The NFC South's "worst-to-first" pattern had an amazing streak early in this decade. From 2003-07, the team that placed last in the division went on to win it the following season. Also, it seems division winners tend to struggle the following season.
finished last in 2002 and won the division in 2003.
finished last in 2003 and won the division in 2004.
Tampa Bay finished last in 2004 and won the division in 2005.
New Orleans finished last in 2005 and won the division in 2006.
Tampa Bay finished last in 2007 and won the division in 2007.
In 2008, Carolina hit a last-second field goal to defeat New Orleans. If the Saints had won that game, then the Falcons would have won the NFC South after finishing last in 2007. So, if you are a believer in patterns or trends in sports, then you must be a believer in the Saints for the 2009 NFL season.
After watching the first three preseason games for this season, I really believe 2009 will be no different than the past six years in the NFC South. The Saints will win, and the Panthers will struggle.
Sure, Carolina has an outstanding running game to go along with one of football's greatest receivers. They'll just have to put up too many points this year to truly compete. That defense has got a few too many holes right now. Replacing defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu with a guy like Louis Leonard might leave a little more to be desired on the defensive line in Carolina. Also, the Panthers are experiencing very poor secondary production right now, not to mention the fact that Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason could miss a few games.
As for the Saints, I really see their defense picking it up a little in 2009. They've gotten better where they needed help, and their offense will still be just as strong as it was last year. I could even see Mike Bell and Robert Meachem stepping up to give the new offensive coordinator a few more options.
The Bucs will probably struggle, and I don't see the Falcons winning the division. Atlanta may finish second this year, but they will be just as bad defensively as they were in 2008.
Here's how it will shake out for 2009:
Don't worry Tampa fans. 2010 is your year!