Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nfc South

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nfc South

Article excerpt

Byline: Vito Stellino

IN PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach: Sean Payton (42-27).

Last season: 13-3, won Super Bowl.

Upside: The Saints' passing game is the best in the league as Drew Brees threw for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns. And they have balance with their running game, which ranked sixth last season.

Downside: The defense ranked 25th, but that's a little misleading because coordinator Gregg Williams' blitzing schemes contributed to a plus-11 turnover ratio. Repeating as Super Bowl champs is a tough task.

Key acquisitions: A Super Bowl team doesn't need much help, so their draft choices, starting with first-round pick Patrick Robinson, a defensive back from Florida State, aren't likely to have a major impact this year.

Did you know? Reggie Bush is considered one of the team's stars, but he managed only 725 total rushing and receiving yards last year.

Bottom line: Only two teams built since the start of the salary-cap era - Denver in 1997-98 and New England in 2003-04 - have repeated. The Saints have a realistic shot at being the third.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach: Mike Smith (20-13).

Last season: 9-7.

Upside: Matt Ryan will enter his third season poised to take a step forward after missing two games with injuries last year. He has a pair of top targets in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

Downside: The Falcons' rushing game dropped from second in the league in 2008 to 15th last year. And though Smith is noted as a defensive coach, his defenses ranked 24th and 21st the past two seasons.

Key acquisitions: They signed CB Dunta Robinson from Houston to upgrade the secondary and went defense in the first round with LB Sean Witherspoon.

Did you know? Smith was 11-5 and 9-7 in his first two years. That's the first time in franchise history the Falcons put together back-to-back winning seasons.

Bottom line: Being in the same division with the Saints means the Falcons might have to settle for battling for a wild card. The Saints beat them twice last year.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach: John Fox (76-60).

Last season: 8-8. …

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