The NFC South has been in existence for 12 years. Every team has won at least three division titles, but no team in this division has ever repeated as division champion.
That trend is likely to continue for another season.
Last season the Saints won a road playoff game for the first time in the franchise's history. Their season ended at the hands of eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle in the divisional. The reason why New Orleans had to go to Seattle was because they didn't win the division and Seattle trounced the Saints on Monday Night Football in early December last season. Due to the NFL's scheduling formula, New Orleans do not have the Seahawks on their schedule this season.
The Saints still have Drew Brees at quarterback. Brees threw for 5,162 yards last season. The 5,000 passing yards mark in a single season has been broken eight times in NFL history. Drew Brees has done it four times.
During the offseason the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham entered fierce contract negotiations. Graham led the league among tight ends in receptions (86), receiving yards (1,215), and touchdowns (16). He signed a new contract that will keep him in a Saints uniform for at least the next four years.
While the Saints are known for their high powered passing offense, they have a good defensive unit. New Orleans ranked 4th in points allowed and 4th in yards allowed. Teams that ranked in the top five of both categories made the playoffs last season.
Three of the Saints first five games are on the road. They open the season at Atlanta followed by Week 2 at Cleveland. New Orleans' home opener is in Week 3 against the Vikings. The Saints travel to Dallas for the Week 4 Sunday Night game. Since becoming the Saints starting quarterback in 2006, Drew Brees is 4-1 against the Cowboys.
Weeks 8 through 14 is an interesting stretch for the Saints. Beginning in Week 8 the Saints face off against four 2013 playoff teams. They play back-to-back primetime games against the Packers in New Orleans followed by a Thursday contest in Carolina in Week 9. The 49ers and Bengals come to New Orleans in November. After Cincinnati, they host the Ravens on Monday Night in Week 12 and play another AFC North team, at Pittsburgh, in Week 13. Week 14 is their rematch against the Panthers in New Orleans. Two the Saints last three games are on the road which if they play their cards right they won't leave the Superdome until it is time to go to the Super Bowl.
Atlanta and Carolina are teams heading in opposite directions. Carolina made the playoffs as the NFC 2-seed while the Falcons were doomed after an 1-4 start that saw the team finish 4-12. The Falcons were without wide receiver Julio Jones for most the season as he suffered a foot injury in the fifth game of the 2013 season. Despite this, quarterback Matt Ryan still threw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns, but tossed a career high 17 interceptions.
I don't think Atlanta will make the playoffs this season because their defense is not good enough to counter Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Defensive end Koy Biermann is returning from a ACL injury and Jonathan Babineaux and Osi Unenyiora are past their primes. Though after watching their appearance in Hard Knocks they will be in the thick of the NFC playoff race. Atlanta will earn their playoff appearance given their final four games: at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at New Orleans, and close out at home against the Panthers.
Carolina will not make the playoffs. The Panthers' front office did nothing to help Cam Newton. Carolina's receiving corps has been decimated due to the salary cap. Steve Smith is now in Baltimore. The Panthers play at Baltimore in Week 4. The Panthers got off to a 1-3 in 2013 and looked like they were headed towards another lost season. Carolina reeled off 11 wins in their next 12 games before losing to San Francisco in the playoffs.
Carolina cannot afford another slow start to their season. Weeks 6 through 10 features teams that made the 2013 playoffs and defending champion Seattle. In Week 1 last season, Seattle escaped with a 12-7 win in a defensive struggle that had repercussions for the rest of the season that put the path to the Super Bowl through the Pacific Northwest.
The Buccaneers are going to the past in order to secure a better future.
No, they are not reviving their creamsicle uniforms they wore from 1976-1996. Though with the way they played last season I thought they went back to the creamsicles.
Lovie Smith is back in Tampa. This time as the head coach. Smith was the team's linebackers coach from 1996-2000 serving under then-head coach Tony Dungy.
If Tampa is to escape the NFC South basement it will not be easy. Starting in Week 3, Tampa begins a three-game road stretch playing at Atlanta, at Pittsburgh, and at New Orleans. Prior to their Week 7 bye week, Tampa hosts the Ravens. Four of Tampa's last five games are against 2013 playoff teams.
New Orleans is known as a party town. They should prepare to celebrate another division championship and a deep playoff run.