I still think there must be a cooler name for that whole Saints scandal than Bountygate. Maybe you can do the honors.
Anyways, we're spending this Sunday morning projecting what the final records of teams in the NFC South will be now that we know what's going down. A brief recap of all the action, in case you've forgotten.
- The Falcons picked up low-cost options at right guard and middle linebacker but have otherwise stood pat on the team that won 10 games in 2011. They have brought aboard a new, (hopefully) better coaching staff.
- The Saints have been torn asunder by Bountygate, which costs them Sean Payton for the year and not much else. A handful of players may also be suspended. They did sign Ben Grubbs to replace Carl Nicks, upgraded their woeful linebacking corps with Curtis Lofton and brought aboard or lost a handful of smaller-name players. All in all, the damage is probably enough to drop them down by a couple of games, but probably not more.
- The Buccaneers brought in Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, as well as an entirely new coaching staff. They've also been heavily linked to Trent Richardson, the best back in this year's draft but a possible huge reach with their early pick given the general devaluation of the position in recent years. They more or less have to improve after last year, but just how much...well, that's up in the air.
- The Panthers haven't improved in any significant way to these jaded eyes, unless you count adding Mike Tolbert to an already ridiculous running back platoon. They'll win games with their potentially stellar offense in 2012.
So now that I've run those down, what's my prediction? It goes something like this:
The usual caveats apply, but I think the Falcons have enough talent to squeeze this one out over a Saints team that will have more struggles than usual. The Buccaneers will improve but still muddle through a bit of a rebuilding year, and the Panthers will lose some close games, be generally scary and really ramp up for a run at the division crown in 2013.
If this seems crazily optimistic...well, maybe it is. But I don't think the Buccaneers and Panthers have caught the Falcons, the Saints seem all but destined to suffer a setback unless they get a little black magic working and the Falcons are essentially the same team from a year ago with a more competent set of coordinators. I think it's certainly possible.
I'd love to hear your predictions, folks.