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SOUTH DIVISION

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September 02, 2002|BY NEWSDAY IN PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH BY DIVISION

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach: Jon Gruden, first season with Buccaneers.

Last season's record: 9-7, third in NFC Central.

Who's in: TE Marco Battaglia (Redskins), TE Ken Dilger (Colts), G Kerry Jenkins (Jets), QB Rob Johnson (Bills), WR Joe Jurevicius (Giants), Keenan McCardell (Jaguars), T Roman Oben (Browns), RB Michael Pittman (Cardinals).

Who's out: Coach Tony Dungy, CB Donnie Abraham, WR Reidel Anthony, LB Jamie Duncan, RB Warrick Dunn, LB Jeff Gooch, WR Jacquez Green, G Randall McDaniel, TE Dave Moore, DE Steve White.

Outlook: Gruden inherits a perpetually underachieving team from Dungy. He needs to manage his quarterback situation closely, although an upgrade at wide receiver help Brad Johnson. The defense can be intimidating, but proved vulverable in the fourth quarter.

Parting Shot: Gruden brings a fresh new attitude with him, and that's good for the Buccaneers. It's also good that they move to the NFC South, because they can easily sweep the division.

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach: Jim Haslett, third season.

Last season's record: 7-9, tied for third in NFC West.

Who's in: LB Bryan Cox (Patriots), CB Ken Irvin (Bills), DT Grady Jackson (Raiders), WR Jerome Pathon (Colts), WR Jake Reed (Vikings), T Victor Riley (Chiefs), TE David Sloan (Lions).

Who's out: G Tom Ackerman, QB Jeff Blake, TE Cam Cleeland, WR Albert Connell, DT La'Roi Glover, DE Joe Johnson, G Chris Naeole, T Marcus Price, T Willie Roaf, CB Fred Weary, RB Ricky Williams.

Outlook: Saints made several bold moves, notably the trade of Williams to Miami. Deuce McAllister takes over full-time at running back, but durability is a question. QB Aaron Brooks was inconsistent last year after a remarkable run in 2000. The free-agent losses of Johnson and Glover are a huge setback for the defense.

Parting shot: If Brooks returns to form and McAllister stays on the field, Saints get back to the playoffs.

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ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach: Dan Reeves, sixth season with Falcons.

Last season's record: 7-9, tied for third in NFC West.

Who's in: RB T.J. Duckett (first-round pick), RB Warrick Dunn (Buccaneers), WR Jeff Graham (Chargers), LB John Holecek (Chargers), S Keith Lyle (Redskins), DE John Thierry (Packers), CB Fred Weary (Saints).

Who's out: S Ronnie Bradford, QB Chris Chandler, LB Henri Crockett, CB/KR Darrien Gordon, G Bob Hallen, WR Tony Martin, DE Chuck Wiley.

Outlook: Michael Vick was handed the starting job after Chandler was released, but it's uncertain whether he's ready for full-time duty. Vick is gifted, but showed a penchant for running too often last season. The running back situation should be interesting, because Dunn and Duckett figure to share time. If handled right, it will be a dynamic combination. The defense, pushed around last season, should improve under new coordinator Wade Phillips.

Parting shot: As Vick goes, so go the Falcons. He's a work in progress, so it'll be another year or two before they start winning again.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach: John Fox, first season.

Last season's record: 1-15, fifth in NFC West.

Who's in: KR Michael Bates (Redskins), DT Shane Burton (Jets), CB Terry Cousin (Dolphins), LB Mark Fields (Rams), LB Brad Jackson (Ravens), RB Joe Montgomery (Giants), QB Rodney Peete (Raiders), DE Julius Peppers (first-round pick), RB Lamar Smith (Dolphins).

Who's out: Coach George Seifert, RB Tshimanga Biakabutuka, CB Doug Evans, WR Donald Hayes, CB Jimmy Hitchcock, RB Richard Huntley, DT Jason Peter.

Outlook: Fox inherits a woeful team, and it won't get better overnight. QB Chris Weinke had a brutal rookie season and figures to get marginally better, but the lack of a running game won't make it any easier.

Parting shot: Fox brings an electricity to the defense. Too bad he can't throw passes.

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