Sports

2013 NFL Preview: NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

NEW FACES

RB Steven Jackson, CB Desmond Trufant, DE Osi Umenyiora, FB Bradie Ewing.

KEY LOSSES

OT Tyson Clabo, RB Michael Turner, DE John Abraham, CB Dunta Robinson, C Todd McClure, LB Mike Peterson, OT Mike Johnson.

STRENGTHS

QB, WR, TE, RB.

WEAKNESSES

OL, DE.

EXPECTATIONS

Super Bowl or bust. TE Tony Gonzalez didn’t put off retirement for one more year just to make playoffs again. Falcons came up 10 yards short of big game last season, losing to San Francisco in NFC championship, and they’ve become one of league’s most consistent winners over last five seasons. Under coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta is 56-24 in regular season with four playoff appearances and two NFC South titles. If questionable offensive line holds up, team should have no trouble scoring.

New Orleans Saints

NEW FACES

S Kenny Vaccaro, WR Kenny Stills, CB Keenan Lewis, TE Ben Watson, DT John Jenkins, DE Glenn Foster

KEY LOSSES

LT Jermon Bushrod, WR Devery Henderson, LB Jonathan Casillas.

STRENGTHS

QB, TE, RB.

WEAKNESSES

LB, DB.

EXPECTATIONS

Coach Sean Payton’s return from season-long bounty suspension has infused Saints headquarters with optimism. Payton once again will work with quarterback Drew Brees as coach resumes play calling for offense that – even without him – ranked second in league last season. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan overhauled Saints’ defense a year after it allowed single-season record 7,042 yards in 2012. If all goes as New Orleans hopes, Payton will guide Saints back to playoffs for fourth time in five seasons.

Carolina Panthers

NEW FACES

LB Chase Blackburn, CB Drayton Florence, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Domenik Hixon, S Mike Mitchell, CB D.J. Moore, OL Travelle Wharton.

KEY LOSSES

LB James Anderson, DT Ron Edwards, CB Chris Gamble, S Sherrod Martin, WR Louis Murphy.

STRENGTHS

QB, RB, DE, LB.

WEAKNESSES

OG, CB, SS.

EXPECTATIONS

Panthers have talent to be playoff team, but need to get off to quick start and stay healthy because they are not particularly deep. Ron Rivera’s teams started last two seasons 1-5 and 1-6, digging themselves holes they could never overcome. It doesn’t help that Panthers face toughest schedule in league based off last year’s records and play in competitive NFC South. This could be a make or break season for Rivera.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NEW FACES

CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, CB Johnthan Banks, T Gabe Carimi, DT Akeem Spence.

KEY LOSSES

S Ronde Barber, PK Connor Barth, DE Michael Bennett, DT Roy Miller.

STRENGTHS

RB, WR, DBs.

WEAKNESSES

OL, TE, pass rush.

EXPECTATIONS

Bucs have missed postseason past five years and don’t have playoff victory since winning Super Bowl 11 seasons ago. With wildly inconsistent Josh Freeman entering final year of contract, heat on fifth-year quarterback to prove he’s worth hefty pay raise for next season. Club shored up NFL’s leakiest secondary by acquiring three-time All-Pro Revis, and Goldson, an All-Pro last season with San Francisco. Still, Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes likely will ride on Freeman’s play. He’s surrounded by talented players on offense and became franchise’s first 4,000-yard passer in 2012.



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