2006 NFC South Preview

The NFC South is a division that should feature at least two playoff teams. Having said that, predicting exactly which two teams – or possibly three – will qualify – may be next to impossible. Here’s the skinny on the NFC South for 2006.

Carolina Panthers
I genuinely believe that the Panthers have to be considered as one of the favorites to, not only win this division, but win the entire NFC.

Head coach John Fox is as good of a defensive coach as there is in all of football and has assembled this team for the long haul.

The Panthers signings of, wide receiver, Keyshawn Johnson and running back Deangelo Williams will add depth to an offense that seems to lose at least one key starter every year and should pay huge dividends for the Panthers this season.The Panthers also added defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis and will get tackle Kris Jenkins back from his injury-shortened 2005, adding even more depth to an already excellent defensive line.

I like the Panthers to win at least three division games this season and more likely, four, on their way to a deep playoff run come playoff time.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs should be even better than they were last season if quarterback Chris Sims continues the maturation he showed after taking over as the starter last season. The Bucs’ Cadillac Williams, the best rookie running back in the league last year should also be even better in 2006 than he was last season, which, by the way, was pretty good. If wide receiver Joe Galloway can come close to approaching his career best number from last season, and Michael Clayton can continue his growth on the other side, Tampa Bay could surprise this season.

Yes the Bucs have some questions that still need to be answered, but overall, I think the Bucs are a team that is on the way up. However, they will only go as far as Sims takes them. Tampa Bay should win at least three division games this season and find themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt.

Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are a team that could literally go either 6-10 or 10-6 this season – depending on the health and maturation of quarterback Michael Vick who can look absolutely amazing one second and totally perplexing the next.

The Falcons, who have never had back-to-back winning seasons in the 40-year history of their franchise, suffered a major collapse last season after getting off to a 7-4 start. Atlanta lost four of their final five and failed to make the playoffs.

However, this is a new season and the Falcons did add defensive end, John Abraham to a defensive line that could be outstanding this year. If the Falcons can get some decent play out of their secondary this season – a big if – then they could be a lot closer to 10-6 than 6-10.

Personally, I think the Falcons still need some help at wideout and Vick, as athletic as he may be, still needs to get better at passing out of the pocket an making the right reads. Until those two things happen, I think Atlanta will continue to be a good team that continues to fall just a wee bit short. I think the Falcons will win two, possibly three, division games this season and possibly contend for an NFC wild card playoff selection.

New Orleans Saints
The Saints had the worst record in the NFC last season, but with everything they suffered through with the Hurricane Katrina related uprooting, they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, this team is going to be immensely different from the team that closed out last season.

The Saints have a new head coach in Sean Payton and the electrifying talents of former Heisman Trophy winning running back, Reggie Bush, not to mention a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in former San Diego Chargers signal caller, Drew Brees.
It will obviously take Payton some time to get things turned around in New Orleans, but the Saints have absolutely nowhere to go but up. I think it is entirely possible that New Orleans will win two division games next season. Anything beyond that, and the Saints should be given replica Vince Lombardi trophies.

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