1. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers should regain top billing in the NFC South after locking down its disgruntled defensive end, Julius Peppers, this offseason, and picking up some highly touted defensive lineman (pass rushers) early in the draft. In 2008, plagued by a lack of big bodies in the middle to stop the run, they totaled 168 fantasy points and finished sixteenth in the league.
This year, with more talent and bodies up front, to go along with their solid back seven and offense which can eat up a clock, look for the Panthers to end up a top-10 fantasy defense by season's end.
Special Teams: Mark Jones is a solid return man and Steve Smith occasionally handles punt return duties, which usually leads to a score.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs find themselves in an interesting position as long time defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, has moved on to work with his son at the University of Tennessee. And last year, led by Kiffin, with Raheem Morris on the staff, the Buccaneers scored 208 points and finished fifth in fantasy football for defensive teams.
With Morris being promoted to head coach, the system should remain similar with a few added wrinkles. The loss of LB Derrick Brooks hurts more from an emotional standpoint than production, and Tampa feels it has the players to step in and up.
While the unsettled state of the QB position, the offense's inability to sustain drives could end up leaving this defense on the field longer than it's used to, the Buccaneers should still be able to force turnovers and keep scores low.
Special Teams: Clifton Smith showed his ability to break the long one last season and took two back to the house (PR/KO), so look for a few more this season.
This is the shocker as they finished 25th in fantasy scoring last season and behind the Atlanta Falcons. But they won't be last in the division this season for a number of reasons beginning with their offseason signings and draft choices, but most importantly due to the hiring of Gregg Williams to run the defense.
His schemes have been successful wherever he's coached and the only reason he lasted one year in Jacksonville is because the offense couldn't sustain drives and keep the defense off the field.
Special Teams: Reggie Bush is an electrifying return man and can be counted on for a few scores in 2009.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons sustained a lot of defections in the offseason and you can't hope to replicate last year's numbers because of DE John Abraham. And it's not wise to count on rookies to step in, and step up early in year one. In 2008, they managed 149 fantasy points and were blessed with facing a last place schedule. They won't have that luxury this season as both the AFC and NFC East are on the plate.
Special Teams: Harry Douglas is an explosive return man who took one back to the house. He could take a few more this season.