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2015 NFL training camp preview: Panthers looking to three-peat in the NFC South

Carolina won the NFC South last season, but with a 7-8-1 record. Does that make them the team to beat this year?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers became the first team to win the NFC South in consecutive seasons in 2013 and 2014, though they accomplished the feat in not very dominant fashion. The division, which was founded in 2002, has changed hands each season since its inception, until the Panthers put together a 12-4 campaign in 2013 followed by last season's campaign.

Bit it wasn't a particularly strong showing. The Panthers wound up winning the division with a 7-8-1 record as each NFC South team struggled to put wins together. Nobody had much faith in the Panthers after a six-game losing skid, but to their credit, they were able to rebound and take their final four games of the regular season to win the division.

In 2015, the NFC South as a whole could go either way. The New Orleans Saints lost an amazing player in Jimmy Graham, but still have the steady presence of Drew Brees under center. The Atlanta Falcons have a new coach and a renewed focus on the defensive side of the ball. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a wild card in rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. And the Panthers still have star quarterback Cam Newton and one of the best defensive players in the league, linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Here's what you should be watching for when all four teams open training camp, beginning in late July.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers

Start Date: July 31

Location: Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.

Player you'll be buzzing about: WR Devin Funchess -- The Panthers needed another wide receiver for Cam Newton, and they got one when they drafted Funchess. He's a big, capable receiver who could end up being Newton's favorite target this season.

What to watch: The NFC South will be up for grabs this season, and the Panthers simply need to execute better to ensure they'll take the title again. They have a talented roster from top to bottom, though there are battles to be solved along the offensive line, at wide receiver, defensive end and outside linebacker. Where the Panthers wind up playing Shaq Thompson -- he can play safety or linebacker -- is something on which to keep an eye.

Most important position battle: Defensive end -- The Panthers haven't found a way to replace Greg Hardy's production, but they're hoping Kony Ealy, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton can try to get them there.

For more on the Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader.

Atlanta Falcons

Start Date: July 31

Location: Falcons training facility, Flowery Branch, Ga.

Player you'll be buzzing about: DT Grady Jarrett -- The Falcons grabbed Jarrett in the fifth round and it was considered one of the steals of the draft. He'll try to earn playing time in training camp.

What to watch: Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones should always combine for a productive offense if everyone can stay healthy. Jones will be at training camp despite not getting the big contract extension he clearly deserves and he's always worth watching. There are also key battles at free safety, wide receiver and along the offensive line.

Most important position battle: Running back -- Tevin Coleman fell in the draft due to his injury history, but he should be ready to go for training camp and the Falcons will let him take on Devonta Freeman for the starting job.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

New Orleans Saints

Start Date: July 30

Location: The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Player you'll be buzzing about: WR Brandin Cooks -- Cooks isn't an under-the-radar player by any means, but he's looking to take a huge leap in his second year in the league. It's worth watching if he can live up to the hype and become a true No. 1 receiver for the Saints.

What to watch: The Saints made waves when they traded away Graham, who is arguably the best tight end in the NFL. Graham went to the Seahawks in exchange for a first-round pick and center Max Unger. They believe Drew Brees is their offense, and all eyes will be on Cooks to see if he can prove that theory. It will also be interesting to see how C.J. Spiller fits into the offense -- it seems like a perfect match, but Mark Ingram isn't going to want to give up any touches.

Most important position battle: Tight end -- When you lose a guy like Graham, the team changes no matter what. New Orleans doesn't seem to have any kind of a replacement for Graham on the roster, and a battle should play out between Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill.

For more on the Saints, check out Canal Street Chronicles.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Start Date: Aug. 1

Location: Buccaneers training facility, Tampa, Fla.

Player you'll be buzzing about: WR Kenny Bell -- The Buccaneers are set at their top two wide receiver positions, but Kenny Bell has the potential to do some damage as a rookie.

What to watch: Obviously, all eyes will be on rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. If he plays well, the Buccaneers have a chance of putting together wins, but if he falters it's going to be a lot tougher. He'll be scrutinized more than any one player throughout training camp and the preseason, and for good reason.

Most important position battle: Running back -- While the focus will be on Winston, the Buccaneers need one of their running backs to step up and take control, to give Winston some assistance. Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey will all compete for carries.

For more on the Buccaneers, check out Bucs Nation.