Welcome to my series predicting the divisions of the NFC. In each article, I list how each team will finish in each division and why, plus offer which playoff seed they will wind up with if any.
1. New Orleans Saints: The Defending NFL Champion Saints have thus far only lost one significant player from their 2009 squad, Scott Fujita (pictured above). However, their defense can be exploited, and the big risk-big reward formula is not a safe bet to make it through a schedule that will be tough unless the next two best teams are at least as disappointing as last season, nor to make it through the playoffs.
Still, their potent offense and return game will almost certainly be enough to win their division. San Francisco gets the Saints at home and has a schedule that sets them up to take the top seed from New Orleans, who will get the other first-round bye.
2. Atlanta Falcons: Even though they missed the playoffs in 2009, Atlanta had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. They might have earned a wild card berth if not for the injuries they were saddled with, so expect them to be back this season. However, until their defense proves it can provide some balance, they are not a serious contender for the division or any playoff wins; I see them earning the sixth seed.
3. Carolina Panthers: Count me among the people who think Jimmy Clausson will be starting before the end of the season. Matt Moore was impressive last year (98.5 passer rating), but had only five starts and has eight in his career. With teams game-planning for him, his production will fall off, and the defense may struggle to cover for him having lost its best player in Julius Peppers to the Bears in the off-season...it is not so much that Moore is not a solid quarterback, but that by year's end, the team will be looking to the future.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman showed a little something at times last year, and as one of the most raw quarterbacks to come out of college in quite some time, he will only get better. This team plays hard, but the problem is there is a dearth of talent on the roster, so it is hard to see them not accumulating double-digit losses in a pretty good division.