ESPN analyst Bill Polian, a former NFL general manager, did a conference call with the national media Friday. The NFC South was a big part of the conversation and Polian provided an overview of how he sees the division.
“I think you've got Atlanta, and then you have three teams, all of which have yet to prove that they have the capacity to be complete teams," Polian said. "New Orleans has to improve dramatically on defense. Carolina has to play consistently. And Tampa Bay has to play consistently."
“I think Carolina and Tampa Bay hinge directly on how well their quarterbacks play; the avoidance of turnovers, good decision-making, the ability to bring your team from behind within the context of teams that are not going to throw the ball wildly all over the place," Polian said. Neither team is going to be a spread team. They're going to run the ball, and they should. And then the ability to finish games on defense.
"We'll see as the season progresses whether both Carolina and Tampa Bay will do that, and I think that therein lies the story of their season," Polian said. “If the quarterbacks perform and the defense performs at critically efficient times, then they're going to have a real chance to be playoff teams. If they don't, then they won't. It's really that simple."
One quarterback Polian doesn’t have any questions about is New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
“I was in their camp about 10 days ago," Polian said. “I think that he's in a much better place this year because he doesn't have to bear the whole burden of being the face of the franchise day in and day out. (Coach) Sean (Payton) is back. Sean and he together are the driving force behind that team, but Sean plays a major role in that, and having Sean back allows Drew to just concentrate on doing what he does best, which is to be a great football player and not have to worry about some of the ephemeral stuff that he had to deal with last year. I think his future continues to be bright. He's a great football player.
“In Jimmy Graham they have a unique weapon that he'll make use of. He's at the peak of his talents, mentally, physically. This is a team -- the Saints are a team that will be as good as ever offensively, and if they can improve markedly on defense, they'll very likely be a playoff team."