Today's questions: Will the Panthers win their fourth straight division title? Who makes the playoffs from the division? Our NFC South reporters make their predictions.
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: While losing Josh Norman hurts the Panthers defensively, they're still the most complete team in the division and should win the NFC South again in 2016. The Saints have had a surprising number of injuries already, which will hurt their chances, and the Bucs and Falcons have made some improvements but are not quite where Carolina is yet. I see the Panthers taking the division outright, and I think the Falcons or maybe even the Bucs (depending on how the transition to Mike Smith's defense goes) could sneak into the playoffs with a wild card.
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: Carolina, behind a great coach in Ron Rivera and stars Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, will win the division for the fourth consecutive season. It will be extremely difficult for the Falcons and Saints to keep pace, particularly with Atlanta tied for the league's toughest schedule and New Orleans having the fourth-toughest schedule based on last season's records. Of course, you can still have success in the division while dropping some non-division games, but it will be a tall task regardless. The Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers can only hope the Panthers stumble out of the gate while facing the Broncos and Vikings in Weeks 1 and 3 leading into division play. If the Falcons can average close to 30 points, maybe they'll have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. That's a big "if" though. The NFC South last had two playoff qualifiers during the 2013 season, when the Panthers and Saints both lost in the divisional round.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: The Panthers remain the most complete team not only in their division, but in the entire NFC. Most of the starters return from a Carolina team that went a regular-season best 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl last season. The only offseason setback was the loss of Norman, but the staff has shown the past three years it can survive with what many would call a makeshift secondary because the Panthers' defensive front seven is one of the best in the NFL. The return of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin should make Newton and the offense even more explosive. But the biggest reason to pick the Panthers to win a fourth straight division title is Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans aren't good enough defensively to do much better than an 8-8 record. Because of that, and because I see at least six other NFC teams -- Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay, Minnesota, Washington and Los Angeles -- are better than anybody else in the NFC South, I can't see a second South team making the playoffs.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: I'd love to go out on a limb, but instead I'll go with Carolina for the fourth straight season. So much for the NFC South's old habit of crowning a new champ every year from 2002 to 2013. I do expect the Panthers to fall back to the pack a bit after a 15-win season. But with such a good balance of offense/defense, pass/run and Newton/Kuechly, I still expect double-digit wins. As for the rest of the division, I wouldn't be shocked to see any of the other three teams sneak into the playoffs. But I'll predict the Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers all fall just short with eight to nine wins. Of the three, I still think New Orleans has the highest upside because of Drew Brees and an offense that can outscore anybody on any given week -- if only the Saints can get that defense into the top 30 for a change.