PFF chooses their way-too-early winner for the NFC South

Choosing a division winner in June Is tough work. There is so much that can happen between now and the end of the season in early January. There are heartbreaking season-ending injuries, breakout players and those who don’t live up to expectations. So, when PFF’s Trevor Sikkema chose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be the NFC South division winner, it made more sense than most Atlanta Falcons fans will realize.

Based on win totals from 2023, every team in the NFC South has one of the five easiest schedules for 2024. The Buccaneers have won the division in each of the last three seasons, and with most of that team returning — and some new additions that should improve certain areas — I’ll take them to repeat in a close contest with the Falcons.

Atlanta was close last year despite sub-par quarterback play, and the team added veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. That alone is why they are currently the betting favorites. But last year, before his injury, Cousins put up career lows in both average depth of target and big-time throw percentage. He will also be 36 years old and coming off an Achilles injury.

Baker Mayfield was up and down for the Bucs to start but ended the year with a strong showing in the postseason. He’s working with a new offensive coordinator, but the Falcons are also working with a completely new coaching staff.

Both of these teams have question marks at cornerback and the team that mitigates that weakness the best could very well be the team hosting a playoff game next January.

From his quarterback rankings, Sikkema has made it well-known that he is weary of Cousins and the drop-off that could ensue from his potentially lethal combination of age and recent injury history.

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Not to mention that the Buccaneers have taken this division three straight years and have mostly kept the band together. Essentially, Sikkema is betting that the continuity from the reigning champs will trump the new influx of talent the Falcons have brought in this off-season.

Will it play out that way? It shouldn’t, but the schedule-makers made it where the Falcons pay if they struggle early, especially in the division. Atlanta has five of their six division games by week ten and eight of their conference games before their week 12 bye week. 

If Cousins and company struggle out the gate with their first-time play-callers on both sides of the ball and new offensive and defensive systems, trouble could befall the Falcons in their hunt for their first division title since 2016.

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