Whew, last one. College football talk and the return of the Shakedown this weekend.
1) New Orleans Saints – The Saints have capable no-namers behind Reggie Bush if he continues his poor trend of not being able to rush between the tackles, but this offense has been all about Drew Brees slingin’ it around anyhow. Reliables like Marques Colston and David Patten are still around, and bringing in Jeremy Shockey from the Giants adds another threat, but the reason the Saints should win this division is that they’ve paid too much for defensive improvements not to. Bringing in Jonathan Vilma to lead their linebacking corps and re-stocking the secondary again in the free agent market has to pay off, and I see the Saints hosting a first-round playoff game.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers* – Too much Favre flirting, not enough improvement around Jeff Garcia. An aging Joey Galloway is still your best receiver, and while there are running backs in reserve if Carnell Williams continues to be injury-prone, this team will be riding defense again and trying to feast off the crappiness of the division. Trouble is, they stayed kind of stagnant, but the good thing is, this is enough to get a Wild Card spot in the NFC.
3) Carolina Panthers – I’ve been burned too many times on the Panthers to ever pick them to win a division again. No Steve Smith for two games because he decided to deck a CB, Jake Delhomme is returning from a devastating injury, and it just doesn’t look good on the offensive end. Defensively, if Julius Peppers is really healthy, they’re in better shape, but I don’t think they’re putting up enough points on the better defenses.
4) Atlanta Falcons – Building back up from rock bottom with a rookie starting QB (likely) in Matt Ryan is going to be really fucking rough, and hopefully the offensive line can hold up just enough to keep him alive. Next year will be a better time to gauge how the Falcons are going to pan out.