NFC South Preview: Atlanta Falcons Should Be the Class of the Division

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In our sixth installment of our NFL Divisional Previews, today we take a look at the NFC South. Teams are listed in the order of their projected finish.

Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta looks like they could be the class of the NFC in 2013.  They upgraded at running back with Steven Jackson and will benefit greatly from having Tony Gonzalez in the fold for another season. Look for Julio Jones to make the jump to elite status as far as receivers are considered (if he’s not there already). I also feel like this is the year when Matt Ryan takes his place alongside Aaron Rodgers in the group of great quarterbacks ready to take the torch from Brady and Manning and lead the league into the future.

Defensively, I believe they upgraded by bringing in Osi Umenyiora after losing Jon Abraham. I like the cornerback tandem of veteran Asante Samuel and rookie Desmond Trufant, who I think can be elite.

All things considered, Atlanta should win the NFC South with a record no worse than 11-5.

New Orleans SaintsSean Payton is back with a vengeance and he’s brought Rob Ryan, arguably the game’s most aggressive defensive coordinator with him. That’s how this season is going to go for the Saints: All or Nothing. Leave no stone unturned. Super Bowl or bust. The offense should be up to the task thanks to the return of Brees, a talented group of receivers and a solid stable of backs running behind an equally solid offensive line. Look for rookie Kenny Stills to emerge as a difference maker at wideout.

Defensively is where we might see some problems. The Saints don’t have near the athletes on defense that Ryan had in Dallas. His scheme is high-risk, high-reward with the understanding that his athletes are fast and talented enough to recover from a gamble gone wrong. I’m just not sure that’s the case with this Saints defense and I think it will cost them in the regular season.

Look for New Orleans to win 10 games and try to sneak into the playoffs as a dangerous six seed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I have Tampa here over Carolina because I feel like when they are healthy, the Bucs have more upside than the Panthers. Doug Martin is one of the game’s elite backs and will draw plenty of attention from opposing defenses. That should open up the field for Josh Freeman to find a corps of big receivers downfield. The only thing this offense will lack is some consistency and a set of plays that work every time. That will be what does them in.

Defensively, this is a young and talented group with no ceiling. It’s a shame that guys like Lavonte David, Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy are going to be overshadowed by the shortcomings of their offense. They’ll be fine, but I’m not sure it will be enough to compensate for an average offense in an above average offensive division.

I see the Bucs winning maybe eight games in 2013.

Carolina Panthers – Like Tampa, Carolina’s strength will be its young and talented defense. The uncertainty at running back and an aging Steve Smith concerns me a bit. Cam Newton is versatile, but this is a very vanilla offense with no real game-changer to compliment him.

Defensively, I like Luke Kuechly and feel like he is going to be a great one. I’m just not sure that this defense is good enough to slow down other offenses in its own division to the point where their own offense can win the battle on the scoreboard.

I think winning seven games will be an accomplishment for this team playing in this division. Their future will depend on what the powers that be can do to put more young and dynamic weapons around Newton.

BY J.P. SCOTT ON AUGUST 26, 2013

Follow @JPScottSports on Twitter.

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About J.P. Scott

Owner and editor of Know It All Football, contributor to AthlonSports.com and GridirionExperts.com. Member of the Football Writers Association of America.

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