2007 record in parentheses:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-7, 9-8 including postseason)

Strengths: Young, improving offensive line; deep linebacker corps; trio of capable running backs, none of them injured Carnell Cadillac Williams.

Weaknesses: Lack of playmaking receivers; inconsistent pass rush. Players To Watch: CB Aqib Talib, DE Gaines Adams, LB Barrett Ruud, WR Antonio Bryant.

Biggest Change: C Jeff Faines. RB Warrick Dunn returns to Tampa Bay.

Schedule Key: Face four playoff teams from a year ago, three (Green Bay, San Diego, Seattle) at home. More critical is how Bucs fare within NFC South. They were 5-1 against Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta in 2007 and won second division title in three years.


Strengths: Passing game featuring QB Drew Brees and WR Marques Colston, which has produced more than 8,800 yards during past two seasons. TE Jeremy Shockey has been added and RB Reggie Bush could become more frequent receiver now that Deuce McAllister has returned and second-year RB Pierre Thomas has trust of coaching staff in ground game.

Weaknesses: Pass defense ranked 30th last season. Saints are hoping better defensive line will mean more pressure on quarterbacks and make secondary's job easier. Saints also added new players in secondary, including former Patriots CB Randall Gay and second-round draft choice Tracy Porter.

Players to watch: Brees, DE Will Smith, DT Sedrick Ellis, Colston, McAllister, Bush, Shockey, LB Jonathan Vilma.

Biggest change: A additions of Shockey, Ellis and Vilma.

Schedule key: Because their Oct. 26 home game against San Diego was moved to London, Saints will go five straight weekends, including three road games and bye week, without playing in Louisiana Superdome.


Strengths: Secondary is solid and deep with S Chris Harris and CBs Ken Lucas, Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Much stronger at WR with Steve Smith and offseason acquisitions Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett.

Weaknesses: Defensive line. With Kris Jenkins traded to Jets and Mike Rucker's retirement, Panthers have many questions after putting little pressure on QBs in 2007. No experienced QB after Jake Delhomme, who is recovering from major elbow surgery. Porous returning and covering punts and kickoffs last season.

Players to watch: Delhomme. How he performs after ligament-replacement surgery will determine direction of season. DE Julius Peppers, trying to recover from career-low 2 1/2 sacks last year. Smith, three-time Pro Bowl pick, but suspended for first two games for punching Lucas at training camp.

Biggest change: Offensive line has different starters at all five positions, with rookie Jeff Otah at RT. With rookie RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers hope to return to power running game absent since team's only Super Bowl appearance in 2003 season.

Schedule key: Visit San Diego and host Chicago to open season while Smith serves his suspension. Need to avoid 0-2 start which would put even more pressure on embattled coach John Fox.


Strengths: RBs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood provide big-play potential. WR Roddy White enjoyed breakout season in 2007 despite turnover at quarterback. DE John Abraham and LB Michael Boley are solid if healthy.

Weaknesses: Big questions at almost every spot on offensive line. No receiving threat at tight end.

Players to watch: QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, DT Grady Jackson, LB Curtis Lofton, LT Sam Baker.

Biggest change: Offense goes back to run-first philosophy of Dan Reeves and Jim Mora eras.

Schedule key: Team plays five of its first eight on road and finally plays first home game against a division rival on Nov. 9 against New Orleans.