Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Preseason Watch List: NFC South

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Dan Quinn Era is off to an auspicious start, but the sting of the last game could derail the momentum. Quinn's Falcons won eight games in 2015 and followed that up with an 11-win regular season that culminated in a Super Bowl appearance. Whether last year's growth was offset by the horrific way the team choked away the Super Bowl remains to be seen, but the pieces are in place to contend. Matt Ryan shed his doubters and won the MVP, as the Falcons offense finished atop the standings (1st in points scored, 2nd in yards gained). Oddly, the Falcons success last year came in spite of a drop off defensively (27th in points allowed, 25th in yards) which is not what one would expect from Quinn and his defensive coaches. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/26 (Rookie/Veterans)
  • Where: Atlanta Falcons Training Facility (Flowery Branch, GA)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website) 

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 10 -- @Miami 7:00 pm EDT
  • Aug 20 -- @Pittsburgh 4:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- Arizona 7:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Jacksonville 7:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Steve Sarkisian taking control of the offense -- Kyle Shanahan earned a head coaching job after the Falcons Super Bowl run, and the Falcons have handed the offense over to Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian is best known as the young USC head coach who got fired because of a drinking problem. Sarkisian is sober and left the University of Alabama to take the Falcons job. He is keeping the same system, playbook, and terminology in place, but needless to say will have a different approach to playcalling, especially as he's new on staff.
  • What will Marquand Manuel bring to the defense? -- As mentioned, the defense fell apart last year and Quinn promoted Marquand Manuel to coordinator after firing Richard Smith. Manuel will take over play-calling from Quinn, but don't expect major changes. Manuel has coached under Quinn his entire career.
  • Will Tevin Coleman's role increase? -- Coleman had 941 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as Devonta Freeman's counterpart; he ranked RB18 in standard leagues. The fact Coleman only played 353 snaps last year is shocking and hints at possible RB1 value if the Falcons increase Coleman's workload. 
  • Is Julio Jones healthy? -- Julio Jones had surgery to remove a bunion and should be healthy for the preseason. Jones is among the league's best receivers but has dealt with nagging injuries at times. If he's healthy, a bit of positive touchdown regression could easily turn Jones into the #1 overall fantasy commodity. 
  • Austin Hooper's maturation -- Hooper was a part-time contributor as a rookie. His 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns wasn't awe-inspiring, but it also shouldn't dissuade you from drafting him considering rookie tight ends rarely put up big numbers. Jacob Tamme is no longer on the roster, and offseason reports indicate Hooper is ready to take a leap forward. If Hooper earns consistent first team reps in camp, he's an ideal late round option.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina suffered a Super Bowl hangover last year, finishing 6-10 and in last place in the NFC South. Cam Newton went from MVP to below average starter thanks in part to a partially torn rotator cuff, which was operated on a few months later. The offense sputtered, falling from 1st to 15th. Of greater concern was the complete collapse of the vaunted defense. The Panthers incomprehensibly ranked 26th in points allowed last season and yet, somehow, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott parlayed those struggles into a head coaching job in Buffalo. Turmoil abounds as the team parted ways with General Manager Dave Gettleman just a few weeks before training camp. Head coach Ron Rivera won three straight division titles before last year's blip and deserves the benefit of the doubt. Are the pieces in place for a rebound? We're about to find out. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/25 (Rookies/Veterans)
  • Where: Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 9 -- Houston 7:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- @Tennessee 3:00 pm
  • Aug 24 -- @Jacksonville 7:30 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Pittsburgh 7:30 pm

What We're Watching:

  • How is Cam's shoulder? -- Newton waited until March to have surgery on his partially torn rotator cuff, pushing his return timeline precariously close to the start of the regular season. The coaches have maintained optimism throughout the offseason, but there is a good chance we don't see Newton on the field in the preseason. If he's not healthy, the Panthers chances of rebounding are nil. 
  • Christian McCaffrey versus Jonathan Stewart -- Jonathan Stewart is a hard runner and effective in his role, when healthy. What he is not is explosive or a difference maker. It's Stewart's good-but-not-great resume that makes the Panthers selection of Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick so compelling. McCaffrey will contribute immediately, but the fantasy community is divided on whether McCaffrey will be a change-of-pace back, part of a committee with Stewart, or the new bell cow. 
  • Kelvin Benjamin's conditioning -- Kelvin Benjamin was serviceable last season (63 receptions for 941 yards and seven touchdowns) but was out-of-step against top tier defenders. Conditioning played a role as Benjamin looked more like a tackle than a receiver at times. The coaching staff gave Benjamin a weight mandate this preseason, and he passed his first weigh-in on the eve of camp. If healthy, it's easier to buy into the team's offensive resurgence. 
  • Will Greg Olsen be a distraction? -- Greg Olsen wants a new contract and hinted at a holdout, but decided to report to camp on time. Will Olsen's contract status be a distraction, or will the venerable Pro Bowler put contractual distractions aside now that the season is underway?
  • Acclimating to new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks -- Wilks takes over for Sean McDermott after coaching the Panthers secondary for a number of years. Wilks has told us not to expect major changes in terms of scheme or personnel but does want to be more aggressive than his predecessor. 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints wasted yet another season of Drew Brees' brilliance. Brees stewarded the offense to another stellar finish (2nd in points), but the defense was the league's worst (32nd in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed) and New Orleans won just seven games, as a result. Head coach Sean Payton always speaks about finding more run/pass balance, but the year-end numbers are always pass-heavy. The Saints' offseason moves suggest Payton may finally be serious about a more run-heavy approach, but it's hard to buy into change until we see it on the field. On defense, Dennis Allen will have a handful of new players to help lift the unit back to mediocrity. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/19 (Rookies) / 7/26 (Veterans)
  • Where: New Orleans Saints Training Facility (Metairie, LA)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 10 -- @Cleveland 7:00 pm EDT
  • Aug 20 -- @San Diego 7:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- Houston 7:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Baltimore 7:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Figuring out the running back mix -- Adrian Peterson is 32 years old and missed most of the last season, but if there's one running back never to discount, it's Peterson. He's speaking as though he'll be the starter, but the Saints would be silly to take the job away from Mark Ingram. The question is whether Peterson will be the main red-zone and goal-line threat and whether he'll have a set snap count or if Payton will go with the hot hand. Alvin Kamara, a third round selection in the rookie draft, further complicates matters. Kamara is a better receiver than Ingram or Peterson, and teams don't typically use third round picks on pure backups. If all three runners have regular roles, their respective fantasy values all lose their appeal. 
  • Is Michael Thomas ready to ascend into the upper echelon? -- Thomas was phenomenal as a rookie. He caught 92 receptions for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, which was good enough for a 9th place finish. The combination of Brandin Cooks' departure and the natural growth from Year One to Year Two could equate to Thomas joining the likes of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones in the first tier. 
  • Can Coby Fleener live up to his contract? -- Coby Fleener was good in Indianapolis, but he was never elite. The move to New Orleans was supposed to vault Fleener into rarified air, but he struggled at times and ended up with a season evocative of his years with the Colts. Can Fleener built rapport with Drew Brees and ascend the fantasy tight end rankings? 
  • How will the Saints replace Terron Armstead? -- Armstead may miss the entire season after suffering a torn labrum, which leaves a gaping hole at left tackle. Armstead has been injured before, but there's no way New Orleans can replace him with an equivalent talent. Veteran journeyman Khalif Barnes is the likely starter in Armstead's stead. 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 

The Buccaneers began putting the pieces together last season, and optimism abounds as the team returns to One Buccaneer Place for camp. The team didn't make the playoffs but did win six of the last eight games. Defensively, the team allowed 29 points per game in the first eight weeks, but tightened up and allowed just 17 points per game in the final two months. Offensively, the team only scored 23 points per game but added a few key pieces to an already intriguing young group. In an ultra-competitive NFC South, the Buccaneers are a legitimate division contender for the first time in a decade. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/25 (Rookies) / 7/27 (Veterans)
  • Where: One Buccaneer Place (Tampa, FL)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 11 -- @Cincinnati 7:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 17 -- @Jacksonville 8:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- Cleveland 7:30 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Washington 7:30 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Is Jameis ready to make the leap? -- Winston improved in every facet last year and appears poised to make another leap in his third season. The 2015 first overall pick is only 23 years old, yet already has 8,132 career passing yards. With DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard added to an already impressive young receiving corps, Winston has a shot at moving into bonafide QB1 territory. 
  • Doug Martin versus The Field -- The Muscle Hamster will miss the first three games of the season due to violations of the substance abuse policy but figures into the team's plans. Martin ran for 1,402 yards in 2015 and will try to recapture his Pro Bowl form. The risk for Martin is what happens if the Buccaneers thrive using a committee in his absence? 
  • Integrating DeSean Jackson -- Everyone knows Mike Evans, but who was the Buccaneers' second-leading receiver last year? If you said Adam Humphries, you know more about football than 90% of fans. Humphries had 55 receptions for 622 yards and is more suited to a slot role. Veteran speedster DeSean Jackson signed for big money to be the complementary deep threat Vincent Jackson was supposed to be but never was. Will Jackson settle into a #2 role after spending most of his career as the top dog? 
  • Brate versus Howard -- The Buccaneers selected O.J. Howard with the 19th pick in the draft and many consider him the best two-way tight end prospect in years. Howard will have an immediate role, but fantasy owners may be overlooking Cameron Brate in the process. Brate had 660 yards and eight touchdowns last year, finishing as the #6 fantasy tight end. His natural pass-catching skills, experience in the system, and rapport with Winston should sustain an important role, regardless of Howard's presence. 
  • Will Hard Knocks be a distraction? -- Tampa Bay has agreed to be the subject of HBO's documentary, Hard Knocks. That's rarely been a recipe for success in prior seasons, can the Buccaneers "buck" the trend?