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How will the 2009 NFL season play out?


~SEAMILL~
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NFC South (order of finish)

Gene's NFC South picks

1. Saints

2. Falcons

3. Panthers

4. Bucs

New Orleans Saints -- Two stats to remember: No team in the NFC South has ever won consecutive division titles, and in the previous seven seasons, five South teams have won the division after finishing last the year before.

The Saints finished last in 2008 with an 8-8 record, but they have an offense to die for and a new defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) who should make a difference, and they play in a division that is available for the taking.

Brees and his 5,069 yards (65 percent completions on 635 attempts!) weren't the problem; injuries and a crummy defense were (ranked 23rd in total defense, 23rd in pass defense). They also lost three games by three points, so 8-8 could have been 11-5.

Atlanta Falcons -- NFL history suggests the Falcons won't be able to repeat their successes of 2008, when they finished 11-5 with a rookie quarterback (Matt Ryan) and reached the playoffs. But I'm a big believer in Matty Ice, love the acquisition of Hall of Famer-to-be Gonzalez and don't see any reason why Michael Turner can't put up another 1,700-yard, 15-plus-rushing-TD season.

The defense is sketchy, especially in the secondary (the Falcons just traded for cornerback Tye Hill from the St. Louis Rams). And it would be nice if left defensive end Jamaal Anderson, their first-round pick of two years ago, would, you know, start making quarterbacks uncomfortable. He had only two sacks in 2008 and took the oh-fer as a rookie.

And yet, I pretend not to notice those things. I'm not saying they're going to win 11 again, but no way do they fade into the world of sub-.500.

Carolina Panthers -- The stat about no repeat winners in the NFC South? The Panthers won the division in 2008.

This isn't a team without talent (Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, an experienced offensive line, Julius Peppers, good linebackers, head coach John Fox), but there are soft spots. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has to do better than the 15 TDs/12 INTs ratio of 2008 (and a blah-ish 59.4 completion percentage). The O-line lacks depth. The defense was 20th against the run, 16th against the pass.

Tampa Bay Bucs -- The Bucs' 9-7 record in 2008 is going to seem like the good old days after this season. Whatever they're paying first-year head coach Raheem Morris, it isn't going to be enough.

Derrick Ward, Jeff Faine, Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow are keepers, but this is a roster in major transition (and so is the coaching staff -- they just canned their O-coordinator). And as in recent years, the quarterback position isn't anything special (Byron Leftwich is the opening-game starter). Killer schedule, too.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/sto...mp;sportCat=nfl

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