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Each NFL Team’s Difference-Maker: NFC South

XN Sports looks at the most important player for each team in the NFC South.

Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We’re merely 26 days from the start of the 2014 NFL season. Every day, we have reviewed the top storylines from training camps across the NFL, providing who is impressing, who is disappointing, and any other significant notes from on and off the field.

Given the news coming out of camps, XN Sports will be naming one difference-maker for each team. Friday marks the AFC South and NFC South, and the rest of the schedule is below.

Aug 6.: AFC East

Aug. 6: NFC East

Aug. 7: AFC North

Aug. 7: NFC North

Aug. 8: NFC South

Aug.9: AFC West

Aug. 9: NFC West

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons wanted to get tougher in the trenches this offseason. So did Matt Ryan. In 2013 the Falcons’ quarterback was sacked 44 times, leading the team to draft Jake Matthews with the No. 6 overall pick.

Matthews along with Sam Baker gives Atlanta bookends to better protect Ryan, who can have an extra second to get the ball out to a healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones. Don’t sleep on that extra second, because the Falcons’ offense could be very, very prolific because of it.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers lost so many key cogs this offseason, and now the team is working in a new left tackle, right guard and top three wide receivers. Defensively, it’s an almost entirely new secondary.

Obviously, Cam Newton is the team’s catalyst, but the Panthers’ season will be contingent on the play of Antoine Cason. Check this: the team still is solid in the front seven. And playing the likes of Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa, the secondary will be chief in deciding the outcomes of games.

If Cason can anchor the secondary, the Panthers can stay in games and Newton can take care of the rest.

New Orleans Saints

Despite losing Darren Sproles and Malcolm Jenkins in the offseason, the Saints definitely got better. Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey and Brandin Cooks were all added, and up and down the roster it’s without question one of the most talented and deep teams in the NFL.

I won’t question the Saints’ offense. The defense can be exceptional — if Bailey or Patrick Robinson can shine as the No. 2 corner opposite Keenan Lewis. Bailey is 36 and coming off an injury riddled 2013 year, while Robinson has failed to live up to being a first-round pick.

One — if not both — need to step up if this team’s secondary is going to be among the best in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s now Lovie Smith calling the shots in Tampa, and that means defense is again king. And if you’re going to revert back to the Tampa 2, you need a solid weak-side linebacker. In this case, it’s Lavonte David.

David proved to be the Bucs’ best player in 2013 and seems destined for stardom. Now he’s filling that Derrick Brooks role in Smith’s defense, meaning he’ll have a chance to prove all the hype surrounding him is real.

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