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NFC South: 2017 NFL Division Previews
AccuScore continues its NFL division previews ahead of the 2017 regular season, with every team in each division getting a detailed preview and projections, along with fantasy tips. After previewing the NFC North and the NFC East on Monday and Tuesday, it’s time for the NFC South on Wednesday:
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NFC North Division Preview
NFC East Division Preview
Tampa Bay: New Ruler in the South
Tampa Bay has improved from 2-14 in 2014 to 9-7 in 2016, but the Buccaneers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2007 haven’t experienced a playoff win since January of 2003, when they beat Oakland Raiders to win the Super Bowl. Yes, it’s been a while. Quarterback Jameis Winston continues to improve and is at the heart of AccuScore’s confidence in Tampa Bay ending the playoff drought.
Accuscore simulations predict Tampa Bay to win an extremely tight NFC South despite only being projected to win 9 games. It’s neck-and-neck down south, though, as all three division rivals finished with 8 wins and about a one in three chance at a playoff berth and a one in five chance of winning the division. Tampa Bay may be AccuScore’ favorite, but after simulating all 256 games of the 2016 NFL season 10,000 times each, AccuScore gives the Bucs a 37% chance to win the division and a 52% probability of making the playoffs.
In free agency, the Bucs focused on defense. Chris Baker from Washington will form one of the best defensive tackle duos with Gerald McCoy. That combo should do wonders to stop the run. One of the big name signing was WR DeSean Jackson, also from Washington. However, he seems to be an overrated player in simulations and the main load to catch balls will still be on Mike Evans.
Fantasy Analysis: Tampa Bay Bucs
In Fantasy predictions, Mike Evans is top 20 receiver and Cam Brate is a top 5 TE. Even though Jameis Winston is the single most important player for Tampa, he is not top10 QB in fantasy projections. Actually he is listed 15th when all fantasy points generated during the season are summed up. If Doug Martin bounces back from the last season mediocre numbers to the 2015 season records, he should be top 10 running back for fantasy leagues.
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New Orleans Saints: Adrian Peterson + Drew Brees = ?
A few years ago, Peterson and Brees would be the story of the offseason. Now, when Peterson is coming out of terrible season in Minnesota with his career clearly winding down, it is just interesting to see how much these two veterans can produce together. Will there be more than 7 wins for Saints to improve last season results?
Yes, if you believe Accuscore’s season simulations. The most probable amount of wins for Saints is 8, but that’s hardly a guarantee of the postseason or winning the division in a NFC South. Scheduling wise, the most probable wins arrive from the visiting Bears (week 8) and Jets (week 15). The Saints have over 70% probability to win in both of those games. On the flip side, the Saints are clear underdogs when the Patriots visit them in week 2 and also when they go to Lambeau field in week 7. A win against New England or in Green Bay could be the difference between winning the division and missing out on the playoffs altogether.
Based on Accuscore’s projections, the Saints probability to win their division is 22% and the figure is 35% to reach the playoffs. Again, a freak victory over New England or Green Bay could quickly change the Saints’ season and double those postseason prospects.
As mentioned, the biggest addition during the offseason was running back Adrian Peterson. Also, the linebacker corps was improved with A.J. Kein, Alex Okafor and Manti Te’o. In addition, the Saints traded their top wideout, Brandin Cooks, but Drew Brees has a way of finding receivers and completions.
Fantasy Analysis: New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees collected huge amount of fantasy points for his owners in last season. He led passing yards and was only QB to reach over 5000 yards passing. This time, Accuscore fantasy prediction predicts him to be again top 3 QB. He would feed WR Michael Thomas, who is predicted to be among top six wide receivers in fantasy points. Fantasy predictions narrowly rank Mark Ingram over Adrian Peterson at the RB position - both would be in top 25 players in their position.
Will Carolina bounce back?
Last season was a big disappointment for the Carolina Panthers. As many experts predicted them to win Super Bowl against the Broncos in January 2016, though Accuscore’s supercomputer picked the right side of that big game. Last season, Cam Newton and the Panthers essentially fell down the stairs and only won six games.
This time Accuscore predicts them to win 8 games in a very tight NFC South, so Newton and company should be back hunting for a postseason berth. Though Carolina is projected to finish last in the division, the difference between the Panthers, Saints and Falcons is miniscule. Assisting the Panthers is the easiest ranked schedule in the NFC South.
During free agency, Carolina and Minnesota swapped tackles when Matt Kalil joined Carolina and Mike Remmers went to Minnesota. The Panthers also signed CB Captain Munnerlyn and WR Charles Johnson from Minnesota. Maybe the biggest name on the list of added players was a 15 year veteran Julius Peppers, who returned back to Carolina after a few seasons in the NFC North.
Fantasy Analysis: Carolina Panthers
Accuscore’s fantasy predictions highlight some interesting individual players. Many expect Cam Newton to bounce back and be top performer among all QBs. Our predictions rank him 18th in fantasy points this season. A bit lower will be RB Jonathan Stewart and there won’t be any top 30 receiver when calculating season long fantasy points. The shiny points of Panthers fantasy predictions are TE Greg Olsen who is ranked sixth among tight ends, and their defense lead by healthy Luke Kuechly is ranked 7th among all NFL defenses. As Accuscore predicts also individual defensive player fantasy output, Kuechly is top 5 linebacker based in those simulations.
Atlanta Falcons: Superbowl Hangover
The last season was perfect for the Falcons until halftime of the Super Bowl. Their high octane offense produced enough points in 13 games (including playoffs), but the Patriots shot them down at the latest moment to win Super Bowl in overtime. So where to from here?
Accuscore simulated all games of this season and it looks like the flight of Falcons continues on lower level than year ago. Instead of 11 regular season wins, they project to only win 8 games after losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to a head coaching gig with the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons are hardly dead in the water, considering they’re less than one win behind the competition in the division.
Key season shifting games include an NFC Conference Championship re-match against the Packers in week 2, a Super Bowl re-match against Patriots in Week 7, and a trip to Seattle in Week 11. Wins in any of those games could push Atlanta back into the post season and then, anything can happen.
Atlanta’s offense took a biggest hit on a sideline. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was a key engineer for the high performance offense during last season. Even though there are not too many changes on offensive side of the ball, it would be difficult to see another record breaking year for Atlanta’s offense.
Defensive lineman Dontari Poe was the biggest addition to the Falcons’ roster during free agency, but it would be interesting to see if he can fill the massive holes left by Paul Worrilow (LB), Sean Weatherspoon (LB), Jonathan Babineaux (DT) and Dwight Freeney (DE). The offense may have to be even better than a season ago, so Matt Ryan has his work cut out for him.
Fantasy Analysis: Atlanta Falcons
For fantasy players, it would be easy to pick up WR Julio Jones who averaged over 100 yards per game during the last season. He was only player to achieve this. QB Matt Ryan averaged over 300 passing yards per game and was second on that list after Drew Brees. Still, Accuscore’s fantasy predictions list 8 QBs that would gather more fantasy points by the end of the season. He would be good choice after few first rounds, but it doesn’t make sense to spend your first round pick on Ryan.
Running back Devonta Freeman broke 1000 yards mark during last season. He would be good pick to your fantasy team, as Accuscore’s fantasy player predictions list him fourth among all running backs. With Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliot out for the first six games due the suspension, Freeman could be a top 3 fantasy running back.
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