Preseason games are off and running, which means just a handful more weeks until opening day. In the meantime, Full Press NFL continues its series predicting the outcomes of each division. Today, Cardinals editor Ryan Adverderada and Vikings editor Sam Smith preview the NFC and AFC South.

NFC South

Ryan Adverderada

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Carolina Panthers
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three teams out of the NFC South have a real shot at making the playoffs. The odd team out is Tampa Bay. Bruce Arians came out of retirement to coach the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay hopes quarterback Jameis Winston can establish himself as a franchise quarterback. Winston has been turnover prone, while battling injuries each of the last two seasons. It remains to be seen how well the roster can do with an entirely new coaching staff. Atlanta has the talent on both sides of the football. However, injuries doomed them in 2018, significantly handcuffing both lines. Matt Ryan continues to put up impressive numbers, but the defense will need to step up if the Falcons have any shot at the playoffs.

The division should come down to what we saw in 2017, a battle between the Panthers and Saints. Carolina added some pieces along the defensive line in a bid to increase pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If Cam Newton is fully healed, there’s nothing this team can’t do. If the offense can find a consistent passing game, expect Carolina to have a bounce-back year in 2019. The Saints are the creme de la creme in the NFC. A questionable no-call prevented New Orleans from playing for the Lombardi trophy. The 2019 group are chomping at the bit to rectify that mistake. Drew Brees is nearing the end of his career but is helped by Michael Thomas on the outside. The New Orleans defense will be key if the Saints intend to get back to the big game.

Sam Smith

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Carolina Panthers
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Atlanta Falcons

I would buy any ordering of this division. All but one of the teams have taken the crown in recent years, two of which led to Super Bowl appearances. And the lone team that did not has some optimism. Tampa could get the Bruce Arians renaissance that has accompanied the last two teams he has coached, after all. When it comes down to it, however, I see the Saints repeating again as division champs as they have the best combination of offensive firepower and play-making defense. Atlanta could turn in another season like 2016, but their defense is going to hold them back. Carolina will be at the mercy of Cam Newton’ health, which has been spotty the last 12 months. As for Tampa, as much as Bruce Arians should help get the most out of Jameis Winston, their schedule is tough and their defensive questions will ultimately hold them back.

That said, I like the Buccaneers to finally take the stop out of the basement and perhaps compete for a playoff spot much of the year. I see them and Atlanta around the .500 mark, while Carolina will finish a hair above that. The Saints, with both revenge and Drew Brees’ last ride at the forefront, should contend for a Super Bowl.

AFC South

Ryan Adverderada

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Tennessee Titans

The AFC South is a dog-eat-dog division. It happened last season with all four teams in playoff contention late in the season. The Jaguars brought in Nick Foles to try and stabilize the quarterback position. That move alone should help Jacksonville bounce back after a disappointing 2018. If Leonard Fournette can stay healthy, the offense will be more than functional to help a stout Jaguars defense. The Colts have the best quarterback in the division, by far. Indy hopes the defense can build on their performance from the second half of 2018. If the defense makes significant strides forward, the division is theirs.

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The Texans and Colts have the biggest question marks. Houston needed to fix the offensive line, but spent their first round selection on more of a project than the sure thing. Of course, if Tytus Howard can learn quickly and become a force, the newly acquired Duke Johnson will be a welcome addition to the Texans offense. Defensively, the Texans need to find consistency. Their performance against the Colts last postseason was shocking. Marcus Mariota is entering his make or break season with the Titans. Mariota has proven he is talented enough to lead his team to the postseason. The questions surround his availability. In four season, Mariota has started 15 games in a season, only twice. The other two times he started 12 (2015 and 13 (2018), the Titans finished 12-20. They were 18-17 the other two seasons. Mariota has the best supporting cast since entering the league, but the Titans will need him healthy if they intend to make the playoffs.

Sam Smith

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Houston Texans
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars
  4. Tennessee Titans

For me, this division is the toughest in the AFC to pin down top to bottom. One thing I am fairly confident on, however, is the winner. The Colts are on the short list of teams that should compete with New England and Kansas City for the AFC crown. Assuming health (which with Andrew Luck is a hit-or-miss assumption), they have the most overall talent. The offensive line is strong, the weapons improved and the young defense is a year older. After that, is becomes a toss-up.

The defending winner in Houston should be strong again. But once again, the Texans neglected the offensive line just enough to have major questions about them. Deshaun Watson is athletic enough to overcome pressure, but he is still a young quarterback with young quarterback decision-making at times. Jacksonville is just a year removed from being the class of the division and a game from a Super Bowl berth. With an upgrade at quarterback and more experience from their young receivers, I expect them to get much closer to that form, albeit still missing the playoffs. Tennessee is an intriguing team; their defense especially has a lot to like. But overall, they have the question marks on offense Jacksonville has, only without the great defense to supplement them.

– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals. Like and follow on and Facebook.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

 Follow @fpc_vikings and Follow @fpc_nfl

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