This is a league that has had so many ups and downs the last couple of years, it's really hard to know exactly what's going to happen. For the last five year, the team that finished last in the division standings has turned it completely around and won the division the very next year.
Roddy White really broke out as a top ten wide receiver last season. The addition of Michael "the Burner" Turner made then-rookie quarterback Matt Ryan's job a lot easier. Turner rushed for 1700 yards and 17 touchdowns, forcing defenses to stack the line of scrimmage, opening tons of passing lanes for Matt Ryan to have a very productive rookie season. Their defense wasn't too shabby either, taking ninth in the league and only allowing 250 yards per game. I see them having another productive season as long as they can keep Turner going.
This is another team that has been having a lot of trouble. For the past couple of years, the Buccaneers have had a lot of trouble keeping their running backs healthy, which is the staple of their entire offense. Now they have the Cadillac Williams back (after major knee surgery to both knees) to his rookie form, where he racked up over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. Their defense is aging too. Their top defensive player in Ronda Barber is still playing well but is getting old; therefore, they are in a rebuilding process and are not looking to win very many games this season.
This is also another team in turmoil, and nothing seemed to work for them. Last week against Philadelphia, they gave up 38 points, and Jake Delhome played terribly. After throwing five picks last season in the divisional playoff game, it seemed as though he hadn't fully gotten over that game and threw another four interceptions and only threw for 74 yards. They need to either get him back on track or go to the backup Matt Moore, a three-year player who hasn't played much. But any kind of change could spark a powerful offense with the likes of Steve Smith and the two amazing running back in Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Williams. If they can get that spark, the Panthers can compete for the division title again.
The Saints' offense is unbelievable, unstoppable, and extraordinary. How Drew Brees can go out and play as well has he did last season and then come into this season and throw six touchdown passes in one game is an amazing accomplishment. There has been no drop off from last year's almost record-breaking performance. Their defense still needs some work, but with an offense that can score 30 plus in any game, you don't really need to worry about defense. I expect the Saints to completely turn it around this year and keep the NFC South's streak of worst to first alive.
My pick: Saints
This division has a bunch of teams that can either do really well, or have a mediocre season.
The Seahawks were a team plagued with a lot of injuries last year. Most of their receivers last year were hurt or playing hurt, their QB missed a lot of time, and their running backs couldn't get going because their offensive line was hurting. The injury bug hit hard, and it just kept coming. But this season, the Hawks are looking to turn it around completely and show the league what they have in store. Matt Hassel back has always been an accurate QB who can move around very well in the pocket, and can also throw well on the run. They also upgraded on a depleted and aging WR croup by adding a perennial Pro bowler in T.J Houshmandzadeh. And with the offensive line back to full health, they should be able to get some decent yards with their good running back tandem in Julius Jones and Edgerrin James.
The Rams are an old team, with hardly any real weapons on the team. Their defense doesn't play well, and their WR are getting open, which means Mark Bugler has to hold it longer, which converts to sacks. They need a lot of help from Steven Jackson to stay competitive in games, and Jackson has a hard time staying healthy. This is another team in the rebuilding process, and I don't think they will be winning very many games this season.
The Cardinals are coming off a Cinderella season last year. Going 9-7 last season, everyone knew they had the talent to go all the way, but no one expected them to do it in dominating fashion. They made it to the Super Bowl and played very well but lost it in the last drive of the game. This season, the Cardinals came out a little flat against an aggressive defense in San Francisco and again lost it in the last drive. But things can go from very bad to very well with players like Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Hightower.
One name: Patrick Willis. He is possibly the best 4-3 linebacker to play in years, 2007 rookie of the year, racking up a whooping 174 tackles. In 2008 his production seemed to slip a bit...to 141 tackles! Needless to say, he is the anchor to a very good defense with good pass rushers, a formidable secondary, and a veteran linebacking group; I think the 49ers will end up with one of the best defenses in the league. Their offense is not bad either; with a great running back in Frank Gore, their running game is one of the best in the league. The real problem was not being able to sign Michael Crabtree; he decided to hold out for the season, which will really hurt him in the long run. But the Niners have capable receivers to pick up the slack. Players player like Isaac Bruce, who has been a force in this league for years, and Vernon Davis, who is an up-in-coming tight end and has the ability jump high above the secondary to catch the ball, are very promising for the 49ers.
My pick: Niners