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New Orleans Saints
Bounty Gate...two words that say it all.
The Saints have been dismantled mentally and physically this offseason with the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the season, which makes it hard to put a pulse on the team.
We all know how valuable Drew Brees is, but how important is Payton? We will only know once the real games begin.
The Saints can be unstoppable offensively, but I think this offseason may be too much to overcome even for an always motivated and driven Drew Brees.
They have talent galore but need the attitude to go to the next level: the NFC South's version of the Dallas Cowboys.
This team can take it all the way but has to show up in the big games and find the toughness needed to squeeze out the hard games on the road and especially in the playoffs. This isn't a do-or-die year for the Falcons, but it's getting to the point of proving you're worth all the attention you've gotten over the last few years.
Top QB, top RB, top TE, top WR...with all that talent, you should compete and win the division.
With the Saints' woes, this should be the year of the Falcon.
Cam Newton surprised just about everyone by having the greatest rookie season by a QB in NFL history, and I don't see him dropping off in his sophomore season.
The Panthers suffered injuries on their defense, which hurt them throughout the season, but they were always competitive and, in most cases, leading games until the home stretch, where they couldn't keep the lead.
This season, that can change, and the Panthers can compete for the division if they have the confidence in themselves to finish games as strong as they start them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano did a great job at Rutgers, and I'm sure he will do a nice job in Tampa, but he will have some growing pains as a head coach in the NFL.
The Buccaneers aren't far removed from surprising us all with the comeback wins from Josh Freeman, but everyone else in the division is more established. For this season, the Buccaneers will take some lumps until the growing pains are over.
I expect them to compete, but the wins may be few and far between.