The NFC South has been a fickle beast in the last six years, with surprise winners and a penchant for the unpredictable.
The Saints as returning Super Bowl Champions and although the Falcons look to be second best on paper, we should all know by now that nothing is guaranteed.
Here now is a quick look at the first quarter of the Falcons 2010 schedule and a breakdown of the NFC South.
The Falcons travel to Pittsburgh to take on a much different Steeler team than the one they fielded just a year ago. A litany of off field issues have drastically changed the outlook of this game, none larger then Ben Roethlisberger.
This game is an almost must-win for the Falcons at this early stage of the season. The Falcons must capitalize on the fact that the Steelers are a stripped down version of themselves and put forth their best effort for the "W".
The Arizona Cardinals come to the Georgia Dome, as the Falcons face another opponent who has major voids created during the offseason.
Gone are Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle and Dansby. With Matt Leinart now under center, and promising rookie Beanie Wells and now veteran Hightower running the rock, Arizona is another must-win.
Arizona faces the Rams in week one and should be 1-0 coming into the contest.
The early litmus test for the Atlanta Falcons comes early in the 2010 season as they travel to the Superdome to take on the Super Bowl Champions.
Not much has changed for the Saints and this game will be the challenge for the Atlanta Falcons.
A record of 1-1 seems more than likely for the Saints if not 2-0.
Being the only interdivision game of the first quarter, it is vital that the team play well against the Saints.
The San Francisco 49ers come to Atlanta looking to avenge a 45-10 drubbing last year.
This Niner team will look remarkably different on the offensive line and may have different looks on offense as they look to build on Alex Smith's decent success last year. Their defense is very good and with a young star in Patrick Willis leading the charge will be stiff.
Totally conceivable for this 49er team to be 3-1 entering the Falcon game.
Some fans may be asking exactly why is the Atlanta Falcons first quarter of the season so vital?
Because this year has seen marked improvement and drastic changes to the Falcons division foes outside of New Orleans. The first four weeks will play a huge role in shaping the division as there are four.
Here is a quick breakdown at the NFC South division mates and their schedules:
If they can scratch out two out of three of those matchups, they will be enjoying a decent start. Franchise quarterback Josh Freeman should be better in his second year and with new additions Arrelious Benn, Reggie Brown, Mark Bradley and Mike Williams pushing Michael Clayton something will give.
2009 saw the Buccaneers ditch their offensive coordinator in the preseason as well as the defensive coordinator once the season started.
This year should carry more continuity which should translate into better play on the field. If not Raheem Morris might be looking for a job, because a second poor start will almost certainly sink the young Bucs.
It's a new era for the Carolina Panthers as key Panthers left in the offseason and their youth movement begins.
Gone is Jake Delhomme, and Julius Peppers, and Matt Moore seemingly takes over the reins at QB. Although Moore is not a statistical monster from a passer standpoint, he will do what he is asked to in the system and was 3-1 late last year.
They will return their power running game featuring DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and will face four of their six opponents at home.
Despite the home field advantage for the Panthers early, they face a daunting task starting on the road against the New York Giants, and then hosting Tampa Bay and Cincinnati at home to close out in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints
The defending champs enter the 2010 season for the most part retaining their key cogs from their championship run. They did address a lot of depth issues defensively and that can only mean more trouble for everyone else in the NFC South.
The Saints' defense, ranked 25th last season at 357.8 yards per game and face the Vikings at home, go to San Francisco, then Atlanta, and Carolina at home in order.
Adding Al Woods and Patrick Robinson via the draft and bringing back Darren Sharper bolster's the team defense and depth. This team could be 3-1 or even 4-0 and atop the NFC South after week four.
Having Atlanta and Carolina on the schedule for game three and four also puts heavy weight on the front quarter of the schedule for the Saints.
Projected Atlanta Falcon Record: 3-1, down one to Saints via interconference play.
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