Oftentimes a team's worst enemy isn't a foe on the schedule but the nasty emergence of the injury bug.
The defenses of both Carolina and Tampa Bay were decimated by injury last season. Even the NFC South's playoff teams, Atlanta and New Orleans, battled with injury in 2011. Atlanta lost Julio Jones for almost four games and had early issues on the offensive line while the Saints only had 11 games with Jonathan Vilma.
Injuries can alter the course of a season. And even though there's plenty of time between offseason workouts and the regular season, players that get hurt during the summer can have an impact.
Here are five early injuries that may affect teams in the division. They aren't the only five injuries thus far in offseason workouts, just the most potentially impacting to deal with.
Da'Quan Bowers might miss the entire 2012 season.
The last thing anyone involved with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to see is another injury on the defensive line. This unit has definitely been hit with a string of bad luck of late.
First-round draft pick Gerald McCoy has missed time in each of his first two seasons because of two torn biceps (one from each arm), and Brian Price missed 11 games from his rookie season because of a hip fracture.
Now second-round selection from 2011 Da'Quan Bowers might miss the entire season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon on his right foot.
Bowers has promised that he'll be back in late 2012, but the franchise was hoping he'd bounce back after his rookie campaign, where he only produced 1.5 sacks after leading the nation in sacks at Clemson in 2010.
The Falcons hope to have Lamar Holmes back by training camp.
The Atlanta Falcons needed help on their offensive line and went out in this year's draft and used their first two picks to bolster that position. Second-round pick Peter Konz is progressing nicely and involved in a couple of position battles across the offensive line.
However, third-round pick Lamar Holmes broke two of the toes on his left foot and has yet to participate in any offseason drills.
The Falcons expect Holmes to be ready to go by training camp in late July. He's out of his walking boot and has been at all the offseason sessions, but has he missed too much valuable time with the offensive line to really get in and compete for a starting spot?
Jeff Otah tweaked his knee and has been held out of recent minicamp sessions.
Offensive tackle Jeff Otah missed the entire 2010 season and a good portion of 2011, too. So what did Otah do now that he was finally healthy enough to get back out onto the field?
According to the Charlotte Observer, Otah showed up to OTAs out of shape and tweaked his knee, the same knee that Otah's had surgically repaired twice now.
An MRI showed that Otah hadn't done any serious damage, but now he must sit out until his knee recuperates, then get into playing shape and then worry about practicing.
Otah would likely be the starting right tackle if he were healthy, but that position is being manned by Byron Bell presently. Bell won't have to worry about giving up his spot until Otah shows a lot of people he's fully healed.
Corey Peters wil miss the entire offseason program with a foot injury.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters will miss the entire offseason workout program because of a foot injury he suffered during the offseason, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Falcons haven't released any information on the injury (they aren't required to do so yet) but coach Mike Smith did say he hoped to have Peters back by the start of training camp in late July.
Peters has really come into his own since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2010. He registered three sacks last year, 26 tackles and broke up three passes, including picking off one pass.
Jonathan Babineaux and Peters have worked well together in locking up the middle of Atlanta's defensive line. If Peters returns for training camp and doesn't miss a beat, all will be well.
However, if it takes some time to get back into playing shape, or the injury lingers, the Falcons will be forced into some interesting shuffling.
Amobi Okoye will miss minicamp after having his knee scoped.
If you look just a few slides back, there was mention of a bit of bad luck involving injuries along the defensive line. New defensive tackle Amobi Okoye knows exactly, unfortunately, what that means.
Tampa Bay signed Okoye in the offseason after he came up with four sacks for the Chicago Bears last year.
Okoye hasn't played in his first Buccaneers game yet, but according to The Tampa Tribune he recently had his knee scoped and will miss the rest of mandatory minicamp.
The Buccaneers hope he'll be back for training camp.