NFC preview: South

With Brees and all his weapons, are Saints poised to repeat?

August 29, 2010|By Sam Farmer, Tribune newspapers


Big questions: With virtually all their offensive weapons in place, are the Saints positioned to repeat their magical season? What kind of numbers can QB Drew Brees assemble with his top playmakers healthy? Is RB Reggie Bush a too-expensive luxury, or does he have a long-term future with the franchise? Will losing linebacker Scott Fujita hurt the defense more than the team is anticipating? How long can big-play safety Darren Sharper (14th season) maintain his level of play?

Big moves: The addition of defensive end Alex Brown fills the void left by Charles Grant and gives the Saints a quicker bookend to Will Smith. The departed Fujita might have had the best Super Bowl on that defense. Gone are RB Mike Bell and QB Mark Brunell.

Bottom line: Before they clear space for another Lombardi Trophy, the Saints can focus on another goal: becoming the first NFC South team to win consecutive division titles.


Big questions: Can the Panthers establish an effective passing game, something they were unable to do with any consistency last season? Who will emerge as the best quarterback, Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen, and how much of an issue will Clausen's injured toe be? Who will step into the defensive void Julius Peppers leaves?

Big moves: Finally cutting ties with QB Jake Delhomme was huge because both he and the Panthers needed a fresh start. Losing Peppers will take some real adjusting. The team also parted ways with longtime fullback Brad Hoover, linebacker Na'il Diggs, defensive tackle Damione Lewis and safety Chris Harris.

Bottom line: Under coach John Fox, the Panthers typically have rebounded from a so-so year with a strong one. After going 7-9 in 2002, '04 and '07 they bounced back with 11, 11 and 12 victories. They could respond the same way from their 8-8 showing last year.


Big questions: With an even better grasp of the offense, is QB Matt Ryan poised for a breakout year? How much can CB Dunta Robinson help a defense ranked 28th against the pass in '09? Will the return of DT Peria Jerry help free the defensive ends who struggled to get loose last season? Will Michael Turner re-emerge as one of the league's top running backs?

Big moves: The Falcons spent $22.5 million in guaranteed money to sign Robinson, the cover corner they long have sought. The summer hasn't gone smoothly, as he's recovering from a torn hamstring. The Falcons got rid of marginal cornerbacks Tye Hill and Chris Houston. The club also said goodbye to receiver Marty Booker and RBs Verron Haynes and Aaron Stecker.

Bottom line: A year after having the league's fourth-toughest schedule, the Falcons are 20th in that category. That should help a promising team coming off an injury-riddled year.


Big questions: Will QB Josh Freeman recover from his fractured thumb in time for the opener? Can the Bucs regain their defensive prowess with Raheem Morris calling the shots? Will the team realize big dividends from its investment in rookie DTs Gerald McCoy (first round) and Brian Price (second)? What type of production can the team expect from talented rookie receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams?

Big moves: The Bucs have been looking for a dominant defensive tackle ever since Warren Sapp left, and the team thinks it could have one in McCoy. The team parted ways with receiver Antonio Bryant, defensive linemen Chris Hovan and Jimmy Wilkerson and safety Will Allen.

Bottom line: Every year since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the team that finished last in the NFC South made the playoffs the following year. It would be a big surprise if the Bucs continued that trend.

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