How Many Teams Are In The National Football League Atlanta Falcons to Repeat As NFC South Cellar Dwellers

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Atlanta Falcons to Repeat As NFC South Cellar Dwellers

Three of the four teams in the NFC South have a legitimate chance to win the division. The Atlanta Falcons are the only team out of the running, but this is considered a rebuilding year for them. They have already named former Boston College standout Matt Ryan as their starting quarterback.

The rookie quarterback is a microcosm of his team. Like his team, he isn’t ready to become a league star. Like his team, he takes regular beatings every week. Like his team, he will make costly mistakes. And like his team, he works with the hope that his test will make him better in the future.

History suggests the opposite scenario.

Because it takes several years to fully learn the NFL playbook, starting rookie QBs typically learn on the fly and work behind offensive lines while trying to read aggressive defenses under aggressive coordinators. The physical and mental shocks that are amplified by the ever-increasing media are likely to make the young passer-by stronger. Ask David Carr. Or Alex Smith.

I said all that so I can say this: Atlanta is probably going to make a mistake starting Ryan. But this isn’t the first time the Falcons have made the wrong decision (Michael Vick, anyone?).

In the wide NFC South, only one thing is certain: the Falcons will finish last.

New Orleans Saints

There are many questions with this team, not the least of which is: Will Reggie Bush be the quarterback everyone believed he would be? Whether he justifies his salary or not, this team is loaded offensively. Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colston and a rejuvenated Jeremy Shockey to put plenty of points on the scoreboard. But can they stop anyone?

Circle this date: October 26, vs. San Diego (at London). Drew Brees has no word on the team that waived him in favor of Phillip Rivers, but you can bet he’s looking forward to this game.

Outlook: I don’t think this team is a fluke. Sean Payton has assembled a team that prides itself on toughness and resilience. I expect to see them at or near the top of the division for the next few years.

Projected finish: 11-5, good enough for the tops in the division. And maybe even the winner of the first round of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There’s something about Jeff Garcia that teams don’t like. He was dropped by the 49ers in his prime. He fled the city in Cleveland and Detroit. And after a Pro Bowl season that seemed to stifle his career resurgence, the Buccaneers tried to land the recently unretired Brett Favre. If he hadn’t married the 2004 Playboy model, Jeff might have felt a little insecure.

Circle this date: Nov. 30, vs. New Orleans. Garcia and Drew Brees are gunning it out in a game that could have serious playoff implications.

Outlook: Defensive toughness makes up for the Bucs’ lack of consistent play. Garcia is having another solid season, but how many solid seasons does one have at age 38?

Projected finish: 10-6.

Carolina Panthers

Let’s see … a quarterback coming off Tommy John surgery, a star receiver serving a two-game suspension, a lack of proven running back … not looking good. But John Fox knows how to do more with less, and the Panthers always seem to be at the end of the season.

Circle this date: September 21, at Minnesota Vikings. It was supposed to be Steve Smith’s first game back from suspension (charged by the team after Smith broke a teammate’s nose in a fight). Expect him to have a breakout game.

Outlook: The Panthers have talent, but something always seems to stand in their way. This year it’s a few things. Jake Delhomme’s elbow, Smith’s shortened season, a rebuilt offensive line and a decimated defensive line.

Predicted score: 8-8.

Atlanta Falcons

When your best player is banned from the league and transferred to Leavenworth, you have a problem. These guys have problems. They have a rookie quarterback in Ryan, a running back (Michael Turner) who is unproven as a starter, and they have several key losses on both sides of the ball.

Circle this date: October 5, at the Green Bay Packers. This is my angry special. If the Falcons can shake off that game, they could even make it a two-game winning streak with an Oct. 12 win over the Chicago Bears. Hey, anything is possible. Kevin Garnett said so.

Outlook: unclear. This might be the worst team in the National Football League.

Projected finish: 3-13.

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