Key word: shouldn't. They shouldn't have a problem winning the division, though they may. The Falcons will certainly have their work cut out for them. The Bucs, Panthers, and Saints constitute a formidable trio, so make no mistake, the Falcons will be challenged. But they're good enough to win the division, and they really should. Let's consider what the Falcons will face in 2013.
First on everyone's mind are the Saints. They've got Sean Payton back, and apparently that's encouraging them to play better or something. Go figure. Their second-ranked offense in 2012 was dramatically overshadowed by a truly horrid defense, a defense that gave up over 7,000 yards. Their defense wasn't just bad, it was bad in epic fashion. No NFL defense has ever given up that many yards in a season. In response, the Saints improved their secondary in the draft and added defensive guru Rob Ryan to the coaching staff. I expect an improved squad, but I don't expect an immediate reversion to what they once were.
Next, there are the Panthers. Even if Cam Newton can develop into more of a quarterback than an athlete, he still won't have anyone to throw the ball at. Steve Smith is yet another year older, entering this season as a 34 year old that's shouldered the Panthers offense for most of the past decade. It's not that Smith's production is due for a steep decline, he's maintained quite well in recent years. It's that the Panthers have a serious lack of receiving depth if something happens to him. Sure, Greg Olson is a decent option, but aside from Olson, there's just a clown convention and Tedd Ginn, Jr. Yikes.
Finally, there are the Bucs. Josh Freeman has occasional flashes of brilliance, but the kid hasn't shown any ability to play consistently. He's creeping dangerously close to do or die territory. They still have plenty of weapons on offense, and they added a couple of Pro Bowl-type players to their secondary in Darrell Revis and Dashon Goldson.
Here's why the Falcons are totally capable of rising to the top and taking the NFC South: their offense. This is a scoring league, and the Falcons are built to score. They're more built to score than any other NFC South team. Sure, the offensive line could use some work, but if one man can make this unit pop, it's Pat Hill. We witnessed his enormous impact on Sam Baker last year, and there's reason to believe he can repeat the same with the young bucks anchoring this year's line.
Speaking of being built to score, it's unlikely the Falcons will be this built to score in the years to come. After Tony Gonzalez ascends into the sky in a burst of flames with Free Bird playing in the background, the Falcons will have to overcome some growing pains at tight end. Roddy White hasn't missed a game since Miley Cyrus wore Sketchers, but sooner or later, he's going to lose a step. Then he will lose another, and another. Steven Jackson may give the Falcons a couple good years, but he too is staring down the conclusion of an illustrious career. Put simply, this may be the most talented team the Falcons can field in the next 3-4 years. The same can't be said of their division foes. Offensively speaking, their division foes aren't peaking. The Falcons are, and that's why the division is theirs to lose.
Your thoughts? Discuss!