- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Last season: 10-6 (lost in NFC title game)

Coach: Sean Payton (10-6), second season

Story line: Can Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister carry the Saints to their first Super Bowl?

Power game: Brees and McAllister are franchise offensive players. Wideout Marques Colston was a seventh-round draft steal. Defensive end Charles Grant is a top pass rusher.

Achilles’ heel: The secondary lacks a shut-down cover corner. Their linebackers are susceptible to getting beat by tight ends down the field.

On the hot seat: Running back Reggie Bush. It’s unlikely he’ll be an every-down running back, so it’s up to him to become a better receiver.

Bottom line: Some think the Saints will be in for a reality check. But with Brees and McAllister, New Orleans will again score a ton of points and repeat as division champions.


Last season: 8-8

Coach: John Fox (49-38), sixth season

Story line: Fox took his team to a Super Bowl four seasons ago, but his job could be on the line if the Panthers disappoint a second straight year.

Power game: Defensive end Julius Peppers (13 sacks in 2006) is a dominant player. Wideout Steve Smith produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Achilles’ heel: QB Jake Delhomme is prone to careless throws. A lack of depth throughout the roster makes it vital the Panthers stay healthy.

On the hot seat: Delhomme. Despite his inconsistency last year, he still has the support of the coaching staff and front office. That won’t last forever, though.

Bottom line: Being in this division helps: Tampa Bay and Atlanta will struggle. But even if the Panthers make the playoffs, they won’t last long.


Last season: 5-11

Coach: Jon Gruden (77-67, 37-39 with Bucs), sixth season

Story line: Playing for his fifth team in as many seasons, QB Jeff Garcia attempts to return the Bucs to the playoffs.

Power game: Garcia is a play maker, plain and simple. Running back Cadillac Williams looks to bounce back from poor second season. Cornerback Ronde Barber is a solid player.

Achilles’ heel: Lack of depth at receiver after Joey Galloway. Defense is aging.

On the hot seat: Gruden. Tampa Bay hasn’t won a playoff game since Gruden’s first season ended in the Super Bowl.

Bottom line: Even with Garcia and the Cadillac, this isn’t a very good team.


Last season: 7-9

Coach: Bobby Petrino, first season

Story line: With Michael Vick, the Falcons projected to be awful. Without him, are they the league’s worst team?

Power game: Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are a dependable 1-2 running back combo. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has shut-down ability.

Achilles’ heel: This is only part of the list: Joey Harrington, the receivers, uncertainty all over the place on defense.

On the hot seat: Owner Arthur Blank. Since Vick is done, Petrino gets a free pass for this year. It’s up to Blank to right the franchise.

Bottom line: Cue Roger Goodell: “With the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons select Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm.”


1. New Orleans 2. Carolina 3. Tampa Bay 4. Atlanta

MVP candidate: QB Drew Brees, Saints

Best coach: John Fox, Panthers

Top newcomer: QB Jeff Garcia, Bucs

Most missed: QB Michael Vick, Falcons

Top rookie: Defensive end Gaines Adams, Bucs

Best stadium: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

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