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New Orleans Saints are the full package while Atlanta Falcons strive for 2016 success in NFC South preview

Breaking down the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into the new season.

Jay Asser 2018/09/06

Teams in the NFC South will have to earn everything this season in a division that is competitive from top to bottom.

The New Orleans Saints are positioned at the top as Super Bowl contenders, followed by the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, who have the pieces to make noise in the postseason.

Even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are the division’s ‘weak spot’, have the offensive weapons to win any given week.

Learn more about the four teams with our NFC South team guides.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Head coach: Dan Quinn

Star player: Julio Jones

Last season: 10-6, lost in Divisional Round

Key ins: Justin Bethel (Arizona), Brandon Fusco (San Francisco), Calvin Ridley (rookie), Isaiah Oliver (rookie), Deadrin Senat (rookie)

Key outs: Adrian Clayborn (New England), Taylor Gabriel (Chicago), Dontari Poe (Carolina)

Strengths: Offence was the team’s calling card two years ago in their Super Bowl run, but the other side of the ball is emerging and full of young talent.

Weaknesses: Red zone inefficiency hurt them last season as they ranked 22nd in touchdown conversation rate (49.1 per cent).

Verdict: Offence has to get back near 2016 levels, otherwise they won’t have the firepower.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Head coach: Ron Rivera

Star player: Luke Kuechly

Last season: 11-5, lost in Wild Card round

Key ins: C.J. Anderson (Denver), Dontari Poe (Atlanta), Da’Norris Searcy (Tennessee), Torrey Smith (Philadelphia), D.J. Moore (rookie), Donte Jackson (rookie)

Key outs: Andrew Norwell (Jacksonville), Star Lotulelei (Buffalo), Jonathan Stewart (NY Giants), Charles Johnson (retired)

Strengths: Front seven remains the heartbeat of the team as they racked up the third-most sacks in the league last year (50).

Weaknesses: Injuries on the offensive line could haunt them all season.

Verdict: Will have a hard time matching last year’s record, but another playoff berth isn’t farfetched.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Head coach: Sean Payton

Star player: Drew Brees

Last season: 11-5, lost in Divisional round

Key ins: Teddy Bridgewater (NY Jets), Jermon Bushrod (Miami), Demario Davis (NY Jets), Cameron Meredith (Chicago), Patrick Robinson (Philadelphia), Ben Watson (Baltimore), Marcus Davenport (rookie)

Key outs: Kenny Vaccaro (Tennessee), Senio Kelemete (Houston), Willie Snead (Baltimore)

Strengths: Running game between Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram powers the rest of the offence.

Weaknesses: Are relying on rookie Davenport to make a major impact with his pass rush right away.

Verdict: Arguably the most balanced team in the league with few holes on the roster.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Head coach: Dirk Koetter

Star player: Gerald McCoy

Last season: 5-11

Key ins: Jason Pierre-Paul (NY Giants), Vita Vea (rookie), Ronald Jones (rookie)

Key outs: Clinton McDonald (Denver), Doug Martin (Oakland), Robert Ayers (free agent), Chris Baker (free agent), Joe Hawley (retired), Robert McClain (free agent), T.J. Ward (free agent)

Strengths: Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have an explosive group of pass-catchers to throw to.

Weaknesses: Pass defence last year was horrific as they ranked last in yards allowed (260.6) and sacks (22).

Verdict: Jobs appear to be on the line this season, from the field to the sidelines to the front office, and everyone has reason to be worried.

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Alvin Kamara Atlanta Falcons Cam Newton Carolina Panthers Dirk Koetter Drew Brees Julio Jones New Orleans Saints Tampa Bay Buccaneers