Yes, the NFC South is the toughest division in football right now despite the presence of the Carolina Panthers. The division had three teams with at least ten wins last season, an impressive feat made slightly less impressive by the presence of all NFC West teams on every team's schedule. The NFC South was the only division featuring three winning teams in 2010, and one of only a few in history with three 10-win teams. Then again, both the Falcons and Saints were one-and-done in the playoffs.
Here's why the division is so tough: quarterbacks. With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman three of the four teams in the division have true franchise quarterbacks. Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, right up there with Peyton Manning. Matt Ryan is a solid young quarterback, and although I have doubts about the heights he can reach, he's certainly one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. And our very own Josh Freeman is one of the fastest rising stars in the NFL, a second-year quarterback playing at a very high level. Let's not forget about the Panthers, either, who have brought in a premier talent in Cam Newton, although he's hardly ready to play. If that isn't the best collection of quarterbacks in the NFL, it won't be long before it is. No other division in pro football is so well-stocked with quarterbacks. The NFC North with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford and Christian Ponder comes close, but Stafford can't stay healthy, Cutler isn't at Matt Ryan's level, and Ponder doesn't have Newton's raw talent.
With all that offense, you'd think the defense was a little neglected in the NFC South, but that's not really the case. The Saints had a very good defense last season, and they focused on defense in the draft, which should only make them better on that side of the ball. The Falcons had a solid but unspectacular defense last year, although they promised their fans they'd address the defense in free agency this year. Even the Panthers have some talent on defense: Charles Johnson is a great pass-rusher, Jon Beason is one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL, and their defense backs are all solid players. In fact, the Bucs may actually be the worst team of the entire division on defense. Fortunately for Tampa Bay fans, the Bucs also have the most young talent on defense of any of the teams.
The NFC South certainly has enough talent on offense and especially at the quarterback position to be the toughest division in football. The defenses are lagging behind, but they're starting to play catchup. And while the future looks bright for the Bucs, it also looks bright for the other teams in the division. The Buccaneers will need to figure out a way to win their division before they can start dreaming of playoff success. And that may be tough enough.