1) Atlanta Falcons: 11-5, win the division, get the No. 3 seed in the NFC
May be a surprise to many people that I have the Atlanta Falcons winning this division. They have an average defense that would allow at least 20 points a game.
I have the Falcons winning this division solely on their offense. They have a Pro Bowl caliber receiver in Roddy White, a very good young receiver in Michael Jenkins, and possibly the best running back in this division in Michael Turner.
These playmakers helped Ryan have a successful rookie campaign, but they won't prevent him from going through a sophomore slump next season. But the addition of Tony Gonazlez can. He should be Ryan's safety blanket when Ryan gets in trouble.
2) Carolina Panthers: 10-6, win a wild card spot, get the No. 6 seed in the NFC
The Panthers have best 1-2 running back combo in the NFL in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. They have a top five wide receiver in Steve Smith. They have one of the better defenses in the NFL.
They have all the pieces to be the favorite to win this division next season and have the talent to possibly win a Super Bowl ring. Only one problem. They have Jake Delhomme as their quarterback. Now before you get ready to criticize me for saying that Delhomme can't lead a team to a division title when he did it last season, hear me out first.
Delhomme has never been a great quarterback. Good but not great. He's one of my favorite quarterbacks in the NFL. But last season, Delhomme would look like the good quarterback he is half the time, and probably the worst starting quarterback half the time.
Plus, for years Jake Delhomme has been one of the best postseason quarterbacks. But last year, in a home playoff game where his team is highly favored over the Cardinals, he goes and turnover the ball five times. Don't get me wrong, he's still an above-average quarterback, but his inconsistent play plus being in the same division as the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints could cost the Panthers' the division title and a playoff spot.
3) New Orleans Saints: 9-7
Drew Brees almost broke Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards without his top three targets for half of the season in Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, and Jeremy Shockey. His defense failed him throughout the season, yet the Saints still finished 8-8 in the toughest division in the NFL. Personally, I felt that Drew Brees should have finished second in MVP voting behind Peyton Manning.
This offseason, the Saints have improved their defense with the addition of Malcolm Jenkins. Now, their defense should still be average at best. Offensively, the Saints should be one of the best offense in the NFL. They have Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush running the ball. Their running game won't be great but it's good enough to compliment their passing game.
Brees has Lance Moore, Marques Colston, and Jeremy Shockey as his top targets plus Reggie Bush. I would be surprised this is not at least the best passing offense in the NFL. But I think that the Saints aren't good enough to make the postseason in this division with the Falcons and Panthers.
We saw last season that Brees can't carry a team to the postseason alone in this division and I don't see the running game and the defense helping him out. But don't count out the Saints. If they can sneak in the postseason, they can make a Super Bowl run.
4) Tampa Bay Buccancers: 4-12
Now, I know this is no surprise to anyone that I have the Buccaneers last in this division. The surprise may be their record. I think they will struggle to win games in their division. I'm not sold on Bryon Leftwich and Luke McCown at quarterback.
I like that they got Derrick Ward but I don't think he can carry an offense like a LT or Peterson can, and he would need to do that for this team to succeed in 2009.
Defensively, you will see more of the defense you saw in the last four games last season (0-4) than the defense you saw in the first 12 games (9-3). They lost Derrick Brooks, who although was getting older was still a Pro Bowl outside linebacker, even though he was getting older.
It's obvious that the Bucs are in rebuilding mold. Hopefully, Josh Freeman will get some playing time this season after the Bucs realized that they will miss the postseason.