NFC South: If You Ain't First, You're Last

Scott SpinelliContributor IMay 14, 2009

I believe it was Ricky Bobby, who uttered the famous words in the above headline.  Or, maybe it was Reese Bobby.

Either way, the point is made regarding the NFC's South Division.  From 2003 to 2007, the pattern has been quite simple:  If you finished in last place this year, expect to finish in first the next year.

Actually, though the streak was officially broken last year, it took a last-second field goal from the Panthers to beat the Saints and edge out the Falcons (last in 2007) for the 2008 Division title.  For a better look at the streak, check it out here, at the motherload for all statistical research.

So, what do we learn from all of this?  Well, if you're a Saints fan, expect a good season as you finished in last place in 2008. 

This division remains one of the tougher ones in the league, and that's no disrespect to the NFC and AFC Easts.

Let's take a look around the division, shall we?

Panthers: The Julius Peppers saga hasn't seen its conclusion, not that anyone truly expected it to as of yet.  The franchise tag was slapped on the d-end, but Peppers has yet to show up at camp.  Getting him back in there will be a big issue obviously, but the offense should be similarly suited with all major pieces (Steve Smith, D'Angelo Williams) returning and still in their prime.

Falcons:  Is there a better team to be a fan of in the NFL at this point?  A young, franchise RB in Michael Turner, a young, franchise QB in Matt Ryan, and a young stud wideout in Roddy White.  Throw in a trade for a big-time (albeit on the downside) TE in Tony Gonzalez, and you've got one of (if not the) league's youngest, most dynamic offenses.  Defensively, they're hoping guys like first and second round picks Peria Jerry (the DT out of Ole Miss) and William Moore (hopefully to replace Lawyer Milloy on one of the worst pass-defenses in the league) can help shore things up.  LB Mike Peterson should help too, though the D is still the big ?-mark on this team.

Bucs:  Quite clearly a transition year for the Bucs, with either Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown starting behind this center (either of whom is simply keeping it warm for Josh Freeman).  Offensively, they're still going to be a challenged bunch, despite additions of Kellen Winslow and Derrick Ward, they still miss that big playmaker.  On the other side, there's a whole slew of problems.  Linebacker issues (would it be too embarassing to ask Derrick Brooks to come home?) have forced the idea of S Jermaine Phillips making the transition to the LB core a reality.  The defensive line hasn't gotten serious pressure on anyone in years, and though there's hope in this year's draft class (DT Roy Miller, and DE Kyle Moore), it's just that as of now -- hope.

Saints:  What is there to say about this team that hasn't been said for a few years now?  The Saints play like teams in the old ABA used to play, which is to say, just score more than your opposition, regardless of how many you give up.  The Saints offense (again) is loaded with Brees, Bush, Colston, etc.  Finally, they added a DB that could help another one of the worst pass-defenses in the league in Malcom Jenkins.  Problem is, he was the only player they added on Day 1 on the NFL Draft.  Should be more of the same for the boys from New Orleans.