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In NFC South, history says it's Tampa Bay's turn to rebound and make playoffs

but reality says that's a tough task in a division full of improving teams and led by the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

July 17, 2010|By Sam Farmer

Times staff writer Sam Farmer poses the big questions as each team readies for training camp:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use some good news after a 3-13 season, and here's some:

Every year since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the team that finished last in the NFC South made the playoffs the following year. In that sense, there's hope for the Buccaneers.

Now, the bad news for the Bucs: Things aren't getting any easier in the division.

The New Orleans Saints are coming off their first Super Bowl victory and have one of the league's elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees.

Atlanta patched a hole in its secondary by signing cornerback Dunta Robinson, among the top free agents this offseason.

Carolina, which has finally turned the page and parted ways with Jake Delhomme, has a superb running back tandem and looks to be on the upswing.

So the path from cellar to stellar is anything but clear for the Buccaneers, who have a second-year coach and quarterback, and are relying on a pair of rookies to revitalize their once-spectacular defensive line.

This could be the year that the division's trend comes to a close.

A look at the division teams, with training camp start dates:

New Orleans — The Saints were able to sneak up on people last season, but now they're the team in the spotlight; how will they handle success? (The 2007 team, coming off the club's first appearance in the NFC championship game, finished 7-9.) The Saints' offense can score like crazy, but will their vulnerable defense be able to feast on big plays and turnovers the way it did last season?

Rookies and veterans: July 29

Atlanta — Quarterback Matt Ryan cooled a bit last year after his sizzling rookie season. Is he one of the league's elite passers? How much of a difference will marquee cornerback Robinson make in a secondary that was victimized by the pass last season? Will defensive tackle Peria Jerry, a first-rounder in 2009, finally be healthy enough to contribute?

Rookies and veterans: July 29

Carolina — Now that Jake Delhomme is gone, which Southern California kid will win the quarterback battle: Matt Moore or rookie Jimmy Clausen? Will either have a healthy (and capable) receiver to target? Is there a better running back tandem in the league than Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams? With Julius Peppers in Chicago, who will step up and generate a pass rush?

Rookies and veterans: July 28

Tampa Bay — Will Tampa Bay's draft investment in defensive tackles — first-rounder Gerald McCoy, second-rounder Brian Price — pay big dividends? Can Mike Williams, the rookie receiver from Syracuse, quickly develop into a top target for Josh Freeman? How much help will Freeman get from the capable three-man combo of running backs Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward?

Rookies and veterans: July 30

Next: AFC South

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