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New Orleans Saints – Last season’s Cinderella story may well become this year’s true story.  The Saints are deep on offense, and deep on defense.  They grade out in the ‘A’s’ at most positions.  Then they had a great draft, and a great haul of free-agent signings.  Do you remember the day when no one wanted to play in New Orleans?  I had it all wrong last year when I predicted that Drew Brees chose the city where QB’s go to die.  With Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in the backfield, and with a collection of young stud recievers, the Saints look to get on their opponents.  If there is a weakness, it is in the area of pass defense, but it is an area that the Saints addressed with the additions of former Colt cover man Jason David and in the draft with Kent State speedster Usama Young.  I’d say the Saints are for real, and a good bet for a deep playoff run.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – It looks to be do-or-die time for Head Coach Jon Gruden.  The Bucs have upgraded a number of areas that were problems last season, most notably at QB bringing in veteran Jeff Garcia from Philadelphia.    Garcia’s presence alone, and the threat of a passing game and mobile QB, should breathe life back into the Bucs running game for Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman.  The offensive line is a work in progress, but may finally be a work that is showing some progress.  The Bucs have invested in a few years worth of draft picks and free-agents trying to solidify their line.  Another area the Bucs addressed was that of youth and speed on the defensive side of the ball, two things that have always been constants for the Bucs until last season.  If the Bucs are going to return to form as one of the NFL’s elite defenses, another of those things that was always a constant for Tampa needs to make its return in 2007 – sure tackling.    Look for the Bucs to compete, and get close.  How close?  Jon Gruden wants to know.

Carolina Panthers – Sometimes you have to go with a gut feeling.  Sometimes when you have a gut feeling you should just take an antacid.  If I were going with the gut here, I’d tell you I feel like the Panthers are on the verge of some turmoil.  I don’t know if it’s a brewing QB controversy, with David Carr on the sideline and Jake Delhomme struggling, or if it is the battle between DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams for the ball out of the backfield.  Shoot, maybe it is some more of the Panthers’ psycho cheerleaders beating up bar patrons in the toilet of the local pubs.  Something feels tenuous.  A solid core, and they look great on paper, maybe it comes down to whether WR Steve Smith and the injury ravaged O-Line can stay healthy this season.  Going with my gut, I’d say right around .500.

Atlanta Falcons – Wow.  Talk about the wheels falling off.  For a team that has been all Michael Vick, all the time, the future looks very uncertain.  New Coach Bobby Petrino even came to Atlanta figuring to work his gameplan to suit Vick’s talents – he didn’t know at the time the talents of Michael Vick that awaited him were his dog-handling and gambling skills, not running and passing.  What’s left?  Well, one of the best RB tandems in the game in Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood.  Look for Joey Harrington to hand the ball off to them often.  The receivers are huge underachievers.  The defense was mediocre so they brought in a new coordinator in Mike Zimmer from Dallas.  The problem there is that he is a 3-4 guy, and Atlanta has been built to be a 4-3 team.  It will be interesting to see how things adapt.  127 year old kicker Morten Andersen has finally ridden off into the sunset, and the kicking game has a huge question mark over it.  How long until Petrino is watching the Help Wanted ads for a coaching position at his Alma Mater?  Oh wait, that was last year.