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The Falcons had a great chance to be a playoff threat last season, starting the season out with a 5-0 record, but unfortunately took a turn for the worst in the middle of the season and ended up not making the playoffs with an 8-8 record despite having a solid defense all season long. Still, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan is 1 of only 2 active quarterbacks in the entire NFL to have thrown for over 4,500 in 4 or more consecutive seasons. However, over those seasons, which were the past 4 seasons, his touchdown numbers have dropped off significantly from where they were. When they were at their highest, which was during the 2012 season, the Falcons were 4 points away from a berth in Super Bowl XLVII in their NFC Championship game loss to the San Francisco 49ers. With one of the greatest wide receivers of this generation in Julio Jones, one can only think that those touchdown numbers will get back up to where they were relatively soon, especially now since the Falcons have a standout running back in Devonta Freeman who is one of the best pass catching running backs in the NFL. The Falcons are a disaster waiting to happen…for every other team in the league. If they can capitalize on the solid play of their quarterback like they did 4 seasons ago, they will have a great chance to be crowned Super Bowl LI champions come February.
The Panthers are coming off of a dream season that almost was, as they ended up losing in Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos after winning 17 of their first 18 games. In one of the best seasons ever by a running quarterback, Cam Newton dominated the NFL with 48 total touchdowns en route to winning the MVP award. He performed that spectacularly without his primary wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. Newton was able to carry the Panthers, who lacked a top receiving target outside of tight end Greg Olsen, on his back for pretty much the entire season and all the way to the Super Bowl. Running back Jonathan Stewart’s above average play contributed to the Panthers’ success, as did the play of the Panthers’ defense, which is, despite losing one of the best if not the best cornerback in the NFL in Josh Norman, still loaded with lots of talent at each position. Without Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers were a threat to win it all. With Kelvin Benjamin, even though they are now without Josh Norman, the Panthers are a team that will have one of the best chances out of any team in the entire NFL to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this upcoming February.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are always one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, and Drew Brees is always one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Add to that the fact that the Saints now have 3 solid wide receivers in Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Michael Thomas, as well as a good running back in Mark Ingram, with a solid backup running back in Tim Hightower, who really came on strong late last season filling in for Ingram, who was injured. The Saints’ defense is still relatively weak, but they improved in some areas, particularly by drafting defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and signing linebacker James Laurinitis, who played for the St. Louis Rams last season. If those 2 key defensive additions can contribute to a defense with a few stars here and there, such as defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Stephone Anthony, and safety Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints could be in a position where their high-flying offense and solid defense could once again take them back to the Super Bowl and lead them to a victory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have an offense full of young stars. 2014 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston is a rising star at the quarterback position, and running back Doug Martin is a rising star who may not yet have hit his prime. With Mike Evans developing into the Buccaneers’ primary receiver, the Buccaneers also have veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson to give him guidance. The Buccaneers had to deal with very poor defensive play last season, but that should improve due to the addition of their 1st round draft pick, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who not may people thought would fall all the way down to the 11th pick in this year’s NFL draft. With an improved defense, if Winston, Martin, and Evans can all get into a good rhythm together on the offensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers will be tough to stop this season, and for many seasons to come, making them a team that could end up winning Super Bowl LI.
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