the worst in terms of completion percentage, and while he used to be Superman running the ball, injuries have slowed him down and forced him to become more of a pocket passer.
You can bet new head coach Matt Rhule is going to want to find a long-term solution at the QB position, or he will have a shorter NFL coaching career than Nick Saban (and not because he wants to leave). The latest reports suggest the Panthers want a full physical evaluation of Newton before making their decision, and there’s a real possibility they start things from scratch at quarterback with a new regime in place. We know the answer isn’t Kyle Allen or Will Grier, but luckily for Carolina, this draft class is loaded with potential QB1s.
At the most critical position in the game, the Falcons have a clear edge. Now, does that mean they should be the favorites going into 2020? Not exactly. I wrote a similar piece after Week 2 of the 2019 season, stating it was time for Atlanta to take advantage of a golden opportunity. That golden opportunity was Cam Newton and Drew Brees being sidelined. Newton went on to miss the entire season, and Brees was out for six weeks. Of course, the Panthers won their next five in a row with Kyle Allen under center, and Teddy Bridgewater carried the Saints to first place, going a perfect 6-0 as a starter. Meanwhile, the Falcons lost their next six games. Nothing is guaranteed, but Atlanta has a fantastic opportunity to take control of the division again for the first time since 2016.