New Orleans Saints
New faces: S Jairus Byrd, CB Champ Bailey, FB Erik Lorig, C Jonathan Goodwin, WR Brandin Cooks.
Saying goodbye: RB Darren Sproles, WR Lance Moore, FB Jed Collins, C Brian De La Puente, DE Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, S Malcolm Jenkins.
Projected starting quarterback: Drew Brees.
Brees’ second-year stats: 16 starts, 320 of 526, 60.8 completion percentage, 3,284 yards, 6.2 yards per attempt, 17 TDs, 16 interceptions, 76.9 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Is Byrd healthy? Their big free-agent signing from the Bills has played sparingly in the preseason after back surgery. Byrd’s ability to create turnovers will be a key for the Saints this season.
Did you know? In 2013 the Saints became the fifth NFL team to have four players record at least 65 catches.
They’ll challenge for a Super Bowl title if: The defense can force more turnovers and Brees continues to play at his Hall of Fame level at 35 years old.
They’ll be disappointed in the playoffs if: They can’t figure out how to win on the road. New Orleans was undefeated at home, but just 3-5 away from the Superdome in 2013.
New faces: WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE Ed Dickson, CB Antoine Cason, S Roman Harper.
Saying goodbye: WR Steve Smith, WR Brandon LaFell, LT Jordan Gross, G Geoff Hangartner, CB Drayton Florence, S Mike Mitchell.
Projected starting quarterback: Cam Newton.
Newton’s second-year stats: 16 starts, 280 of 485, 57.7 completion percentage, 3,869 yards, 8.0 yards per attempt, 19 TDs, 12 interceptions, 86.2 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Who will fill in for Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired after last season?
Did you know? The Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks last season and finished second to the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in points per game allowed, at 15.1.
They’ll post back-to-back winning seasons if: Newton’s rebuilt receiving corps, centered around first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, can get up to speed quick enough.
They’ll finish outside the playoffs if: The rebuilt offensive line can’t keep Newton healthy, or the rebuilt secondary leads to the defense taking a big step back.
New faces: WR Devin Hester, G Jon Asamoah, CB Javier Arenas, DT Paul Soliai, DE Tyson Jackson.
Saying goodbye: TE Tony Gonzalez, CB Asante Samuel, LB Sean Weatherspoon, RB Jason Snelling, S Thomas DeCoud.
Projected starting quarterback: Matt Ryan.
Ryan’s second-year stats: 14 starts, 263 of 451, 58.3 completion percentage, 2,916 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt, 22 TDs, 14 interceptions, 80.9 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Do they have any semblance of a running game? Atlanta passed 67 percent of the time last season, much too high of a number.
Did you know? Wide receiver Julio Jones was on pace for more than 130 catches last season before undergoing foot surgery. He’s back at 100 percent.
They’ll return to competing for the division if: The emphasis on beefing up both lines of scrimmage worked. Ryan has proven he can take a team to the playoffs, getting there in four of his first six seasons.
They’ll miss the playoffs again if: The defense can’t get into the top half of the league in any of the key categories – yards against (27th last year), rushing (29th), passing (21st) and points allowed (27th).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New faces: Coach Lovie Smith, QB Josh McCown, DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, OT Anthony Collins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, G Logan Mankins.
Saying goodbye: CB Darrelle Revis, WR Mike Williams, OT Donald Penn, G Davin Joseph, C Jeremy Zuttah, LB Dekoda Watson.
Projected starting quarterback: Josh McCown.
McCown’s second-year stats: Eight appearances (three starts), 95 of 166, 57.2 completion percentage, 1,018 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt, 5 TDs, 6 interceptions, 70.3 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Is Lovie Smith’s approach – to win with defense and a sound running game that sets up play-action – going to succeed in today’s pass-happy NFL?
Did you know? Linebacker Lavonte David became the first player in NFL history last year to have six sacks and five interceptions in the same season. David leads the NFL with 40 tackles for loss the last two years.
They’ll double last year’s win total (four) if: The front four can get pressure, allowing Smith to execute the Tampa 2 defense the way it’s intended.
They’ll repeat last year’s 4-12 record if: McCown reverts to his usual journeyman form, and the defense can’t carry the load.