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NFC South: Biggest Strength for Each Team Entering the 2020 Season

NFC South: Biggest Strength for Each Team Entering the 2020 Season

NFC South: Biggest Strength for Each Team Entering the 2020 Season

The NFC South remains one of the most offense-heavy divisions in football for one reason: quarterbacks. From Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to talented No. 1 draft picks Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, some of the NFL's highest-octane offenses of the decade have come out of this division.

Of course, Carolina and Tampa Bay found new signal-callers this offseason. The Buccaneers landed Tom Brady, and the Panthers decided to start fresh with Teddy Bridgewater. The names may be different (and older), but the strength of the division remains.

But to make it far in the NFL, teams need more than just strength at QB. And with the likely exception of the Panthers, each of the other three teams in the division can be considered playoff contenders with championship aspirations. Here are the areas each of the teams stand out most.

Atlanta's offensive continuity

It's easy to forget how good Atlanta's offense is because the pieces have largely stayed the same, but that's part of the reason the unit is so good. They've worked together for so long.

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have formed one of the league's premier pairings for the past decade, and the offensive line looks as solid as ever. Jake Matthews has protected Ryan's blind side for six years, while Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is entering Year 5 with the franchise. First-rounders Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom have a year of experience under their belts and should be able to take the next step this season.

All of that stability will make it easy for the team to plug Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst into the roles Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper just left. And it also gives the Falcons' offense a high floor, even before considering if a young player like Calvin Ridley truly breaks out.

Carolina's speedy skill-position players

The Panthers' offense will look drastically different without Cam Newton, but the good news is that they've left Teddy Bridgewater with plenty of talent to spread the ball around to. First and foremost, Christian McCaffrey is back after signing the richest deal for a running back in NFL history. Given running backs' shelf life historically, they may come to regret that down the road, but he does derive much of his value from the passing game.

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The real speed, though, comes in with their group of receivers. DJ Moore (4.43 40-yard dash time) established himself as a true No. 1 receiver last season, and Curtis Samuel (4.31) grew into a capable second option. That's before considering the free-agent addition of Robby Anderson (4.36), who may be their best deep threat yet. And even Ian Thomas (4.74) ran the sixth-fastest 40 among tight ends at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

Bridgewater will have a chance to prove that he's ready to be a full-time starter again. He looked like a future star in Minnesota before his knee injury and was nearly mistake-free in New Orleans last season. But the good news for the Panthers is that if he doesn't succeed, they'll likely be in position to draft Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, and they'll have plenty of weapons for a rookie in 2021.

New Orleans' rush defense

Picking the Saints' passing attack would be an easy answer here, but the receiving corps is fairly thin (albeit improving with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders), and what more can you say about Drew Brees? The real strength of this team lies in the smothering front line.

New Orleans has had a top-five rush defense for the last two seasons, and it really shined in 2019. The Saints haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Nov. 19, 2017, and even held six teams under 50 rushing yards last season. It's not quite San Francisco's D-line, but their unit is filled with first-rounders, including Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and Marcus Davenport.

Running the ball has been de-emphasized over time, but this unit could be crucial in the postseason. NFC contenders like Dallas, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Seattle depend on the run for success, although the Saints' surprising inability to stop Dalvin Cook hastened their playoff exit in January.

Tampa Bay's big targets

Outside of the 2007 season with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady has almost always had an underwhelming receiving corps. Well, that changes in a big way this season. Literally. Few quarterbacks have ever had this many big, talented players to pass to.

In addition to bringing old friend Rob Gronkowski (6-6) out of retirement, Brady has another pair of talented tight ends: O.J. Howard (6-6) and Cameron Brate (6-5). But the real stars are Mike Evans (6-5) and Chris Godwin (a measly 6-1), who combined for 153 catches for 2,490 yards and 17 touchdowns last year and can make a case to be the best wide receiver duo in the league.

Brady's arm strength may not be what it once was, but having so many large targets will make life easy on him. If Bruce Arians was able to guide Winston to more than 5,000 passing yards last season, there's little doubt that Brady can stay above the 4,000 mark once again with an even better cast.