We could sit here all day and discuss how the Bucs are poised for another title run since they didn’t lose a single one of their starters during the offseason, or about how the Falcons should’ve drafted Justin Fields to be the heir apparent to Matty Ice despite how great Kyle Pitts can be. However, those aren’t the biggest storylines in the NFC South this season. No sir. The one storyline on everybody’s mind is “How many W’s is Jameis Winston going to eat?”
The 2015 first overall pick is getting a shot at redemption in the NFC South division as the New Orleans Saints are venturing into their first season without Drew Brees. While Brees definitely didn’t look at his peak in 2020, he was a very capable and accurate quarterback who could do what needed to be done in order to win games. That’s all Jameis Winston has to do in 2021. If Winston can manage an offense, behind one of the best offensive lines in football, then the Saints should win double-digit games and return to the playoffs. But how much do you trust Jameis Winston to do that?
I mean, the tools are all there for Winston to put together a bounce-back campaign. Great O-line, great coach, good ground attack, good defense, and Winston finally had surgery on his eyes done, so as Jimmy Cliff once put it, he should “see clearly now.” He’s looked tremendous during the preseason, and seems to have a phenomenal connection with wideout Marquez Callaway. BUT, there’s still that nagging voice in the back of everyone’s head. “He can’t have gotten that much better. He’s still just Jameis Wintson, right?”
That’s the question going through everybody’s head. Can Winston, after several years of, at best, mediocre football turn his career around after just one year under the wing of Drew Brees? Personally, I don’t think so. Winston could improve drastically, but not enough to overtake the Buccaneers in this division, especially with Michael Thomas sidelined.
The other big storyline in this division is Sam Darnold’s inaugural season away from the hell hole that is the New York Jets. Throughout Darnold’s career, the former No. 3 overall selection has shown flashes of greatness, but has never put the whole package together. Well, now is his time to shine. All lights are on him, as there are no more excuses. If Darnold can’t perform in a new system with tons of great offensive weapons, then there may be no hope for him after all.
Darnold is being given a fresh new start, and the keys to an offense capable of turning a lot of heads. However, the team is still not ready to compete. Don’t get me wrong, as long as Darnold is serviceable at the quarterback position, the Panthers could go 9-8, which I doubt most people expect from Carolina, but they are not a playoff-caliber team.
All in all, this division should play out exactly how most people have it lined up. Bucs first, Saints second, Panthers third, Falcons fourth. I don’t see any way the Falcons can finish any better than last. Aside from Kyle Pitts and the continued development of AJ Terrell, there isn’t much to look forward to in Atlanta. The Saints and Panthers could swap places if Darnold lives up to his potential and Jameis proves to be nothing more than a preseason flash in the pan, but those are the only two teams with any real question marks. We know what Tampa Bay brings to the table, and we know what Atlanta fails to bring to the table. Only Carolina and New Orleans have something to prove in 2021, and I look forward to seeing if either team can do so.