Offensive X-Factors in the NFC South
The NFC South was the worst division in football in 2022. Each team in the division finished with a losing record including the division winner Tampa Bay Buccaneers with an 8-9 record.
A team’s x-factor is a player or coach that has an immense influence on whether a team succeeds or not and in this article, the teams in the NFC South and their offensive x-factors are evaluated.
1. Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback Desmond Ridder
Atlanta Falcons second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder will be approaching his first season as a full-time starter for Atlanta. Ridder started the final four games in the 2022 regular season and posted 708 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions across those games.
The former Cincinnati Bearcat has full faith from head coach Arthur Smith and the Falcons, whom elected not to pickup a quarterback through the draft nor free agency.
Ridder will be surrounded by stud wideout Drake London, a returning all-pro tight-end Kyle Pitts and the number eight overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft dynamic halfback Bijan Robinson.
The fate of the Atlanta Falcons will majorly rest on the shoulders of Ridder in 2023.
2. Carolina Panthers: Head Coach Frank Reich
Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich is entering his sixth overall year as a head coach in the National Football League after serving as the head man for the Indianapolis Colts for five seasons (‘18-‘22).
The Panthers traded up to grab quarterback Bryce Young, who was the number one overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft out of Alabama. Young is not only regarded as one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory, but he’s also the only Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman trophy in school history.
Reich’s main responsibility is to make sure the Panthers’ franchise quarterback is established and developed to handle the duties of being a cornerstone player. Carolina is looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, but Young’s growth should be prioritized for Reich and the Panthers in 2023.
3. New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Derek Carr
New Saints quarterback Derek Carr will be leading the offense after spending the previous nine seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders (‘14-‘22).
The Saints swapped between current Saints backup quarterback Jameis Winston, current Carolina Panthers quarterback Andy Dalton and Saints designated tight-end Taysom Hill last season. Now, the Saints have their franchise quarterback for the next four seasons.
New Orleans has a stout defense (ranked fifth in 2022) and an offense that has talented pass catchers in Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed and all-pro Michael Thomas.
Carr has all the tools to thrive in the “Big Easy” and after the Saints scrambled between various quarterbacks since former Saints quarterback Drew Brees retired in 2020, Carr is the offensive x-factor for the Saints.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales
Former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach and new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales will be play-calling for the reigning NFC South champions in 2023.
Canales will have the duty of getting the best out of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, as he signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Mayfield was the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft and since he’s come into the league, he’s thrown the most interceptions (64) among all other quarterbacks.
Canales can aid Mayfield the same way he did current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith in 2022. Smith struggled since he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft by the New York Jets. Since Smith’s Jets tenure (‘13-‘16), Smith has been on three teams (Giants ‘17, Chargers ‘18 and Seahawks ‘19-present).
Smith won the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award due to his improved level of play. Smith led the league in completion percentage (69.8%) while passing for 4,282 yard and 30 touchdowns.
Mayfield has the potential to duplicate or do better than Smith was with Canales running the offense. Mayfield has shown flashes that he can be a solid starting quarterback in the league and it is up to Canales to bring it out of him.
Canales will also have his hands full with improving Tampa Bay’s run game in 2023. In 2022, the Buccaneers ranked last in total rushing yards (1308), rushing attempts (386), rushing yards per game (76.9) and yards per rush (3.39). The Buccaneers offensive line should improve with the return of center Ryan Jensen and the second round draft selection of Cody Mauch at right guard. Without a competent offensive line, the rushing attack is non-existent.
The Tampa Bay offensive coordinator will have his work cut out for him this season, but if his success in Seattle transfers to Tampa Bay, expect the reigning divisional champions to exceed expectations.