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Opinion: NFC South Title Won't Come So Easy This Year

Every year in the NFL there are always a handful of teams that wind up surprising fans by exceeding expectations and putting together a better-than-expected season. So far in 2010 it's looking like the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be one of those teams, coming out of the gate strong with a 2-0 start. Sophomore quarterback Josh Freeman is coming along quite nicely, much to the delight of Tampa fans everywhere. It's been five years since the Bucs ever started this well and it helped them win the division that same year.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Matt Ryan used his performance on the field yesterday to address all those silly rumors that went flying around last week about his potential (or lack thereof) as a quarterback. The Falcons appear to have righted the ship after a sketchy week one performance and should now be considered a significant force to be reckoned with once again.

As Saints fans I think we've all gotten comfortable with the team playing in such a mediocre division and assumed that a second straight division title is all but a lock this year. We knew the Falcons might give the Saints some trouble. Maybe. But with the Buccaneers looking competitive as well, things could get heated in the division this season.

NFC South Standings

New Orleans 1 0 0 14 9
Tampa Bay 2 0 0 37 21
Atlanta 1 1 0 50 22
Carolina 0 2 0 25 51

(updated 9.19.2010 at 10:30 PM CDT)

Not that I don't think the Saints aren't the strongest team in the NFL, let alone the NFC South, but division titles don't just fall into a teams lap. Given what looks like a more competitive division, it could come down to the wire this season. Unlike last year, the Saints may not have the luxury of losing their final three games and remaining in first place unless they make sure to win even these early in-conference matchups like the one tonight against the 49ers.

As in years past, it might not be so easy to earn the division title in the NFC South this season. Ten wins would have been good enough last year but if the early indications of a tougher division have any validity than that's probably not going to cut it this year, meaning every win this season will be crucial and every loss detrimental. The Saints can absolutely repeat as NFC South champions, I just expect the road to be a little bumpier.

What do you guys think? Do you expect the Saints to coast to the title? Which team in the division, if any, scares you the most?