If you’re looking for longevity, 7 out of the last 10 NFC Championship games have included a team from the NFC South.
If you’re looking for prestige, 4 out of the last 4 winners of the NFC South have recorded 13 regular-season wins.
If you’re looking for parity, over the last 10 season, no team has won an NFC South title two years in a row.
Over the past five seasons, the NFC South has played host to two 5,000 yard passing seasons, a No. 1 overall pick, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, broken NFL records, and a Lombardi trophy (New Orleans). In an increasingly quarterback-driven league, the NFC South has some of the most promising QBs in the game, however, it’s not just the quarterbacks who get it done. Future Hall of Famers from the NFC South fill television screens and highlight reels on a weekly basis.
This division provides the NFL with a few of the best rivalries in football — though some wouldn’t even know it — and the elite players will surely let their opposition know who’s in control regardless of where they come from. But what would the 2013 preseason Pro-Bowl roster look like in the NFC South?
Well, without further ado, as the saying goes: Welcome to the South.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – Most football players dream of getting just one chance at a professional career; Brees got two. After tearing his labrum, the Chargers thought he’d never be the same. Brees proved that to be true, but in the best of ways. In 2012, he threw for more than 5,000 yards to go with 43 TDs, earning his 5th consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. With Sean Payton back, don’t expect him to slow down.
2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – Ryan led his explosive Falcons offense to a league-best 13-3 regular season record in 2012. He did this by racking up a little over 4,700 yards with 32 TDs and a completion percentage of almost 70 percent. As long as he’s got Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to throw to, he should like the view at the top of the QB list.
1. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Martin burst on to the NFL scene with a 1,400-yard, 11 TD season during his rookie campaign. The amazing fact is that he did all of that with Pro Bowl guards David Joseph and Carl Nicks on IR. With those two back and healthy, Martin could even exceed his incredible performance from 2012.
2. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons – Here’s a fun stat: Steven Jackson has recorded at least 1,000 yards rushing every year since 2004 — all of this as a member of the St. Louis Rams. Defenses were able to key in on Jackson during his time in St. Louis which capped his numbers. With Atlanta’s offense, the field could be wide open for this proven runner; all that stands in his way is his health.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – The NFL is beginning to see a new breed of WRs; Calvin Johnson, Dez Byant, A.J. Green and Julio Jones lead that breakthrough group. Jones is an athletic freak. He recorded more than 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in his sophomore season, earning a trip to his first Pro Bowl as a result. Get used to this guy, he’ll be around for quite some time.
2. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons – It’s a rarity that two players from the same team dominate such a strong category in a division. White gets the nod at No. 2 over the likes of Vince Jackson, Steve Smith and Marques Colston, but he deserves it. He actually had more receiving yards than Jones with 1,351, but his TDs were more scarce at 7. Still, he’s one of the best in the division and in the game.
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints – 6-foot-7, 265 pounds spells disaster for opposing defenses, and in this instance, it’s pronounce Jimmy Graham. Graham is another athletic freak. He played basketball growing up, so he has an unbelievable vertical jump and control of his hands. It takes a lot to beat out a Hall of Famer lower on this list, but Graham does. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain… No, even that won’t work.
2. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons – Gonzalez is going into his 17th season in the NFL and has 13 Pro Bowls to go along with his longevity. Though it wasn’t his best career year statistically with 93 catches, 930 yards and 8 TDS, Gonzalez was a deadly red zone weapon and was a key part of the Falcons’ trip to the NFC Championship game. We’ll see how long his Fountain of Youth can last.
1. Donald Penn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Penn made the Pro Bowl in 2010 but hasn’t been back since. You could put some of that blame on Tampa’s inconsistent O-Line, but it’s something to note. Still, Penn takes on some of the fiercest DEs the NFL has to offer and takes them on with confidence. He’s been called on for eight seasons and proven himself as one of the best OTs in football. With Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph returning at guard, Tampa’s O-Line could be one of the best in the league.
2. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers – With Jermon Bushrod no longer in the NFC South, our No. 2 is Cam Newton’s blindside protector. Gross last made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but at age 33 could still have some top OT talent left in the tank.
1. Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints – Imagine this: at one point, Evans and Carl Nicks were on the same team in New Orleans; the result was a Super Bowl in 2009. Evans is an immovable object and doesn’t seem to be having a change of heart about having that title.
2. Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Nicks missed most of last season due to a toe injury that put him on IR, but he seems to be making a good recovery. The Bucs expect him to be near 100 percent come week 1, and assuming that’s the case, he’ll reassume his dominance as one of the best guards in football.
1. Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers – Kalil is a three-time Pro Bowler (2009-2011), but didn’t make the Hawaiian squad in 2012. Don’t read too much into that though, he’s still got it.
1. Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers – People questioned whether or not Johnson could hold his own on the line after Julius Peppers left in 2010. His response: an 11.5 sack season with 62 total tackles. After that, the Panthers signed him to a six-year, $72 million dollar deal. Though he has yet to make the Pro Bowl, he recorded 12.5 sacks last season; his time will come.
2. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints – Jordan is another player on this list that hasn’t made a Pro Bowl to date, however, in 2012 he recorded 8 sacks with 3 forced fumbles. With that being only his second year in the league, his time is coming as well.
1. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – One of the goals McCoy set out for his career was to make the Pro Bowl, and after just three years, he achieved it. McCoy, like most DTs, does’t have insane stats; he plays a role taking up blocks. But, he still managed to record 5 sacks with 30 tackles in 2012. He made it through all 16 games without injury and if that continues, so will his production.
2. Brodrick Bunkley, New Orleans Saints – Bunkley is another player whose role isn’t about stats. However, Bunkley’s best ability, like all great lineman, is availability. He’s only missed five games in his eight-year career.
1. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers – With Luke Kuechly taking over at MLB for the Panthers, we see Beason take the top spot on the outside; he would have been on the list regardless of which LB location. Beason is coming off two injury-plagued seasons, but when healthy, is one of the best LBs in the NFL. Before those seasons, he recorded 120 tackles or more each year, never missed a game, and made it to three Pro Bowls.
2. Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons – In 2012, Weatherspoon was most famous for a hit that made RG3 think “Maybe this running QB thing isn’t such a good idea.” He’s only 25 and is still looking to improve, but for now he’s a hard-hitting LB that commands attention from QBs in the pre-snap.
1. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers – He’s young, but good Lord can this kid play the LB position. In his rookie year, he recorded 164 total tackles. If health is on his side, the sky is the limit.
2. Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints – At the 3-4 MLB position, Lofton recorded 123 tackles with 2 INTs and 2 forced fumbles. Vilma is well on his way out, and Lofton’s regime has now begun.
1. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Let’s see, a division with Brees, Ryan, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman: how many great CBs do you think the NFC South will have? The answer is not many at all. Those four — well, three — reasons are exactly why Tampa went out and took a risk on Darrelle Revis. When he’s healthy, he’s the best shutdown corner in the game. Tampa says he’ll be healthy, so I’ll rank him like he will be.
2. Asante Samuel, Atlanta Falcons – Samuel may be on the down-turn of his career at age 32, but the four-time Pro Bowler still keeps QBs in check. He grabbed 5 INTs last season, and showed he can still be a player that offenses should avoid.
1. Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Goldson is the new kid on the block for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl season. He looks to make an immediate impact with not only stats, but leadership and mentoring to a young secondary as well.
2. Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons – At the prime of his career, DeCoud is proving himself as a dependable safety. He nabbed 6 INTs last season while recording 76 tackles, all on his way to claiming his first Pro Bowl appearance.
1. William Moore, Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta posted a pair of Pro Bowl safeties in Moore and DeCoud, mostly because of their chemistry together. Their stats were very identical and that chemistry should continue in 2013.
2. Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints – Though it was a good year statistically for Harper with 115 tackles and 2 INTs, his stats show that he had to make up for a lot of holes in New Orleans defense. His sack and forced fumble numbers dropped, but look for Harper to have a bounce-back season with Sean Payton’s return.
1. Matt Byant, Atlanta Falcons – Bryant accounted for 143 of Atlanta’s points in 2013 with 33 FGM and 44 XPM. As Atlanta’s offense improved, so should Bryant’s numbers.
1. Michael Koenen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the Bucs punter record 76 punts — not sure if that’s a good thing or…. no, it’s a bad thing — but 22 of them landed inside the 20. He’s got the touch, Tampa just hopes he never has to show it.
1. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints- Sproles is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, and while his role as a returner may be dwindling, when Sean Payton does put him back there, a lot can happen in a big hurry.