The New Orleans Saints have reigned supreme in the NFC South since 2006, when Drew Brees arrived. Now faced with suspensions to the defense and coaching staff, the Saints dominance could be waning.
The below predictions take each NFC South team's schedule and last year's performance under consideration. This year the division is matched up with the AFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have the 27th toughest schedule, with five opponents with a winning record in 2011. Tampa's rushing offense and defense were porous, ranking 30th and 32nd respectively. If that trend continues, the Buccaneers three toughest games will be against division rival Atlanta twice, who had the sixth best rush defense in term of yards allowed per game last season, and once against Dallas who had the seventh best rushing defense.
2011 Record: 4-12
2012 Predicted Record: 6-10
Despite their 6-10 record last season, Cam Newton and company drew the 10th most difficult schedule of the 2012 season. Their opponents were a combined 130-126 last season. Carolina has a tough run of New Orelans, New York Giants, then at Atlanta from Week 2 to Week 4, and close the season with four of their last six games on the road.
2011 Record: 6-10
2012 Predicted Record: 8-8
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans first five weeks will be their easiest, playing only one team with an above .500 record last season at Green Bay. After that, their toughest road games are at Denver in Week 8, at Atlanta in Week 13 and at the New York Giants in Week 14. The Saints will host their toughest opponents, including Philadelphia and San Francisco.
2011 Record: 13-3
2012 Predicted Record: 10-6
The Falcons start the first six weeks against the AFC West and two teams in Carolina and Washington that were near or in last place in 2011. They could come off their Week 7 bye with a 4-2 record and face their toughest stretch of the season: at Philadelphia, Dallas, then at New Orleans.
2011 Record: 10-6
2012 Predicted Record: 12-4