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Eye of the Panther


June 5, 2009 12:05 AM

Can Panthers Repeat In NFC South?

The NFC South was one of the toughest and most competitive divisions in the National Football League last season.  And it is expected to be just as tough and just as competitive again this year.  Given those facts, can the Panthers repeat as NFC South Champions in 2009?

Yes, they can.

But it won't be easy.

All of the NFC South teams (Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) had .500 or better records last season and all four teams have upgraded their respective rosters via free agency and the 2009 NFL Draft.

The Atlanta Falcons are considered the primary threat to dethrone the Panthers.  The high-flying Falcons posted an impressive 11-5 record a year ago and could be even better this season.  Led by quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, Atlanta has an explosive offense and an aggressive defense that should make them one of the NFC's best teams.

The New Orleans Saints are also capable of dethroning the Panthers.  Plagued by inconsistent play last season, the Saints compiled an 8-8 record, but that could improve significantly if they play better defense and play with more consistency this season.  New Orleans has one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Drew Brees and the Saints could very well be a playoff team this year.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a shoo-in for an NFC playoff spot last year but a late-season collapse dropped their record to 9-7 and knocked them out of the playoffs.  Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen are gone, as are former Buccaneer stars Derrick Brooks and Joey Galloway.  There is talent on the roster, but the Bucs may be hard-pressed to avoid a last-place finish in the rugged NFC South.

Which brings us to the Panthers.  21 of 22 starters return for the defending NFC South Champions, who went 12-4 in 2008.  The Cats feature one of the NFL's best running attacks with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and superstar Julius Peppers will again anchor a tough Carolina defense that should be even better in 2009 under new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.  The Panthers have one of the NFL's toughest schedules this season, so duplicating last year's 12-4 record will be tough to do.  But can they repeat in the NFC South?

They can.

And we think they will. 

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