2. New Orleans
4. Tampa Bay
The NFC South has been called the NFC NASCAR division because it shares the same geographic qualities of NASCAR country.
Last season Carolina started 2-6, but finished 5-3 to end the season at 7-9. The path to division title will be difficult as the Panthers enter this season with the toughest schedule at .543. Quarterback Cam Newton can excite with exciting plays and pile on fantasy stats, but it's a team game. The Panthers might be a season away from being a contender in the division.
Tampa traded for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis was named to the NFL's Top 100 Players for the last three seasons. In 2011 he was ranked #8 and then #5 going into 2012. This season Revis comes in ranked at #67. The dropoff was due to Revis tearing his ACL last season. If Revis returns to the shutdown corner status he was famous for in New York, the Buccaneers would fulfill the role of surprise team in 2013.
Revis Island... Well, actually, it's a peninsula.
Even though both teams have game changers, I don't think it will be enough to crack the top two spots in the NFC South.
For the Saints, 2013 will be a return to stability. Head coach Sean Payton returns to the sidelines since his yearlong suspension in the Saints bounty program suspension. Even though the Saints led the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns and scored over 500 points, they had the worst defense in the league. The Saints hired former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
This can't be good for them....
But wait a second... WHERE was Sean Payton an assistant before he was hired as the Saints coach in 2006?
Sean Payton was on Bill Parcells' Dallas staff from 2003 to 2005.
And if you recall in Super Bowl XLIV, this was the clinching play:
Maybe there is something about hiring former Dallas assistants that works for the Saints.
The Falcons were inside 15 yards from the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance. Four of their last five seasons have resulted in playoff appearances for the Falcons but only one playoff victory in this span.
Atlanta had a habit of living dangerously last season meaning in games decided by 8 points or fewer the Falcons were 7-2. In the playoffs both of the Falcons games were decided by 8 points or fewer. In their divisional round win over the Seahawks, Atlanta squandered a 20-point lead but won with a Matt Bryant field goal with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter. In the NFC Title Game, the Falcons led 24-14 at the half but lost by 4 to the 49ers.
Many of the key components that were part of the Falcons 2012 season are back for 2013, one of them being tight end Tony Gonzales who decided against retiring at the end of the season. Gonzales will be going into the Hall of Fame holding several receiving records for tight ends. The one thing that would complete his career: a Super Bowl trophy.
The Falcons running game has a new player: Steven Jackson of the Rams. Jackson comes to the Falcons with 8 consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The Falcons pass heavy offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan should set Jackson up for a 9th consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
The NFC South won't be as easily won by the Falcons as it was last season, but I think they will come out on top. Again, the Falcons were 8-3 in games decided by 8 points or less. That experience should be enough to edge out over the Saints for the division title. I also believe that a return of normalcy for the Saints will lead to a return to the playoffs in 2013.