Many would argue that the NFC South is the strongest division in the NFL. With a roster including the Falcons, the Saints, the Panthers, and the Buccaneers, few would deny it. With such strong franchises, first placement in the NFC South is something to be proud of, and the Falcons would have been happy to take the division title last year, even if they lost out at the Super Bowl.This year the competition will be as strong as ever, for teams in the division and for anyone that comes against them. Let’s take a look at what the South’s coaches have got to say for the year ahead.

Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn

The Falcons had a strong season in 2016, and it was in fact one of their best in history. They made their second Super Bowl appearance, but lost to the Patriots even after leading the game into the third quarter. Dan Quinn will be coaching for the third year, and him and the team are hoping to go all the way to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.Quinn is embracing the Super Bowl loss and is encouraging the team. They even have a new mantra: “Embrace the Suck”. In more civilized terms, this is Quinn’s way of telling the team to accept the pain and run with it, and use last year’s horrific defeat as fuel to take them through to another Super Bowl. Quinn himself has been looking closely at the Super Bowl defeat, and it will likely have an influence on how the team plays this year. He said earlier this year that “I can learn from it. I won’t apologize for how aggressive we play and our style and attitude of where we’re headed. But I have learned from that experience.”Quinn has been relatively quiet outside of interviews earlier this year, but you can expect news to start heating up as we get closer to the regular season.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had a poor season last year, where they finished with a record of 6 – 10, and came dead last in the NFC South. This year they retain head coach Ron Rivera for his seventh season, and will hope to bring a better performance to their fans. Unlike some coaches in the NFL, Rivera hasn’t been shy when talking to the press so far. Speaking about the team after OTAs this year, he said that “We came out with the right attitude. Our guys were focused and did a lot of good things. There are a lot of things we still have to make corrections on, but I was very pleased.” He even spoke highly of secondary coach Steve Wilks, telling the press that “I thought the defense responded very well to him. He handled his first three days at practice outstanding.”Rivera was also positive about the impact of Cam Newton on the team. The quarterback is still recovering from shoulder surgery, but his presence has inspired the other players. Rivera commented that “He can be a force whether he’s practicing or not.”Looking ahead to a difficult season, including what will be some challenging road games, Rivera told the media “That’s my only disappointment [starting on the road]. I’ve been the head coach for almost seven seasons now, and we’ve only opened up at home once. It would be nice to be home for the first weekend for our fans more so than anything else. We have a tremendous amount of fan support in this town, and it would nice for them to have that energy the very first week and getting an opportunity to start fast.”In the NFC South, the only direction they can go is up. Rivera is believed by many to be the right man to coach the team, so 2017 will be a year to watch as the team tries to take back some pride.

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

The Saints have missed the Playoffs for three years running, and last year’s record of 7 – 9 will be one to forget. Sean Payton is a top rated coach and this will be his eleventh year with the team, so let’s take a look at what he’s had to say so far. When talking about rookies and the starting team, Payton had a lot to say; “I think it is challenging for them because number one, it is challenging for us because however many players here there are varied degrees of the type of condition and shape they are in. Some guys are in real good shape, others have been (under) a lot of stress from their schedule. Whether it has been training for the combine and their workouts and then traveling. It just varies from player to player so I think (they are) getting acclimated and they are behind right now mentally and physically.”Payton has been relatively quiet on his hopes for the team in 2017, so it will be interesting to see what he reveals to the press in the next few weeks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC South Head Coach Dirk Koetter

The Buccaneers placed second in the division last year, and made a final record of 9 – 7. This year they will return with Dirk Koetter as head coach, and will no doubt be looking to improve their record.It’s nice when a coach is excited to talk about their team, because it suggests some confidence in what is to come. Koetter told ESPN this year that he wanted people to see the Bucs as “a badass football team”. This is definitely possible, as the team has a solid defense and their offense is starting to take great shape. There’s a lot of hype around the team, and this is something that Koetter recognizes. Even with all the positive press, he wants to keep expectations in check. He was quoted earlier this year as saying “It’s great that you folks are here talking about us. It’s great that people nationally are talking about us. But there’s 31 other teams that got better. We’ve got to prove it on the field. I talk to the guys about it all the time, constantly reminding them. There’s going to come a day where we have to back it up. That day’s going to come on September 10th, the first time it’s going to really count.”A realistic coach with some modest optimism? The Buccaneers are definitely going to be exciting to watch this year.

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