Can Anyone in the N.F.C. Stop Tom Brady and the Bucs From Repeating?
Entering quarterback Kirk Cousins’s fourth season in Minnesota, the Vikings have yet to win the N.F.C. North. Unless the Packers’ team buses get detoured to Idaho every game day, that streak isn’t likely to end. Still, the Vikings have a raft of elite players — running back Dalvin Cook, receiver Justin Jefferson and defensive end Danielle Hunter — and their off-season additions improved a defense that Coach Mike Zimmer last season called the “worst one I’ve ever had.”
At the least, Minnesota figures to be average. At best, it could win double-digit games, good enough to snag a wild-card berth.
— Ben Shpigel
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Key additions: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Kyle Pitts, RB Mike Davis, S Duron Harmon
Key departures: C Alex Mack, WR Julio Jones, S Ricardo Allen, S Keanu Neal, DE Charles Harris, CB Darqueze Dennard.
No team imploded as spectacularly — or as often — as the Falcons, who lost nine (!) games that they led last season. In theory, that won’t happen again. Any expectations beyond that? ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The Falcons, under new leadership at coach (Arthur Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot), are in transition. After trading Jones and bypassing a potential Matt Ryan successor in order to draft Pitts at No. 4 overall, Atlanta seems to be walking up a down escalator. The onus will be on the defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, who was lured out of retirement, to generate loads of pressure — and on Ryan to generate loads of points. With Ryan working in a play-action heavy offense that resembles the one from his 2016 M.V.P. season, it might be possible. In theory.
Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Key additions: QB Sam Darnold, LB Haason Reddick, OT Cameron Erving, CB Jaycee Horn
Key departures: WR Curtis Samuel, RB Mike Davis, QB Teddy Bridgewater, LG Chris Reed
The Panthers acquired Darnold from the Jets this spring in the hopes that extricating him from the Jets’ juju — and surrounding him with, you know, better players — might unlock his promise. Bold strategy. In season 2 under Coach Matt Rhule, Carolina’s prospect of contending is rooted in too many hypotheticals (if Darnold can rebound, if running back Christian McCaffrey can stay healthy, if its young defense can coalesce) to take seriously.