The NFL has a lot of really good teams. Three of them reside in the NFC South. I thought I’d take a quick look at each of the Buccaneers division rivals and give a bit of a breakdown on the moves they made, and how it might affect the Bucs this season. Let’s start by having a look at what moves the Atlanta Falcons have made so far in the 2018 offseason.
The Falcons have either won the NFC South or made the playoffs the past two years. They have a combined record of 21-11 over those seasons, don’t have a lot of holes on the team, and really only needed to do some tinkering this offseason in free agency and the draft. The biggest offseason story out of Atlanta is the “holdout” of their star wide receiver, Julio Jones, who is seeking a new contract with 3 years left on his deal. They lost 3 contributors to their 2017 playoff campaign as Taylor Gabriel, Dontari Poe, and Adrian Clayborn all decided to move on to other teams.
The biggest additions the Falcons made were in the draft where they selected the best wide receiver in Calvin Ridley, one of the top cornerbacks in Isaiah Oliver and a space eating defensive tackle in Deadrin Senate. The addition of Ridley gives the Falcons one of the best wide receiving groups in the league and some insurance just in case the holdout by Jones does indeed become an actual holdout and he misses games. Although, I’m not sure anybody expects his holdout to last into the season. Oliver has loads of talent and should be a really good corner one day. He is a little raw though and will benefit from not having to start right away in the secondary. While you won’t confuse Senate with Aaron Donald, he will provide steady run support in the middle of the defensive line.
The Bucs new look secondary, and rookie cornerback Carlton Davis, will have their hands full with the likes of Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Jones. Ridley is the wild card as he’s an upgrade over the departed Gabriel and will add another dangerous element of attack for the Falcons offense. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith will definitely need to come up with a plan of stopping the Falcons three headed monster, as Bucs fans are all too familiar with the Falcons shredding the Bucs secondary for gigantic numbers over the past two years.
After their dominating run to the Super Bowl in 2016, the Falcons took a couple steps back last year. They struggled to score consistently, dropping from a league leading 33 pts/G in 2016, to ranking 15th at 22.1 pts/G in 2017. While they struggled a bit on offense, their defense took a step forward and ranked 8th in points allowed at 19.7 pts/G. That uptick in defense could continue into this upcoming season. While I feel the Falcons will be a bit better on offense this year, I don’t foresee them reaching the offensive heights of their 2016 season. The improved Bucs defense will need to find a way to contain a Falcons offense that has scored 24 points or more in the last 4 meetings. The Bucs offense will also have to overcome a pretty good defense that has held them under 24 points in 3 of the last 4 meetings. (No, I don’t count the 14 garbage time points in the 2016 blowout on Thursday Night Football)
In conclusion, while the Falcons added some pieces and will again present a difficult challenge this season, I feel the Bucs have made the necessary moves to be a more complete team and are prepared to stop their three game losing streak to the Falcons.