Over the past few years, the NFC South has been a division to be reckoned with. New Orleans is coming off its third straight double-digit win season. In addition,it has a super bowl title. Atlanta has back to back double-digit winning seasons (2010-2011). Tampa Bay and Carolina are only a few seasons removed from winning 10 or more games.

This season Atlanta and New Orleans are poised for a possible super bowl run. Things are looking bright for the Panthers and Tampa Bay will play their hands on a couple of rookies and a new head coach.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the division, shall we?

ATLANTA FALCONS (10-6 in 2011)

Key Losses:  Ovie Mughelli (Full Back); Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson (Linebackers); James Sanders (Safety); Eric Weems (Special Teams)

New Faces: Asante Samuel (Corner Back); Lofa Tatupu (Linebacker)

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been a proven veteran the last four years. He has missed only two games during that run which is pretty remarkable. His regular season record with the club is 43-19 which is stellar. However, Ryan has yet to win a playoff game. Ryan is 0-3 in the playoffs. Wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez will continue to be huge for the offense. We can’t forget about running back Michael Turner. He provides the balance to Atlanta’s offensive attack.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10 in 2011)

Key Losses: Mackenzy Bernadeau and Travelle Wharton (Guards); Dan Conner and Thomas Williams (Linebackers); Geoff  Schwartz (Offensive Tackle); Mike Goodson (Running Back); Jeremy Shockey

New Faces: Bruce Campbell and Mike Pollak (Offensive Tackle); Mike Tolbert (Running Back)

Cam Newton showed up his critics last season. Not only did he accumulate a lot statistically, (4051 passing yards, 21 passing TDs, 14 rushing TDs, 60% completions and a 84.5 quarterback rating), but the 2011-2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year has brought  excitement to the state.

Hopefully this season the Panthers will learn how to tackle properly, an issue that plagued the defensive last season. Look for Carolina to improve on that end, in addition to the win column.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3 in 2011, NFC South Division Champions)

Key Losses: Tracy Porter (Corner Back); Carl Nicks (Guard); Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin (Nose Tackles); Robert Meachem (Wide Receiver)

New Faces: Ben Grubbs ( Guard); Brodrick Bunkley (Defensive Tackle); Chris Chamberlain, Curtis Lofton, and David Hawthorne (Linebackers)

The Saints had a rough off-season with all that came with “Bounty Gate”. The scandal resulted in the season long suspensions of head coach Sean Payton and Linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Although theses key figures are gone, “Who Dat” Nation still have their guy, Drew Brees running the show. With Brees under center, there’s no lead that is insurmountable for New Orleans.

Brees will try to duplicate his record-setting performance of 2011-2012 with 5,476 passing yards, along with 46 touchdowns. With great  targets in wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, and tight end Jimmy Graham, Brees and company will light up the scoreboard. There’s no reason New Orleans won’t win the South.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-12 in 2011)

Key Losses: Albert Haynesworth (Defensive Tackle); Earnest Graham (Full Back); Josh Johnson (Quarterback); Corey Lynch, Sean Jones, and Tanard Jackson (Safeties); Kellen Winslow, Jr (Tight End)

New Faces: Eric Wright (Corner Back); Jayme Mitchell and Wallace Gillberry (Defensive End); Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson (Defensive Tackle); Carl Nicks (Guard); Dan Orlovsky (Quarterback); Dallas Clark (Tight End); Vincent Jackson (Wide Receiver)

Last season Tampa Bay gave up a lot of points, 30.9 per game to be exact. They couldn’t stop the run if their lives depended on it. However, they defended the pass pretty well. The defense had trouble getting to the quarterback as they only accumulated 23 sacks. It didn’t seem like they made any enhancements to rectify this problem during the off-season.

Quarterback Josh Freeman needs to prove that the 2010 season wasn’t a fluke. Having wide receiver Vincent Jackson as a target should improve Freeman’s numbers. Tampa Bay’s 2012 record should be better than last season’s win total of four. However, it will be hard for them to contend for a division title.

By Keith Madyun

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