1. Carolina Panthers
Defense reigns supreme for this team and it will be why they conquer the NFC South for the third consecutive season.
2. New Orleans Saints
They made lots of offseason moves to change their dynamic on both sides of the field.
3. Atlanta Falcons
A new coaching staff brings another level of uncertainty for the direction of the franchise.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With drafting a quarterback first overall the expectation is to make significant improvements.
Head Coach: Ron Rivers
Key Position: Wide Receiver
Last year the question was who else would Cam Newton be throwing the ball to besides TE Greg Olsen and rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. Jerricho Cotchery was a nice possession receiver and he does return to his same role, but with Benjamin out for the season with a knee injury the same question remains. And it includes another rookie receiver (Devin Funchess) in the mold of Benjamin.
Key Acquisitions: WR Ted Ginn (Arizona Cardinals), T Michael Oher (Tennessee Titans), CB Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears)
Key Rookies: LB Shaq Thompson, WR Devin Funchess, T Daryl Williams
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Key Position: Defense
When Jairus Byrd went down with an injury last season it seemed to deflate the defense. This is a make or break year for Rob Ryan as top tier defensive coordinator. Drafting two linebackers to provide added speed in the middle of the field helps. As will trading for Dannell Ellerbe who thrived in this similar scheme with the Baltimore Ravens. Signing CB Brandon Browner will be the most scrutinized move with his reputation for being a game changing cover man.
Key Acquisitions: CB Brandon Browner (New England Patriots), LB Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), RB C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills), C Max Unger (Seattle Seahawks)
Key Rookies: T Andrus Peat, LB Stephone Anthony, LB Hau’oli Kikaha, CB P.J. Williams
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (Seattle Seahawks)
Key Position: Defense
Atlanta was dreadful playing a 3-4 style defense last year. With Dan Quinn being hired from Seattle, the Falcons expect their defense to improve mightily. They will be playing the exact style that Seattle does with first round pick Vic Beasley being Bruce Irvin for Atlanta. Another offseason of finding the right players to complement the style will create a culture of havoc for this franchise that has never been known for having a top tier defense.
Key Acquisitions: DE Adrian Clayborn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), LB Justin Durant (Dallas Cowboys), G Andy Levitre (Tennessee Titans), LB Brooks Reed (Houston Texans), O’Brien Schofield (Seattle Seahawks), TE Jacob Tamme (Denver Broncos)
Key Rookies: LB Vic Beasley, CB Jalen Collins, RB Tevin Coleman
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Key Position: Offense
Even having two receivers with over 1,000 yards receiving last year this offense was dreadful. It can’t be expected that Jameis Winston turn the whole operation around, but if Doug Martin can return to his 2012 rookie season that will be more than enough for the Bucs to have at least five wins this season. Another 2-3 win season would be out of the question with the targets already at Winston’s disposal.
Key Acquisitions: T Gosder Cherilus (Indianapolis Colts), LB Bruce Carter (Dallas Cowboys), S Chris Conte (Chicago Bears), DT Henry Melton (Dallas Cowboys), S D.J. Swearinger (Houston Texans), DE George Johnson (Detroit Lions)
Key Rookies: QB Jameis Winston, T Donovan Smith