(Left to right) Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Josh Freeman. Photo Credits: NFL Network and NFL.com.

Division Predictions: NFC South

Each week, Rishi Pochiraju will predict the placement of teams in an NFL division. Up today: the NFC South. See his page for other division predictions.

The NFC South can be labeled as a mystery division. There is only one team (Atlanta) that I have complete faith in. They should be able crank out at least ten wins. The other three teams are mysteries and it’s almost impossible to predict how they will fare in 2013.

In other words, the teams in this division can place in literally any order out of the 24 combinations of possible ways. There are questions and gaping holes for every team in the division, but the divisional matchups will bring out the best in the division.

Perhaps (and hopefully for football fans) the division will come down to the final few weeks. It certainly looks like this year will produce a memorable finish, just as the NFC East did last year.

1st Place:  Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta is the most complete team in the division. I love the addition of Steven Jackson to fill the void of Michael Turner in the backfield. He’ll be used effectively with what Dirk Koetter wants to do in the passing game – once Atlanta has a significant lead, Jackson can be used as a closer to put the game away.

Atlanta’s schedule isn’t easy. However, the team hosts several opponents who are great at home, but average on the road (such as Seattle). There isn’t a team on the schedule that the Falcons cannot beat.

I’m not saying that they will finish undefeated – there are certainly tough games – but Atlanta is balanced and complete on offense and solid on defense in every aspect of the game. They could possibly be the most complete team in the NFC. They look to defend not only their division crown, but also the number 1 seed in the conference.

2nd Place:  New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton is back. So everything is better, right? Payton certainly provides the team with the assets that weren’t there last season (I actually believe he’s the best play-caller in the league), but the Saints’ defense was one of the worst units in the history of professional football last season.

To fix those defensive issues, Steve Spagnuolo is out and Rob Ryan is in. But will Ryan’s 3-4 scheme help or hurt the defense, as well as key players on the team? It might do more harm than help. Jonathan Vilma is a 4-3 middle linebacker rather than a 3-4 inside linebacker. I’m not insinuating that he can’t make the adjustment, but his skillset simply doesn’t fit what Ryan wants to do on defense.

Despite the defensive problems, Drew Brees and the offense should be able to elevate the team. Payton’s return should only add to that, and it’s very possible that the team can make a run at the playoffs. I simply don’t see them overtaking Atlanta for the division crown.

3rd Place:  Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton’s first two years in Carolina have been nothing short of spectacular. The Panthers can really shock people this year, perhaps earning a winning season. I’ve placed them third in the division because of a tough schedule (actually the toughest in the league, according to strength of schedule) and a lack of weapons and playmakers on both offense and defense.

Newton doesn’t seem to have a lethal deep threat or pure number one target. Steve Smith is getting older now and there isn’t a clear number two receiver behind him. The defense made a huge improvement last season from the year before, but they’ll have to slow down offenses in the division that feature Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and co., and Doug Martin.

Cam Newton should be able to put up monster numbers, but the tough schedule which includes the tough division opponents, Seattle, New England, and New York (Giants) will be tough to overcome.

4th Place:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Somebody had to be last. I hate putting Tampa Bay here, because they’re a very talented team. It’s very possible none of the teams at all in the division could end up with a losing record; it’s that competitive. But if there is a weak team in the division, it has to be Tampa.

The team crumbled down the stretch last year, finishing 1-5 after a 6-4 start. Josh Freeman is questioned as a starter and Mike Glennon is waiting right behind him. However, the team does boast a great run defense and has added some key pieces through the draft and through trade that should aid the secondary.

The addition of Darrelle Revis helps revamp the secondary (which could be one of the best in the league now) and Doug Martin will continue to be the Muscle Hamster. Tampa Bay will compete in the division, but the other three teams are more talented.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons Buccaneers Cam Newton Carolina Panthers Doug Martin Drew Brees Falcons Josh Freeman Matt Ryan Mike Glennon New Orleans Saints NFC South Nfc South Predictions Panthers Rob Ryan Saints Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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