NFC South preview: Falcons or Panthers to take the worst division in the league

PREVIEW

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The Independent Online

The NFL season is upon us! The Independent takes a look at all 32 teams, how they have spent their summer and what fans can expect this season. No team posted a winning record last year...

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons named the man who helped turn the Seattle Seahawks into a defensive juggernaut as head coach this summer. Dan Quinn takes his first role in the top seat after helping the Seahawks to a Super Bowl a couple of years back as the defensive coordinator.

In quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones (and others) the Falcons have one of the most explosive combinations in the league, a good offensive line and a good running game; in fact, they finished as the 10th best attack in the NFL last season?

How, then, did they only win six of their 16 games? They also finished with the worst defence in the whole of the sport.

If Quinn can improve that defence, first round linebacker Vic Beasley will help, the Falcons have a real chance at making the post-season.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Unfortunately for fans and neutrals, talented young receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Despite missing his top target, quarterback Cam Newton still has other options to work with, but he is likely to get little help from his offensive line or running game.

Newton gets hit more than any other quarterback - in part because he wants to stay on his feet - and that again looks to be another source of constant frustration for Newton and his supporters. He signed a whopping contract and more is expected of a quarterback who, while explosive and talented, has seen his stats decrease in each of his pro seasons, even if it's not all his fault.

However, Carolina have the best defence in the NFC South and that alone could be enough to see them take the crown again.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Star tight end Jimmy Graham is gone. Star quarterback Drew Brees lost his favourite target, someone he described as "like a brother". Whether it was the correct decision remains to be seen, but the Saints (7-9 last season) needed to do something.

In return for Graham, one of the most gifted receivers in the league, Brees got more protection in centre Max Unger and a first round pick that was used on another offensive lineman, tackle Andrus Peat. The message was clear: although they took away his top target, the Saints hierarchy want to keep the 36-year-old Brees upright.

Brandin Cooks was leading rookies when he suffered a season-ending injury in November and the Saints will hope he can continue at that kind of pace.

They will probably run more, but the defence, a weakness after poor spending in the past, looks like it will again cost them.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs got the No 1 pick in the draft after a season that was defined by poor quarterback play. Josh McCown looked like the player he had been for most of his career, rather than the one that briefly shone with the Bears for a handful of games.

They spent it on Jameis Winston, the undoubtedly talented former Heisman Trophy winner who has question marks about his actions off the field. Winston seemed to get worse, perhaps distracted, as his college career went on and the vast majority of rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle in their first seasons in the NFL.

However, Winston has a brilliant pair of targets in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, a decent offensive line and Doug Martin, a running back in a contract year.

Head coach Lovie Smith has a reputation as a defensive guru but a lot of work is needed to improve the Bucs, who appear set for another finish at the bottom of the division.

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