Hitting the NFC South links

Time for a morning look at the top headlines around the NFC South.

Bradley Handwerger writes that time in the spotlight at Alabama should help New Orleans rookie running back Mark Ingram be ready for Thursday night’s opener at Green Bay.

Mike Triplett writes that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams welcomed his players back from the lockout with a video of last season’s playoff loss to Seattle. That game’s been mentioned more than a few times this season. Williams said he coaches with a chip on his shoulder and he wants his defense to play that way.

Former coach Jimmy Johnson said the NFC South is a two-team race between the Saints and Falcons, but didn’t pick a winner. Johnson also said he doesn’t expect the Bucs to match last year’s 10-win season.

Chris Vivlamore has a nice feature on how Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant handles pressure. This veteran has gone through some ups and downs, but he’s got his career on firm footing in Atlanta and has become the best kicker in the NFC South.

One of the storylines as the Buccaneers get ready to host Detroit on Sunday is how the Lions might have kept Tampa Bay out of the playoffs with a late-season win last year. But Eric Horchy writes that quarterback Josh Freeman said the team can’t afford to dwell on that game. That’s true, but I suspect coach Raheem Morris might have brought it up as motivation a few times.

The Bucs were without top cornerback Aqib Talib, who sat out that Detroit game with an injury. With Talib out, Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson had 10 catches for 152 yards. Although Talib sat out all four preseason games with a hamstring injury, he said he’s ready for Sunday and looking forward to matching up with Johnson.

The Panthers claimed cornerback Darius Butler off waivers from the Patriots. Carolina’s been looking for help at cornerback throughout the preseason. Butler’s worth a shot. He was a second-round pick in 2009 and briefly was a starter.