Are the Atlanta Falcons destined to repeat as NFC South champs in 2017? Our roundtable members give their picks for who will win the division and how many playoff teams will emerge from the NFC South.
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Bucs just a 14 percent chance to win the NFC South, the lowest in the division. But I think this is the year the Bucs win it for the first time since 2007. They've beaten the Falcons three out of the last four times they've squared off (including a sweep in 2015). Jameis Winston is coming into his own in Dirk Koetter's system, the offense just got new playmakers DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin. And the defense improved dramatically last year and wound up third in the league in takeaways. If the Bucs win the division, the Falcons will get the wild card, or vice versa.
Vaughn McClure, Falcons reporter: The Falcons will repeat as division champs, even if they don't equal last season's win total of 11. Reigning MVP Matt Ryan is playing at a high level and shouldn't slow down, particularly with the Falcons keeping the same offensive system that Kyle Shanahan left behind before taking the head-coaching job in San Francisco. The improving Buccaneers, led by Winston, have a chance to secure a wild-card spot ahead of squads such as the Lions and Cardinals, so let's say that two teams from the NFC South will reach this postseason.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: Carolina will win the division, and the Falcons will make it as a wild card. Or it could be vice versa, but I'll stick with my first premise. The Panthers still have the best defense in the NFC, and defense wins titles more times than not. Injuries to the offensive line and the decision to move on from Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman, along with a down year from 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, contributed heavily to Carolina going 2-6 in games decided by three points or less in 2016. (Win three more of those and they're right in the hunt for a fourth consecutive playoff spot.) I was skeptical of the Super Bowl jinx (see following-season history of teams that lose the title game), but I'm not anymore. It takes a toll, and it will keep Atlanta from repeating as division champ.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Falcons as champs, Panthers a wild card. I hate to make the "chalk" pick here, because I expect some regression from Ryan and the Falcons this season, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see any one of these four teams win the division. But the Falcons still have the fewest flaws of any team in the NFC South, with a dynamic offense and a rising young defense (that got even more stacked with the addition of tackle Dontari Poe). As for the Panthers, they had even more regression than I expected last season, when they nose-dived from 15 wins in 2015 to six in 2016. Carolina could easily split that difference with a 10-win season, assuming Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly can stay relatively healthy. I'll also predict 9-7 records for New Orleans and Tampa Bay, giving everyone a winning record in what has a chance to be the NFL's deepest division.