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2012 NFC South Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

2011 Common Opponents: NFC North, AFC South
2012 Common Opponents: NFC East, AFC West
The NFC South will face somewhat difficult common opponents in 2012, but in general, the number of wins the teams deserved in 2011 should be a good estimate for 2012 wins as there have not been many key roster changes. Despite bounty punishments, the Saints should remain in control of the division, and the Falcons and Panthers should be in the middle of the playoff hunt. As our top rated team in 2011, New Orleans should be Super Bowl contenders even if they take a slight step back.

Atlanta Falcons
2011 Record: 10-6
2011 Rating: 2.2 (10th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 8.7
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 8.8
The 2010 Falcons grabbed an undeserved #1 seed in the playoffs and were exposed by the Packers. In 2011, they played just as well according to our ratings, and had a season more indicative of their true quality, claming the #5 seed and again losing in their first playoff game. If bounty punishments have a significant impact on the Saints, the Falcons may be able to steal the division title again in 2012. More likely, they will again be in the middle of the wild card hunt. For the Falcons to make the move from good to great, QB Matt Ryan will need to continue to improve with a full set of receiving options now available.

Carolina Panthers
2011 Record: 6-10
2011 Rating: 1.1 (14th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 8.2
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 8.2
The Panthers largely flew under the radar in 2011 after rookie QB Cam Newton's breakout first two NFL games. But really, Newton continued to play well, and the Panthers lost multiple close games they deserved to win. Our ratings show that the key to consistant success is a strong passing game, and Cam Newton appears to have broken the mold and immediately provided Carolina with just that. If the Panthers defense can improve at all from last year's 3rd from worst rating, they could be playoff contenders sooner rather than later. The Panthers have a couple of tough division opponents to compete with in the Saints and Falcons, but do have the key pieces in place to rise in the standings.

New Orleans Saints
2011 Record: 13-3
2011 Rating: 9.9 (1st of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 13.0
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 12.7
It seems like a concensus among analysts that the Saints will not be quite the same team following their bounty punishments. We beg to differ. Suspended coach Sean Payton is probably one of the league's best offensive schemers, but the Saints were so effective last season that even a noticeable drop off would still leave them among the league's best teams. In fact, the Saints had our highest offensive and overall ratings in 2011. At 10 point favorites against a league average team at a neutral site, they just edged out the 2011 Packers as the best team of the past 3 seasons. New Orleans was anything but your average #3 seed that loses in the divisional round of the playoffs. That playoff loss to the 49ers was primarily due to fumbles on a kickoff and a punt return, combined costing them about 10 points. Realistically, the Saints should still be treated as one of the best teams in the league, and an absolute threat to win the Super Bowl in 2012.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 Record: 4-12
2011 Rating: -4.6 (28th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 4.7
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 5.1
In 2010, the Bucs seemed to turn the corner. They were an average quality team that managed 10 wins with a bit of luck. But just being average was a promising step up for a young team with a young QB in Josh Freeman. Because of this, they were one of the league's biggest disappointments in 2011. Not only did the win total take a hit, but our ratings showed the Bucs played worse overall as well. The pass offense took a step back, and Freeman threw way too many interceptions. This inconsistancy the past 2 seasons makes Tampa Bay one of the tougher teams to figure out heading into 2012. If the reality is in between the two, the Bucs can be considered a somewhat worse than average team. Their only hope in a difficult division will be Freeman returning to a better level of play, something that should be made easier by the addition of free agent WR Vincent Jackson. If he's anything less than decent in 2012, Tampa Bay will find themselves at the bottom of the division quickly.

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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