Perhaps no division has undergone more dramatic change this offseason than the NFC South.
Cam Newton and Ron Rivera are gone from Carolina. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are in Tampa. The Falcons let go of Devonta Freeman and signed Todd Gurley. The Saints somehow created cap space out of thin air and traded up in the draft multiple times.
OK so that last one isn't actually different at all. But still, it's fun. The whole division is pretty fun. Let's dig in on the burning questions that will define each team's season.
Falcons: Can the defense stay healthy, get back on track, and save Dan Quinn's job (again)?
Not all that long ago, the Falcons rode one of the NFL's best offenses to the Super Bowl, but that offense was supported by a defense that approached league average for most of the season and reached a level far higher than that down the stretch. Given all the youth and athleticism on hand, it seemed like a unit on the rise. Instead, the defense has been beset by injuries in each of the past three seasons, and the performance has dropped off dramatically.
The Atlanta offense should again be strong in 2020, but the Falcons won't be able to compete in a loaded division if the defense doesn't put up more than the token resistance that has become a staple over the past few years. Atlanta cut bait on Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley, but used its first two draft picks on defenders (A.J. Terrell and Marlon Davidson) and signed Dante Fowler Jr. with the plan of at least shoring things up on that side of the ball. It took a midseason switch of play-callers for this defense to even resemble an NFL-caliber unit last season, and a similarly-slow start probably won't be acceptable after Quinn (seemingly) narrowly escaped being canned.
Panthers: Can the offense overcome one of the league's worst defenses getting even worse?
Speaking of bad defenses ... yikes. Carolina finished last season ranked 25th in defensive DVOA, then saw its two best defenders retire (Luke Kuechly) and leave in free agency (James Bradberry). The Panthers spent most of their free-agent capital on changes to the offense, swapping out Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater, signing Robby Anderson, trading Trai Turner for Russell Okung, and handing Christian McCaffrey a monster extension.
They came into the draft barely having enough starter-quality players to field a defense, so it was notable but not all that surprising when the Panthers used all seven of their draft picks on defensive players. Derrick Brown should help turn around what was the league's worst run defense last season, but if you're basing your defense around stopping the run in 2020, you're already likely on the wrong path. The secondary is incredibly thin, even after the Panthers devoted four draft picks to it (Jeremy Chinn, Troy Pride Jr., Kenny Robinson, and Stantley Thomas-Oliver), and the pass rush is pretty barren beyond Brian Burns.
So, can Bridgewater, McCaffrey, Anderson, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Ian Thomas overcome what is likely to be a poor defense and a sub-par offensive line in order to make this team respectable? Or is the not-really-a-rebuild likely to look far more like an actual rebuild by the time the year is done?
Saints: Does Drew Brees have one last run in his right arm?
The Saints' last three seasons have ended miserably. The Minneapolis Miracle. The missed pass interference call on Nickell Robey-Coleman. The upset at the hands of their old foes, the Vikings. It's entirely possible New Orleans was one of the two or three best teams in the league in each of those seasons, and yet the Saints came away with zero Super Bowl appearances, let alone a Lombardi Trophy.
Heading into what is almost surely Drew Brees' final professional season, there is no team in the league more all-in than the Saints. They brought in veterans like Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins. They signed Jameis Winston as their backup QB and gave Taysom Hill double-digit million dollars a year to make sure he didn't leave. They traded up in the draft three different times to land their player of choice. With an aging QB and a roster that may never have a better shot than right now, it makes sense. The only question left is whether they can get it done.
Buccaneers: What's next for Todd Bowles's defense? Tampa's defense was surprisingly one of the best in the NFL last season, so Year 2 of the Todd Bowles era should be an interesti
Buccaneers: Uh, so, Tom Brady?
OK seriously, folks. Tom Brady is on the Bucs. I don't know what to do with my hands.
There are bound to be questions and missteps when it comes to mixing Brady's skill set and Bruce Arians' offense, but there is enough talent on hand to offset them, and more. How the targets shake out among Brady's top options is an open question, though Chris Godwin seems like a favorite to be Brady's No. 1 guy due to his role in the slot. However, Brady hasn't really had a guy to whom he could just chuck the ball down the field in quite a while, so he may make some throwback magic with Mike Evans more often than you'd think.
With Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, the Bucs will always have a quality option at tight end on the field, and the draft pick of Tyler Johnson gives them a high-upside No. 3 wideout as well. Again, the talent is here. The question is how it all meshes together.