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MSNBC- NFC SOUTH PREVIEW


bobbygsoprano
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NFC SOUTH

The most predictable thing about the NFL is it’s unpredictability, so we’re not sure what to think about the NFC South. The most oddly enduring streak in sports resides here, where the division’s champion for six years running has finished dead last the year before they wore the crown.

That’s good news for the New Orleans Saints, who ended 2008 in the cellar despite an 8-8 record. Drew Brees leads one of the league's most reliable passing attacks, where coach Sean Payton can seemingly create open receivers you’ve never heard of out of thin air. And with Pierre Thomas now ready to carry the load at running back, the team can finally let Reggie Bush be what he was always should have been: a useful role player.

The offense has never been the problem in New Orleans, and the team’s defense could struggle out of the gates with pass rushers Charles Grant and Will Smith suspended for the first four games. The team is banking on aggressive new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to create pressure, which he’s done with lesser talent before.

The defending champion Panthers are in trouble if the division keeps up its oddly predictable pattern. Carolina surprisingly signed Jake Delhomme to a contract extension after his playoff meltdown last year, but the team’s defense is rather thin after Julius Peppers. They are scrambling for a run defender after losing defensive tackle Ma’aake Kemoeatu for the season.

The trendiest pick for the division title will be Atlanta, where Matt Ryan should challenge Brees as the division's best quarterback. Tony Gonzalez will add potency to an efficient offense, but the defense is the question mark. (Notice a trend?) The Falcons recognized the issue, and spent nearly their entire draft on defense. A year after emerging from nowhere, the Falcons could struggle to solidify their gains. (Like the rest of the division, their schedule gets much harder this year.)

Last on our tour around the dirty south is Tampa Bay, who is admittedly in rebuilding mode after dismissing coach Jon Gruden and G.M. Bruce Allen. The Bucs’ young offensive line is nasty, but there isn’t much else here to build around, and the team seems likely to go to rookie Josh Freeman before the season is over.

Of course, dismissing the Bucs seems silly in a division where nothing is what it seems, and everything finishes upside down. Despite the six-year streak, predicting what will happen in the balanced NFC South seems foolhardy.

BEST OFFENSE: Saints.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees may be the most perfect match of offensive mind and quarterback in the league.

BEST DEFENSE: Panthers.

John Fox always finds a way, but Carolina is just the best of a division full of below-average defenses.

MUST-SEE PLAYER: DeAngelo Williams.

Jon Gruden says he’s legitimately in the discussion as the best back in the league; let’s see what he can do for an encore.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT: Sean Payton.

Stats are nice, but the Saints need to break out from their recent run of mediocrity.

CHAMPION: Saints (Why mess with history?)

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NFC SOUTH

The most predictable thing about the NFL is it’s unpredictability, so we’re not sure what to think about the NFC South. The most oddly enduring streak in sports resides here, where the division’s champion for six years running has finished dead last the year before they wore the crown.

That’s good news for the New Orleans Saints, who ended 2008 in the cellar despite an 8-8 record. Drew Brees leads one of the league's most reliable passing attacks, where coach Sean Payton can seemingly create open receivers you’ve never heard of out of thin air. And with Pierre Thomas now ready to carry the load at running back, the team can finally let Reggie Bush be what he was always should have been: a useful role player.

The offense has never been the problem in New Orleans, and the team’s defense could struggle out of the gates with pass rushers Charles Grant and Will Smith suspended for the first four games. The team is banking on aggressive new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to create pressure, which he’s done with lesser talent before.

The defending champion Panthers are in trouble if the division keeps up its oddly predictable pattern. Carolina surprisingly signed Jake Delhomme to a contract extension after his playoff meltdown last year, but the team’s defense is rather thin after Julius Peppers. They are scrambling for a run defender after losing defensive tackle Ma’aake Kemoeatu for the season.

The trendiest pick for the division title will be Atlanta, where Matt Ryan should challenge Brees as the division's best quarterback. Tony Gonzalez will add potency to an efficient offense, but the defense is the question mark. (Notice a trend?) The Falcons recognized the issue, and spent nearly their entire draft on defense. A year after emerging from nowhere, the Falcons could struggle to solidify their gains. (Like the rest of the division, their schedule gets much harder this year.)

Last on our tour around the dirty south is Tampa Bay, who is admittedly in rebuilding mode after dismissing coach Jon Gruden and G.M. Bruce Allen. The Bucs’ young offensive line is nasty, but there isn’t much else here to build around, and the team seems likely to go to rookie Josh Freeman before the season is over.

Of course, dismissing the Bucs seems silly in a division where nothing is what it seems, and everything finishes upside down. Despite the six-year streak, predicting what will happen in the balanced NFC South seems foolhardy.

BEST OFFENSE: Saints.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees may be the most perfect match of offensive mind and quarterback in the league.

BEST DEFENSE: Panthers.

John Fox always finds a way, but Carolina is just the best of a division full of below-average defenses.

MUST-SEE PLAYER: DeAngelo Williams.

Jon Gruden says he’s legitimately in the discussion as the best back in the league; let’s see what he can do for an encore.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT: Sean Payton.

Stats are nice, but the Saints need to break out from their recent run of mediocrity.

CHAMPION: Saints (Why mess with history?)

Like most things, MSNBC has it backwards.

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ya this last place to first place trend was broken b/c carolina kicked a game winning field goal in the last seconds of last year's final reg season game. otherwise ATL would've won the nfc south and carried on that tradition.

although, b/c ATL's DEF is sooo young in the secondary, I'm inclined to think the saints are the team to beat in the nfc south this year. they will probably win the division but god i hope i'm wrong.

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Maybe they should get someone who knows something about the NFL to write this. Not some gossip columnist bull poop. "Why mess with history?"

Ridiculous.

thats exactly what i though... why mess with the history....? if that was the case teams shouldnt even play the games because certain teams would win all the time.

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i love ryan, but i don't agree with that either, brees is in a different level

This is true. Brees is a 9 year veteran - he's topping the hill and will soon be heading down the other side. Ryan's at the foot of the hill - still has a long way up. By the time he reaches the top of that hill - Brees will be long gone from the NFL.

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