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The NFC South is interesting as it holds last year’s Super Bowl champion entering its first post-Super Bowl season in franchise history. Add to that a healthy, hungry Atlanta Falcons team coming off of a disappointing season last year, and we’re talking about a division that could hold two threats to go deep in this year’s playoffs.
With the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints kicking off the season Thursday, let’s get an idea of how the season might turn out for their division.
1. Saints – The defending champs should have no problem winning this division, with maybe only one team that could stand in their way.
2. Falcons - Matt Ryan and Michael Turner hope to rebound from disappointing years to help bring Atlanta back to the promise land.
3. Panthers – After years of the Jake Delhomme Show in Carolina, the team hands the reigns to Matt Moore this season, but it’s the ground game that the Panthers will continue to live or die by.
4. Buccaneers – Something tells me come April, we’ll be hearing, “With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select…”
1. Saints – Not a Super Bowl hangover, but more of a drop down to reality. The rest of the league will have learned the limitations of their mediocre backfield, and injuries to Darren Sharper (who wasn’t likely to repeat his outstanding performance in 2009) indicate a slight decline. However, Drew Brees’ arm is good enough to carry the Saints to a division title.
2. Falcons – They will lose the division by tie-breaker after going 0-2 against New Orleans. But Matt Ryan is mature enough to lead the charge, especially with talented weapons in Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, in addition to a healthy Michael Turner.
3. Buccaneers – The return of Cadillac Williams is not enough for an offense that relies on Josh Freeman at quarterback.
4. Panthers – The best one-two punch running game in the NFL will compensate for their miserable quarterback situation in the first couple of weeks. Jimmy Clausen will emerge as the starter by week nine, but won’t make much of a splash, at least until 2012.
1. Saints – The Saints will benefit from a huge offense and a weaker division, not to mention the sixth easiest schedule.
2. Falcons – I still don’t like Matt Ryan’s long-term possibilities if he can be sidelined by a fake-sounding injury like turf toe, but Ryan aside, it’s an okay offense.
3. Panthers – Jimmy Clausen is looking decent so far, but still needs to show off with a few touchdown passes to become credible.
4. Buccaneers – The Swashbucklers have had it rough since their Super Bowl, but perhaps Gerald McCoy can help them not give up 400 points again.
1. Saints – It’s hard to argue against the Super Bowl champions from repeating as division champs…unless of course you believe in that thing they call “The Madden Curse.”
2. Falcons – There’s way too much talent on the Falcons for that team to finish 9-7 again. An 11-5 record and return trip to the playoffs should be in order.
3. Panthers – Talk about a team in transition: gone are Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers…and coach John Fox is in the final year of his contract.
4. Buccaneers – The Bucs have a new young coach, a young franchise QB, and a young defense. This looks like another rebuilding year in Tampa Bay.