Rant Sports 2013 NFC South Pre-Draft Preview

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Rant Sports 2013 NFC South Pre-Draft Preview

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Since it's inception during the division realignment of 2002, the NFC South has regularly had participants in the League Championship games as well as the Super Bowl. In fact, since the division began, no team has ever won consecutive division titles. It's just that close and competitive a division.

The fierce regional rivalries that exist in the NFC South many times date back to old SEC and ACC college foes, with many of the best players from those two prominently southern conferences ending up with teams in this division.

It's a division that boasts two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL--Drew Brees and Matt Ryan--and also has one who could be well on his way to joining that list in Cam Newton. But make no mistake, despite the abundance of great passers, this is a smash-mouth division that has some heavy hitting defenders and running backs.

Traveling between any of the cities in the NFC South is remarkably easy, so the fans are known to load up buses and travel in massive groups to rival stadiums. Truly, the tailgating and all around atmosphere surrounding these games resembles a college football game at times.

In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons ran away with the division, taking a 13-3 league best record into the playoffs. However, the three losses Atlanta suffered during the regular season were all to NFC South opponents.

All four teams in the division have undergone some personnel and coaching changes, with more yet to come in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft. Here's a look at how things may shake out in this division, and what each team may have to overcome.

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NFC South: 2013 Biggest Disappointment - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Daniel Shirey - USA Today Sports

ASSETS: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks

LIABILITIES: Pass defense, Inconsistent QB play

KEY LOSSES: DE Michael Bennett


2012 Record: 7-9

2013 Prediction: 8-8

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some good progress from their debacle of a season in 2011, but some of that progress may have been temporary. As the 2012 season wore on, more of the team's deficiencies were exposed, and more teams started to learn Greg Schiano's coaching tendencies.

Unless the Bucs do something to solidify their poor pass defense--by Darrelle Revis trade or otherwise--they will have a tough time surviving again in six divisional games against Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

Tampa will more than likely still win more games than the previous year, but with expectations of a possible playoff run this year, the projected eight or nine win season will probably be just enough to keep Schiano from getting canned.

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NFC South: 2013 Biggest Surprise - Carolina Panthers

John David Mercer - USA Today Sports

ASSETS: Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Luke Kuechly

LIABILITIES: Cam Newton, Offensive Line, Coaching



2012 Record: 7-9

2013 Prediction: 10-6

The Carolina Panthers have opted to pretty much keep the same core players from last season, which did end on a positive swing. While questioned by some, the Falcons employed that same basic strategy in 2012, and had the desired results. But without the dynamic skill position players that Atlanta has, the Panthers probably should have done more free agent work.

Despite that, this is a strong team with a very solid defense--especially the front seven--that can keep this team in a lot of games regardless of any problems scoring points on offense.

One of the biggest issues facing the Panthers is Cam Newton learning the plays and schemes of new offensive coordinator Mike Shula. If Cam can grasp Shula's plan early on, it could mean a serious playoff run at a Wild Card or even division championship.

Look for the Panthers to have a winning season and make both the Falcons and Saints look over their shoulders a few times.

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NFC South: 2013 Division Champs - Atlanta Falcons

Daniel Shirey - USA Today Sports

ASSETS: Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Coaching,

LIABILITIES: Defensive Line, Linebacker Speed, Running Backs

KEY LOSSES: CB Dunta Robinson, CB Brent Grimes, DE John Abraham, RB Michael Turner, C Todd McClure

KEY ACQUISITIONS: DE Osi Umenyiora, RB Steven Jackson

2012 Record: 13-3

2013 Prediction: 12-4

For a team coming fresh off being 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, the Falcons look like they were miles away and are still fighting for respect. Lots of personnel turnover on a defense that already had some issues will have to be addressed in the upcoming draft, particularly in the secondary. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has 11 draft picks to play with, which can be a dangerous thing. Atlanta should come out of the draft with everything they need.

Atlanta's offense will be just as good if not better than last season, and the team expects Steven Jackson to perform at a much higher level than Michael Turner did in his last season in Atlanta.

Despite any perceived flaws, this team is still the class of the division and should still be one of the favorites in the NFC.

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NFC South: 2013 Spoiler - New Orleans Saints

John David Mercer - USA Today Sports

ASSETS: Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham,

LIABILITIES: Cornerbacks, Defensive Line, Offensive Line, Depth at WR,

KEY LOSSES: OT Jermon Bushrod

KEY ACQUISITIONS: DB Keenan Lewis, LB Victor Butler

2012 Record: 7-9

2013 Prediction: 11-5

The return of head coach Sean Payton is enough to bring a few extra wins to the Saints on it's own. But the Saints have been working to improve some weak areas, and will continue to do so during the draft.

Any team that is QB'd by Drew Brees is a dangerous team, but if the opposing offense never gets off the field, it makes it tough on even a passer as good as Brees.

Depending on what the Saints get during this year's draft, it could mean the difference in them playing the spoiler role and challenging for a Wild Card playoff spot, to actually slugging it out with the Falcons for the division championship.

The key will be on defense. The Saints probably can't afford to draft any offensive players this year, so the backs and receivers that Brees has to work with (which aren't bad at all by any stretch) will have to do for this season.

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NFC South: MVP - Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

Daniel Shirey - USA Today Sports

There can only be one choice for the player who will ultimately be the MVP of this division, and that is Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez.

In 2012, Gonzalez gave a 5% chance of returning to play, which of course he has opted to do. But that chance will probably be reduced to 5% of that 5%--meaning that this will more than likely be Tony G's swan song in the NFL.

Gonzalez continues to play at an extremely high level, and has shown no real signs of slowing, but expect him to leave absolutely nothing in the tank when he's done this season. Gonzalez will fight harder than ever, knowing that this will be his last shot at that elusive Super Bowl ring, which would be the crowning achievement to an absolutely amazing football career.