1. New Orleans Saints
An offensive juggernaut is also becoming a defensive one at the same time.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team shouldn’t have any excuses playing for a guy like Lovie Smith.
3. Atlanta Falcons
They should get back to .500 with a healthy Julio Jones and a different attitude on defense.
4. Carolina Panthers
Amazing the turnover they had with the offensive line and receiving corp after a 12-win season.
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Key Position: Secondary – The Saints didn’t need a lot of help on the defensive side in the offseason, but they did need a boost in causing turnovers. That will be easily solved with the addition of Jairus Byrd from Buffalo. He has been one of the best in the league at causing turnovers since his arrival six years ago. Less pressure will be put on the corners to lead in this department even though Keenan Lewis intercepted a career high four passes last year. Kenny Vaccaro should benefit the most with the addition of Byrd as Vaccaro is an excellent tackler who can play like a linebacker in the box.
Key Acquisitions: S Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills), C Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers), FB Erik Lorig (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Key Rookies: WR Brandin Cooks, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Head Coach: Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears – 2012)
Key Position: Quarterback – Consistent quarterback play is what the Bucs needed last year and didn’t get it for most of the season. Having Mike Glennon take a step back this season might help in the long run, but new head coach Lovie Smith might want to get a different quarterback in the near future. For now Josh McCown showed the entire league last year that he can perform if given the right cast of characters like he had in Chicago. Tampa Bay made sure of that by drafting Evans and Seferian Jenkins with their first two picks and by reshuffling the offensive line the Bucs should have a nice bounce back season.
Key Acquisitions: T Anthony Collins (Cincinnati Bengals), Evan Dietrich-Smith (Green Bay Packers), CB Mike Jenkins (Oakland Raiders), DE Michael Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals), G Logan Mankins (New England Patriots), QB Josh McCown (Chicago Bears), DT Clinton McDonald (Seattle Seahawks), TE Brandon Myers (New York Giants), CB Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans)
Key Rookies: WR Mike Evans, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, RB Charles Sims
Head Coach: Mike Smith
Key Position: Defense – They had a lot of problems on offense too, but the biggest problem is on defense. Losing LB Sean Weatherspoon for a second straight season is going to hurt. However, brining in big lineman Jackson and Soliai to plug running lanes will help tremendously on early downs. Atlanta has to scramble to put together a decent linebacking corp, but the secondary should be better with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford having a year of experience.
Key Acquisitions: CB Javier Arenas (Kansas City Chiefs), G Jon Asamoah (Kansas City Chiefs), WR Devin Hester (Chicago Bears), DE Tyson Jackson (Kansas City Chiefs), DT Paul Soliai (Miami Dolphins), QB T.J. Yates (Houston Texans)
Key Rookies: T Jake Matthews, DE Ra’Shede Hageman, RB Devonta Freeman
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Key Position: Wide Receiver – While in the age of free agency it’s not unheard of to have an entirely new team on the field the next season, but in Carolina’s case it is quite shocking. Looking just at the receivers, not a single one caught a pass from Cam Newton last year. Drafting Kelvin Benjamin was a solid move, but releasing Steve Smith and letting Brandon LaFell go in free agency were head scratchers. Cotchery and Avant are solid veterans, but not having that go-to-guy for Newton will hurt as he just has TE Greg Olsen who should have a 100-catch season.
Key Acquisitions: WR Jason Avant (Philadelphia Eagles), CB Antoine Cason (Arizona Cardinals), WR Jerricho Cotchery (Pittsburgh Steelers), S Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta Falcons), TE Ed Dickson (Baltimore Ravens), S Roman Harper (New Orleans Saints)
Key Rookies: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DE Kony Ealy, G Trai Turner