The NFC South's "worst-to-first" pattern had an amazing streak going earlier this decade. From 2003-2007, the team that placed last in the division went on to win it the following season. Also, it seems that division winners tend to struggle the following season.
Carolina finished last in 2002 and won the division in 2003.
Atlanta finished last in 2003 and won the division in 2004.
Tampa Bay finished last in 2004 and won the division in 2005.
New Orleans finished last in 2005 and won the division in 2006.
Tampa Bay finished last in 2007 and won the division in 2007.
In 2008, Carolina hit a last second field goal to defeat New Orleans. If the Saints could have won that game, then the Falcons would have won the NFC South after finishing last in 2007. Still, Atlanta earned a playoff spot in 2008. So, if you are a believer of patterns or trends in sports, then you must be a believer in the Saints for the 2009 NFL season.
After watching a lot of preseason games so far this year, I really believe that 2009 will be no different than the past six years in the NFC South. I think the Saints will win the division, and the Panthers will really struggle.
Sure, Carolina has an outstanding running game to go along with one of football's greatest receivers. I just think they'll have to put up a ton of points to compete this year, considering how poor their defense will perform.
Replacing defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu with a guy like Louis Leonard just might still leave a little left to be desired on the defensive line. Also, the Panthers are experiencing very poor secondary production right now, not to mention the fact that Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason could miss a few games.
As for the Saints, I really see their defense picking it up a little this year. They've gotten better where they needed help, and their offense will still be just as strong as it was last year. I could even see Mike Bell and Robert Meachem stepping up this year to give the new offensive coordinator a few more options.
The Bucs will likely struggle in 2009, and I don't see the Falcons winning the division. Atlanta may finish second this year, but they will struggle defensively just like Carolina this season.
Here's how it will shake out for 2009:
Don't worry Tampa fans. 2010 is your year!