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NFC South Preview: Can Bryce Young Take Over a Wide-Open Division?

The NFC South is wide open after the retirement of Tom Brady, and Bryce Young is hoping to lead the Carolina Panthers to a division title.

Thanks to an influx of young star power, the NFC South has the potential to be one of the more fascinating divisions in the NFL this season.

Both the Carolina Panthers, behind No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, and the Atlanta Falcons, with second-year signal caller Desmond Ridder, are charting new courses with young quarterbacks they hope will alter the trajectory of their respective franchises.

Meanwhile, Derek Carr arrives in New Orleans, bringing some veteran stability at the helm of one of the most explosive collections of offensive skill players in the league.

Because the NFC South has no clear-cut favorite, and all four teams face major question marks as the 2023 campaign looms, the division race promises to be intriguing from start to finish.

What League Insiders are Saying

"That's a really interesting division. The Saints are starting to show their age, but have the talent to win the South if they can stay healthy. Atlanta has some really nice offensive pieces in place, but I'm not a Desmond Ridder guy, so that could be tough for them. I still think they finish second. The Panthers have the young quarterback, but some really average wide receivers. If things break their way, they could flip with the Falcons. Tampa just isn't good." - AFC South Scouting Director

Offseason Addition that will shape the race: Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers

Frank Reich didn't waste any time naming Bryce Young the Panthers' starting quarterback.

Young has plenty of big-game experience from his time at Alabama, which could pay immediate dividends as he adjusts to the pressure-cooker life of an NFL quarterback. Even following the departure of burner D.J. Moore , who was dealt to the Bears as part of the package to move up to the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Panthers' weapons around Young provide a soft landing for the rookie quarterback. It is entirely reasonable to think Young can lead an experienced offense to the postseason, emerging from one of the weaker divisions in football.

NFC South Projected Standings

Carolina Panthers (9-8)

The upgrades general manager Scott Fitterer and the Panthers made this offseason have the potential to be transformational.

Beyond boldly trading up to pair Young with quarterback whisperer head coach Frank Reich, the Panthers immediately added the pieces around the No. 1 overall pick to facilitate immediate success. Running back Miles Sanders will alleviate some pressure on Young, arriving after rushing for a career-high 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Adam Thielen is a steady veteran pass-catcher and tight end Hayden Hurst has all the trappings of a potential security blanket and red-zone monster, after catching 11 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Defensively, the Panthers' young and ascending talent up front — Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Yetur Gross-Matos, is buttressed by elite cornerback Jaycee Horn and the arrival of playmaking veteran safety Von Bell.

The Panthers' ascension to legitimate contenders hinges on Young, but this is the roster closest to being able to compete in the division, and it might not be close.

Atlanta Falcons (8-9)

Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder prepares for a snap.

Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

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Atlanta suddenly boasts one of the most exciting young cores in football.

The Falcons seem primed to turn the reins over to Desmond Ridder, with the belief he can quickly develop into a franchise quarterback, and have surrounded him with explosive playmakers to make that leap possible.

First-round rookie Bijan Robinson has the chance to be a difference-making bellcow running back, with all the traits to quickly become one of the premier players at his position. Meanwhile, Drake London was as advertised in 2022, catching 72 passes for 866 yards and 4 touchdowns, despite wildly inconsistent quarterback play, and Kyle Pitts remains a matchup nightmare. If Ridder can be a competent point guard, the Falcons have dangerous weapons capable of stretching a defense thin.

Meanwhile, defensively, Bud Dupree and Calais Campbell form a disruptive pass-rush duo, and in the secondary the Falcons are riddled with talent, including Jeffrey Okudah and A.J. Terrell at cornerback and veteran safety Jessie Bates, who is one of the more dominant players at his position across the league.

Whether Ridder can maximize the wealth of talent around him, and the defense can hold up remain two significant questions Atlanta must answer in 2023.

New Orleans Saints (8-9)

If the Saints are going to compete for the NFC South crown and make any sort of noise in the postseason, it's because Derek Carr was head and shoulders better than the rest of the quarterbacks in the division.

Carr will have the luxury of spearheading an offense that's headlined by running back Alvin Kamara and receivers Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, who each offer plenty of speed and explosiveness. However, the offensive line remains a major concern, to the point that it could drastically lower the ceiling of the offense's firepower.

Defensively, the Saints are solid across the board, but this is also a team that needs to learn how to close.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-12)

Tampa Bay quarterback Kyle Trask throws during practice.

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It would seem that a transition year is in the offing for the Buccaneers.

Baker Mayfield leads an offense that still has loads of talent at wide receiver; Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both remain capable of finishing among the top-15 players at the position. But, there is much uncertainty over whether Rachaad White is capable of making big strides towards being an effective every-down back.

There's still talent defensively, in Tampa, with linebackers Lavonte David, Devin White, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and interior game-wrecker Vita Vea up front. However, depth is a concern, and this is a group that finished 18th in total defense last season.

It's possible the Buccaneers are closer to picking Caleb Williams or Drake Maye next April than they are to picking up a third Lombardi Trophy in February.

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