While I'm still confident about the Saints chances this year, I figure it's time to start looking at the rest of the division. I've been so focused on what New Orleans is doing I forgot there are three other teams we have to face twice a year. I didn't really forget but they haven't had a fraction of the spotlight on them that the Saints have had. Of course I'm talking about division rivals Atlanta, Carolina, and Tampa Bay.
Personally, I'm tired of hearing the "experts" claiming the Saints are going to backslide this year. I've heard several reports where "they" claim the Saints definitely won't win the division, and even heard one report say they'd fall to the bottom of the NFC South this year.
So just to make sure I'm not missing something here, I've decided to check in on our division rivals. In case you've had your football blinders on like me, you should appreciate a quick glance at the other teams in the NFC South. So join me after the jump for a brief breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons.
Of all of our rivals, I hold a special place in my heart for the Falcons. That special place is full of unwarranted hate and disgust. Like many Saints fans, I harbor a seething, dark anger when I think of Atlanta. I can't even explain it well, but who needs explanations when it comes to football rivalries?
Word on the street and the internet says Atlanta is going to be a passing team. Matt Ryan has the green light to take more shots downfield to create a more explosive offense. With this aggressive approach, Julio Jones could prove to be a dangerous weapon especially since they also have Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Tony Gonzalez.
White and Gonzalez are both seasoned veterans with big-play potential. While Harry Douglas is not considered an elite receiver, he is a deep threat who can draw some attention away from Jones and White. With their starting receiving corps, explosiveness is definitely a possibility, but a one-dimensional offense can also become just as implosive.
Naturally the next position under review is Atlanta's rushing attack. Most Saints fans are familiar with Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Jason Snelling. As far as running backs go, Michael Turner can pound the ball, but he's 30 now and I personally feel like he's lost more than just a step. The addition of Jacquizz Rodgers gives the Atlanta backfield some speed and elusiveness, but he's about the size of Darren Sproles so his durability will be questioned unless he can prove otherwise.
The Falcons third back Jason Snelling, has amassed a whopping 7 TDs in his 5 years with the team, but can still gain some yards on the ground for them. Unless there's a camp body I haven't heard about, I don't see Atlanta's rushing numbers increasing.
With all the emphasis on the passing game, their running game could easily suffer as they try to air it out. Considering the weapons they have, Atlanta could have one of the more prolific passing attacks in the NFL this season. The trick for them will be finding the balance between pass and run. If opposing defensive coordinators see a trend one way or another they will certainly try to exploit anything they see as a weakness.
On the other side of the ball, the Altanta defense is having issues with the linebacker position (sounds familiar). The Saints took their top LB Curtis Lofton during free agency. In addition, Lofa Tatupu is out for the season and Akeem Dent, the man who replaced Lofton on the depth chart, was suffering from lingering concussion symptoms and has just been cleared for contact. Opposing offenses could have a field day running on them if they don't find suitable replacements. Routes across the middle could also expose weaknesses in coverage so they're going to need to adjust their cover schemes if they don't want to be burned down the seams.
It's a good thing the bright spot for the Falcons is their secondary play. They brought in Asante Samuel who is considered an upgrade for them on the outside. Additionally, they still have Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson who are both good cornerbacks, but the addition of Samuel allows Robinson to cover the slot receiver where he's more comfortable. So passing deep on Atlanta may prove tougher this season than in past years.
The Falcons will probably be the Saints biggest threat within the division this season, but only time will tell if each team's adjustments will pay off. As much as I hate to give Atlanta any kind of credit, they are poised to have a good season pending any injuries or other issues that can slow a team down. I could see them contending for a Wildcard Slot in the playoffs, but being the eternal Saints fan I don't see them taking the division title from us.