Friday, August 14, 2009

2009 NFC South Preview

Last year, no division was more competitive than the NFC South, as no team finished under .500 for the season. Both the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons made the playoffs, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only themselves to blame for missing the post-season. The New Orleans Saints hope to improve on their 8-8 record for the 2009 season. Again, the experts are projecting at least two teams from the NFC South to make the playoffs again…which two remains to be seen.

In order of finish:

1. Atlanta Falcons
Coming off a surprise appearance in last season’s playoffs, the Falcons hope QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner will continue to improve and help lead them to a 2009 divisional title. Turner bursted onto the scene with a 1600 yard Pro Bowl season after spending several years as LaDanian Tomlinson’s caddy. The Falcons may need to lessen his workload this season, and Jerious Norwood could add more explosiveness to their offense. Newcomer TE Tony Gonzalez will give Ryan another sure-handed receiver inside the red zone. The Falcons defense will be an issue, as many felt they overachieved all last year on their way to a Wild Card berth. And to make matters worse they lose two starters via free agency without signing anyone to replace them.
2. New Orleans Saints
They’re two seasons removed from playing the Chicago Bears in the NFC title game, and the Saints are ready to rebound in their attempt to recapture a playoff berth. Head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees are perfectly in sync to lead the league’s most explosive offense this season. Yes, Brees will still continue to pick apart defenses with his precision accuracy, but for the first time, the Saints will have a running game in Pierre Thomas to give them a balance attack. The key for the Saints will be how much defensive improvement has been gained in the off-season. Last season, they had issues with their secondary play and they address those issues with the key signing of S Darren Sharper, who will bring veteran leadership to a troubled group.
3. Carolina Panthers
Last year, the Panthers won their division largely due to playing an easy schedule. But 2009 will be different, as they will have to play 13 games against teams that were .500 or better last season. One thing that will remain the same is the Panthers’ running game being an integral part of their offense. They have a good, young offensive line that opens large holes for two talented young backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The defense may be having their last roundup with this group of players; DE Julius Peppers already has one foot out the door in Carolina and others may follow after the 2009 season.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After last season’s collapse, the Bucs cleaned house. Out went Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden; in came a new, young regime of GM Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris to lead an inexperienced team into battle against the NFC South. Bryon Leftwich is a temporary stop-gap at the QB position until first round draft pick Josh Freeman is capable to take over at the position. The Bucs’ pass defense should again be one of the leaders in the NFL, as veteran CB Ronde Barber will lead a group that finished third in the league with 22 interceptions last season. Unfortunately, their front seven received a major overhaul in the off-season, gone are run-stuffing LBs Derrick Brooks and Cato June and they’re replacements are young and prone to making mistakes. This could make winning a hard proposition for the Bucs this season.
Written By Thomas Conroy