The NFC South has come back down to earth after having the most teams above .500 in the NFL a couple of weeks ago. The Falcons are coming off a loss they should’ve won; the Buccaneers got rag-dolled by the Lions, and the Saints’ frustrations continued against the Texans.
It’s really anyone’s division, and the three favorites coming into the season — Panthers, Falcons, and Saints — probably don’t have the best odds of winning it. The Bucs have looked like the best all around team thus far after many expected them to be in the running for the 1st overall pick.
Honestly, if you told me one of Atlanta, New Orleans, or Tampa Bay won the NFC South, I would believe you. Week 7 will be significant as the Falcons travel to take on the Bucs. The winner will have sole possession of first place.
ESPN insiders Joe Graziano and Jeremy Fowler discussed the exact topic, and the answers or lack thereof won’t surprise anyone.
Who’s your pick to win the NFC South?
Graziano: Jeez, tough call. I like the Buccaneers a lot more than I expected. Their defense looks really good, and quarterback Baker Mayfield is operating the offense confidently. They beat the Saints head-to-head pretty easily in New Orleans. But I’m still going to pick the Saints here, mainly because I think we haven’t seen them play their best yet. Derek Carr wasn’t healthy in the Bucs game, and as his shoulder improves and the passing game comes together, I think we’ll see New Orleans get humming at some point. It’s not a comfortable prediction by any stretch, but I’ll take the Saints by a whisker.
The Saints are a fine choice, but Graziano must’ve not watched New Orleans much this season because the Derek Carr-Pete Charmichael marriage isn’t going to work. It’s the worst offense out of the bunch, so I don’t think putting your faith in that duo is wise.
Fowler: The inconsistency throughout the division makes this an arduous task. The Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints have looked flat at times, but their highs are high. Give me Bucs. They get a slight edge on overall talent (though it’s close), and the running game still hasn’t come around, which tells me Tampa Bay’s offensive line is still adjusting to the new scheme under offensive coordinator Dave Canales. There’s room for improvement there over the next few months.
Fowler going with the Bucs isn’t surprising either because their talent is still there. They’ve got a stout defense with a slew of weapons for Baker Mayfield. “New Orleans is a proven commodity” is hilarious. I don’t know where this delusion regarding the Saints comes from. Their defense is solid but the offense lacks fundamental elements to score points consistently.
Graziano: I didn’t go with Atlanta because Desmond Ridder has been such a disaster at quarterback. If he could establish any kind of consistency at all, I think the Falcons would be a solid team. First-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen has done a good job with that group, and Atlanta’s biggest problem right now seems to be under center. But that’s too big of a problem for me to overlook.
Graziano isn’t wrong, but he’s also been aboard the Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, or any other quarterback than Desmond Ridder. If he admits the Falcons can win the division, he’d admit being wrong. Ridder hasn’t been good at all, but there have been flashes, and no NFC South quarterback has really stood out.
Fowler: Yeah, there are some people in the league who believe the talented Falcons are a quarterback away. If Ridder can grow into that QB, then Atlanta has players to contend. But questions about QB play permeate that entire division. Carr is still getting his footing in New Orleans, and Bryce Young is just trying to get a win. It feels like anything is possible over the next two months.
Fowler gives some much-needed perspective. No quarterback situation has worked out like the teams had hoped outside of the Bucs and Baker Mayfield. To put your faith in Derek Carr and Pete Charmichael is just as irresponsible as putting it into Desmond Ridder and Arthur Smith. I’m not saying the Falcons are going to win the division, but Graziano isn’t seeing this one clearly.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire