Fans of the NFC South won't have to wait long for a division favorite to emerge, as the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints face off in the Super Dome in a contest with major early-season playoff implications.
The Falcons went 13-3 last season and made a deep playoff push before dropping the NFC Championship to the San Francisco 49ers. Things look bright for the continued development of quarterback Matt Ryan, who, in addition to tight end Tony Gonzalez, has one of the league's best wideout duos in Roddy White and Julio Jones. That high-powered passing attack will benefit from the balance of what the Falcons hope to be an improved running game following the addition of Steven Jackson.
The Saints are one of the most intriguing story lines of the 2013 season. Despite holding the second-best offense in the league last year, New Orleans struggled through a 7-9 season and missed the playoffs. They're hoping the return of head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entirety of last year in the wake of Bountygate, is enough to return them to form. Payton certainly provides a boost, but he'll have to figure out how to retool a defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history last season before his team can start thinking about the playoffs.
Experts around the league are largely torn when it comes to deciding between these two division foes, though New Orleans seems to be the slight favorite. Six of the 11 ESPN analysts are picking the Saints and six of nine experts at CBS Sports are also giving them the nod. Of CBS's nine panelists, however, only two think the Saints will cover the 3½-point spread.