NFC South Preview from the New Orleans Times- Picayune Saints Beat Writers. I can't remember a year the Panthers were this universally disrespected.
2012: 13-3, won division, lost to 49ers in NFC championship game.
2013 prediction: 11-5
Outlook: Offensively, the Falcons possess a stout group of skill players with quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. Throw in a highly motivated Steven Jackson at running back, and Atlanta's offense could be better than last year. Defense is a question. The Falcons lost cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes and replaced them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Plus, how much does end Osi Umenyiora have left?
New Orleans Saints
Outlook: The band is back together with Sean Payton on the sideline once again for the Saints after missing all of last season due to a suspension connected to the bounty scandal. Drew Brees and the offense should pick up right where they left off in 2011 with Payton calling the plays. The addition of Rob Ryan as coordinator should improve the defense, as well as the additions of cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro. To what degree, though, will be the big mystery.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Outlook: Quarterback Josh Freeman is the biggest question mark entering the season for Tampa Bay. The Bucs hold first-class weapons like running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. But can Freeman hold it together? The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis was one of the most significant acquisitions during the offseason. Revis and safety Dashon Goldson should improve a pass defense that finished last in the NFL in 2012.
Outlook: Carolina ended last season with a slew of momentum, winning its final four games, including a 44-38 victory over the Saints in Week 17. Quarterback Cam Newton can be dynamic at times, and he can be a detriment at times. The Panthers' tailbacks aren't getting any younger, either. Defensively, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy could be one of the more underrated pass-rushing duos in the league. But outside of Luke Kuechly at linebacker, the rest of the unit doesn't strike fear in anyone.
Favorite: Atlanta has the playoff monkey off its back and might be ready to take another step forward.
Sleeper: The only reason the Saints aren't the favorite is because their defense remains a bit of a question mark entering the season.
Best player: Forget how much money Ryan received in the offseason. Brees is hands down the best player in the division.
Impact rookie: Vaccaro could become the physical, yet crafty, playmaker the Saints desperately need in their secondary.
Best coach: Not having Payton for the 2012 season just shows how much of a difference maker he is for the Saints. Plus, Payton is the only coach in the division with a Super Bowl ring.
Who's on the hot seat: If coach Ron Rivera can't push the Panthers into the playoffs, owner Jerry Richardson could be ready to make a move.