2022 NFC South Preview

September 6, 2022

Getty Images/Julio Aguilar

For the overall 2022 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the previews.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC West

Overview | Playoffs | Awards

Bucs 11-6

Nobody had a weirder offseason than Tampa Bay.

Head coach Bruce Arians retired, but remains in a role where he may be more a distraction than an asset.

Tom Brady had a weird 40-day retirement and an even weirder training camp hiatus. A rash of injuries on the offensive line leaves a lot of question marks surrounding an offense that ranked second in points and yards in 2021.

Todd Bowles still has his hands on the Buccaneers’ defense, despite getting the promotion from coordinator to head coach. If Tampa really did get themselves “J.J. Watt Jr.” in defensive lineman Logan Hall, the Bucs’ D should remain among the league’s best. It’ll need to be, especially with Brady seeming to know the tread on his proverbial tires is worn.

The Brady mystery and a difficult opening slate (at Dallas, at New Orleans, Green Bay and Kansas City) could lend themselves itself to a slow start that the Bucs may not recover from.

But this is Tom freaking Brady we’re talking about. Historically, he fares really well in even-numbered years, and the team around him is still good enough to win a somewhat-weak division and make a deep playoff run.

Saints 8-9

For the second straight offseason, New Orleans is dealing with monumental change.

Last year, Drew Brees retired. Now, the Saints are coping with Sean Payton walking away after 16 years in the Crescent City.

Dennis Allen gets a second chance at being a head coach — he was the Saints’ defensive coordinator for so long, they apparently forgot about his 8-28 tenure as head coach of the Raiders. For a coach with so much to prove, it’s not a good sign that he’s so attached to defensive play calling rather than managing the entire team.

In the offseason, Louisiana natives Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry came home to help the Saints go marching back into the playoffs, which is a distinct possibility if Jameis Winston keeps up last year’s pace and stays healthy for more than the seven games he managed last season.

But ultimately, the most compelling aspect of the 2022 Saints is the unprecedented bird sweep within their grasp. Completing it just might be the best thing to happen to this franchise since the 2009 Super Bowl run.

Falcons 7-10

Is there a more boring team than Atlanta?

Longtime QB Matt Ryan didn’t appreciate it when the only NFL team he’s ever known played footsie with Deshaun Watson in the offseason, and was granted a trade out of the ATL. So not only did the Falcons swing and miss on adding the controversial Watson, but they’re now left with Marcus Mariota (the guy who didn’t last in Arthur Smith’s offense in Tennessee and lost his job to Ryan Tannehill) and lucked into Desmond Ridder in the third round of the NFL draft.

So unless Ridder gets unleashed (and he looked good at times in the preseason) and/or Cordarelle Patterson has another big year, there’s no reason to believe this offense will be anything beyond “meh.”

Dean Pees, the defensive coordinator with more retirements than Michael Jordan, is talking big about a Falcons D that added exactly zero impact players, so bank on more mediocrity in Atlanta.

Panthers 6-11

Carolina has flailed wildly trying to acquire a franchise quarterback, giving up countless draft picks in search of one, so what’s one more pick tossed Cleveland’s way in order to take Baker Mayfield off their hands?

Mayfield won the battle for the starting gig ahead of fellow Class of 2018 passer Sam Darnold basically by default, as the latter is on injured reserve along with third-round rookie Matt Corral. His success in 2022 will likely determine whether Matt Rhule gets to stay in Carolina. If the Panthers start out badly enough, he’s the odds-on favorite to be the first coach fired in-season.

Four of Carolina’s first five games are at home, so there shouldn’t be a slow start. But a schedule that includes facing two of the league’s best divisions — the NFC West and AFC North — doesn’t lend itself to a record good enough to end their seven-year drought with a playoff win, which is the bare minimum for Rhule to stick around.

Here’s a potential positive for Panthers fans: The only other team to have two quarterbacks from the top three picks of a draft ended up in the Super Bowl. Circumstantial — but hey, it’s something!

I wouldn’t bank on Bank of America’s team doing the same. And it’ll cost Rhule his job.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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