1. New Orleans Saints
A greater emphasis on running the ball meant the defense wasn’t going to be exposed to long drives by the opponent.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Two simple fixes; Julio Jones needs at least 8 touchdown catches and don’t ever make Vic Beasley a linebacker.
3. Carolina Panthers
Hiring Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator should fix all of their problems on offense.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is most likely the last hurrah for the current staff and possibly QB Jameis Winston.
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Key Position: Linebacker
While the improvements were made with the pass defense on both the defensive line and secondary, the linebackers were middle of the road when it came to run support. Adding Demario Davis was a solid pickup, but look for Alex Anzalone to take that next step on this defense.
Key Acquisitions: S Kurt Coleman (Carolina Panthers), LB Demario Davis (New York Jets), WR Cameron Meredith (Chicago Bears), CB Patrick Robinson (Philadelphia Eagles), TE Benjamin Watson (Baltimore Ravens)
Key Rookies: DE Marcus Davenport, WR Tre’Quan Smith
Head Coach: Dan Quinn
Key Position: Secondary
Where are the playmakers? Keanu Neal is the best player in this unit, but he plays more in the middle to protect against the run and cover tight ends. Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole all need to pick up the pace when it comes to causing turnovers. Only 8 total interceptions as a team won’t cut it.
Key Acquisitions: DB Justin Bethel (Arizona Cardinals), OL Brandon Fusco (San Francisco 49ers), TE Logan Paulsen (San Francisco 49ers)
Key Rookies: WR Calvin Ridley, CB Isaiah Oliver
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Key Position: Quarterback
Cam Newton and really the entire offense just wasn’t themselves last year. Sure, having RB Christian McCaffery was helpful, but his impact was more in the passing game than on the ground. That will most likely change with Norv Turner as the new offensive coordinator. He knows where and when to put his best players and will almost always exploit a favorable matchup.
Key Acquisitions: RB C.J. Anderson (Denver Broncos), DT Dontari Poe (Atlanta Falcons), S Da’Norris Searcy (Tennessee Titans), WR Torrey Smith (Philadelphia Eagles), WR Jarius Wright (Minnesota Vikings)
Key Rookies: WR D.J. Moore, CB Donte Jackson
Head Coach: Dirk Koetter
Key Position: Everything
I would be more specific with the defensive line, but really this whole team needs to wake up. There’s no excuse for Winston to put up the numbers he did last year. Sure, he had a shoulder ailment that had him sit out three games, but the games he did play in he was average at best. Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry should bring instant credibility to the pass rush and having a reliable rusher in rookie RB Ronald Jones gives the offense another option.
Key Acquisitions: K Chandler Catanzaro (New York Jets), DE Vinny Curry (Philadelphia Eagles), C Ryan Jensen (Baltimore Ravens), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants), DT Beau Allen (Philadelphia Eagles)
Key Rookies: DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Carlton Davis