Ask the Experts: NFC South

Do the Saints have what it takes to come out on top of the tight NFC South? Can Carolina, Tampa Bay, or Atlanta get past them? Scout's NFL Experts take on your questions.

Q: Drew Brees is obviously playing MVP-caliber football at the QB position, but he has been putting up gaudy numbers since arriving with the New Orleans Saints in 2006. The lack of defense has been their obvious flaw, but seems to be playing much better this year, despite the media continuing to bash the Saints defense as supposedly "suspect". With the play of Jonathan Vilma and the current defense, do the Saints finally have a chance to live up to the 2007 preseason hype? - Jerry from Bakersfield, Ca

LB Jonathan Vilma
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Adam Caplan: The front seven has been very physical against opposing offenses over the last few games (especially at both outside linebacker spots) but the problem the Saints continue to have is in the secondary. They lack quality cover cornerbacks and the safety spot hasn't provided solid play thus far.

Tom Marino: Jerry, Drew Brees is one of the top five QBs in the league at this time, but don't get too caught up in the numbers. The game has changed so drastically over the past decade that completing 65 to 70 percent of their passes has become rather routine.

I think they have been very inconsistent on both sides of the football. They are going to have to run and control the football a great deal better over the second half of the season. The return of TE Jeremy Shockey and (full) return of Marques Colston should help the offense a great deal. Unless Deuce McAllister can fully recover from his injuries and contribute to the inside and goal-line run game, I have my doubts if the club has the offensive balance.

Jerry, I'm also not crazy about the receiving group as a whole; Henderson can really run, but is too inconsistent as a pass catcher, Patten is experienced and talented, but is undersized and no longer runs like he once did. Lance Moore can catch, but lacks top speed, and former top draft selection Robert Meachem, has done little to justify his Round One selection.

On defense, they need to get Sedrick Ellis back as quickly as possible. The secondary play, particularly in their loss to the Vikings, was awful, but after all of my negative talk, I still believe they have the talent to ultimately capture the NFC South division.

I'm glad to see that the club that employed me for 13 seasons has some loyal fans out in California.

Ed Thompson: Jerry, I think they do. The Saints have lost their three games by a total of just ten points despite all of the injuries earlier this season to the defense and to star WR Marques Colston. With just a slight change in fortune, they could have been heading into Week 7 as a 5-1 or even 6-0 team. Vilma has been terrific and his return from his knee injury has been nothing short of inspirational. Brees has been amazing, falling short of a 300-yard passing game just once in six tries this season. I like the Saints' chances to go deep in the playoffs this year, especially if they can stay healthy.

Chris Steuber: The Saints are a very talented team, offensively. The defense has shown signs of improvement, but they're still suspect in the secondary. For the Saints to become a complete team, and one that the opposition fears, they have to show more consistency on both sides of the ball. Until that happens, they will be exactly what their 3–3 record reflects: an average team.

Q: The NFL South is full of great talent. Who do you think will win this division and why? How far can the winner go in the playoffs? - Tyron from Mississippi

Adam Caplan: It's very close between all four teams. Atlanta has been a surprise so far but they have issues on defense (secondary and a consistent pass rush) that will likely prevent them from winning that division.

QB Jake Delhomme
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Carolina is much-improved on both sides of the ball (especially on offense) and they have what it takes to win the division. But you have to wonder if Jake Delhomme can limit his mistakes in a big game and whether they can get a good enough pass rush on defense. Julius Peppers still isn't playing at a high level.

New Orleans has an outstanding offense and it's amazing they've done that well on that side of the football considering the injuries to Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey. The problem New Orleans has is on defense. Their front seven is decent but the secondary will wind up costing them games in the end.

Tampa continues to have problems at the quarterback and wide receiver positions and they haven't really upgraded there. Their running game is outstanding so they're able to control the clock if need be. But they aren't the kind of team that can come from behind. The defense is very solid as usual.

I'll pick Carolina to win the division and they could win a playoff game, but I don't see them having enough to go much further.

Tom Marino: Tyron, it is a very competitive division with four evenly matched clubs, but I'm not certain I would use the word "great" when describing the talent level within the division. My division picks are as follows:

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

If the Saints can maintain good health over the second half of the season, win on the road, and show more consistency on defense, I believe that in the end Drew Brees can be the big difference=maker in this very competitive division. Regarding the playoffs, I just don't know if they have the overall talent level to compete with the iron in the equally competitive NFC East.

Ed Thompson: I agree that there is great talent spread across this division and expect this to be a tight race to the end. But at this point, I'd say the Saints are the odds-on favorite to win the division even though they are currently 3-3. While I have great respect for Carolina's defense, their offense has been too inconsistent. The Falcons have a scary rushing attack, but a rookie quarterback and a defense that's ranked 25th in the league. They will have a hard time winning the division with that mix. The Bucs should give the Saints the best run for their money with their rushing attack and sturdy defense, but the revolving door at the quarterback position is not something you like to see from a team with playoff aspirations. Meanwhile, Drew Brees is leading the NFL's second-best offense while a banged-up defense has managed to perform respectably. As they get healthier, expect the defense to get stingier. How far into the playoffs that the Saints will go is tough to predict this early, but I think they have the talent to go at least as far as the conference championship game if they stay healthy.

Chris Steuber: The NFC South is up for grabs. All four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the division. But I think when it's all said and done, the New Orleans Saints will find a way to come out on top. Even though their defense is inconsistent, their offense is far superior then any other team in the division. Now that Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston are getting healthy, look for this group to gel and take command of the South.

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