Major Additions:
WR Keary Colbert, OT Adam Meadows, OT Travelle Wharton, G Travis Claridge, DT Rod Walker, LB Brandon Short, LB Jessie Armstead, CB Artrell Hawkins, CB Chris Gamble.
Major Subtractions:
WR Kevin Dyson, TE Jermaine Wiggins, OT Todd Steussie, OT Adam Meadows, G Jeno James, LB Greg Favors, CB Terry Cousin, CB Reggie Howard, S Deon Grant.

September 1st Update:
Once again, the Panthers will undefeated in the pre-season. John Fox has his team focused and prepared for this upcoming season. Carolina may be the first team since the 2000 Tennessee Titans to advance to the playoffs, following a Super Bowl loss.

August 11th Update:
Last year, Carolina had one of the elite offensive lines in professional football. This offseason, Todd Steussie and Jeno James both defected, but the former was replaced by prize free agent signee Adam Meadows. However, Meadows announced his retirement on August 9th, which only adds to the number of holes on the Panthers' offensive front.

Offense This Year: Known as a stagnant offense for twenty weeks of the season, the Panthers erupted in the Super Bowl, racking up 387 yards in a 29 point performance. Keep in mind that the Carolina Cats scored more than 29 just once during the 2003 season. John Fox's game plan is simple; Stephen Davis up the middle. Stephen Davis up the middle. DeShaun Foster outside. Play-action pass. Repeat. This fool proof plan almost always works, but all it takes is a weak offensive line for it to be rendered ineffective. Last year, Carolina's five men up front were among the elite in the NFL. However, only two starters return this season (Jordan Gross and Jeff Mitchell). Talented linemen have been acquired, namely Adam Meadows and Travis Claridge. Carolina's main concern should be whether or not the new unit can quickly jel together. If they can, expect Davis and Foster to combine for 2,000 rushing yards, making things simpler for cardiac quarterback Jake Delhomme. If not, reaching 14 points could become a struggle.
Defense This Year: Excluding Ricky Manning Jr. and Mike Minter, Carolina does not have much in their secondary. Gone are last year's starting corners Reggie Howard and Terry Cousin, as well as outstanding free safety Deon Grant. The latter will be substituted by Travares Tillman, while Howard and Cousin are replaced by lackluster Artrell Hawkins and raw rookie Chris Gamble. The Panthers' pathetic secondary of 2003 looks like a Hall of Fame crew compared to this one, but similarly to last year, the defensive back corps will survive, thanks to the relentless pressure applied by standout defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. Meanwhile, Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins clog the middle and grant protection to Dan Morgan, one of the premier middle linebackers in the NFL. The starting outside linebackering unit may be an issue; Mark Fields was stricken with Hodgkin's Disease last season and may not be ready to play just yet, while Will Witherspoon is just mediocre. However, Carolina may have enough depth at the outside linebacker position to compensate. Brandon Short, Brian Allen and Jessie Armstead are all capable backups.
Schedule and Intangibles: The last three Super Bowl losers, Oakland, St. Louis and the New York Giants all failed to qualify for next season's playoffs. Carolina might appear to have the talent to avoid a similar fate, but the last three Super Bowl losers were expected to bounce back from a loss in the Big Game as well. Making matters worse, the Panthers go from a simple schedule in 2003 to a very tedious one in 2004. Non-divisional opponents include Green Bay, Kansas City, Denver, Philadelphia and Seattle.
Additional Reading: Carolina looks to become the first Super Bowl loser to qualify for the playoffs since the 2000 Tennessee Titans.

Analysis: Although they are very talented, the Panthers will most likely become the fourth consecutive Super Bowl loser to miss the postseason.

Projection: 10-6 (1st in the NFC South).

Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 5-11).
Major Additions:
QB Matt Schuab, WR Michael Jenkins, WR Dez White, G Eric Beverly, G Steve Herndon, DT Rod Coleman, DT Chad Lavalais, LB Demorrio Williams, LB Eric Johnson, LB Jamie Duncan, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Jason Webster, CB Aaron Beasley.
Major Subtractions:
G Travis Claridge, LB Keith Newman, LB Sam Rogers, CB Ray Buchanan, CB Juran Bolden, CB Tyrone Williams.

September 1st Update:
There is a reason why Michael Vick is struggling. Blame Jim Mora Jr. and his installation of the West Coast Offense. Prepare for an article regarding this issue within the next two weeks.

Offense This Year: What a difference one man makes. For three-quarters of the 2003 season, Atlanta's offense was cadaverous, led by the talent less Doug Johnson. The result? 2-10. For the final quarter of the season, Michael Vick was cleared to play. He revitalized his offensive unit, commanding them to an impressive 3-1 record. If Vick can stay healthy, the Falcons should have one of the elite scoring entities in the NFL. Vick will finally build chemistry with atheltic receiver Peerless Price, as well as newcomers Dez White and Michael Jenkins. However, the most significant offseason acquisition was not a player; it was Alex Gibbs, one of the greatest offensive line coaches of all time. Prestigiously responsible for Denver's rushing attack over the past decade, Gibbs has the ability to transform Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett into a duo of 1,000 yard rushers, with the help of newly acquired linemen, Eric Beverly and Steve Herndon. Obviously, a bonafide running attack will assist Vick, giving him ample time to throw. One thing that could hamper Atlanta is the installation of a West Coast offense. Michael Vick will be required to learn a new system; a system that is based upon precision passing - something that has eluded the most athletic quarterback in the universe. His 52.5% completion percentage will not cut it.
Defense This Year: Without any major subtractions or injuries, the Falcons' defense transformed from being ranked in the middle of the pack during the 2002 season to a woeful "go" unit that was seeded dead last in yards allowed. What happened? One theory states that after Michael Vick injured himself for an extended period of time, the Falcons lost all hope. Hence, the decrease in effectiveness. I'll buy that. This season, Atlanta will be switching back to the 4-3. The defensive line is set; Rod Coleman was acquired from the Raiders this offseason to help a pitiful run defense. Coleman will join Ed Jasper and Ellis Johnson at defensive tackle. At defensive end, Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith are capable of registering 17 combined sacks during a course of a season; after all, they accomplished that feat in 2002. Another strength that Atlanta has is their secondary. Last year's comical corps has transformed into one of the NFC's best, thanks to the signing of Jason Webster and the acquisition of DeAngelo Hall in April's draft. Atlanta's defensive drawback? Look no further than the linebackers. Keith Brooking is a decent player, but Matt Stewart, Chris Draft and Jamie Duncan epitomize the word "mediocrity." Atlanta's defense will not be ranked last in any category this upcoming season, but don't pencil them in as a top ten unit either.
Schedule and Intangibles: It's hard pressed to concur with the hiring of Jim Mora Jr. as the Falcons' head coach. The young, former defensive coordinator has done little to prove that he is up to the task. Luckily, he is blessed with a slate of inferior opponents on this year's schedule. Those non-divisional foes include: San Francisco, St. Louis, Arizona, Detroit, San Diego, Oakland and the New York Giants.

Analysis: Michael Vick will get the Falcons into the playoffs. His defense will determine how far they advance.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in the NFC South).

New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 8-8).
Major Additions:
FB Sam Gash, WR Devery Henderson, DE Will Smith, DT Brian Young, MLB Courtney Watson.
Major Subtractions:
CB Dale Carter.

Offense This Year: New Orleans has one of the best running backs in pro football, cell phone celebrity Joe Horn, a very talented Donte Stallworth, a rabid offensive line and a quarterback who perennially receives many Pro Bowl votes. All of this translates into one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL, right? Wrong. In fact, the Saints' very inconsistent offense failed to score more than 13 points five times in 2003. With such stout talent, it's difficult to fathom how New Orleans seems to come up short so often. Is Jim Haslett to blame? A strong case can be made against the head coach. Year after year, the Saints fail to live up to expectations. They should be in the playoffs every single season. Instead, they've only clinched postseason berth just once during Haslett's tenure. Aaron Brooks is also to blame. He is blessed with athleticism and arm strength, but is often erratic. At times he showcases his ability and is compared to draft class-mates Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. However, he occasionally reverts to a quarterback that resembles a second stringer... in NFL Europe. If Brooks can stay consistent, the Saints may once again march into the top ten of offensive rankings.
Defense This Year: The Saints were ranked 28th against the run in 2003. Consequently, they acquired Brian Young via the free agent market. Young, a former St. Louis Ram, will join last year's first round selection, Jonathan Sullivan, at defensive tackle. In this year's draft, Courtney Watson was selected in the second round, and may end up starting by September. Watson will infinitely upgrade the middle linebacker position. The first round draft pick in April was Will Smith. The new "man in black" will become Darren Howard's understudy at defensive end, unless Howard holds out, which he is currently planning to do. Either way, the Saints' pass rush will improve upon the 28 sacks (10th lowest in the NFL) they registered in 2003. The outside linebacker, cornerback and safety positions are still in flux. Jim Haslett mistakingly did not acquire anyone this offseason to upgrade them.
Schedule and Intangibles: The Louisiana Superdome has not been a kind home for the Saints. They have an abismal home record since 1992, 44-52. In addition to their home futility, New Orleans has horrendous record in their last three Decembers, 2-9. Talk about choking down the stretch. The Saints have a slate of winnable non-divisional contests on their schedule. Those include games against San Francisco, St. Louis, Arizona, Oakland, San Diego and Minnesota.

Analysis: For a team that finished 8-8, the Saints have not acquired enough talent to make a much-heralded quantum leap into the playoffs.

Projection: 6-10 (3rd in the NFC South).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 7-9).
Major Additions:
QB Brian Griese, RB Charlie Garner, RB Jamel White, RB Brandon Bennett, WR Joey Galloway, WR Michael Clayton, WR Tim Brown, TE Dave Moore, OT Derrick Deese, OT Todd Steussie, G Matt O'Dwyer, G Matt Stinchcomb, DT Darrell Russell, LB Jeff Gooch, LB Ian Gold, CB Mario Edwards, P Josh Bidwell.
Major Subtractions:
QB Shaun King, RB Thomas Jones, RB Aaron Stecker, WR Keyshawn Johnson, WR Keenan McCardell, DT Warren Sapp, LB Nate Webster, LB Dwayne Rudd, CB Tim Wansley, S John Lynch, S David Gibson, P Tom Tupa.

Offense This Year: Maybe it was arrogance. Maybe it was nonchalance. Maybe it was lack of talent. For whatever reason, Tampa Bay's offense eroded in 2003. Keyshawn Johnson was suspended for the second half of the season, the offensive line didn't block, and Brad Johnson's interception total almost quadrupled from 2002. Naturally, Jon Gruden has acquired personnel to assist his pedestrian scoring unit. Although Charlie Garner is not your prototypical running back and has not exceeded the 1,000 rushing yard plateau since 2000, his presence in the backfield should alleviate some of the pressure that Johnson encountered last season. Joey Galloway and first round selection Michael Clayton will join Keenan McCardell in a revamped receiving corps, while four new offensive linemen (Derrick Deese, Todd Steussie, Matt O'Dwyer and Matt Stinchomb) bolster a dilapidated line that did not grant Johnson adequate time to throw. Don't be surprised if either Brian Griese or Chris Simms take over for the fragile signal caller if his struggles continue.
Defense This Year: A Buccaneer defense without Warren Sapp and John Lynch? Very difficult to imagine. Even with those two perennial Pro Bowlers, Tampa Bay's Achilles heel was the inability to stop powerful running backs up the middle. That is why Stephen Davis and the Carolina Panthers were able to sweep them. Sapp's replacements are former sixth round pick Ellis Wyms and Darrell Russell, who hasn't accomplished anything since 1998. Lynch's substitute is former fifth round selection Jermaine Phillips. Ouch. Other than Booger McFarland, the Bucs are now even softer up the middle. Obviously, Tampa Bay's defensive exterior is their strength, but even that is an understatement since they have a Pro Bowler on every level. Simeon Rice is capable of registering 15 sacks per season, Derrick Brooks is the elite outside linebacker in the NFL, while Ronde Barber is a shut down cornerback. The 2002 Buccaneer defense has disintegrated into an above average stop unit.
Schedule and Intangibles: Warren Sapp and John Lynch were the leaders of the Buccaneers. Their experience and locker room presence will be missed. The Buccaneers have a very balanced schedule. While they will be able to defeat easy opponents like Oakland, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Arizona and San Diego, they also have to go into battle against the likes of Washington, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, and their divisional foes (Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans) twice.
Additional Reading: Examining piece by piece, will Tampa Bay return to 2002 form, or will they once again disappoint?

Analysis: Tampa Bay has lost valuable leadership and their defense is a mere shadow of its former self. The Bucs are now the worst team in the NFC South.

Projection: 5-11 (4th in the NFC South).

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