NFC North Floors and Ceilings

By Lee Wakefield

I really feel the preseason buzz of positivity when thinking about the NFC South. This says a lot because none of these teams had a winning record in 2022. Almost every franchise in this division has cause for optimism for the coming year. That isn’t to say that I think all four of these teams will have a great year. But at the very least, this year should serve as a bridge to better things in 2024 and beyond.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are a team who are well and truly in transition and they need an answer at quarterback. Tom Brady is no longer on the team, and the Buccaneers need to find a long-term solution to replace him. The Baker Mayfield era should be a short one, but there’s one situation where Baker can play well. Baker plays well when everybody is doubting him. So perhaps we could be in for some fireworks at Raymond James this year.

It feels like the roster needs some time to turn over into a new era entirely. Some centrepieces remain; Tristan Wirfs, Vita Vea, Mike Evans, and perhaps a couple more. However, building blocks need to be added to these foundations.

Image Credit: Bucs Report

The Floor:

Tampa Bay is one of the teams in the league where the floor is about as low as it can be. I would be happy to place money on them having a top 5 pick in the 2024 draft.

As you’ll read in the rest of this piece, I feel like the other NFC South teams have more going for them and the Bucs could easily slide from first to worst.

The Bucs fall into the same bracket as Washington does, in the fact that, in the long run, it might not be too bad if they go through a tough year.

If they get that top 5 pick, I expect them to be in the Caleb Williams or Drake Maye sweepstakes. Which brings in the next era and those green shoots of recovery.

3-14 floor, but at least they’ve got the Creamsicle uniforms back.

The Ceiling:

Sorry, Bucs fans but even when looking at the ceiling for this team, I can’t see progress from 8-9, even in my wildest thoughts. I’m not even sure that they get close. 3-14 is a very low floor but it comes from the fact that I look at the Bucs’ schedule and I don’t see too many games where I feel that they’ll be favoured at kick-off.

The ceiling will involve Mayfield being back to full health, playing well with a chip on his shoulder, and galvanising the rest of the roster.

That said, I feel like the best that Tampa can hope for is 5-12.

Carolina Panthers

From a team who are looking for their next quarterback, to a team who hope they have found theirs.

Optimism should be high around the Carolinas as their fanbase eagerly await Bryce Young’s regular season debut. Personally, I believe the Panthers took the correct player and passer with the first pick and despite height and size concerns, I think Young can have a productive career.

The Panthers have invested in premium positions early in the draft in recent years, with the likes of Ikem Ewonu and Jaycee Horn. They also have some young stars, such as Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn. Despite a lack of future draft capital, due to the trade up for Young, the future looks brighter for Carolina.

The Floor:

Of course, there will be some growing pains when it comes to Bryce Young’s rookie season.

However, Young’s time at Alabama showed a player who plays with poise and maturity, even in adversity. Which I feel will stand him in good stead, even when those tough times arrive.

The Panthers have done a good enough job of putting talent around Young too. None of the position groups are amazing but none are dreadful, either. The skill positions are fine. The offensive line is decent although not deep, and throughout, there are promising youngsters mixed with veteran floor raisers. Young has somewhat of a veteran support system around him on offense.

Frank Reich should also be a reasonable floor raiser too, as a Head Coach who has been around the block a few times. The floor for this team should be taking a small step back to 6-11, mostly because depth isn’t great around the roster.

The Ceiling:

If Reich is a floor raiser, the ceiling is really pushed by the money that David Tepper has been willing to put into hiring coordinators.

Thomas Brown and Ejiro Evero are two very talented coaches. Both could be hot names in the 2024 Head Coach hiring cycle after this season.

I feel like both of these coordinators could squeeze close to the limit out of both of their units. If Young plays well and injuries don’t ebb away at the star talent on the roster, would 10 wins be out of the question?

Image Credit: Carolina Blitz

New Orleans Saints

Will the Saints ever actually admit that they are in a rebuilding phase? Like a true, tear-it-down rebuild.

With the way that they continue to push the bill on contracts down the line, I’m not even sure if they can. If they did, it might take several years for the dead money to clear and for them to build back up to respectability again.

I don’t think they will ever call it a rebuild. They always want to be there, or there abouts in the NFC South.

So here they are, with Derek Carr and what feels like a veteran roster. Part of the issue is that there’s too much high-end young talent to back it all up.

The NFC South is there for the taking as it feels like a sea of mediocrity. But at the same time, it feels like the Saints could be the epitome of that.

The Floor:

If it proves that Carr isn’t even the short-term answer and it proves that the aging guys on the roster just don’t have the juice anymore, this season could be a long one.

Carolina and Atlanta feel like they’re young, upstart teams with a lot of their best days ahead of them. If they hit it off in the early stages of their evolutions, the Saints could be one of the teams who fall victim to them with their arrow pointing the other way.

The Saints are probably better than the Bucs, even in the worse of circumstances, but not by much, so I’ll say 5-12.

The Ceiling:

Is this version of the Saints with Derek Carr better than what they had last year?

Eh, probably…

Michael Thomas could be back, the offensive line is still pretty good and the defense as a whole feels like it could be a top-half unit again.

Alvin Kamara’s suspension hurts, but it is just three games, so shouldn’t be terminal. Could 9-8 win this division? Maybe? Could it even get the Saints into the playoffs in the event that they don’t win the NFC South? Again, it’s possible in a weak NFC.

I think that is the best they can hope for.

Image Credit: Fantasy Footballers

Atlanta Falcons

I believe Atlanta is the prime worst to first candidate in the NFL for this coming year. Everyone is excited about what this offense can be and everyone is looking forward to playing as the Falcons in Madden. I have criticised the way that the front office has built the offense through first-round skill position players. I don’t think it’s the correct way to build a team. That said though, it certainly makes for a team that people will be interested in, want to watch, and gives them a super-high ceiling.

There are questions about the quarterback, the defense, and potentially the Head Coach, but what if things work? As I said at the top, this time of year is for optimism!

The Floor

Well, the floor really depends on whether Desmond Ridder can pilot the offense to success. Ridder should be a decent fit as a mobile QB in Arthur Smith’s run-orientated offense, especially with a good-enough offensive line and a group of highly-drafted skills position players around him.

The defense is probably aiming to be a middle-of-the-road unit. They have some good players, particularly in the secondary. The issue is that they lack real star power in the front seven, outside of Grady Jarrett.

Even if things don’t quite click as they might, in this division, I believe the floor is quite high. I don’t see the Falcons having the same record as last year, or worse. 8-9.

Image Credit:

The Ceiling

Whilst I don’t agree with drafting a tight end, wide receiver, and running back, in three consecutive first rounds, I have to agree with the general sentiment. It does make the Falcons very exciting.

The ceiling is enormous if all three of Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson develop together. Whether Desmond Ridder does or not is kind of a moot point for me because I feel like Atlanta will be able to put a QB in place to replace him if he doesn’t. However, that is a point for another day.

In the NFC South, Atlanta could easily get on a roll and take the division crown. The NFC South faces the AFC South, so another batch of winnable games is on the schedule. And by virtue of finishing fourth last year, these games appear alongside other teams who finished in the basement of their divisions.

Would it be wild to suggest that Atlanta wins 11 games?

Feature Image Credit: The Falcoholic

Lee Wakefield

NFL, CFB & NFL Draft

Lee Wakefield IS A defensive line enthusiast, Chargers Sufferer, and LONG-TIME writer and podcaster with a number of publications. Find his Chargers content over at Bolt Beat. @Wakefield90 on twitter