If EA Sports' Madden 16 ratings for the NFC South are any indication, expect the division to be a jumbled mess all season.
The Carolina Panthers, who won the division last year with seven wins, remain the best team even though the gap between them and everyone else is minuscule.
There's no doubt the NFC South is a fascinating division, as there are logical scenarios in which the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers can come out on top when all is said and done. It's just not a group that figures to produce a Super Bowl contender, at least coming into the year.
While there is plenty of time for future analysis, here's a breakdown of how all four teams stack up in the EA Sports model:
|Carolina Panthers||80||LB Luke Kuechly (96), TE Greg Olsen (92), QB Cam Newton (90), LB Thomas Davis (90). DE Charles Johnson (89)|
|New Orleans Saints||78||QB Drew Brees (95), S Jairus Byrd (91), C Max Unger (90), DE Cameron Jordan (87), WR Brandin Cooks (82), CB Brandon Browner (82)|
|Atlanta Falcons||77||WR Julio Jones (94), QB Matt Ryan (90), CB Desmond Trufant (90), WR Roddy White (84), LB Justin Durant (84)|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||74||DT Gerald McCoy (93), LB LaVonte David (91), WR Mike Evans (87), CB Alterraun Verner (87), WR Vincent Jackson (86), QB Jameis Winston (81)|
One thing that jumps out is the NFC South being a good division for starting quarterbacks. Jameis Winston still has to prove himself as a star after being the No. 1 overall pick, but he's got a solid 81 rating as a rookie, and the other three starters are rated at least 90 overall.
Another item that pops out when looking at the individual player ratings compared to where the teams are is how close Tampa Bay is in top talent with the other three. The Buccaneers have six players rated 86 or above, tied with Carolina for most in the division.
New Orleans underwent many drastic changes in the offseason trying to get under the salary cap and move forward with younger talent at certain positions. The biggest difference is at tight end, as Jimmy Graham (95 overall) is in Seattle and Josh Hill (78 overall) is taking over.
A bright spot for the Saints remains Drew Brees, whose 95 overall rating is tied for third among quarterbacks in the game. He will also have a star in center Max Unger, who was acquired from Seattle in the Graham trade, with a 90 overall rating.
Taking over for Graham as the best tight end in the NFC South is Greg Olsen. Carolina's star is rated as a 92 overall, joined by second-year wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin at 86. Those two are coming off strong years, with 15 combined touchdown catches.
This season is going to be huge for Cam Newton, who showed flashes of brilliance during the Panthers' 12-win campaign in 2013 and should be in much better physical shape after injuries hampered him last year.
Atlanta is the one team that it's hard to know exactly what to do with. The very top of the offense with quarterback Matt Ryan (90) and wide receiver Julio Jones (94) is as good as there is in the NFC South. Roddy White remains a solid wideout, though his best days are clearly behind him.
Behind Ryan and Jones, there's not much for the Atlanta offense to work with. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are ranked in the mid-70s.
The Falcons face a similar problem on defense, as cornerback Desmond Trufant (90) is joining the elite players at his position. Justin Durant has played only 16 games the previous two seasons. First-round pick Vic Beasley has the speed to get after the quarterback at 88, but his overall rating of 77 leaves room to grow.
It's a division loaded with questions. Carolina is the deepest team in the group, but that didn't help last year's win total. New Orleans has a chance because Brees is still terrific, and the NFL is built on quarterbacks. Tampa Bay can end the year with the most dynamic offense with Winston throwing to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Atlanta has an excellent quarterback and scored 381 points last year.
EA Sports' ratings show the NFC South will be fun to watch in 2015. It came down to Week 17 last year, so there's no reason to think things will be much different this season.