How will massive Saints penalties impact NFC South competition?
If you haven't heard by now, massive penalties have been handed down in the so-called Saints "Bounty-gate" story, on the heels of the NFL's findings that coaches and players participated in an organized bounty program that rewarded defensive players from a pot of cash for big hits and hits that resulted in injuries.
The penalties include a 1-year suspension of coach Sean Payton and the stripping of the team's 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks. The club will also pay a $500,000 fine, while former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- now with the Rams -- will be suspended indefinitely.
To localize this a bit, let's ask a fair question: What does this do to the balance of power in the NFC South?
The feeling here is that the loss of Payton, more than anything else, will have far-reaching implications and could have a major effect on the outcome of the Saints' season. Payton is not only the head coach, but is one half of a dynamic offensive tandem along with quarterback Drew Brees. Payton calls the Saints' plays and is considered one of the best play-callers in the game. His offensive game plans have factored significantly in the team's offensive success the past few seasons.
And here's an important point: There are still player sanctions likely to be handed down, meaning some key Saints defenders could be suspended for undetermined lengths of time.
The bottom line: The defending division champion Saints right now arguably are not as lethal as they were before this decision was reached, and that bodes well for NFC South competitors like the Falcons, Panthers and, yes, the Bucs. Remember, Tampa Bay has split with the Saints in each of the past three seasons, going 3-3 against New Orleans even while having a poor overall record in that time span.
Drew Brees will remain one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and the Saints still have weapons like tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marcus Coltson and a deep and talented backfield.
But the man who brought all that together, the guy who made the Saints an offensive force to begin with, will not be a part of the 2012 season. That alone is enough to render the NFC South more winnable for everyone else.