Logical outcome: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get the jump on this division and never relent. Let’s keep it 100: The Panthers, Saints, and Falcons don’t have the cannons to match up to Tampa Bay’s gunpowder on both sides of the ball. Brady breaks Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yardage record, tosses 40 to 45 touchdowns, and embarks on winning another Super Bowl. Who needs a family when he can adopt the Vin Diesel model and make attaining success with colleagues his “family?”
The Falcons look like the NFL’s worst team and end up in a position to draft C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young to go with all these towering wideouts they’ve been accumulating.
Matt Rhule goes bust in Carolina and gets fired midseason, compelling the Panthers to finally trade Christian McCaffrey.
Surprise alternate outcome: The turmoil in Tom Brady’s life begins to weigh on his play, but the early schedule is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Bucs start 0-1 when the Cowboys beat them on Sunday night. Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons wrap their pincers around Brady and the Dak attack on offense overwhelms Bowles’ defense. In Week 2, Brady falls to 0-5 vs the Saints as a Buc. Regular season Aaron Rodgers is as invincible as Playoff Brady in Week 3. Then, Mahomes and the Chiefs drop them to 0-4 before the Bucs hit the soft portion of their schedule. Even if they go 1-3, Baker Mayfield realizes he’s at his best when he’s playing spoiler, channels that pettiness, and ignites the Panthers’ offense. Last season, Carolina lost to Philadelphia by a field goal, Minnesota by a touchdown in overtime, Washington by six, New Orleans and Atlanta by eight. With Baker at the helm and Christian McCaffrey healthy they climb to second in the division, then knock Tampa Bay out of playoff position in a New Year’s Day matchup.
The Panthers don’t win this division though. The true wild card in this division is the Sean Payton-less New Orleans Saints. New Orleans was 5-2 when Jameis Winston tore his ACL in a win over Tampa Bay. Alvin Kamara will likely face a suspension related to felony battery charges stemming from an incident in a Las Vegas casino during Pro Bowl weekend. The Saints have the personnel to win the NFC South as long as Michael Thomas and Winston can make it through a 17-game slate healthy.