Who will be the MVP of the NFC South this season? Our division reporters make their picks.
Jenna Laine, Bucs reporter: Matt Ryan will win the title again even if the Falcons don’t repeat as division champs. Ryan has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, but the system implemented by Kyle Shanahan isn’t changing, so the veteran QB will continue to be in his element. He also demonstrated he deserves a place among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL last season, finishing with a league-best 83.3 Total QBR. His 4,944 regular-season passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns were both second-best in the league. He has a strong supporting cast, too. Julio Jones’ foot should have healed up fine. Alex Mack is one of the premier centers in the league. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman might be one of the league’s best duos on the ground. Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel have been terrific additions at receiver.
Vaughn McClure, Falcons reporter: Julio Jones is the most dominant player in the division. If he's healthy for a full 16 games, he should put up incredible numbers, possibly even achieving an NFL-record 2,000 receiving yards. And new coordinator Sarkisian vowed to get Jones more touches in the red zone after the wideout recorded just four catches on eight targets last season. Giving Jones more opportunities to score touchdowns -- he had six last season and has reached double digits just once in six seasons -- will make him that much more of a factor for the Falcons, and he's already the ultimate game-changer.
David Newton, Panthers reporter: The division has produced the NFL MVP the past two seasons in quarterbacks Cam Newton (Panthers, 2015) and Ryan (Atlanta, 2016). It's time to give a defensive player some respect. There's no better defensive player in the division (when he's not in the concussion protocol) than Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. If he can avoid missing games with a concussion for the third straight year, he should lead the NFL in tackles and revitalize a Carolina defense that ranked among the league's top 10 defenses 2012-15. Hey, it can't be a quarterback every year.
Mike Triplett, Saints reporter: WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers. This question is especially tough because I think any one of the four teams could realistically win the division. I expect some regression from the Falcons and Ryan, who played out of their minds last year. But even if Atlanta underperforms, the team still has three or four worthy candidates in Ryan, Julio Jones, Vic Beasley and Freeman. I thought about picking Kuechly, because I think Carolina could storm back into first place now that he's healthy. I also thought about Saints quarterback Drew Brees, because he'll definitely be the driving force if New Orleans pulls off the upset and wins the division. But I went with Evans, because, no matter who wins the division, I think he'll have a monster season and join guys such as Jones and Antonio Brown in that elite tier of top NFL playmakers. The 6-foot-5, 231-pounder had 96 catches for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he's still on the rise. Plus, the growth of Jameis Winston and the addition of other receiving targets, such as deep threat DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard, should only open things up more for Evans.