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Assessing the NFC South Offseason

Atlanta Falcons, 13-3 in 2010.
Owner Arthur Blank proclaimed that the bar has been raised, after rewarding GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith for reaching the old bar (I guess?). While they possess a few really intriguing young defenders – Brent Grimes, Sean Witherspoon, Curtis Lofton -, to call them exposed in the NFC Divisional Game would do it no justice. They have a lot to be worried about. They squeaked out games due to poor officiating, their quarterback is average when the pressure is on (yes, both in terms of physical pressure and in terms of closing out a game against a tough opponent), and their secondary is thin if still young. The bummer for 2011 is that they worked so hard for that home game but the 13-3 mostly just earned them a tougher schedule.

New Orleans Saints, 11-5 in 2010. Lost in the brouhaha of losing to a 7-9 playoff team and Sean Payton moving away from New Orleans is the serious level of free agent decisions New Orleans faces. I’m not talking about Reggie Bush, some actual contributors and important reserves might not return next year: reigning 2-time Pro Bowl SS Roman Harper coming off a pretty bad game in the playoffs, starting C Johnathan Goodwin, starting LG Carl Nicks, LDT Remi Ayodele, future Hall of Famer FS Darren Sharper, RLB Scott Shanle, run-blocking TE David Thomas, kick-returning WR Courtney Roby and DE Anthony Hargrove.

Carolina Panthers, 2-14 in 2010. Too freaking much has been made of the worst-to-first streak that was broken last year by the Buccaneers when they didn’t land in first place. Everyone knows the South is a competitive division and that you miss out if you don’t watch one of the divisional match-ups, unless they involve the Panthers. The Panthers are going cheap (and their owner is going nuts), and they don’t have enough offense to be competitive this coming season. Their off-season is still intriguing because their #1 overall pick will probably be shopped strongly and there are at least three possibilities: the strongest is Clemson DE De’Quan Bowers, but they’ll look at Blaine Gabbert and how his skill set and leadership compare to those of Pike and Clausen (Clausen had 52.5% comp., 3 TD/9INT, Panthers averaged 12.2 ppg). Underdog option Auburn DT Nick Fairley has taken to twitter to talk to Panthers fans about his abilities. Most intriguing to me are which running backs will be playing for the Panthers, what their defensive back-end looks like (Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin looked promising) and where Steve Smith might go if he gets traded. If any player deserves to go to a contender, it’s Steve Smith.

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