Key: EPA= Expected Points Added
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New team same result for Tom Brady as he leads his squad to a Super Bowl victory once again. Before the bye, it didn’t look like this team had what it took, but after the bye, Brady was given more control of the offense and the team got going and would end up winning eight straight games to end the season. In the offseason, General Manager Jason Licht’s goal was to keep the team together and run it back with the same core group. That’s exactly what was done but with one sneaky good move that can help make this offense even scarier. Adding Giovanni Bernard from Cincinnati gives them a true pass catching back and that’s something Brady loves having. Ronald Jones (15.2%) and Leonard Fournette (12.2%) were both in the top ten highest drop % among running backs, whereas Bernard was tied with Alvin Kamara at 26th with a 7.8% drop rate.
Their wide receiver room is still absolutely fucking loaded with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, Jayden Mickens, Tyler Johnson, and now speedy rookie Jaelon Darden. At tight end, they still have Gronk, Cameron Brate, and OJ Howard. On defense, no major changes were made but a group that was young in the secondary gets more time to work together. The team that won it all a year ago should be even better as the offense and defense are still together.
This offense gets a real offseason to work together which will allow Brady time to work with everyone on the practice field instead of the process being rushed and chaotic like a year ago. Last season they were 5th in points per drive and 6th in points per drive allowed. Expect those numbers to be even better next year. They were also 5th in offensive EPA/play (EPA = Expected Points Added) at 0.150 and 5th in defensive EPA/play at -0.043. Again with everyone back but with more time to work together before the season starts they should be more dangerous on both sides of the ball.
Projected win total: 15 plus games
A brand new era begins for the Falcons and Julio Jones won’t be a part of it. Despite no longer having Jones there is much more reason for optimism than there was in the Dan Quinn era. They still have Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley and then drafted generational tight end prospect Kyle Pitts. Most importantly who they hired at head coach was a smart move as they brought in the now former Titans offensive coordinator and play caller Arthur Smith. A more efficient and better offense should emerge with Smith in town.
For the Falcons, they need the most improvement on defense. According to Pro Football Focus their coverage graded 21st and their run defense 20th. The Falcons were 20th in defensive EPA/play at 0.071 including 26th in defensive dropback EPA at 0.178. New defensive coordinator Dean Pees will see if he can work his magic on this group. If the Falcons defense can be average their offense could be good enough to take them to the playoffs.
With a new coaching staff and systems on both sides of the ball, the Falcons probably won’t make the playoffs but they should come close. They also aren’t as explosive on offense without Julio Jones so we’ll see how large of an impact that makes because it will certainly be felt in some way. Calvin Ridley is great and Pitts is very promising but beyond those two there isn’t anyone else you’d consider a threat to a defense. This team needs a year to be playoff ready.
Projected win total: 7 to 10 wins
3.New Orleans Saints
With the retirement of Drew Brees the Saints will now turn to one of Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. Even with Sean Payton directing the offense, it’s a very difficult thing to ask of him to get this team to the playoffs or even a winning record. PFF graded their offense a year ago at 11th and they also ranked 12th in rbsdm’s EPA/play at 0.073, and that was with Brees. Losing Emmanuel Sanders, Janoris Jenkins, Trey Hendrickson, and Jared Cook also doesn’t help.
Pro Football Focus graded their defense fourth last season but will see if that suffers from a couple of losses and an offense that likely won’t give them a lot of help. They also ranked fourth in defensive EPA/play at -0.047. This team will rely on strong defense and a run game to guide them but quarterback is an issue that will again likely hold them back. The silver lining is their run game was 5th in rushing EPA last year at 0.021 and PFF graded their run game 4th. Winston is prone to turnovers and Taysom Hill isn’t a quarterback; he’s just a gadget player. Don’t expect much from them but don’t expect them to completely shit the bed either.
Projected win total: 6 to 9 wins
4. Carolina Panthers
Let’s be honest: there’s a far better chance this team picks first in the 2022 draft than make the playoffs. Offensively this team was solid for a stretch but their woes in the red zone as evidenced by their rank of 28th in red zone touchdown percent at 50.9%. Last season’s starter, Teddy Bridgewater, who was traded in the offseason, criticized Joe Brady – a young offensive guru – for the way he handled the red zone and two minute offense at practice. We’ll see what their new quarterback Sam Darnold thinks as his arrival was the most interesting move of their offseason.
Darnold was destroyed during his rookie deal by super dumb ass Adam Gase on the Jets, and now the Panthers are tasking Joe Brady with salvaging his career. Bold move Cotton. For Matt Rhule in particular this is a major risk as his job security as Head Coach is tied to whether or not his OC can again salvage a player damaged by his last coaching staff.
Darnold will have better protection which is a huge bonus as the difference between the protection he had with the Jets to now is from league worst to middle of the pack. His weaponry is very nice as he’ll have DJ Moore, former teammate Robby Anderson, and rookie Terrace Marshall to throw to. Those are all good factors to help the restoration project that is Darnold’s career, but four years of Gase is a lot to overcome. It doesn’t help that the defense ranked 26th in points per drive allowed at 2.50. If they can’t stop opponents it puts all the pressure on Darnold to dig them out of holes in obvious passing situations. Whether or not Darnold is an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater is something we’ll have to see about. Expect a dumpster fire of a season for this squad.
Projected win total: 5 or fewer wins