The NFC South was one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL last year, and 2009 will be no different. This could prove to be a major challenge for the Atlanta Falcons in their efforts to post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in team history.
Atlanta is coming off of a season in which they exceeded most expectations, posting an 11-5 mark. No team in the NFC South had less than a 500 record, with the Saints coming in at 8-8. All four teams in the division made upgrades to their respective rosters either through free agency or the draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a lot of noise in the off-season, making major roster moves. Gone are Buccaneer mainstays Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Joey Galloway. The Bucs hired long time personnel guru Mark Dominik as General Manager, and elevated Raheem Morris to Head Coach. Together, the new brass made wholesale changes to an aged roster, and caused a stir in the draft by selecting Kansas State QB Josh Freeman with their top pick.
Tampa also acquired the services of the colorful Kellen Winslow via trade from Cleveland. Even with major changes throughout the organization, the Bucs are poised for a solid campaign.
The New Orleans Saints seem to be on the opposite end of the free agent spectrum than the other division teams.The Saints released long time standout Deuce McAlister and although they did sign Edgerrin James to replace McAlister, they failed to re-sign many of their top free agent talent. The Saints also had only four selections in the draft, which leaves a roster with potential depth issues.
New Orleans returns a strong nucleus on both sides of the football, and could still make a strong run for the playoffs in 2009.
The Carolina Panthers won the NFC South last year, and by most accounts, seem to be on track to repeat in 2009. The Cats inked veteran QB Jake Delhomme to a contract extension, which was the most notable transaction for them during the off-season.
The Panthers rank in the top ten in the league in rushing (3rd), points per game (7th), and total yards (10th). The defense has a strong nucleus returning for Carolina, headed by Julius Peppers, who was designated as the franchise player. The Panthers also hired a new defensive coordinator in Ron Meeks, who will instill a renewed sense of toughness to a once proud unit.
In a division that typically enjoys great parity, the NFC South is once again set to be one of the better divisions in the entire league. The Falcons can bank on having trouble with road games within the division, as all teams enjoy significant home field advantage in their home parks.
The Falcons should be able to hold their own in a tight division, but must post at least a 3-3 mark within the division in order to ensure a winning record overall for 2009.