New Orleans Saints (NFC South Champions) – The defending Super Bowl champs are looking to repeat the success they had in 2009 with quarterback Drew Brees, who finished with 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Along with Brees, the Saints have their core group of players, like running back Reggie Bush and safety Darren Sharper, returning.
The key losses were linebacker Scott Fujita, running back Mike Bell and defensive end Charles Grant.
The Saints will have a winning record at the end of the season and will win the division but I do not think they will repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Atlanta Falcons – After a disappointing season last year, Atlanta looks to turn things around. The Falcons finished with a 9-7 record, which was down from the 11-5 record in 2008. In Matt Ryan’s three-year NFL career, he has gone 19-11 as the starting quarterback and has a passing rating of 84.3. If the Falcons plan on upsetting the Saints for the division, Ryan and running back Michael Turner will need to have great seasons. Turner missed five games in 2009 with injuries. This season he expects to stay healthy and contribute to the offense.
Atlanta will challenge New Orleans but will not have enough to overtake them as the division champions.
Carolina Panthers – A lot has changed for the Panthers since they last took the field. Jake Delhomme is now in Cleveland and Julius Peppers is in Chicago, but Carolina still has wide receiver Steve Smith.
Smith sat out much of the preseason due to a broken arm he sustained while playing flag football during the summer. Smith has the ability to be one of the best receivers in the game, if he remains motivated throughout the season.
Passing the ball to Smith will be Matt Moore, who will be taking over for Delhomme as the starting quarterback. Moore has started eight games with a 6-2 record but does not have a lot of playing experience against the top defenses in the league. The Panthers also have rookie Jimmy Clausen as quarterback to fill in for Moore if he can’t get the job done. The Panthers will have a better season than last year but not enough to get them into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Where do I begin with the Buccaneers? Tampa Bay was the third-worst team in the NFL last year, only ahead of the Detroit Lions and the St. Louis Rams. They were led by rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. This off-season the Bucs focused on getting better pieces to help Freeman by signing left tackle Donald Penn and trading for wide receiver Reggie Brown. Tight end Kellen Winslow will be a big part of the offense this season if he stays healthy. Tampa Bay will be a contender in this division in a couple of years, but for this season don’t expect them to be anywhere close to the top.
Projected standings: 1. Saints (12-4), 2. Falcons (10-6), 3. Panthers (9-7), 4. Buccaneers (5-11)