[editor's note, by River City Rage] Here is Ditka Fan's second divisional breakdown of the NFL. Enjoy!
Welcome to the NFC South! This division is home to some quality teams and the three-time "Pre-Season Pick" Super Bowl Champions, the Carolina Panthers. No team has failed to meet expectations more often than this team. They say there are no sure things in gambling, but if you bet on Carolina to win the Super Bowl, it is a sure thing that you will get your legs broke. On to the teams.
New Orleans Saints (10-6)- Last year's feel-good team, the Saints once again look to be the cream of the NFC South. The biggest story for this team was the release of franchise WR Joe Horn. After many years of being the only show in town, Horn has been eclipsed by new faces like QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush, and WR Marques Colston. The team decided that Horn couldn't produce up to the value of his contract and parted ways. The draft brought the Saints a new weapon with WR Robert Meachum while strengthening at other key positions. Don't look for Meachum to make a huge impact right away. As with most rookie wide receivers, he still needs to work on route running, timing, and ability to read coverages. Starting with a very good team on both sides of the ball, the Saints have opted for the "ain't broke, don't fix it" strategy. The only thing I would be worried about is the lack of experience at the WR position. Still, with another year to develop chemistry, this team should be one of the beasts of the NFC.
Favorite Offseason Story - The Saints do fantasy players everywhere a favor by releasing WR Joe Horn. No longer will GM's fool themselves into thinking that Horn provides a solid number 2 receiver. Combining with Drew Brees made Horn an attractive option but now that he has paired with QB Michael Vick without backup Matt Schaub, no one will mistake him for a threat to gain either yards or touchdowns.
Carolina Panthers (8-8) - The most talented .500 team ever assembled. Even better, this team has actually made some news in the offseason. First, they brought in QB David Carr from Houston to threaten QB Jake Delhomme. Of course, anyone who is scared by David Carr probably doesn't belong in the NFL in the first place. Then, they draft WR Keyshawn Johnson's replacement, Dwayne Jarrett, while Keyshawn sits in the studio and talks about how great this kid will be. Now, that is some funny stuff. Meanwhile, WR Steve Smith and DE Julius Peppers are still among the best at their position and await the help they need to make a playoff run. There hasn't been much talk about RB's DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. It seems that Foster is keeping the starting job, but neither were able to produce much in 2006. This seems like a spot they should have spent their second round draft spot. Not on a replacement for Keyshawn.
Favorite Offseason Story - Keyshawn Johnson talked about how excited he was when the Panthers drafted Dwayne Jarrett from his alma mater, USC. I'm wondering if Keyshawn knew that his days were numbered and was just trying to play dumb and act diplomatic. Or maybe he was completely oblivious that he would soon be packing up his locker and replacing Michael Irvin's ridiculous act in the studio. I'd like to think that this came as a total shock to him and there is evidence in the fact that he seemed to think he was still worth $5 million a year.
Atlanta Falcons (7-9) - I almost don't even want to talk about this team. This group is just ridiculous. The biggest move was bringing in Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. The hope is that he will be able to install an offense that will utilize the talents of QB Michael Vick. The answer my friends is the Single Wing offense. Or they could just put in the true QB of the future, Matt Schaub. Wait, he's gone? Oh boy. Well at least they brought in a quality WR for Vick. Joe Horn's not a quality WR anymore? Wait, why are you all laughing? This team has a quality defense but they won't get any further than the offense will take them and I still believe that isn't very far. Some good news was the drafting of DE Jamaal Anderson. Combining him with John Abraham will make for a scary pair of defensive ends. This whole season hinges on Petrino's ability to build an offense around Vick and...
Favorite Offseason Story - Mike Vick's future as a result of this dog-fighting scandal. I don't really want to get into it anymore. If he was part of it I hope he gets suspended. That's really all I can say. I guess it's a good thing that the Falcons didn't make a run at LB Joey Porter in the offseason...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) - This team has issues that cannot be fixed in one year. The most noticeable problem is the lack of a quarterback. GM Bruce Allen tried to correct this problem by adding quantity, not quality. They made moves to bring in QB Jeff Garcia from the Eagles and QB Jake Plummer from the Broncos. They also signed Chris Simms to a two-year extension. They still have Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown. Plummer fled town the second he heard about his Tampa Bay fate and retreated to the mountains. Jeff Garcia is the obvious choice for a starter here but this is more of an indication of the lack of competition, not Garcia's own skill. Another issue facing this team is the aging defense. These guys were great four years ago but they are all starting to slow down too much. I like the move to draft DE Gaines Adams to help/replace an aging (and insane) Simeon Rice since the word is that he may be done in the Bay Area.
Favorite Offseason Story - Coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen attempt to pick up every free agent quarterback in the league and trade for those still playing for other teams. This puts Gruden one step closer towards implementing his 11-quarterback offense. The positive that this system brings is great leadership at every position and an improved ability to block over the 2006 Bucs. I am certain that Chris Simms can block better than Kenyatta Walker and I dare anyone to argue with me.
Prediction - New Orleans will take this division once again. Carolina will be competing with them whole way while Atlanta completely tanks. Tampa Bay should be able to improve by a couple wins. Look for them to pass Atlanta for third place with Carolina winning a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs.