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From Worst to First: The Battle for the NFC South

Daris BrownSenior Analyst IMay 27, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11: Actor Will Smith poses in a jersey given to him by NFL player Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers during the premiere of 'Seven Pounds', with a canned food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank, at the Regal Stonecrest December 11, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

Dating back to 2002, the NFC South has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went from Super Bowl Champs to getting out by the previous year's stepping stone, the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina would be the first to start the trend of going from worst to first as the power in the division shifted annually as the worst team in the division went on to become the best team in the division.

For five straight seasons the results were money in the bank.

And then the bottom of the barrel blessing was destroyed by the only team that could break it, the team that started. The Panthers went on impressive run last year to capture their second division south title.

This is great news for Cats, but not so good for the Saints, who placed last and has only two playoff appearances in the last 16 years.

So what lies in the cards for '09 season? Will the Saints resurrect the bottom of the barrel blessing? Or are they destined to remain the red-headed step child of the NFC South? Here's a brief prediction of the NFC South.

Carolina Panthers

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There has never been back to back champions in the NFC South's brief history...until this year. Although the Panthers did not make any major offseason moves, they didn't loose any major players in the offseason either.

Jake Delhomme seems to have heeled from the Tommy John surgery much better than expected and now he has a couple additional months to add to that. And if he has healed mentally over that total collapse in the playoffs, he could lead his team deep into the playoffs.

But not unlike the team that whooped up on them in the playoffs (Arizona Cardinals), the Panthers have their own big time star wanting out of town. So far the Panthers are playing it as a non-issue, as they already drafted Julius Peppers potential replacement.

It probably won't be that bad as Peppers is a professional, but the Panthers want to make a trade or extend his contract before the year's up to ensure they get there money's worth.

With that being said, Peppers will work hard to prove to other teams that he's worth the big offseason money, or the two first round draft picks it would take to trade for him, so look for him to have another outstanding season.

The Panthers are also at year two on their new flash and dash running offense. Which means we should see even more out of Johnathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

With that being said, look for the Panthers to hold off all competitors as this will be the closest divisional race in football.

Atlanta Falcons

Like the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons were ousted by Cardinals in deceive fashion. Unlike the Panthers, the Falcons went after a huge free agent in the offseason.

With the arrival of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez comes hope for the Falcons. Gonzalez with bring a wealth of knowledge to share for second year quarterback Matt Ryan. But more importantly he will draw attention which will allow speedy wide out Roddy White to stretch the field.

If Falcons thought last year's offense was good, wait until they see this year's version. And if their defense can work on not giving up 20 points a game, they'll be in great shape. There defense is definitely what's preventing them from being on top of the NFC South.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A brand new coach won't bode well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not in this division. Although the Buccaneers have a great defense, the were once again in the top 10 for total defense, there offense is what worries me.

After bringing in veteran QB Byron Leftwich, first year coach Raheem Morris and his staff will have to spend their time figuring out who is the rightful starter. Supposedly Luke McCown has been told it's his to lose. If he's not careful he will.

In addition to an okay passing game (ranked 11th in the league) is the Bucs okay running game (ranked 15th in the league). Everything about this team is just okay.

That is until you throw in new owner of skull and cross bones covered jersey is Kellen Winslow. He'll look to return to his pro bowl ways as he joins the Bucs after being traded from the Browns.

New Orleans Saints

Despite leading the league in total offense, the Saints were still at the bottom of the division. This is bad news for Saints fans. Exactly where can the Saints go from here? Nowhere but down.

And with Deuce McAllister gone, the Saints will depend on Reggie Bush more than ever to carry the load of the one-two punch. Although if talks with Edgerrin James are true, this might be a quick fix for their running game.

But the bigger problem for the Saints is their lack of a play maker in key moments. Brees did an excellent job of spreading the ball around last year but with their number one receiver, Marques Colston, out on injury there was definitely a void.

Lance Moore did a great job in Colston's absence, racking up 10 TD catches, but it won't be enough to pull them from the bottom of the NFC South.

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