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My rationale on NFC South predictions

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

If you haven’t seen ESPN.com’s massive predictions project, it’s up. Fourteen of our writers took part and the consensus for the NFC South goes exactly like this. (You can click on each team for its individual preview page.)

1. Atlanta

2. Carolina

3. New Orleans

4. Tampa Bay

That’s the order I went in and the rest of our voters agreed. I went back and forth on this order multiple times before finally locking in my vote. I’ll share with you the logic that went behind my rankings.

I picked the Falcons first mostly because I view them as the safest choice. I easily can see the Panthers or Saints winning the division if things go right. They both are loaded with talent. But things haven’t been going exactly what I’d call right for the Panthers in the preseason. They’re still scrambling for a replacement for defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu and the preseason injuries to guys like Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Jonathan Stewart and Charles Godfrey aren’t a good omen, even if all of them are ready for the opener.

I also took the cautious approach on the Saints, but that’s mainly based on history. I picked the Saints to win the division last year and they underachieved. I think the Saints have way more talent and a better defense than last year, but I want to see all that in reality before going out on a limb this time.

I’ve even got some questions about the Falcons -- mainly, is this defense going to be any good with five new starters? But I’m thinking the offense can carry this team and the defense will get better as the season goes on.

As far as Tampa Bay, which was the choice of all the voters for fourth place, I don’t think I’m as down on the Bucs as some people. I live in Tampa and I’ve heard a lot of Bucs’ fans talking about this team possibly going 3-13 or 4-12. I think it will be somewhat better than that, although that’s a gut feeling and the Bucs haven’t shown a lot of reasons to believe they can climb out of fourth place.