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Football.com's Big, Bad NFL Preview Series: NFC South

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Saints coach Sean Payton is back after serving his year-long suspension, but will Drew Brees and the offense be able to score enough to offset one of the worst defenses in the NFL? Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Saints coach Sean Payton is back after serving his year-long suspension, but will Drew Brees and the offense be able to score enough to offset one of the worst defenses in the NFL? Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

For several seasons, the NFC South has been top-heavy, as the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have shared division supremacy behind star quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, respectively. Last year, the Falcons dominated the division and finished with a 13-3 regular season record to earn one of the NFC's coveted playoff byes while the Saints ended up dealing with a miserable season following the "bounty gate" scandal. New Orleans will welcome back head coach Sean Payton with open arms after he served a one year suspension, but his presence might not be enough to help one of the worst defenses in NFL history improve enough to contend with the Falcons in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers both believe they will return to the playoffs after multiple seasons of rebuilding. The Buccaneers have been one of the most active teams on the free agent market the past two years and also landed Darrelle Revis to help fix the league's worst secondary while the Panthers continued to bolster the roster through the draft and believe QB Cam Newton is finally ready to led the team to the next level. Both teams still have plenty of holes entering the season, but it is not unreasonable to believe that one of these teams could surprise and give the Falcons a run for their money. Atlanta and New Orleans have owned this division for nearly a decade, but both Tampa Bay and Carolina want to crash the party. This should be one of the most exciting division races to follow in the NFL in 2013.