Did The Green Bay Packers Have A Football Game Today Atlanta Falcons to Repeat As NFC South Cellar Dwellers

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Atlanta Falcons to Repeat As NFC South Cellar Dwellers

Three of the four teams in the NFC South have a legitimate shot to win the division. The Atlanta Falcons are the only team out of the running, but this is supposed to be a rebuilding year for them. They have already named former Boston College standout Matt Ryan as their starting quarterback.

The first-string rookie quarterback is a microcosm of his team. He’s not ready to be a league standout like his team. Like his team, he will take regular weekly beatings. Like his team, he will make costly mistakes. And like his team, he works hard in the hope that his ordeal will make him better in the long run.

History suggests the opposite.

Because it takes years to fully learn the NFL playbook, rookie QBs typically learn on the fly, working behind subpar offensive lines while trying to read aggressive defenses led by offensive coordinators. Physical and mental abuse – amplified by ever-increasing media – is more likely to break a young passer than make him strong. Just ask David Carr. Or Alex Smith.

Having said all that, I can say this: Atlanta might be making a mistake starting Ryan. But this wouldn’t be the first time the Falcons made the wrong quarterback decision (Michael Vick, anyone?).

In the wide-open NFC South, only one thing is certain: the Falcons will finish last.

New Orleans Saints

There are a lot of questions with this team, not the least of which is: Will Reggie Bush be a faithful backup? Whether he lives up to his salary or not, this team is loaded offensively. Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colston, and a rejuvenated Jeremy Shockey figure to put plenty of points on the scoreboard. But can they stop anyone?

Circle this date: October 26, vs. San Diego (in London). Drew Brees doesn’t have a word to say about the team opposing him on Philip Rivers’ side, but you can bet he’s looking forward to this game.

Outlook: I don’t think this team is a fluke. Sean Payton has assembled a team that prides itself on its toughness and consistency. I expect to see them at or near the top of the division for the next few years.

Projected finish: 11-5, good enough for the top of the division. And maybe a first-round playoff win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There’s something about Jeff Garcia that teams don’t like. He was jettisoned in his prime by the 49ers. He went out of town to Cleveland and Detroit. And after a Pro Bowl season that trumpeted the rebirth of his career, the Buccaneers looked to acquire the recently-retired Brett Favre. If he weren’t married to the 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Jeff might feel a little vulnerable.

Circle this date: November 30, vs. New Orleans. Garcia and Drew Brees shoot it out in a game that could have serious playoff implications.

Outlook: Defensive toughness will make up for the Bucs’ lack of a consistent running game. Garcia has another solid season, but, at age 38, how many solid seasons does he have left?

Projected finish: 10-6.

Carolina Panthers

Let’s see…a quarterback coming off Tommy John surgery, a star receiver serving a two-game suspension, no running back…doesn’t look good. But John Fox knows how to do the least, and the Panthers always seem to be near the end of the season.

Circle this date: September 21, at Minnesota Vikings. This will be Steve Smith’s first game back from suspension (imposed by the team after Smith broke his teammate’s nose in a fight). Expect a breakout game from him.

Outlook: The Panthers have talent, but something always seems to stand in their way. This year, it is something many. Jake Delhomme’s elbow, Smith’s shortened season, an improved offensive line and a depleted defensive line.

Projected finish: 8-8.

Atlanta Falcons

When your best player is banned from the league and shipped off to Leavenworth, you have problems. These people have problems. They’ve got a rookie quarterback in Ryan, a running back (Michael Turner) who’s unproven as a starter, and several key losses on both sides of the ball.

Circle this date: Oct. 5, at the Green Bay Packers. This is my upset special. If the Falcons can pull this one off, they can also snap a two-game winning streak, including an Oct. 12 win over the Chicago Bears. Hey, anything is possible. So said Kevin Garnett.

Outlook: Unclear. This is probably the worst team in the National Football League.

Projected finish: 3-13.

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