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NFC South afternoon update

Time for an afternoon run through the NFC South headlines:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The news that Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are finalizing a three-year contract extension worth about $18 million per year is nothing but a positive for Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. The Falcons have made it clear they want to get Ryan signed for the long term before he heads into the final year of his contract and Stafford’s deal only backs up what Ryan’s agent likely has been telling the Falcons. Ryan is worthy of a contract similar to what Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers got (about $20 million per year). Ryan hasn’t won a Super Bowl yet. But he’s produced five consecutive winning seasons and that puts him several notches above Stafford, who is 17-28 as a starter.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Bryan Strickland points out that the Panthers were one of only nine teams to rush for 2,000 yards last season and Cam Newton was the first NFL quarterback to lead his team in rushing yards since the 2000 season. I don’t make predictions very often, but I’ll make an exception here. I say Newton will not lead the Panthers in rushing in 2013. I think offensive coordinator Mike Shula will be following orders from way above to get running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart more touches.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Adam Schein writes that the Saints are the NFL’s most fascinating team heading into the 2013 season. Schein says the return of coach Sean Payton from suspension should help, but expresses concern about a defense that was ranked last in the NFL last season. I think that’s a very fair assessment. If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense together, they should be in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Mark Cook writes that Tampa Bay’s offseason additions of safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis will make second-year safety Mark Barron better than he was in his rookie season. I’ll take it one step further and say the additions will have a tremendous impact on Barron. Tampa Bay’s secondary had major problems last season and Barron wasn’t able to play to his strengths. He’s best as an in-the-box safety and the arrival of Goldson and Revis should cut down on the amount of time he has to spend in coverage.