I will have to get my arms around these predictions over the long weekend, after all the final roster moves are made. In their team-by-team previews, ESPN has the Falcons taking the NFC South (3 experts predicted 1st, while 2 predicted 2nd).
I am just not sure that the Saints have done anything to show that they cannot repeat as the division champion. The Falcons should be much improved and I agree with the article’s final comment/breakdown:
It all boils down to this: In the end, it’s about the defensive front. The Falcons can talk all they want about their improved secondary and the speed at linebacker. That’s true, but the fate of this defense rests on the front four. If the Falcons really hope to slow New Orleans’ passing game or Carolina’s running game, they’ve got to be better up front. They’re getting defensive tackle Peria Jerry back from injury, and third-round pick Corey Peters looks like he can be a force in the middle. Team those guys with Jonathan Babineaux, and the Falcons might be all right in the interior and that might even help the defensive ends. But John Abraham, Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury have to generate more of a pass rush than last season if this defense is really going to improve.
So far this preseason (which is probably not worth a lot or a great indicator of regular season success), Biermann has looked very good, and except for the Pats game, the defense has shown improvement.