ATLANTA (AP) — Dan Quinn says the NFC South has earned a new moniker.
The Atlanta Falcons coach notes the division “is turning into Quarterback South.”
Tom Brady’s arrival has raised the stakes.
“I think in this division, you had better be ready to bring it,” Quinn said.
The priority to “bring it” on defense was evident in the NFL draft, as shock waves from Brady’s move from New England to Tampa Bay were felt throughout the division. The quarterback standards in the division are exceptionally high.
When Brady signed with the Buccaneers, the NFC South owned three of the top 10 passing leaders in NFL history. Drew Brees of three-time defending division champion New Orleans is No. 1. Brady has the second-most yards. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 10.
“I think it makes the whole division even more competitive than it already is,” Quinn said. “… I think it just adds to a strength of what I already thought was a strong division.”
Carolina became the first team in the common draft era to use all of its draft picks on defensive players. Atlanta added defensive help with four of its six picks. After Carolina took Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown in the first round, Atlanta grabbed Brown’s partner on the defensive front, Marlon Davidson, in the second round. Each will be chasing Brady and Brees.
Saints coach Sean Payton says Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, has brought “a big change” to the South.
“Obviously you defend his talent … which is outstanding, but it’s also what he brings to the rest of the team,” Payton said. “One of the great strengths a player like Tom has is those others around him get better, and I’m sure we will see an entirely different type of Tampa Bay team because of his presence. He was a great sign by Tampa. This division has gotten a lot stronger.”
Tampa Bay also traded for Brady’s longtime tight end in New England, Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski’s return from a one-year retirement gives Brady a familiar target. If healthy, Gronkowski’s value on third downs and in the red zone could be crucial for a team without a playoff appearance since 2007.
Super Bowl dreams
Suddenly the Buccaneers, 7-9 last season, are viewed as Super Bowl contenders. Vegasinsider.com rates Tampa Bay and New Orleans as co-favorites in the division. Among NFC teams, only San Francisco is given better odds to win the Super Bowl.
Asked if his team can reach the Super Bowl, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said “I think so.”
“I don’t think talent will be the issue whether we make the playoffs or not,” Arians said. “Now the Super Bowl, there’s some luck that comes with that, like staying healthy and some other things. But talent will not be an issue to keep us out the playoffs, no.”
New “kid” in town
After 20 seasons with the Patriots, Brady, 42, is a newcomer to the NFC South and has much to learn about his new division rivals.
“These teams know each other so well and I didn’t play this division but once every four years, so I’ve got to learn the players, I’ve got to learn the schemes,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of things I have to learn and get up to speed on. That’s where all my time and energy will be focused on, and also learning my teammates.’’
New Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater replaces Cam Newton, who was released. Bridgewater has the unenviable task of meeting the standards set by Quarterback South members.
Brees and Brady have won Super Bowls. Ryan and Brady have been league MVP. Bridgewater, 27, started a combined six games the last two seasons as Brees’ backup in New Orleans.
“I feel like I am the only one who hasn’t proved himself in this league,” Bridgewater said. “I feel like there is an opportunity for me. Being in a division with two guys who won MVPs and two guys who won Super Bowls, that is a great feeling to be among those guys. I just have to work hard to try to get up to those guys’ level.”
New home for Winston
Brady is replacing Jameis Winston, who agreed to a one-year deal with New Orleans. Winston will play behind Brees in the role formerly held by Bridgewater. The Saints already have re-signed versatile backup Taysom Hill.
Falcons first-rounder A.J. Terrell of Clemson will be expected to contribute at cornerback. He’ll join Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield, who were added in the last two drafts, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, in his third season, to form a young cast at cornerback — a group that will be tested by Brees and Brady.
“Those are two great quarterbacks, and they’re going to get my best out there when I’m on the field,” Terrell said, adding he must “earn my respect.”
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel, Steve Reed and Fred Goodall contributed.