Previewing The NFC South and The Atlanta Falcons

Tim DarnellContributor IMay 11, 2009

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - MAY 9: Linebacker Tony Gilbert #51 of the Atlanta Falcons works out during minicamp at the Falcons Complex on May 9, 2009 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Paul Abell/Getty Images)

Sometimes called NFC NASCAR, the NFC South has been one of the league’s toughest divisions. Despite the fact that the division is often overshadowed in the media by the NFC and AFC East, you will usually find an NFC South team battling for the league’s wild card spot at the end of the year.

Besides the Falcons, the other NFC South team that was most active during the offseason, in terms of personnel, were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New head coach Raheem Morris has already shown signs of stacking the roster with quarterbacks, in much the same fashion as his predecessor Jon Gruden.

The biggest question is, is first-round draft pick Josh Freeman, who the Bucs acquired after trading up in the draft, a better choice for the franchise than shoring up a porous defense that cost Tampa a playoff spot last year?

The Bucs did draft DT Roy Miller in Round 3, but outside of those two picks, the Bucs didn’t have a very productive draft.

Already there are five QBs on the roster, so time will tell if veteran Byron Leftwich, Freeman, or the remaining signal callers will make an impact. Also on board is TE Kellen Winslow, but speculation is that the Bucs overpaid the one-time Pro Bowler with a six-year, $36.1 million contract, making him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

Speaking of quarterbacks, many observers expected the Carolina Panthers to begin a quarterback succession plan.

Instead, the Panthers signed the aging and injury prone Jake Delhomme to a five-year extension, it keeps him under contract through 2014.

The only news coming out of Carolina has been ongoing is the Julius Peppers saga, and aging quarterback Jake Delhomme will again be the starter. John Fox has shown himself to be one of the NFL’s best head coaches, but Carolina made no significant offseason changes this year, and the ’09 team is basically the same as that fielded in ’08.

Carolina’s draft brought home four rookies on the defensive side of the ball, but the team’s first selection came with the 11th pick of the second round. New defensive coordinator Ron Meeks has a major challenge on his hands, molding a defense around a disgruntled superstar in Peppers.

Only the New Orleans Saints remain solid from front to back in 2009.

The team suffered no major losses on offense, defense or its coaching staff. NFC passing leader Drew Brees continues on his path to NFL superstardom, and despite the fact that the team was very quiet in last month’s draft, the squad expects to be the favorite for another division championship.

The Saints only drafted four players, all of them on defense, including top CB prospect Malcolm Jenkins. Rumor has it that the Saints are interested in free agent RB Edgerrin James, which will further strengthen and solidify an already powerful offensive machine.

The Saints remain the class of the division, with the Falcons in second place. Huge questions abound in Carolina and Tampa Bay, who both have a tough shot at making the wildcard.