Carolina Panthers (15-1)
Finishing the regular season as the best team in the league, the Carolina Panthers are primed for a Super Bowl run. Things did not look this good in training camp though, as the Panthers lost top receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the season. Already a week receiving corps, things did not look good for the Panthers. Behind Cam Newton’s MVP season, the Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 start and threatened a perfect season. Although the Panthers did finis as the top scoring offense in the league, the defense was what made waves when it mattered. Led by star linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Keuchly, the Panthers finished as the fifth best run defense. Behind up and coming corner back Josh Norman, Carolina finished as the sixth best pass defense. A strong combination between the run and the pass, the Panthers dominated from start to finish, most notably a 44-16 win over the NFC East champion Washington Redskins. With home field throughout, the Panthers look to take it all the way on the arms and legs of Superman.
Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
In the words of Bill Simmons, “Are we sure Matt Ryan is good?” After a fast 5-0 start, the Falcons sputtered and finished the season 3-8 including a 38-0 nothing loss in the division to Carolina. Even at .500, the Falcons finished second in the NFC South, mostly because of the skill players. Julio Jones finished with historic numbers, finishing second in receptions and yards for a single season. Second-year back Devonta Freeman emerged as the bell cow with over 1600 total yards from scrimmage this season, making for a good one-two punch between him and Jones. Overall, the defense was not as strong as fans had hoped with Dan Quinn coming in and Matt Ryan finished third in interceptions this season, in addition to putting the ball on the turf a career high eight times. An off-season to further understand the system should be good for the Falcons and allow them to challenge the Panthers next season.
New Orleans (7-9)
In a season that may be a real turning point for the franchise, the New Orleans Saints missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Looking forward, an aging Drew Brees may no longer be with the squad, and Sean Payton’s future is uncertain. Why? At 7-9, the Saints failed to beat a single team over .500 although they did manage to go .500 in the division. Drew Brees again flirted with a 5,000 yard season, despite only playing fifteen games. Coming back from injury, Brandin Cooks is one of the bright signs for the future as he eclipsed the 1,100 yard mark in 2015. On the other side of the ball, first round pick Stephone Anthony led the team with 107 tackles and is hopefully a piece to build around as the team tries to fix one of the worst pass defenses of all-time. There are certainly supporting pieces left in New Orleans, but with some of the major pieces in question, next year could be a mystery.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10)
Taking Jameis Winston with the number one overall pick, fans were cautious with their expectations this season. On offense, things went well. Winston became just the third rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards, and running back Doug Martin finished the season as the second-leading rusher in the NFL. Second year receiver Mike Evans passed 1,100 yards this season, although his touchdown number dropped from 12 to 3. A team that was built for defense though, added one more important piece. Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy were as good as expected, but rookie Kwon Alexander finished second on the team in tackles. If the Bucs can add one more piece to the secondary and allow this young offense to develop, the Bucs may not be bottom dwellers for long.
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