Here Are the Biggest Offseason Questions Surrounding NFC South Teams
Should the Carolina Panthers sit Cam Newton in 2019?
The Carolina Panthers are considering taking a page out of the front office playbook of the Indianapolis Colts playbook and sit out their former first overall pick for a year to get him back to full strength and optimal health.
From 2012 to 2016 Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was the most sacked quarterback in the entire NFL, which included two seasons in which he was taken down a whopping 41 times and after suffering a rash of injuries due to lack of protection and trying to put too much of the playmaking onus on himself, the coaching staff and front office decided to sit Luck for entire 2017 season so that he could regain his full health and return to MVP contending form.
After fortifying their offensive line in last year’s draft with All-Pro rookie left guard Quinten Nelson and finding their right tackle in rookie Braden Smith, Luck was the least sacked quarterback in the NFL last season and even won the award for comeback player of the year.
Panthers quarterback and former league MVP Cam Newton, who drafted taken with the number one overall pick the year before Luck went first overall to the Colts, has had a similar playing style to Luck in the sense that he would put the responsibility of being the team’s primary playmaker on himself.
Cam has been sacked at least 33 times every year he’s been in the league and was on pace to exceed that mark again last season before the team shut him down for the last two games of last season. He also leads all quarterbacks in both rushing attempts with 929 and yards with 4,808 since he’s been in the league and that’s not including his postseason stats.
He was dealing with a shoulder injury over the second half of the season after taking a vicious hit in a Thursday night bout with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov.8 when he was sacked by linebacker TJ Watt in the team’s 52-21 loss that marked set in motion what would be a downward spiral after a promising 6-2 start to the season.
New team Owner David Tepper shared that the team is open to the idea of letting Newton sit out the upcoming 2019 season if it means that the face of their franchise can get fully healthy, he can regain his MVP form and they can acquire the pieces to build him a strong offensive line as well as give them a year to develop without risking Cam’s health.
“If you told me he took a year off and could recover and be fully recovered and everything else, and that’s what it took, an extra year, why wouldn’t you do [that]?” said Tepper
Can the Saints recover from another postseason heartbreak?
The New Orleans Saints has been one of if not the best and most balanced team in the NFL over the past two seasons, going 24-8 in the regular season during that span. However, despite their consistently dominant play, a trip to the Superbowl has eluded them in their back to back postseasons
Their exits from the last two playoffs have come in the most dramatic, traumatic, heartbreaking and now controversial fashion.
Last season they were done in and sent home packing by the Minnesota Vikings thanks to the highly improbable play that will forever be referred to as the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the NFC divisional round and this year it was “The call that was NOT heard around the world” in the NFC championship in which the blatant pass interference and helmet to helmet penalty that was not called ended up robbing them of a chance to play in the Superbowl.
While their roster is still intact for the most part and remains loaded with Pro Bowlers and young ascending talent, the mental hurdle of these back to back heart playoff heartbreaks may pose a greater obstacle than any division opponent or potential injuries to a key player (knock on wood Saints fans).
Is health the key to Falcons bouncing back?
The Atlanta Falcons are just two years removed from a Superbowl appearance when they lost to the New England Patriots 34-28 in the first overtime game in Superbowl game history. Matt Ryan was the league MVP that year and the Falcons had one of the highest flying offenses in the league and an ascending young defense.
They were able to make it to the NFC divisional round in 2017 playoffs, but the 2018 Falcons were unable to overcome the slew of injuries to starters and key contributors on both sides of the ball. They finished with an overall record 7-9 and missed the playoffs as they struggled to find any consistency early on before ending the season on a three-game winning streak.
They lost both of their starting safeties in Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen along with starting linebacker Deion Jones in the first month of the season. The offense took two huge blows early on as well when they lost both starting guards in Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre and they weren’t able to establish a consistent ground game after starting running back Devonta Freeman went down with a groin injury.
If they are able to get all of their starters back healthy, they will be back in the mix for the division crown and back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
Will Arians be the coach to finally get Winston going?
After a year out of coaching where he spent some time as a broadcaster and an NFL analyst, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians came out of retirement to try to lead the Bucs out of the basement of the NFC South, where they’ve been for seven of the last eight seasons.
He will also try to salvage the career of quarterback Jameis Winston. The former first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft has flashed and shown signs of great promise at times but has struggled with turnovers, consistent play and off the field issues since he’s been in the league.
Arians, along with the fellow members his new coaching staff in offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen who have all reviewed extensive film on Winston dating back to his rookie season believe that his faults lie within his mechanics and that if he can improve in that aspect of the game, Tampa will be able to contend for division titles and championships.
"I believe in this guy. Byron believes in this guy. Clyde believes in this guy. The whole coaching staff believes in this team. He’s smart. He loves ball. He’s here. He’s got all the talent in the world, so why can’t he be successful?” said Arians.