NFL Power Rankings: Saints on the rise

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
12:03
PM ET
The first edition of the ESPN.com Power Rankings for the offseason are out, and I have to admit I’m more than a bit surprised by where two of the NFC South teams landed.

The Atlanta Falcons came in at No. 4. That’s down two spots from where the Falcons were in the final rankings for the 2012 season. Are the Falcons really a worse team than they were when they were No. 2 at the end of last season?

I don’t think so. I think their offense is markedly better with the arrival of running back Steven Jackson. Yes, they still need to upgrade their pass rush, but I think the Falcons might be a little bit better than No. 4. But hey, they’re four spots ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl.

The other surprise is that the New Orleans Saints are No. 12. I don’t disagree with the ranking, but it’s a huge leap for the Saints. They’re up seven spots from where they were at the end of last season, and I don’t think it’s just because they signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis. I think the voters are looking at the return of coach Sean Payton and assuming that will make the Saints a much better team, which is probably true.

There are no major surprises when it comes to the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re right about where you’d expect them to be.

The Panthers are No. 20, down two spots from the last rankings. If the Panthers had the cap room to do much of anything in free agency, they probably would be ranked higher.

The Buccaneers are No. 21 -- the same spot they finished last season in. The Bucs have added safety Dashon Goldson, which should help. But I think the voters want to see the Bucs improve at cornerback before giving them a better ranking.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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