In 2008 the NFC South division may have been won by the Carolina Panthers, but not everyone was convinced that they were the best team. The division came down to the final weeks with the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all vying for the division title. If it wasn't for some early season struggles along with some key injuries, the New Orleans Saints would have been right in the thick of the hunt.
The division this year looks to be as competitive as last season, if not more. The biggest change comes from Tampa Bay, who seemingly overnight changed there entire team. The Saints will come to training camp just hoping to carry a healthy team into September. The Falcons will be trying to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, and Carolina will be hoping to erase some late season mistakes.
The Carolina Panthers return a team that was a few Jake Delhomme interceptions away from playing for the NFC Championship. The question for Carolina in 2009 will be all about the quarterback position. The running game showed last year that the days of a two headed rushing attack are here to stay. The defense can only be as good as the offense in Carolina, and that all depends on the physical and mental state of Jake Delhomme.
The New Orleans Saints have high expectations again in 2009. The question still remains though, will they finally reach those expectations? The offense still runs through Drew Brees, but will Reggie Bush finally live up to the hype? The defense will again be the question mark for this team. The offense will be good if not better than in 2008, it's the defense that poses more questions then answers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a totally different team then we saw in 2008. Coach Jon Gruden is out, having been replaced with defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. They have also replaced key veterans such as Jeff Garcia, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, and Derrick Brooks. This team could either have a long rebuilding process, or very well become the the Atlanta Falcons of 2009.
The Atlanta Falcons are going to either establish themselves as a top tier NFC team, or a team that matured way to early. The Falcons added All Pro Tony Gonzalez to sure up the biggest weakness on offense last year, which was the tight end position. Although not much can be said for the defensive side of the ball. Atlanta elected not to resign Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy, and other then the draft there wasn't much noise made on defense.
The way this division turns out will be similar to 2008, with a couple of teams swapping positions. Tampa Bay will be competitive but not to the point of competing for a division title. The Saints will still score plenty of points, but will end up giving up more then they should and it will cost them big in December. The Falcons will continue to get better on offense with the addition of Gonzalez, but the pass defense will keep them playing from behind all season. The Panthers will not be as good in 2009 as they were in 2008 but they will still have enough to take this division.
2009 NFC South Predictions
Carolina Panthers: 11-5
New Orleans Saints: 9-7
Atlanta Falcons: 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-11