1. Atlanta Falcons– After another 13-3 season, the Falcons finally won a playoff game in the Matt Ryan- Mike Smith era. That answered the question surrounding this football team as January approached. Matt Ryan put together his best season in 2012 and he’s a top-10 quarterback in the game today. Ryan and Roddy White have continued to show why they are an elite tandem and Julio Jones has become another go to guy on this offense. As a defense, the Falcons biggest issue has been their inconsistent pass rush, which often got them into trouble. In 2013, they enter with two new key faces. Steven Jackson was signed this off-season and the defense looked to improve by signing Osi Umenyiora. The Falcons can be one of the bigger threats to the 49ers in the conference.
2. New Orleans Saints– What a year 2012 was. No head coach for an entire season, and you clearly saw how that affected the Saints. A head coach can make the biggest difference just as any player can make the biggest impact. Despite the fact the Saints struggled, Drew Brees carried this team on his shoulders and the Saints still had the most prolific passing attack in the game. The biggest concern was their defense. They could score points as an offense but they also gave those points back on defense. 2013 will be a normal year for the Saints. Sean Payton will be back on the sidelines and this Saints team will be much improved from a year ago.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Bucs showed flashes of improvement after a 2011 campaign, but ended the season with 10-straight losses. Doug Martin put together a very impressive rookie season and has a very bright future ahead of him. The biggest issue with Tampa last season was its pass defense, which gave up 297.5 yards a game, ranking 32nd in the league. It’s safe to say this secondary will be much improved this upcoming season. The Bucs signed DaShon Goldson and traded for Darrelle Revis. Having the best cornerback in the game will make a huge difference.
4. Carolina Panthers– The Panthers were a sleeper pick to many people last year, but they just couldn’t get it going. Cam Newton struggled after putting together one of the best rookie seasons in 2011. As a defense, they still continued to struggle. The Panthers were in a majority of their games last season but struggled to close out. The biggest X factor for these Panthers will be Newton. If he can play like he did in 2011, the Panthers will win football games.
1. Falcons (12-4)
2. Saints (10-6)
3. Bucs (9-7)
4. Panthers (7-9)
The NFC South has never had a back to back division winner. I think the Falcons will rise up and take the NFC South for the second straight season. Matt has elevated his play and most of his offensive weapons are coming back this year along with the addition of Steven Jackson. The Falcons pass rush must improve and when that happens, the Falcons will win games.