The NFC South ranked third in our final divisional report of 2016 behind the AFC West (No. 2) and the NFC East (No. 3).
The Falcons (11-5) claimed the division title en route to representing the NFC in Super Bowl 51. Unfortunately, they fell in historical fashion, squandering a 25-point, second-half lead to the Patriots (13-3) in a heartbreaking 34-28 overtime loss.
The Buccaneers (9-7) were one of three non-playoff teams to finish in the top-15 of our final 32-team report. Meanwhile, the Panthers (6-10) and Saints (7-9) were competitive but unable to finish critical games.
Here’s a closer look at how the NFC South finished in our final Week 17 report of 2016:
HOW THEY FINISHED
Requisite Reads for Newcomers:
The Buccaneers signed defensive coordinator Mike Smith to a new multi-year contract. Under Smith, the Buccaneers finished at No. 7 in BES Defense which is a reflection of how dominant the unit was over the season’s second half. During that span, Smith’s defense ranked first in takeaways (18), fifth in sacks (21) and fourth in points allowed per game (17.1)
Conversely, the Falcons hired Steve Sarkisian as their new offensive coordinator. He will be under immediate and immense pressure to sustain an offensive juggernaut. The Falcons closed 2016 with the No. 2 BES Offense, boasting a Point Yield score of 3.34 which paced the other 31 teams.
NOTABLE PLAYER TRANSACTIONS
We’ve maintained that our data can provide a framework of how teams might approach the draft and address needs. Here are the rookies we feel will have the most impact on each team’s weakest area(s) in BES performance:
NFC SOUTH BALANCE OF POWER
The Falcons initially seem like the odds-on favorite to defend their NFC South title. Their core offensive personnel remains intact and their defense improved down the stretch. Nevertheless, there’s some uncertainty surrounding Sarkisian and his ability to call the offense.
As for the Panthers and Saints, both will be competitive but have major question marks. The Panthers didn’t do enough to upgrade their offensive line nor did the Saints improve much on defense.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers appear to be the most complete team in the NFC South. They’ve added enough offensive firepower to keep pace with the rest of the division. More importantly, their No. 7 BES Defense is a young and ascending unit.
Overall, though it will be a tight race, we expect the Buccaneers to edge out the Falcons for the NFC South in 2017.