Home Sports NFC South preview and predictions: Tom Brady’s Bucs hope goes through Saints

NFC South preview and predictions: Tom Brady’s Bucs hope goes through Saints

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Steve Serby previews the NFC South as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

1. New Orleans Saints

Coach: Sean Payton

2019 record: 13-3

O/U wins: 10 ¹/₂

Key additions: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Malcolm Jenkins, C-G Cesar Ruiz, OLB Zack Baun, TE Adam Trautman, RB Ty Montgomery, QB Jameis Winston

Key losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, S Vonn Bell, LB A.J. Klein, CB Eli Apple

First-and-goal: Drew Brees is 41, but you’d never know it. You can’t guard Michael Thomas. Elite dual-threat RB Alvin Kamara is healthy again after battling knee and ankle injuries. The Taysom Hill option makes Payton all the more dangerous. Sanders has enough left at 33 to be that long-lost complement to Thomas. TE Jared Cook (9 TDs) is a red-zone threat. LT Terron Armstead and RT Ryan Ramczyk highlight an elite O-line. The defense is loaded, led by DE Cam Jordan (15.5 sacks), LB Demario Davis and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. Special teams is formidable with returner Deonte Harris, K Will Lutz and P Thomas Morstead, not to mention Hill.

Fourth-and-long: Super Bowl-or-Bust following three consecutive playoff busts. The arrival of Tom Brady and Gronk in the division represents a clear and present danger.

Serby Says: 11-5. The Last Hurrah for Brees in desperate pursuit of that second ring.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coach: Bruce Arians

2019 record: 7-9

O/U wins: 10

Key additions: QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, T Tristan Wirfs, S Antoine Winfield Jr., T-G Joe Haeg, RB Leonard Fournette

Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom Brady looks to pass the ball during training camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Getty Images

Key losses: QB Jameis Winston, DE Carl Nassib, RB Peyton Barber, WR Breshad Perriman, DT Beau Allen, RT Demar Dotson

First-and-long: Brady and his weapons, Pro Bowl WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and TEs Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions last season. Brady has thrown 29 across his past four seasons. Life Begins at 43. Shaquil Barrett led the league with 19.5 sacks and Jason Pierre-Paul had 8.5 in 10 games. LBs Lavonte David and Devin White are playmakers behind NTs Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. It’s no wonder defensive coordinator Todd Bowles boasted the No. 1 run defense. Rookie safety Winfield Jr. looks like the real deal. LG Ali Marpet is a stud. Arians is still the Cool Uncle. Tampa is the Super Bowl host city.

Fourth-and-long: RB Ronald Jones caught 31 balls last season, but Year 3 is his moment of truth. First-rounder Wirfs is a keeper at offensive tackle, but he’s a rookie. The secondary might be better than advertised, but needs to prove it. Kicker Matt Gay has to show he can be trusted.

Serby Says: 10-6. Brady has the weapons and a better chance to beat Bill Belichick to a seventh Super Bowl crown.

3. Atlanta Falcons

Coach: Dan Quinn

2019 record: 7-9

O/U wins: 7 ¹/₂

Key additions: RB Todd Gurley, TE Hayden Hurst, DE Dante Fowler, CB A.J. Terrell, DL Marlon Davidson, LG Matt Hennessy

Key losses: TE Austin Hooper, DE Vic Beasley, CB Desmond Trufant, RB Devonta Freeman, LB D’Vondre Campbell, OL Ty Sambrailo, DE Adrian Clayborn

First-and-long: Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones remains a dangerous duo for the 10th consecutive season. Gurley will be a $4.5 million steal if he can stay healthy. WR Calvin Ridley should emerge as a 1,000-yard receiver. Hurst is a big target at tight end. LT Jake Matthews is primed to regain his Pro Bowl form. DT Grady Jarrett (7.5 sacks) is beastly. LB Deion Jones has exceeded 100 tackles in three of his four seasons. FS Ricardo Allen is a leader for the young secondary. Fowler is an upgrade over Beasley. Safety Keanu Neal, back from a torn ACL that cost him the 2019 season, is an enforcer. Terrell, the team’s first-rounder, has impressed.

Julio Jones and Matt Ryan Falcons
Julio Jones and Matt Ryan celebrate after scoring a touchdown last season against the 49ers.Getty Images

Fourth-and-long: Quinn is on the hot seat after back-to-back 7-9 seasons. The offensive line surrendered 50 sacks and 135 QB hits last season. The feeble pass rush recorded 28 sacks. Four games against the Saints and Bucs.

Serby Says: 8-8 A third consecutive season out of the playoffs would doom Quinn.

4. Carolina Panthers

Coach: Matt Rhule

2019 record: 5-11

O/U wins: 5

Key additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Robby Anderson, CB Eli Apple, LT Russell Okung, DT Derrick Brown, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Tahir Whitehead, S Jeremy Chinn

Key losses: QB Cam Newton, QB Kyle Allen, LB Luke Kuechly, CB James Bradberry, S Eric Reid, TE Greg Olsen

First-and-goal: RB Christian McCaffrey is an indefatigable freak and a $16M dual-threat weapon. Bridgewater was 5-0 in relief of Drew Brees last season and everyone should be rooting for his comeback story. WR D.J. Moore (87 receptions) is a legitimate Go-To Guy. WR Curtis Samuel is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Russell Okung is an experienced upgrade at left tackle. ILB Shaq Thompson (109 tackles, 11 TFLs, three sacks) is the new face of the defense. Edge-rusher Brian Burns (7.5 sacks as a rookie) is a natural pass rusher. DT Kawann Short returns from a shoulder injury that cost him 14 games. Brown, the team’s first-round pick, will make an impact. Safeties Tre Boston and Juston Burris are solid.

Fourth-and-long: The offensive line surrendered 58 sacks in 2019. Kuechly retired. Weatherly has six career sacks. In a division with Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, it will be difficult to trust CBs Donte Jackson and Apple. Will deep threat Anderson flourish with Bridgewater?

Serby Says: 4-12 Give Rhule a year. Hell, owner David Tepper gave him seven.

Check out the other NFL division breakdowns from The Post for the 2020 season:

AFC East preview

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