Although the core of this team is young, the consensus is the Falcons lack that killer instinct to get over the hump. Quarterback Matt Ryan has more weapons than the U.S. Department of Defense. Thomas Dimitroff brought in a still dangerous Steven Jackson to complete this high powered offense. John Abraham is now a Cardinal. Osi Umenyiora isn't the player he used to be. The secondary is very talented, but it's simply too young to make up for Atlanta's lacking pass rush.
The Falcons will have to take a page from one of their division rivals if they want to win it all this season. In 2009, the Saints won the Super Bowl thanks to a high powered offense and a turnover forcing defense. Ryan is not Drew Brees, but he can still take a step forward this year, prove the doubters wrong, and join the group of NFL's elite quarterbacks.
It will be a very interesting season in Atlanta.
Best Offensive Player: Julio Jones
Best Defensive Player: Sean Weatherspoon
Projected 2013 Record: 11-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s year-two of the Greg Schiano era, and he’s still wondering if he can trust his starting quarterback. Josh Freeman has relied on his immense physical gifts his entire NFL career, and he's going to need to take the next step this season to cement his status as Tampa Bay's franchise quarterback.
One of the best guard tandems in the NFL, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, return from injured reserve this season and will keep Doug Martin from having a sophomore slump. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are another lethal tandem this team possesses. The Bucs could have an elite offense if Freeman becomes a reliable signal caller and fixes his mechanics.
The defense has the best safety duo in the NFL. Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are two hard hitting safeties with range to cover. GM Mark Dominik spent some serious cash and a top 16 draft pick to bring in two of the best defenders in the league, and try to create the best secondary in football, but the pass rush isn't very good.
The Bucs may make a playoff appearance, but it doesn't have enough seasoning to make a big run.
Best Offensive Player: Carl Nicks
Best Defensive Player: Darrelle Revis
Projected 2013 Record: 9-7
New Orleans Saints
New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was able to make the Cowboys' defense decent, despite a plethora of injuries, but that defense had two players who totaled double digit sacks (DeMarcus Ware & Anthony Spencer). I'm 99.9% sure no Saint will get 10 or more sacks this season.
Drew Brees lost his blindside protector to Chicago. Terron Armstead posses a world of skill and has great potential, but he played at a small school against weak competition and has to sure-up his technique before he can become a solid left tackle for Brees.
Devery Henderson's jets ran out of fuel and was let go, and his replacement, Joseph Morgan, suffered a serious injury and is out for the season.
The lethal combo of Sean Payton and Brees will maximize this offense's production, but with a poor defense and a less than explosive offense, I expect the Saints to miss the playoffs once again.
Best Offensive Player: Drew Brees
Best Defensive Player: Curtis Lofton
Projected 2013 Record: 6-10
People can talk about Cam Newton's immaturity and inconsistency all they want, the fact is there are still major weaknesses on this roster.
Longtime left tackle Jordan Gross is getting older and his skills have started to erode. Right tackle Byron Bell is a one trick pony; he mostly mauls people in the run game, but gets torched in pass protection. 2012 starting right guard Geoff Hangartner was cut before the preseason.
Carolina's secondary doesn't project very well for this upcoming season. The Panthers will start second- round bust Mike Mitchell at strong safety. Mitchell was a workout warrior at the 2009 combine, but his physical tools have not translated to the football field.
The receiving core lacks depth and franchise receiver Steve Smith isn't getting any younger. If Newton can put in a pro bowl performance this season, this team has an outside chance at the playoffs. The best case scenario for the 2013 Panthers is they find out Newton and Rivera are their quarterback and head coach of the future. This team just isn't very good. Panther fans would be better off thinking about this team's future than its limited present.
Best Offensive Player: Ryan Kalil
Best Defensive Player: Luke Kuechly
Projected 2013 Record: 5-11