NFL training camp 2018: NFC South preview
Last season, three teams from the NFC South made the playoffs, and Super Bowls 50 and LI featured the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons respectively.
However, the last team to secure a Super Bowl victory from the South was the New Orleans Saints way back in 2010. So will this be the year the division finally shakes its curse and wins the ultimate NFL honour?
Here's the outlook for the NFC South:
Team on the rise
New Orleans experienced a rocky start to 2017, losing to the Minnesota and New England Patriots in successive games. However, the Saints steadily gained momentum throughout the season and ended up being the leaders in the NFC South going into the playoffs.
This season should not be much different, the offense is expected to again be one of the best in the league with Drew Brees under center, while on defense the secondary is mostly intact from last year. Marshon Lattimore should already be considered one of the toughest cornerbacks in the league, and safety Marcus Williams will be back for his second season hungrier than ever after he whiffed on Stefon Diggs' walk-off touchdown during their playoff loss to the Vikings.
The Saints will have to adjust for the first four games because of running back Mark Ingram's PED suspension, but 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara should be able to handle the load in the ground game during that time.
Team on the decline
Any hope the Bucs had of moving off the bottom of the division in 2018 was dented by Jameis Winston's three-game suspension, which will see him miss games against the Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.
That stretch would have been extremely tough even with Winston. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be expected to start in his stead, and a recovery from the 0-3 hole they will be expected to fall into seems unlikely.
Rookies to watch
Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons
Many were surprised the Falcons drafted the wideout from Alabama as their top pick, especially with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy in their receiving corps. It will be interesting to see how Ridley is incorporated into the gameplan and if his impressive production from his last season at Alabama transfers to the pros.
D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers
Moore is expected to complement Devin Funchess while filling in the hole left by Kelvin Benjamin's mid-season departure last year. A clever route-runner with impressive speed and ability at the catch point, Moore was billed as the man to finally replace former Panthers receiver Steve Smith by Smith himself.
A few days away from being back on the field with our Brothers!@debo @Mo_12_Sanu pic.twitter.com/U6IwAITaj3
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) July 22, 2018
Player on the spot
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
The Falcons star was informed he won't get the contract upgrade he desires. But the silver lining is the team promised Jones he would receive a restructured deal next season, which could be enough of an incentive to join the team at training camp rather than sit out.
Jones did work out with rookie Ridley and quarterback Matt Ryan earlier this month, indicating he will be ready to go for the start of the season.
Cameron Meredith, WR, Saints
It's unclear how Meredith will fare with the Saints, since he has barely worked out over the past year. He tore his ACL in the 2017 preseason and missed the entire campaign. The Saints scooped up the receiver from the Bears, and Meredith recently gave a promising update on his condition, saying he had not suffered any setbacks.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
Labrum surgery on his left shoulder forced the four-time All-Pro linebacker to miss Panthers OTAs. Kuechly said he expected to be ready to go for the start of training camp, but the Panthers likely will be cautious, since the 27-year-old had the same surgery on his right shoulder two years ago.
Kendell Beckwith, LB, Buccaneers
Beckwith underwent surgery after breaking his ankle in a car accident in April. A strong presence on the interior of the defense last season, Beckwith is not only questionable for training camp, but he could miss the start of the season, too.