As recently as three years ago, the NFC South was the laughingstock of the NFL, a sloppy division won by the Panthers with a 7-8-1 record. There were plenty of quality offenses, but no really good teams. That has changed quickly and the division might be ready to establish itself as the best in the NFL, with every single team improving this offseason.

Not all improvements come in the same form, though, and not all improvements are equal. Let's survey the division with rosters mostly set after free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft.

Still sweating that 28-3 hangover out

The Atlanta Falcons won't tell you that they're worried about it, but they spent the whole offseason chasing the dragon that is their lost Super Bowl lead. Dan Quinn and his team said and did all the right things, which is great news. But it's also exactly what the Carolina Panthers did the year before, after going 15-1 and then losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. The Super Bowl hangover is a real thing and the Falcons appear to be doing their best to correct the issues they had in letting the Patriots come back. 

Atlanta's primary investments in free agency and the draft were all on the defensive front. Tyrone Crawford, Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw and Takkarist McKinley were the highest-profile purchases for Quinn and Co. this offseason, with that group designed to make the front seven for Atlanta better. 

The Falcons signed Dontari Poe to beef up their pass rush.  USATSI

The Falcons' defensive effort against the Patriots in the first half was incredible, but once the Patriots got them gassed, Tom Brady had his way. It's clear that Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli were determined to put bigger bodies on the defensive line and improve the pass rush.

What's not clear is if the offense will hold up its end of the bargain. Everyone is so focused on the final game of the year and the defensive improvements that it is largely going unnoticed that Matt Ryan is about to shift coordinators and systems again. The 2016 season was one huge heat check for Kyle Shanahan. Steve Sarkasian is a talented offensive mind, but also an unknown at this level and with this team. 

The offensive line is back together, the dynamic running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman shouldn't be slowing down, Julio Jones is an elite mainstay and Ryan elevated his game to an MVP level. There shouldn't be a mysterious dropoff, but everyone assumed the same about Carolina this time last year, too. 

Building around the quarterback

Speaking of those Panthers, they made a concerted effort to improve the situation for their former MVP quarterback Cam Newton this offseason. Dave Gettleman usually drafts a defensive pack of hog mollies, but he was hell-bent on making life better for Newton since a disappointing five-win season ended with the Panthers having a top-10 draft pick.

Whether you like the terms of the contract or not, getting Matt Kalil to serve as the team's left tackle was a strong investment during a bull market for offensive linemen. If Kalil, a former No. 3 overall pick, returns to the form he showed as a rookie, he will look like a steal. If not, he's probably still an upgrade over the Panthers' prior situation. 

Carolina zigged in the draft too, picking up a pair of RB/WR hybrids in Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford and Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State. Samuel is listed as a wideout, but finished his three-year college career with more carries (172) than receptions (107). McCaffrey "only" had 99 receptions in college, but he's a guy who makes a major impact in the passing game and in the return game. 

Christian McCaffrey gives the Panthers a Swiss Army Knife on offense. USATSI

Both guys are modern NFL players and the polar opposite of the previous weapons Gettleman got for Newton. Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are power forwards. The new guys are point guards. 

In theory this should work for the Panthers, because of how McCaffrey and Samuel should improve Newton's completion rate by catching short-yardage throws and then offering up big-play potential without Newton always taking huge shots down the field. Properly utilized they'll help minimize protection time requirements. The question is, will Mike Shula be creative enough? He hasn't always been willing to put much more than a half scoop of regular in his decaf and if McCaffrey is running a bunch of third-down draws into the offensive line it's going to be disappointing. 

No one can say the Panthers aren't trying to help Newton though. 

Thought you guys wanted to get better on defense

All offseason the Saints were determined to improve their defense. Sean Payton repeatedly preached the importance of adding a pass rusher either in the draft or free agency. There was almost no doubt they would pull it off after trading Brandin Cooks, he of two straight 1,000-yard seasons, for the Patriots' first-round pick. Picks 11 and 32 were enough to get the defensive pieces the Saints needed.

The good news: They came away with Marshon Lattimore, maybe the best corner in the draft, at No. 11. The bad news: They got snaked on Reuben Foster at 32 and ended up with an offensive lineman in Ryan Ramcyzk. The worst news: They wanted to draft Patrick Mahomes with the first pick but got snaked him on him too. No, wait. The worst news is they traded a future second-round pick in order to trade up and get Alvin Kamara.

Kamara is a dangerous running back. But do the Saints need running backs badly enough to give up a second-round pick? Lattimore will help immediately, but they wanted to take a quarterback instead. Ramcyzk is a big bonus now that Max Unger is injured. But what is the plan here? The Saints swore up and down they were going to improve their defense, then managed to accidentally do it once in the first round and picked up a talented safety in Marcus Williams in the second round. 

I get they're not supposed to be all in for 2017 and they have to plan things for the long haul, but the Drew Brees window is rapidly shrinking. If the Saints are going to trade away his best weapons they need to find some balance instead of just adding more offense to an already potent unit.  

Loaded to the gills with weapons

And here is where I go full hypocrite and praise another team in this division for doubling down on offense. Actually, the Buccaneers didn't double down -- they tripled down. But the difference was Tampa is being sensible with the weapons added for Jameis Winston to make an offense operate at a high level -- unlike the Saints, who don't need more weapons to be high scoring. 

In this case, the balance provided for the Bucs and Winston for the short and long haul was incredibly effective. DeSean Jackson should immediately make Winston a better downfield passer and open up things for Mike Evans. Throw in O.J. Howard, who is a dangerous pass catcher as well as a blocker, with Cameron Brate and the Bucs have a slew of weapons to help Winston really flourish in 2017. 

DeSean Jackson should open up the Bucs offense. USATSI

Tampa could need some help at running back if Doug Martin, who is suspended the first three games of the season, isn't ready to produce at a high level. But otherwise this offense could explode into a top-five unit. 

Defensively, the Bucs are better than most people think. They finished 12th in DVOA last season and supplemented a group of talented players (Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Vernon Hargreaves, Kwon Alexander to name a few) by adding Chris Baker on the interior of the defensive line and J.J. Wilcox on the back end. It's a solid group with some upside. 

Tampa becoming a division winner this year doesn't feel that far-fetched.