NFC South: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Power Rankings: No. 4 Atlanta Falcons

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
12:30
PM ET
A weekly examination of the Falcons’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 2 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Atlanta Falcons tumbled only two spots after a close loss to New Orleans Saints on the road.

That’s not a great start for a team that I picked to win the Super Bowl. But I also predicted the Falcons would lose to the Saints in the opener. My thinking was based on the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome being fired up by the return of coach Sean Payton after last season’s suspension.

It was, and the Saints rode the wave of emotion. But it’s not time for the Falcons to panic and it’s not time for voters to drop them out of the top five.

This is still a very good team and the loss in New Orleans was only a minor speed bump. In fact, it might even have served as a wake-up call for the Falcons.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
1:48
PM ET
A review of the hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
AP Photo/Bill HaberCoach Sean Payton said Rob Ryan's new defensive scheme helped rejuvenate the Saints in 2013.
Payton’s return: Coach Sean Payton was back after missing last season while serving a suspension for the bounty scandal. There’s no question Payton’s presence gave his team a boost. But it went deeper than that. The Superdome crowd is always loud, but it was even more of a factor as it welcomed Payton back.

Maybe the defense is better: It was only one game, but coordinator Rob Ryan seems to have the defense headed in the right direction. Holding Atlanta’s offense to 17 points is a pretty major accomplishment. And the defense came through with a huge interception at the end of the game to seal the victory. If the defense can play like this all season, the Saints could be very dangerous.

The offense was mediocre: Everything’s relative when you’re talking about the New Orleans offense. But it’s fair to say this unit didn’t have a great day Sunday. The good news is the defense stepped up, and you can’t count on the offense slumping for long.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
5:06
PM ET
Time for an afternoon trip through the headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder has been getting work on the right and left sides. The undrafted free agent has made a good early impression and may have a shot at making the roster.

Speaking of undrafted players and the Falcons, D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that Donald Russell and Ronnie Wingo could get increased playing time in the second preseason game.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach Ron Rivera compared rookie linebacker A.J. Klein to Luke Kuechly, who was last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s high praise and Klein might be a good guy to have around due to the injury histories for Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Martez Wilson returned to practice on a limited basis.

Mike Triplett observes that the offense has yet to truly catch fire so far in camp. I don’t think that’s a big concern. The Saints have an offense that’s loaded and you know Drew Brees and his crew will show up when the real stuff starts. The best part of this news might be that the defense is playing well.

Friday’s game will be the last for Jerry Romig as the public-address announcer at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Romig is retiring after 44 years.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks had some rough patches against New England’s Tom Brady in a joint workout. Banks is not the first cornerback that Brady has exploited and he won’t be the last. The upside for Banks is that he has a chance to grow by facing Brady.

Although general manager Mark Dominik indicated there’s a chance Darrelle Revis could play in the third exhibition game, the cornerback said it’s too early to tell.

Observation deck: Saints-Chiefs

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
11:20
PM ET

For those of you who thought coordinator Rob Ryan could come in and turn around the New Orleans Saints' defense overnight, think again.

This chore is going to take some time. That was apparent in Friday night’s 17-13 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Kansas City first-team offense, which wasn’t very good last year, had no problem marching 80 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. The Chiefs also got a field goal on the second drive, when the starters still were on the field. I did see some good moments by the defense, particularly the pass rush, later in the game when the starters were out.

But Ryan needs to use the next few weeks to get this defense ready for the regular season.

Some other observations on the Saints:

With Marques Colston sitting, rookie receiver Kenny Stills got the start. He didn’t have a great night. He dropped a deep pass from Drew Brees and also was called for offensive pass interference.

The Saints handed the ball to Mark Ingram on the first two plays of the game. I think that’s a sign of things to come. The Saints have said they want to run the ball more often and they want Ingram more involved in the offense.

Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins, who has had a nice camp, recorded a sack of Chase Daniel. Jenkins has had a nice camp and could end up with a spot in the rotation.

Charles Brown got the start at left tackle and didn’t seem to have any major problems. But rookie Terron Armstead got a lot of playing time and still could have a chance to start.

Wide receiver Preston Parker probably enhanced his chances of making the roster by catching two touchdown passes.

Luke McCown may have solidified his lead over Seneca Wallace in the competition to be the backup quarterback. McCown completed 18 of 28 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wallace, who has been dealing with a groin injury, did not play.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
4:37
PM ET
Time for a spin through some odds and ends from around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The team moved punter Michael Koenen to the active roster. Koenen had been on the inactive list at the start of camp due to a toe injury.

Martin Fennelly has a nice column on Annie Roberts. She’s the mother of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and undoubtedly played a big role in shaping his career.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Forbes reports that Saint owner Tom Benson will collect about $400 million in state subsidies through 2025. The report says the lease agreement Benson signed for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome four years ago is one of the most complex and lucrative in NFL history.

Seneca Wallace, who is competing with Luke McCown for the backup quarterback job, missed Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Scott Fowler writes that defensive end Greg Hardy could end up being the most outlandish character in franchise history. Read Fowler’s column and you’ll understand why. The Panthers haven't gotten a lot of attention in recent years. But, if they start winning, Hardy has the potential to become a darling for the national media.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Daniel Cox has a story on former Atlanta offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, who is pursuing a career in professional wrestling.

The team had the day off and will return to practice Thursday.

Today in NFC South history

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
2:17
PM ET
Twenty-eight years ago today, Tom Benson reached an agreement to purchase the New Orleans Saints from John W. Mecom Jr. The move was approved by other NFL owners three days later.

Benson’s tenure wasn’t always smooth as the team didn’t have much sustained success and, at one time, he was a public enemy when rumors of a potential move to San Antonio were rampant. But once Benson reached an agreement to keep the Saints in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it seemed like the fortunes of the franchise (and Benson’s public perception) changed for the better.

Benson’s hiring of coach Sean Payton in 2006 (coupled with the signing of quarterback Drew Brees) have made him one of the league’s most successful owners in recent years. The Saints have become regular playoff contenders, and they won their first Super Bowl in the 2009 season.

Benson helped bring last season’s Super Bowl to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and he also now owns the NBA’s Pelicans.
NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Breakdown: The Saints may be coming off a losing season, but they still are going to get plenty of national attention. They’ll play four games in prime time, including two at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ schedule is tied for the second-hardest slate in the NFL (a .539 winning percentage by opponents in 2012). But the best news might be that coach Sean Payton will make his official return to the sideline following a one-year suspension in the opener against Atlanta at home. The Saints and Falcons are one of the league’s hottest rivalries (the Saints have won 11 of 14 meetings since 2006) and Payton’s return only adds another storyline. The key to New Orleans’ season might be the four-week stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. In that span, the Saints will host Dallas and San Francisco and then travel to Atlanta and Seattle.

Complaint department: Saints fans might call it a conspiracy by the NFL and they might be right. But the schedule makers have set up an Oct. 13 game at New England that could be historic. Tom Brady currently has a streak of 48 games with at least one touchdown pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees set the record (54). As long as Brady can keep the streak going, he’ll have a chance to tie Brees’ record against the Saints. That could give new coordinator Rob Ryan some material to motivate his defense for Brady.

Road warriors: The Saints are used to hitting the road. They’ve had to get out of New Orleans due to weather and Payton often has had his team practice elsewhere in the preseason. That experience might come in handy. The Saints have three separate times when they will have to play back-to-back games on the road. But the bright side is the Saints will play three of their first four games at home and they also will be home with Tampa Bay in the final week of the regular season.

Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Around the NFC South

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
9:50
AM ET
Let's take a look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter runs through the list of draft trades made by general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons have made at least one trade in every draft since Dimitroff come on board in 2008. That’s why I’m not discounting reports that the Falcons are trying to trade up in the first round.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The city of Charlotte’s economic development committee will meet Thursday for another round of talks about potential financing help for renovations to Bank of America Stadium. The key thing to keep an eye on is the desire of local officials to get the Panthers to agree that the team won’t be moved for a long period after renovations.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District board has authorized a consultant to assess the emergency lighting system at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The emergency system did not fail when the regular power went out during the Super Bowl in February. But it became obvious that things like elevators and message boards did not work with the regular power off.

The Saints have finalized the dates and times for their preseason schedule.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Scott Reynolds has 24 reasons why the Bucs should trade for Darrelle Revis. I’ll have a column with a somewhat similar theme this afternoon.

In his look back at the 2010 draft, Pete Prisco gives the Bucs the best grade of any team in the division. That is due almost entirely to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and receiver Mike Williams.

New Orleans' preseason schedule

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
4:32
PM ET
Coach Sean Payton’s return to the sidelines will come in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After sitting out last season because of a suspension, Payton and the Saints will open their preseason schedule at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The exact time and date of the game have yet to be finalized, but it will be sometime between Aug. 8 and 11. The Saints also will be at home with Oakland in Week 2 (Aug. 15 to 19).

On Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. ET, the Saints will play a nationally televised game (on FOX) at Houston. The Saints will close their preseason at Miami on either Aug. 29 or 30. That will be the first time the Saints have been to Sun Life Stadium since winning Super Bowl XLIV.

NFC South afternoon update

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
5:12
PM ET
Time for a run through some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said this year’s draft class is short on “wow’’ factor, but long on depth. That’s not a bad thing for the Falcons, who hold the No. 30 overall pick in the draft. Dimitroff said he’s confident the Falcons can get a good player at that spot.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person has his list of combine winners and losers. Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is one of his winners. Floyd probably assured himself a spot in the top 10 picks, which means it’s unlikely the Panthers are going to have a shot at him.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The manager of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is recommending an engineering study be done to potentially change the stadium’s emergency power systems. That’s a good idea. New Orleans is very much in the mix for future Super Bowls. But NFL owners, who vote to award those games, likely would feel a lot better if they know for sure steps have been taken to prevent another power outage like the one that interrupted this year’s Super Bowl.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Stephen Holder writes that whatever happens with free safety Ronde Barber ultimately will impact strong safety Mark Barron. Their roles were somewhat blurred last season, with Barber often playing in the box and Barron drawing deep coverage assignments. If Barber retires or isn’t re-signed, that would allow Barron more room to do the things he does best.

NFC South afternoon update

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
3:47
PM ET
Time for a run through of some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Jay Adams writes that most of the early mock drafts have the Falcons taking a tight end at No. 30. That could happen. But, as I wrote last week, the Falcons are lobbying Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more season and I think there’s a decent chance of that happening.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Now that the Panthers have finished making changes, Joseph Person takes a look at the complete updated coaching staff. The Panthers made changes in several areas, but I think the key ones were at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach because this franchise is all about quarterback Cam Newton. There’s no doubt the Panthers will miss offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who left to become the head coach in Cleveland. But I think they did a nice job making sure Newton has as much continuity as possible. They promoted Mike Shula from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. They made Ken Dorsey, who had been working in their scouting department, the quarterbacks coach. Dorsey had worked with Newton at IMG Academy before he was hired by the Panthers.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The company that runs the Mercedes-Benz Superdome said it will hire an outside party to investigate what caused the power outage during the Super Bowl. Probably a good idea to let a neutral party get to the bottom of this. If New Orleans is going to host future Super Bowls, the NFL needs to have confidence that a similar problem isn’t going to occur.

Rob Ryan and Romeo Crennel reportedly are the two most likely candidates to become the new defensive coordinator. Both have history in the 3-4 scheme that coach Sean Payton wants to switch to. I think either one would be a good hire. Ryan’s had success as a defensive coordinator. Crennel hasn’t had much luck as a head coach, but has a good reputation as a coordinator.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Quarterback Josh Freeman makes an appearance in ESPN The Magazine’s Music issue. The photo is at least worth a look.

In this radio interview, Warren Sapp said his daughter will make his presentation speech at his Hall of Fame induction this summer.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m officially inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It was a lengthy, but smooth, process getting in. As you would expect, security is very tight and very thorough.

Gates won’t open to fans for a few more hours. But the area around the Superdome already was packed as I came in on a media bus.

I’ll check back in here if there are any notes or news on the NFC South. But we’ve got plenty of pregame stuff going on over our main NFL page and plenty of ways for you to interact. We’ll start our Countdown Live chat an hour before the game.

Also, we’re running a slideshow over on the NFL Nation blog. I encourage you to snap some pictures from your Super Bowl party or whatever festivities you’re having. Send them to my Twitter account (@espn_nfcsouth) and the best will be selected for the slideshow.

Gearing up for the Super Bowl

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
10:24
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- After a week of hype, Super Bowl Sunday finally is upon us.

I soon will get ready to make my way to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. As you might imagine, New Orleans is more than a little congested and I want to get into the stadium early and get set up.

There probably won’t be much in the way of NFC South action today. I’ll be helping out with our coverage of the 49ers and Ravens. We’ll have tons of coverage throughout the day, so just keep an eye on our main NFL page.

And join us for the Countdown Live chat that will be running throughout the game (as well as an hour before and an hour after).

Enjoy the Super Bowl.

Circus is about to start

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
10:47
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- It is almost time for one of the year’s biggest spectacles.

Super Bowl media day will be starting shortly in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. According to the Super Bowl host committee, more than 5,000 media members have been credentialed for the event.

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens each will spend an hour meeting with media members from around the world. We’ll have live coverage with highlights and behind-the-scenes looks at the festivities.

I have some duties related to the 49ers and Ravens, but I also will be looking for anything related to the NFC South. There are bound to be some angles from within the division. One of the beauties of media day is that you never know who you might run into.

Live from New Orleans

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
7:57
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Super Bowl week is upon us and that’s going to put New Orleans in the world’s spotlight.

I have absolutely no doubt New Orleans will pull it off in spectacular fashion. I’ve been to Super Bowls in a bunch of different cities and I’ve always said New Orleans is the perfect venue. Hotels, the French Quarter and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome all are located in close proximity.

But it has been a while since New Orleans hosted a Super Bowl. The last was in 2002. As we all know, Hurricane Katrina came in 2005 and changed the city forever. I’ve been a frequent visitor to New Orleans since I started with ESPN in 2008 and my sense is the city has recovered extremely well, with the Saints playing a huge role in that process.

Some civic leaders say this Super Bowl might be the final step in New Orleans’ recovery.

“My hope is it can help bring some real closure here, and that the city can show what it can do,’’ Super Bowl host committee co-chairperson, and political analyst, James Carville said in a conference call with the national media. “But you just don’t know that feeling until you’re through with it. All of us on the committee are trying not to focus on that. We’re trying to focus on the mission at hand.

“Sometimes I wake up at night and say. “If this thing goes well this can really help people put a lot of things behind ‘em’’. Yes, that thought has crossed my mind. But I can’t allow myself to think like that. We’re a little bit like these teams. You can’t think what it’s like to win, you just have to prepare. That’s been the attitude here.’’

I’m sure New Orleans is as prepared as possible and this is a city that has shown it can adjust to whatever comes its way. The Super Bowl should be a snap for New Orleans.

I’ll be here all week, helping out with our coverage of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens as well as keeping tabs on whatever’s going on in the NFC South. I’ve got a meeting planned with one of the division’s starting quarterbacks later in the week.

And I’ll be watching as New Orleans puts on a show.

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