Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Can Matt Ryan rely on guys like Will Svitek to block for him?
2011 record: 10-6
Biggest need: Offensive line makeover
The Falcons finished the season with journeyman Will Svitek "protecting" Matt Ryan's blind side. Ryan felt the effects in the wild-card round, absorbing seven hits and failing to lead a touchdown drive. Svitek is a fine backup, but he shouldn't be a starter and the front office knows it. Center Todd McClure is a 35-year-old free agent, and the Falcons had arguably the worst right guard play in the league in 2011. Defensively, G.M. Tom Dimitroff must unearth at least one big-time pass rusher while finding ways to retain free agent linebacker Curtis Lofton and corner Brent Grimes.
Rick Osentoski / AP
Don't believe what you see here. The Panthers need a defensive upgrade.
2011 record: 6-10
Biggest need: Defense
The Panthers fielded a top-seven offense in 2011, but had a bottom-five defense with no prayer of stopping the run. Left end, defensive tackle, and at least one linebacker spot must be addressed. In the secondary, right corner Captain Munnerlyn would be a nickel or dime back on a good team. Carolina could afford competition at the No. 2 receiver spot, but the defense will take precedence.
New Orleans Saints
Grant Halverson / Getty Images
Will Smith's starting to look his age. The Saints need pass rushing help.
2011 record: 13-3
Biggest need: Pass rush
The Saints called more blitzes than any team in the league; they just rarely got home. In two playoff games, New Orleans was shredded by Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford for 679 yards and six combined passing TDs. 2011 first-round pick Cameron Jordan isn't much of a pass rusher, and Will Smith is declining going on age 31. Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin didn't work out on the interior. The Saints' defensive line needs a makeover. They're set most everywhere else.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Roemer / AP
Can the Bucs ever depend on LeGarrette Blount?
2011 record: 4-12
Biggest need: Discipline
Tampa's defense had plenty of talent under ex-coach Raheem Morris, but the linebackers and DBs were historically poor tacklers. After the season, rumors swirled that at least two of the club's top offensive players partied too much off the field and exhibited poor work ethic throughout the year. The Bucs could also use a diversified rushing attack. Starter LeGarrette Blount's inability to play on passing downs all too often rendered the Bucs' offense one-dimensional in 2011. Blount would be a Brandon Jacobs-like change-of-pace runner in an ideal world. Not a true feature back.
ProFootballTalk: Patriots QB Tom Brady addressed Wes Welker’s decision to head West to Denver. Brady says he isn’t surprised by anything after being in the league for so long and hopes that Welker has a great season with the Broncos.
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