2021 record: 13-4
Key additions: WR Julio Jones, G Shaq Mason, WR Russell Gage
Key departures: Coach Bruce Arians, G Alex Cappa, S Jordan Whitehead, TE Rob Gronkowski
Given the Buccaneers’ 2021 season finish — a divisional-round loss — Tom Brady’s un-retirement almost makes sense. He had one of the best seasons of his career, leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, and Tampa Bay has since added to a receiver group that was already one of the best in the league with the former All-Pro Julio Jones and Russell Gage. Coach Bruce Arians stepped down for a front office job, but there should be continuity given that his replacement, Todd Bowles, had been the team’s defensive coordinator since 2019.
Still, the offensive line is a big weakness: Center Ryan Jensen’s knee injury is expected to keep him out for months, guard Aaron Stinnie’s knee injury will force him to miss the season and right tackle Tristan Wirfs is listed as day-to-day with a strained oblique. Brady is still remarkably quick at getting the ball to open or partially covered receivers, but even he might struggle behind that line. — Kris Rhim
2021 record: 7-10
Key additions: QB Marcus Mariota, WR Drake London, CB Casey Hayward, QB Desmond Ridder
Key departures: QB Matt Ryan, WR Russell Gage, LB Foye Oluokun, WR Calvin Ridley
For the first time in 14 seasons, Matt Ryan won’t be under center for the Falcons. Instead, the Falcons will be led by Marcus Mariota, who hasn’t started a game since 2019. Mariota gives the Falcons a dual threat at quarterback that they didn’t have with Ryan but also injury concerns so Desmond Ridder, whom the Falcons selected in the third round, will most likely see the field this season.
Of the Falcons’ seven wins in 2021, five came against teams with losing records, and they had the fifth worst point differential in the league. (Only the Jaguars, Jets, Texans and Giants were worse.) TL;DR: Atlanta was pummeled by good teams and narrowly beat bad ones. This year’s schedule has the Falcons facing each N.F.C. West team, arguably the best division in the N.F.L. in 2021, along with the N.F.C. North. Despite Atlanta’s roster upgrades, that slate should keep the Falcons from a different outcome. — Kris Rhim
2021 record: 5-12
Key additions: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekwonu, OL Austin Corbett
Key departures: LB Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore
For the second straight off-season, the Panthers traded for a struggling former top-3 pick to lead their offense, acquiring former Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield the year after trading for the former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. The team’s jostling between Cam Newton, P.J. Walker and Darnold at quarterback (sometimes, all three in the same game) might stop, which would help Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers’ former All-Pro running back, who is finally healthy after missing 10 games last season with injuries.
On paper, the Panthers’ offense should be formidable with McCaffrey’s runs and D.J. Moore catching passes. Ditto for the defense, which will get a boost from cornerback Jaycee Horn, the 2021 first-round draft pick who missed most of the 2021 season with a foot injury. But in recent years, Carolina’s preseason potential hasn’t yielded results. Without a change, this might be Coach Matt Rhule’s last attempt. — Kris Rhim