NFL Divisional Futures – NFC South
Each of the four teams in the NFC South has won a division title in the past five years with the New Orleans Saints the only one to win it twice. Heading into this season, the Saints are favored to come-out on top again, but there are a few other teams that can make a strong case why they should be the team to watch in the South in 2012.
New Orleans Saints +120
All the talk surrounding the Saints this offseason had nothing to do with another heart-breaking loss in the playoffs. Rather, it was all about a pay-for-performance bounty program that blew-up into a full scale scandal that cost head coach Sean Peyton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma a year suspension for their role. The team has vowed not to let these off-field distractions affect its performance on the field, but only time will tell if this will truly be the case. From a talent standpoint the Saints remained stacked led by quarterback Drew Brees, who has already stepped-up to take a leadership role in Peyton’s absence. If this team starts strong, it should be enough to carry it to another division title, but a couple of losses out of the gate would probably derail the whole year.
Atlanta Falcons +130
Patiently waiting in the wings for its shot to get back on top in the South is a Falcon team that looks as good as anyone in the NFC during the regular season, but fades like the late-day sun in the postseason. The pressure has already been dialed-up on quarterback Matt Ryan heading into his fifth season in the league to carry this offense to bigger and better things, despite the fact that it was ranked eighth in the NFL in passing and seventh in scoring last year. Atlanta’s defense was also one of the better units in the league in 2011 especially against the run where it held its opponents to less than 100 yards a game on the ground. The two main things that the Falcons have to improve upon to claim this year’s division title is their record on the road (1-7) and their record within the division (1-5).
Carolina Panthers +500
Former Heisman Trophy winner and No.1 overall draft pick Cam Newton took the NFL by storm in his rookie year to help turn one of the most anemic offenses in the league into the seventh-best unit in total yards and fifth-best at putting points on the board. The big question coming into this season is can he use his incredible talents to help the Panthers win more games. Despite throwing for over 4000 yards and rushing for another 700 yards, there is nothing Newton can do to help a defense that was ranked 27th in points allowed and 28th overall. Second-year head coach Ron Rivera used the draft and some free-agent acquisitions to address this side of the ball and if things come together quickly, look for Carolina be pressing both the Saints and the Falcons for the division title in 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1200
The Buccaneers 10-win season in 2010 is just a distant memory after a second-half collapse last season resulted in a 4-12 record in 2011. The ability for this team to turn back the clock to a much more productive time hinges on fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman’s ability to recapture the form that helped produce all those victories in the first place. It will also hinge on new head coach Greg Shiano’s ability to transition his success at the college ranks into the pros. He is basically an unproven commodity in the NFL, so the 2012 season could be more of a rebuilding process for this team as opposed to an immediate turnaround that the Bucs’ fans are hoping to see.
DJ is a freelance writer that concentrates on his true passion in life; the world of sports. He produces a number of articles each week for BangTheBook.com as well as a select group of other websites that specialize in providing the most up-to-date information for the sports gaming industry. His goal is to write insightful articles on a wide variety of sporting topics that can provide an edge to today's sophisticated online player.