- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
The NFC South takes on the AFC East for its interconference games in 2009. With Tom Brady back in the fold and Terrell Owens now in Buffalo, these contests should be extremely entertaining -- not to mention excellent matchups from a strategy and personnel perspective.
Here is a taste of what is to come in these matchups.
1. The Saints' passing game vs. the Jets' revamped defense under Rex Ryan: A great way to combat a confusing 3-4 blitz scheme is to spread the field horizontally and force the upfield outside linebackers further away from the ball. This also generally allows the quarterback and pass protectors a little longer to diagnose which blitzers are coming and which defenders are dropping into coverage. Expect the Saints to employ a ton of three- and four-wide receiver sets while also challenging the depth of New York's secondary in sub package defenses. Saints coach Sean Payton surely will also try to get Reggie Bush isolated on one of the Jets' heavier linebackers in coverage. The chess match here should be superb.
2. The Saints' revamped secondary vs. Brady and the Patriots' passing game: New Orleans did an excellent job of bringing in a slew of talented defensive backs -- both young and old -- in an attempt to resolve what has been a problem area for far too long. But they will be tested in a huge way against Randy Moss, Wes Welker and of course Brady.
3. Carolina's running game vs. a trio of stout 3-4 defenses in Miami, New England and New York: Panthers center Ryan Kalil is going to have his hands full in these contests. No one in the NFC South plays a predominantly odd front, but Kalil will have to do battle against three massive nose tackles, which isn't the young center's forte at this point of his promising career. The Panthers play all three of these teams in a four-week period. That could be a good or bad thing depending on how well they adapt.
4. Tampa's running game vs. a trio of stout 3-4 defenses: Obviously, this is similar to the post above, but Tampa Bay will be breaking in either a rookie quarterback or a suspect starter at the position. The Bucs are going to rely on their running game this year, and though Carolina's offensive line rightfully gets accolades for its ability to pave the way for the team's running backs, Tampa's line is on the rise. However, pivot man Jeff Faine is undersized and struggled with nose tackles while in the AFC North. Like Kalil, another undersized center, Faine is going to have his hands full.
5. Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan: Matt Ryan is a great quarterback in the making and is wise beyond his years in terms of reading defenses, his pocket presence, overall poise and abilities as an anticipatory thrower. But, dealing with these two defensive masterminds is a different story, and the second-year phenom has to be at his very best in these two difficult road matchups. These games will be an excellent barometer of where Ryan stands from a mental perspective.
6. NFC South defensive ends vs. the Bills' offensive tackles: The Bills' offensive tackles are weak in pass protection, and that will be painfully obvious against Carolina's Julius Peppers and Atlanta's John Abraham. Bucs DE Gaines Adams could be primed for a breakout season and could set the tone in Week 2. Fortunately for the Bills' edge protectors, the Saints might be without Will Smith and Charles Grant (suspension) for their Week 3 matchup.
7. NFC South star wide receivers vs. Darrelle Revis: If he isn't already, the Jets' Revis will be among the top few cornerbacks in the league, and having Rex Ryan as his head coach will only enhance his progress. Revis is smart and studies his opponent, but his skills will be put to the test at times in 2009. The likes of Steve Smith (Carolina), Antonio Bryant (Tampa Bay), Marques Colston (New Orleans) and Roddy White (Atlanta) could all be Revis' responsibility. Expect Revis to be up for the challenge, but it should make for four tremendous individual matchups.
Even though the NFC South is strong, matching up against the physical AFC East is not an easy chore. In particular, running the ball against three defenses that employ a 3-4 should be troublesome, particularly for Carolina and Tampa Bay. Also, going against these complex defenses could be very challenging for Matt Ryan and even more so for the Bucs' Josh Freeman. New Orleans could have some success challenging the secondary depth of Miami and New York and clearly the South's pass-rushers will be excited to take on Buffalo's very suspect offensive line. With two of the better divisions facing off against each other, it will prove to be very interesting.