The Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin training camp today, and here at Bucs Nation, we're fully prepared. We've got season prediction roundtables, training camp podcasts, and position previews for you to read and consider as you await the start of practice and the official kickoff of the NFL Season.
But what about the other teams in the NFC South? Let's consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Buccaneers' rivals as they prepare for training camp and the preseason as well.
The Falcons made a few high profile moves this offseason, but none that stood out as game-changing. They were able to solidify their defensive line, and added some beef to the offensive line, but otherwise seem stagnant or worse across the board.
Matt Ryan will have less impressive targets at his disposal this season, with Tony Gonzalez wearing a suit and tie on the weekends as a football analyst instead of catching everything thrown his way in the Atlanta offense. Julio Jones and Roddy White return, but the lack of a third solid option may haunt the Falcons.
The Falcons don't seem like much of a threat to the Bucs in terms of any individual matchups, with Jones' deep-threat status posing the biggest concern against the occasionally shaky Tampa Bay safeties.
Defensively the Falcons don't match up with the Bucs' receivers, as Desmond Trufant can't cover everyone the Bucs put on the field at receiver. The run defense should be strong with the additions they've made this summer, but there doesn't appear to be any reliable pass rush coming from any Atlanta defender.
Mike Smith is a defensive coach who led one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, and figures to be on unstable ground heading into the 2014 campaign. He's going to need to find someone who can rush the passer, and figure out a solid group of linebackers from the less-than-impressive list he has at the moment if the Falcons are going to contend for anything this season.
Biggest Strength: Wide receiver remains the biggest strength for Atlanta, as Harry Douglas compliments Jones and White very well as a third option.
Biggest Weakness: Linebacker is a huge question mark for the Falcons. They have a strong, run-stopping front three, but have below-average talent all over the place on the next level. If they can't get after opposing quarterbacks, their spotty secondary is going to be exposed.
The front-seven of the Carolina defense is just unfair. Apart from the third linebacker (after Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis), every single one of the players on the line and at linebacker for the Panthers could be a Pro Bowler this season if they live up to their potential.
But the secondary is even thinner than it was last season, as Melvin White, Antoine Cason, Josh Norman and Charles Godfrey figure to fight for time at corner, with Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud and Robert Lester at safety.
On offense, the Panthers return Cam Newton and their trio of running backs, but that's about it. The offensive line has degraded from last season, and the receivers aren't any better than they were a year ago. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant aren't explosive enough, while Kelvin Benjamin and Tiquan Underwood aren't reliable enough.
But Cam Newton is still there, and the offense will live and die by his ability to make magic happen. Can he continue to carry the entire team on his shoulders when the Panthers have the ball?
The Bucs will struggle to match up with the Panthers when Tampa Bay has the ball, as their questionable interior offensive line will get exposed by the strong defensive tackles for Carolina.
When Carolina has the ball, it's the same story. The Bucs have the defensive line talent to exploit a questionable line and get pressure on Cam Newton, but unlike the Panthers, Tampa Bay has defensive backs who will make plays and get the football back when mistakes are made.
Biggest Strength: The defensive line in Carolina is scary. A Greg Hardy suspension might give the Bucs a break during Week 1, but the remaining players along that line will still wreak havoc.
Biggest Weakness: The secondary just isn't good enough, and teams will just have to find a way to give their quarterbacks enough time to look downfield and find an open receiver before the fierce pass rush arrives.
Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham are once-in-a-generation talents at their positions, and return for another season of frustrating everyone in the NFL (other than Saints fans and fantasy football players lucky enough to have them on their team).
The rest of the New Orleans offense is solid, with a trio of capable running backs and enough talent at wide receiver to get by when considering the boost everyone on offense gets from having Brees under center.
The defensive line is solid, but the linebacking corps looks a bit weak, especially on the inside. The secondary is strong, and the Saints don't have any glaring needs or weaknesses as we approach the start of the season.
Obviously, that makes them a tough matchup for the Bucs, who will struggle to run the ball against Rob Ryan's aggressive defense. The pass rush doesn't seem great on paper, but again, Ryan finds a way to get the most out of his players, and will get guys after Josh McCown or Mike Glennon.
When the Saints have the ball, the Bucs will need to enter "bend, don't break" mode and hope for mistakes, as there's just no way to match up with everything the Saints can do. Jimmy Graham is nearly unstoppable, and Drew Brees always finds the right man in Sean Payton's offense.
Biggest Strength: When there's a future Hall of Famer with four 5000-yard seasons under center, quarterback is always going to be the biggest strength.
Biggest Weakness: Linebacker. If the Saints can't find any inside linebackers who will stand out during camp, that may be the one weakness on the entire roster. Otherwise, the Saints look incredibly solid, and figure to be convincing favorites to win the division.