Falcons still the dirty south's finest
1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
The Falcons finally brought in some much needed help in the backfield after a tremendous season last year where they just fell short of the Super Bowl. They brought in Steven Jackson to take over for Michael Turner, who was awful last season. That will be the major difference on offense that could take this Falcons team to a deep playoff run. The question remains if Matt Ryan can take Atlanta to a Super Bowl. He’ll have an improved offense as well as an improved defense. The Falcons defense brought in Osi Umenyiora to replace John Abraham. They also will have a better secondary with rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. If their secondary holds up, this team has all the pieces to have another great year. Expect the Falcons to win the NFC South with a 12-4 finish.
2. New Orleans Saints (9-7)
The Saints get back their head coach Sean Payton after finishing 7-9 without him last year. Last season needs to be thrown out. The coaching change alone will make this team slightly better and so will an improved secondary. The Saints defense was abysmal last season, allowing an NFL-record 7,042 yards. Expect that to change with the additions of Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro, and their new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints defense won’t be as bad, and their offense will be back firing on all levels once again with Drew Brees under center. Brees is looking for his third straight season throwing for more than 5,000 yards. He lost Chris Ivory and Devery Henderson, but still has Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Jimmy Graham and some depth in the backfield. The Saints won’t make the playoffs, but they’ll finish 9-7.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
Darrelle Revis alone will make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a much better team in 2013. The Bucs vastly improved their defense from last season, which was the worst in football. Revis joins Dashon Goldson and Akeem Spence as newcomers to a revamped Tampa Bay defense. They will be very effective against the passing game, which will be the major reason for more wins this year. The offense will bring back a majority of their players minus Dallas Clark and LaGarrette Blount. Doug Martin made fantasy owners fall in love after a remarkable rookie year. If Josh Freeman can stay away from throwing picks, he has the receivers in Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Kevin Ogletree to make them hard to stop. The Bucs are going to be very competitive all season, but they’ll fall just short in some tight games. Expect Tampa Bay to finish 9-7 and just miss out on the playoffs.
4. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
It seems like a lot of people around the league believe in the Carolina Panthers to be a possible playoff team in 2013. I’m not one of them. They had a nice finish to last season, winning four straight games, but they still have some question marks on both sides of the ball. A lot will depend on what Cam Newton we see, because he’s as bipolar a quarterback as they come. If he shines, he has talent on the outside to get the ball to. The Panthers added Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon to join Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. With Jonathan Stewart hurt for the first half of the season, the Panthers need DeAngelo Williams to carry the load. Williams is another player where on week he’s great, next week he’s nonexistent. The Panthers defense should be solid, especially up front, but they have a couple question marks in the secondary. This team is so hard to predict and we don’t know what Panthers team we will see. For that reason, expect them to finish in the cellar of the NFC South at 7-9.