AOL.com's Countdown to Kickoff: NFC South preview

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AOL.com's Countdown to Kickoff: NFC South preview

4. CAROLINA PANTHERS

2014 record: 7-8-1

Projected 2015 record: 5-11 

Schedule:

 

Week 1: at Jacksonville

Week 2: vs. Houston

Week 3: vs. New Orleans

Week 4: at Tampa Bay

Week 5: BYE

Week 6: at Seattle

Week 7: vs. Philadelphia

Week 8: vs. Indianapolis

Week 9: vs. Green Bay

Week 10: at Tennessee

Week 11: vs. Washington

Week 12: at Dallas

Week 13: at New Orleans

Week 14: vs. Atlanta

Week 15: at NY Giants

Week 16: at Atlanta

Week 17: vs Tampa Bay

We have learned this in Cam Newton’s four years with the Carolina Panthers: As Newton goes, so do the Panthers, even if they are a defensive team with a defensive-minded head coach in Ron Rivera. The scary news for Panthers opponents: Newton might just now be ready to truly go the right kind of off.

After setting a rookie passing yards mark—subsequently broken by Andrew Luck—and the NFL quarterback rushing TD record in his first year, Newton has seen mere incremental improvement, if not statistical regression. His yardage has declined in each of his first four seasons, along with his rushing TD total. Now that he is under contract for the next six years of his prime, Newton will be unleashed in potentially devastating fashion.

The Panthers vow to allow him to use his big, athletic body to run, creating huge plays both in and out of the pocket. That is arguably the most noteworthy thing for daily fantasy in 2015: Newton’s rushing production helps him trump a lot of the other top scorers at the quarterback position.

Player to Watch: Kelvin Benjamin. When the Panthers are in the red zone this season, they’re going to be looking Benjamin’s way. The second-year player caught nine touchdowns and had over 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. Expect him to have similar numbers this season.

-Tyler Brooke and Eric Mack

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

3. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

2014 record: 2-14

 

Projected 2015 record: 6-10

 

Schedule:

 

Week 1: vs. Tennessee

Week 2: at New Orleans

Week 3: at Houston

Week 4: vs. Carolina

Week 5: vs. Jacksonville

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: at Washington

Week 8: at Atlanta

Week 9: vs. NY Giants

Week 10: vs. Dallas

Week 11: at Philadelphia

Week 12: at Indianapolis

Week 13: vs. Atlanta

Week 14: vs. New Orleans

Week 15: at St. Louis

Week 16: vs. Chicago

Week 17: at Carolina

Usually when your team drafts No. 1 overall, you have a long rebuilding process in the works. This might not be the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play in a division that sent a 7-8-1 NFC South division champ, the Carolina Panthers, to the postseason…to host a playoff game, no less.

The Bucs (2-14) were a laughingstock (yet again) in 2014, but bear with us as we try to look on their bright side. First, Year 2 of Lovie Smith’s regime should feature much better defensive play, particularly if DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David stay healthy. Second, Mike Evans is a burgeoning star wideout, Doug Martin was once arguably the most productive back in football—and he’s in a contract year—and top overall pick Jameis Winston could help set off the offensive dominoes for a quick turnaround.

Again, when you’re chasing a division champ that couldn’t even reach .500, it won’t take much for the Bucs to be in the thick of things. There are some intriguing pieces here for one-week fantasy football value, particularly if they get the typically modest FanDuel prices cellar-dwellers tend to receive on a weekly basis.

Player to Watch: Doug Martin. As a rookie, Martin was a fantasy messiah, but things didn’t pan out for him last season. With a potentially great quarterback in front of him in Jameis Winston, Martin could have a bounceback year.

-Tyler Brooke and Eric Mack

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

2014 record: 7-9

Projected 2015 record: 8-8

Schedule:

Week 1: at Arizona

Week 2: vs. Tampa Bay

Week 3: at Carolina

Week 4: vs. Dallas

Week 5: at Philadelphia

Week 6: vs. Atlanta

Week 7: at Indianapolis

Week 8: vs. NY Giants

Week 9: vs. Tennessee

Week 10: at Washington

Week 11: BYE

Week 12: at Houston

Week 13: vs. Carolina

Week 14: at Tampa Bay

Week 15: vs. Detroit

Week 16: vs. Jacksonville

Week 17: at Atlanta

Daily fantasy players might not be glass half-full people, but they should be. While everyone is lamenting the New Orleans Saints’ loss of future Hall of Fame tight end Jimmy Graham (traded to the Seattle Seahawks this offseason), we should be focusing on the opportunities ahead.

Someone is going to get the potential points Drew Brees’ consistent excellence creates. The daily fantasy trick will be deciphering who that is.

The first spot to look is second-year wideout Brandin Cooks, but we anticipate the Saints turning to the once broken-down running backs Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller this year. Remember, Saints head coach Sean Payton’s career started with him making Tiki Barber a fantasy wunderkind as Giants offensive coordinator. He should be far more running back-friendly in New Orleans now with Graham gone.

Player to Watch: Drew Brees. Can the 36-year-old remain one of the best fantasy QBs in the league? It won’t be easy without Jimmy Graham or Kenny Stills, but having a healthy Brandin Cooks should help to a degree.

-Tyler Brooke and Erick Mack

(AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

1. ATLANTA FALCONS

2014 record: 6-10 

Projected 2015 record: 9-7

Schedule: 

Week 1: vs. Philadelphia

Week 2: at NY Giants

Week 3: at Dallas

Week 4: vs. Houston

Week 5: vs. Washington

Week 6: at New Orleans

Week 7: at Tennessee

Week 8: vs. Tampa Bay

Week 9: at San Francisco

Week 10: BYE

Week 11: vs. Indianapolis

Week 12: vs. Minnesota

Week 13: at Tampa Bay

Week 14: at Carolina

Week 15: at Jacksonville

Week 16: vs. Carolina

Week 17: vs. New Orleans

(Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images)

That is your 2015 Atlanta Falcons, who will be directed by former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Expect him to bring the Seahawks’ defense, toughness and running model to a Falcons franchise whose top personnel is more finesse and flash.

We don’t think Quinn quite has the defensive horses to run that kind of race right away, but defensive guys are stubborn and like to impose their will. The great ones tend to succeed.

The question you must have in one-week fantasy football is what to make of quarterback Matt Ryan, who is a 5,000-yard, 35-touchdown passer in one system…but not quite this one. Defense wins championships, but fantasy points wins players money.

Player to Watch: Tevin Coleman. The rookie running back out of Indiana is missing out on some crucial reps this preseason as he deals with a minor injury. Once healthy, he could be a workhorse back for the Falcons, but he might not get the majority of the touches in Atlanta any time soon.

-Tyler Brooke and Eric Mack

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Welcome to the 2015 NFL season!

Every Monday through Friday AOL Sports has been bringing you the latest projections and predictions regarding the upcoming season, and today, it's the NFC South's turn. The division was historically bad last year, with the Carolina Panthers taking the crown at 7-8-1 on the season. This year, Jameis Winston will infuse some playmaking into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Cam Newton will hope to lead Carolina to a repeat division title -- but don't count out the New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons.

Scroll through the gallery above to see our predictions, along with breakdowns from FanDuel's Tyler Brooke and Eric Mack.

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