Time for a look at the Friday morning headlines from around the division:
Owner Arthur Blank tells D. Orlando Ledbetter that coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are not on the hot seat. They shouldn’t be. They’ve had four straight winning seasons. But there is no doubt this is a crucial year for Smith and Dimitroff. They have yet to win a playoff game. If they don’t do that this season, then they really will be on the hot seat.
Cornerback Asante Samuel says he doesn’t care if he technically is a starter. I don’t think he will be because I think Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson will be the starters. But the Falcons are going to use the nickel package so often that Samuel will play almost as much as Grimes and Robinson.
Running back Jonathan Stewart, who is recovering from an ankle injury, did not practice with the team Thursday. Stewart ran on the side with trainers. The Panthers are expected to make a decision Friday if Stewart will play in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.
Quarterback Cam Newton said center Ryan Kalil is his “hero’’ for taking out a full-page newspaper ad to promise the Panthers will win the Super Bowl. Newton didn’t publicly advertise it, but he shares the same goal
Although he just joined the team this week, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is expected to start right away. He’ll join veteran Ron Edwards in the middle of the defensive line. That should make the interior of the defensive line dramatically better than it was last season.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints scored 329 points in their home games last season. That’s more than 12 NFL teams scored all season. Sunday’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, scored 288 points in 16 games.
The Saints are expected to start Turk McBride at defensive end in place of the suspended Will Smith. I think Junior Galette and Martez Wilson will get some playing time on passing downs. But McBride is a veteran who can be a factor against both the run and the pass and he should be able to handle the starting role.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Rookie linebacker Lavonte David has some history with Carolina’s Newton. They faced each other once before. They played against each other for the junior college national championship and Newton’s team won.
Coach Greg Schiano puts a strong emphasis on protecting the ball. Quarterback Josh Freeman is well aware of that and he realizes he can’t have anywhere close to the 22 interceptions he threw last season.