NFC South Showdown: Which Team Is Set To Topple The New Orleans Saints?

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 25:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 and Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons walk off the field during a game with the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on October 25, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ah, the offseason, if we as fans aren't debating whether or not our Fantasy team will win our respective leagues, we are normally discussing who will take home a division crown.

The 2010 marks a new beginning for the NFL.  It's a new decade, a new season, and of course it is the first year that has followed a New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory.

However, as great as it may seem to live in the past, it is now time to focus our attention on the matter at hand.  The NFC South.

For the most part, it is a fairly underrated division.  Often overshadowed by the NFC North or NFC East, the NFC South can be a little underestimated when it comes to which divisions can truly pack a punch and excite fans.

In past years, the South division has been quite dismal.  Normally only one team dominates, followed by a potential "could be" style team, that clinches to the second spot and maintains high hopes for the following season.

So what makes 2010 so different in the NFC South?

Sure, one of the teams has finally won a Super Bowl again, but perhaps it is due to all four teams being deemed serious contenders for this season.

But who will win it all, and ultimately topple the New Orleans Saints?

It's a tough question, but hopefully the following analyses help out.


Atlanta Falcons

As a partial Falcons fan myself, I'll admit I am a bit of Falcon homer.

With this said, there is no denying that the Falcons disappointed a lot of people in 2009.

When Michael Turner went down with an ankle injury, it was clear that most Falcon fans felt the same way the Texas Longhorns did in the BCS Championship Game when Colt McCoy hit the turf hard.

Following this hard felt loss, the Falcons stumbled.  They picked up the odd win here and there, and although they did finish with a 9-7 record, the entire NFL fan base sat back and questioned themselves for labelling Atlanta as a postseason contender prior to the season.

Still, there is an obvious case to be made for the Atlanta Falcons in 2010.

Michael Turner, at a 90 percent state, is impressing people in OTA's, and young Matt Ryan hopes to add to his impressive repertoire and get back on track as the Falcons starting quarterback.

Let's face it, this team is talented.  They have a ton of star power in Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, and of course Roddy White, and the time has come for them to beat the teams that they shouldn't struggle with.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is the Falcons must become a consistent team this season in order to take the top seed.  No questionable losses, no injuries and above all else, a bit of confidence.  If Atlanta can master this, they should go a long way.


Carolina Panthers

When I stated before that all four teams in the NFC South were contenders, some people may disagree with the Panthers being thrown in with the mix.

As arguable as this is though, the Carolina Panthers season could go either way.

On the positive side, they've gotten rid of Jake Delhomme, who more or less did more harm than good in 2009.  Another positive is of course the new starter Matt Moore, who is still a question, but may act as a savior for this franchise.

As for the negative—well, this list is a little lengthy. 

The first and most obvious point worth making is the key loss of Julius Peppers.  Not only is the big man now gone, the Panthers also lose a true team leader that could spark their defense on any given occasion.

The other negative is the overall lack of confidence.  With just about everyone writing Carolina off, the Panthers offseason motivation has come from within, rather than from their surroundings.  This could be a good thing, but when your fan base does immensely doubt you, it can act as recipe for disaster.

So what can we expect from the Panthers in 2010?

Realistically, a fairly shaky season.  When it comes time for Carolina to face the top dogs in the NFC, they may struggle a little both on offense and defense to maintain composure.

Still, the Panthers could surprise everyone and post an above .500 record.  A lot lays on Matt Moore's shoulders, and I think the Panthers opening game will act as a indicator as to how their season will wind up.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For those of you that discount this team and label them as bottom barrel dwellers—don't, as they are simply a force to be reckoned with.

In case you somehow missed Tampa Bay's upset filled year, they were featured in the headlines quite a bit.  First, Tampa Bay managed to defeat Green Bay in a very one sided game.Their offense stepped up, and more or less shut down Green Bay's No. 2 ranked defense. 

The other more notable win was against the New Orleans Saints, as Tampa Bay notched one of the upsets of the year in a 20-17 victory.

Talent wise, the Bucs are full to capacity.  I think everyone has been highly impressed with Josh Freeman after his rookie season, and with Gerald McCoy now in red and white, things look promising for the Buccaneers.

Right now, Tampa Bay are a serious sleeper pick.  They may fail miserably, but they are expected to turn their season around in Miami Dolphin 08 fashion, and possibly become a wild card team.

If this does happen, expect the bandwagon to grow.  Tampa Bay are a young team, and a possible postseason favorite for years to come.  The confidence is high in Tampa Bay right now, and quite frankly this if great for the NFL.


So Who Can Topple The New Orleans Saints?

One side of me wants to say Tampa Bay, while the other wants to go with the safe pick in Atlanta.

However, considering Tampa Bay's track record, the Atlanta Falcons have the upper hand.

They are hungry for the top spot, and are looking to repeat their impressive 2008 ways.  Matt Ryan is only a young guy, and it will come naturally to him to want to try and push this team over the edge.

The other point worth mentioning is the coaching staff, as head coach Mike Smith has a stranglehold over this franchise.

Like the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  If the Falcons slack off again, then they most likely won't be taken seriously. 

If they do however step their game up in the opening month of September, then the Saints had better watch out, as this team is intent on becoming the top dog in 2010.


Ryan Cook is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report . He is also an NFL writer for Real Sports Net and a Green Bay Packers writer for Fan Huddle and PackerChatters . Don't forget to follow him on Twitter .


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