The NFC South has been one of the most competitive divisions in football for a long time now, even if it has just two titles in the past 20 years. The Falcons and Saints have had long stretches of winning, the Panthers have had stellar highs, and the Buccaneers...well, they’re good this year!
A lot of that excellence came from stability, especially over the last decade. With Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees ensconced as top quarterbacks for their respective teams, you could count on those squads being competitive most years, with the Bucs bringing up the rear owing to a combination of not having a truly great franchise quarterback and other roster-building woes. In the NFL, though, nothing lasts forever, and the NFC South has changed and will change significantly in the years to come.
Let’s do some landscape setting.
The Falcons are hiring a new general manager and head coach, their first new GM since 2008 and their first new coach since 2015. The Panthers are looking to bring in a new general manager and revamp their front office a bit for head coach Matt Rhule, who had a so-so season for a team hoping they will be on the rise soon. The Buccaneers likely have one more year of Tom Brady and a good team overall, so the team that changed the most over the past decade-plus might be the most stable. The Saints will likely see Drew Brees retire, they’re losing at least one top executive in Terry Fontenot, and their cap situation is truly absurd, so while they’ll wriggle out of a lot of that, they won’t be the same team in 2021.
All of that adds up to a division that will not resemble the one that delivered a ton of wins and memorable playoff games over the past decade. The Buccaneers will likely go into the season as the favorite to win the division for the first time in many, many years, while the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints will be duking it out for second place. We don’t know who the quarterback will be for any of those three teams—though it’s probably a safe bet Matt Ryan will be under center for Atlanta for 2021—and only one (the Saints) has a settled general manager and head coaching duo while I type this, though the Falcons have hired Arthur Smith and have all but hired Fontenot. It started in 2020 with the shakeup to the Bucs’ fortunes and Carolina starting over, but 2021 will put that into overdrive with the major changes to the Falcons and Brees’ departure.
Figuring out who will dominate the division in the next decade, if anyone does, is not going to be possible for a while. Just don’t expect the same three teams to dominate while the Bucs stay in the basement, at least over the short haul.