Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

NFC South Preview

Atlanta Falcons

2010: 13-3, first in NFC South; lost 48-21 to Packers in division round

The skinny: The Falcons are positioning themselves for a lengthy postseason run, and it will be on the back of, arguably, one of the most potent offenses in the league. They traded up 21 spots in the draft to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones, left, sixth overall, adding him to a group that includes Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White, receiver Harry Douglas and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. All in all, franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, who has improved in each of his first three seasons, should have plenty of weapons. That includes speedy running back Michael Turner. The question will be on defense, which in 2010 ranked 22nd against the pass and had just 31 sacks (tied for 20th). It also lost a field position x-factor in punter/kicker Michael Koenen to the Bucs in free agency. Atlanta hopes its new $30 million defensive end, Ray Edwards, can team up with end John Abraham (13 sacks in 2010) to be a fierce one-two punch. The Falcons will be tested early. Four of their first five games are against playoff teams from a year ago.

Carolina Panthers

2010: 2-14, fourth in NFC South

The skinny: The Cam Newton Era begins this year with the Auburn quarterback and No. 1 overall pick, right, taking the reigns in Week 1 under first-year coach Ron Rivera. The Panthers will likely need all of Newton's athleticism coming off a season in which they had the worst offense in the league (258.4 yards per game). Carolina added some weapons, including veteran tight ends Greg Olsen (trade from the Bears) and Jeremy Shockey (free agency) to go with stalwart receiver Steve Smith. The Panthers will also have run-blocking right tackle Jeff Otah back after he missed all of last season to knee surgery. That should make running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams capable of duplicating their 2009 season, when each racked up 1,100 yards. The defensive line has a huge hole with tackle Ron Edwards gone for the season after tearing a triceps in his first practice. And the Panthers will have to rely on a lot of unproven players, including former USF star defensive lineman and third-round pick Terrell McClain. Carolina should make some strides, but it will likely be another long season considering the competition in the NFC South.

New Orleans Saints

2010: 11-5, second in NFC South; lost 41-36 to Seahawks in wild-card round

The skinny: The Saints, coming off a disappointing playoff loss, have what it takes to overcome the Falcons and reach the Super Bowl, like they did two years ago. They look a little different with veteran running back Darren Sproles replacing Reggie Bush (traded to the Dolphins). Sproles could be a difference-making, change-of-pace back/slot receiver, teaming up with first-round pick Mark Ingram to improve last season's 28th-ranked rushing attack. Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, right, lost a weapon in tight end Jeremy Shockey (now in Carolina) and will need receiver Marques Colston, slowed by a knee injury during the preseason, to be healthy. The sixth-year pro, who has 154 catches over the past two seasons, has undergone five knee surgeries. Like the Falcons, the Saints did some upgrading on the defensive line, drafting end Cameron Jordan in the first round and signing tackle Shaun Rogers and end Turk McBride in free agency. They hope to rack up more than the 33 sacks they had in 2010.

Joe Smith, Times staff writer

NFC South Preview 09/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 4:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs journal: Kicker Nick Folk has up and downs against Jaguars


    JACKSONVILLE — If the Bucs had hoped for a drama-free night in their kicking game, they'll have to wait another week.

    Bucs kicker Nick Folk celebrates one of his two made field goals against the Jaguars, but he also misses a field goal and has an extra point blocked.
  2. Bucs top Jaguars behind strong first half



    There is a reason why the air in Tampa Bay is filled with playoff talk. If Thursday night's 12-8 Bucs preseason win over the Jaguars is any indication, it's also going to be filled with footballs thrown by quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Doug Martin gets the Bucs’ only touchdown  on a 2-yard run, squeaking past linebacker Telvin Smith in the first quarter. He has five carries for 30 yards.
  3. Rays journal: Archer has strong outing, with two mistakes

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Two pitches RHP Chris Archer didn't execute are the ones that stood out Thursday as Josh Donaldson hit them out of the park. But the two solo home runs aside, Archer turned in a sterling outing that went atop the pile of good pitching the Rays keep wasting.

    Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) works during the first inning. [Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP]
  4. Tim Tebow continues wowing fans as he wraps up bay area games


    CLEARWATER — Tracey Fritzinger has seen Tim Tebow play baseball a few times this year. The 40-year-old St. Petersburg resident went to two of his games against the Tampa Yankees, along with Joy, her little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

    St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow, middle, hangs out in the dugout during Thursday night’s game against the Clearwater Threshers at Spectrum Field, the last of St. Lucie’s eight-day trip to the Tampa Bay area.
  5. Rays vs. Mariners, 7:10 Friday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.