NFC South Teams Jockeying To Catch Up To Carolina; Ticket Prices Affordable
Last year, the NFC South produced the conference’s representative in the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers, who, despite losing in the big game to Denver, enjoyed a wildly successful season, even flirting with 16-0 perfection. As expected, they’re the odds-on favorites to take the division once again in 2016, but it won’t be easy. The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, two offensive-powered clubs who are always in the conversation, figure to make a run, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem closer than not to finalizing their rebuilding period, which could put them in contention for a playoff berth as early as this season. Let’s take a look at the potential for each of these organizations in the upcoming campaign.
Carolina (15-1) had its best season in franchise history. After a dominant regular season, Carolina defeated Seattle and Arizona in the NFC playoffs before running into Denver’s vaunted pass-rush in the Super Bowl. Von Miller proved to be simply unblockable and Carolina’s offense suffered. Despite the Super Bowl loss, Newton had an MVP season by throwing for a career-high 35 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. On defense, Carolina’s physical play made it difficult for its opponents. Entering the 2016 season, the Panthers bring a lot of the same faces back on both sides of the ball, but lost Josh Norman in free agency. The Panthers are expecting a talented group of rookie corners to try to fill the void left by Norman as a result. After a year like last season, tickets to see Carolina have predictably gone up across the board, as Newton has them trending towards becoming one of the NFC’s most prestigious franchises. Luckily, even as ticket prices go up on the secondary market, fans can at least save money on their Bank of America Stadium parking by going through ParkWhiz.com, which has numerous cheap parking options all around the venue.
Atlanta (8-8) got off to fast 5-1 start last season before crumbling in the second half. Atlanta had issues with its offensive line and on defense, which has become a theme throughout recent years. To help solve its offensive line issues, Atlanta brought in center Alex Mack via free agency. Mack, who was a Pro Bowl center with the Browns, is one of the best at his position in the game and will provide an immediate upgrade. Matt Ryan is still the franchise quarterback in place, still having the luxury of being able to throw to one of football’s best receivers in Julio Jones. He also has running back Devonta Freeman, who enjoyed a nice breakout campaign a year ago, and he’ll also have newcomer Marvin Jones, who was added to improve the receiving corps. Fans that want to secure Atlanta Falcons tickets right away should check out Razorgator, where tickets for Atlanta’s Week 1 matchup against Tampa Bay start at just $32.
New Orleans (7-9) easily had one of the worst defenses last season, as always seems to be the case, as their offense continued to put up points on a consistent basis. Led by Sean Payton and Drew Brees, New Orleans has the ability to get into a shootout with any opposing offense -- and still come out on top. Brees has enjoyed throwing to young receiver Brandin Cooks, who is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign. This past offseason, the Saints brought in tight end Coby Fleener and drafted wide receiver Michael Thomas, two additional pieces that could help sustain their offensive prowess. Both players offer Brees even more playmakers that can cause mismatches across the field. On defense, New Orleans fired coordinator Rob Ryan and promoted former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, so there is hope that the Saints can improve considerably on that side of the ball. If they are able to do just that, the Saints could be in a prime position of getting back to the postseason. Fans clearly believe this is so, as Saints tickets are higher-priced on the secondary market compared to most.Tampa Bay (6-10) had a decent first season with Jameis Winston at the helm. Winston proved to be aggressive and assertive with his playmaking style, and there is optimism he can build on his success as a rookie. Entering his second season, expect Winston to continue developing his rapport with Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, and his tight ends. Due to his strong working relationship with Winston, the Buccaneers elevated Dirk Koetter to head coach in the offseason. Koetter replaces Lovie Smith and will look to develop Winston much like he did with Matt Ryan when he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. On defense, Tampa has a talented array of defensive lineman, not to mention Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lavonte David, and they’ll certainly need a solid performance from their defense to be able to combat some of the other juggernaut offensive units in the division. Look out for rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves as well. The Bucs have resided mostly towards the bottom of the AFC South, but that could change in 2016, and ticket prices are a relative bargain if they are able to break through.