NFC South Preview: Will Offensive-Minded Saints March Over Falcons and Panthers?

Samantha CookeCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 14:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey (not pictured) during a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on August 14, 2009 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Last year, the NFC South sent two teams to the playoffs.  The Carolina Panthers won the division and the Atlanta Falcons made it in as a wild card.  The Falcons lost to eventual runner-up Arizona Cardinals.

The main focus of the NFC South is the offense.  All four teams have pretty prolific offenses and mediocre defenses. 

Who will win the NFC South?

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Getting rid of Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia creates a controversy on the team this year.  While neither quarterback was a superstar, they were both solid and gave their team a fighting chance. 

This year will be a rebuilding year for the Bucs, with the quarterback battle between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich.  They also hurt themselves by getting rid of Ike Hilliard, Joey Galloway, and Warrick Dunn.  Don't expect the Bucs to contend for the title this year.

The Bucs return most of their starters from the No. 9 overall defense last year.  Ronde Barber is the star of the defense at cornerback.  They have a solid line in Jimmy Wilkerson, Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan, and Gaines Adams.  Unfortunately, this defense will be on the field too much with the offense and it will wear them down.

The schedule is relatively favorable.  The Bucs play Dallas, New York Giants, New England, Green Bay, and New York Jets at home.  They travel to Buffalo, Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, and Seattle.

3. Carolina Panthers

Don't expect the Panthers to repeat as NFC South Champions this year.  Yes, they re-signed Jake Delhomme and he still has Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammed to throw to.  This will not be enough.  The Panthers will score their points, but will probably go .500 for the season.

The defense is led by big-men Julius Peppers and Nate Salley.  Chris Gamble will continue to improve the secondary and is a solid starter for the Panthers.  Na'il Diggs helps the linebacking corps; however, this defense doesn't have enough depth to do some real damage.

Carolina will face Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo, Miami, and Minnesota at home.  There are only a couple games that could be trouble.  Their road schedule is a lot tougher and will create more problems.  The Panthers travel to Dallas, Arizona, New York Jets, New England, and the New York Giants.

2. New Orleans

The No. 1 offense returns for the Saints this year.  They also have the No. 1 passer in Drew Brees.  With the support of Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, and Robert Meachem, look for this team to once again be on top of the league in passing.  Reggie Bush will continue to be the multi-dimensional threat for the Saints.

The defense will be the problem that keeps them from winning the division.  They signed Darren Sharper to help their secondary.  Two starters, Charles Grant and Will Smith, have been suspended for four games due to banned substances.  This will hurt the team and keep them from winning the division.

The Saints host Detroit, New York Jets, New York Giants, New England, and Dallas.  They travel to Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami, St. Louis, and Washington.  They play the tougher teams at home and travel to some easier contests.  Their schedule will help slightly.

1. Atlanta Falcons

With Matt Ryan more comfortable this year, look for the Falcons to win the division.  He was NFL Rookie of the Year and started all the games last year.  This helps his confidence and he will be more comfortable in the pocket.  Helping Ryan will again be Michael Turner in the backfield.  Ryan will throw to Roddy White, Marty Booker, Michael Jenkins, and newcomer Tony Gonzalez.

What sets the Falcons apart in this division is their defense and added depth due to the draft.  They signed all defensive draft picks including Peria Jerry, William Moore, Christopher Owens, Lawrence Sidbury, and William Middleton.  This adds depth to a defense that returns most of their starters, but finished 24th in total defense last year.

The Falcons have a reasonable schedule with home games against Miami, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.  They will face some challenges when they travel to New England, Dallas, and the New York Giants.  They will also have some easier road games in San Francisco and the New York Jets.