NFC South preseason capsules (2012 records in parentheses):
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: 28-24 home loss to 49ers in NFC championship game kept Atlanta from reaching its second Super Bowl. Falcons won NFC South and beat Seattle for first playoff win in five years with quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith. Ryan set career highs with 4,719 yards passing, 32 TDs and 99.1 passer rating.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora, rookie LB Brian Banks, rookie CB Desmond Trufant, rookie CB Robert Alford, rookie DE Malliciah Goodman.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE John Abraham, RB Michael Turner, OT Tyson Clabo, C Todd McClure, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Brett Grimes, CB Christopher Owens, DE Lawrence Sidbury, LB Mike Peterson, DT Vance Walker, OT Will Svitek, TE Michael Palmer.
CAMP NEEDS: First-round pick Trufant is expected to win starting job beside Asante Samuel. Robert McClain and Dominique Franks also must play bigger roles after exits of three cornerbacks. Jackson will use camp to adjust to Falcons' attack. Umenyiora is expected to replace Abraham, and rookies Goodman and Stansly Maponga will have chance to earn time at other end. Rebuilding offensive line after departures of longtime starters McClure and Clabo. Peter Konz is likely to replace McClure.
EXPECTATIONS: Boosted by return of TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons are expected to ride high-scoring offense back to playoffs. Ryan has wealth of top targets with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Gonzalez and now Jackson, who should add more diversity as receiver out of backfield. Turnover at cornerback and questionable pass rush could combine for leaky pass defense, especially early in season as rookie CBs gain experience.
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: With coach Sean Payton suspended for whole season in connection with NFL's bounty probe, Saints missed playoffs for first time since 2008. Even without Payton, known mostly for his offensive acumen, Saints ranked second in yards per game with nearly 411. However, defense was one of worst in NFL history, yielding single-season record 7,042 yards.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie S Kenny Vaccaro, CB Keenan Lewis, TE Ben Watson, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LT Jermon Bushrod, WR Devery Henderson, DT Sedrick Ellis.
CAMP NEEDS: Defensively, Saints are adjusting to new 3-4 scheme under Ryan, forcing Will Smith to move to outside linebacker, while Jon Vilma becomes one of two inside LBs - role in which his production diminished when he was with Jets. Offensively, Saints need to see if third-year LT Charles Brown is ready to inherit starting role vacated by Bushrod in free agency. New Orleans is also looking at several young receivers to take field alongside Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Joe Morgan appears front-runner.
EXPECTATIONS: With most key starters back on offense, not to mention return of Payton, New Orleans should have little trouble moving and scoring. If Ryan's new defense can elevate New Orleans from worst to even mediocre, Saints, who lost five games by eight or fewer points last season, might return to playoff contention.
OPEN CAMP: July 24
LAST YEAR: Josh Freeman became first player in franchise history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, and Bucs improved from four wins to seven in 2012. Nevertheless, team's first season under coach Greg Schiano ended amid speculation whether Freeman is quarterback to lead this offense. His inconsistency was only partially responsible for Tampa Bay losing five of six following 6-4 start.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, rookie CB Johnthan Banks, PK Lawrence Tynes, LB Jonathan Casillas, T Gabe Carimi, DT Akeem Spence.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Ronde Barber, PK Connor Barth, DE Michael Bennett, DT Roy Miller, TE Dallas Clark, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Quincy Black.
CAMP NEEDS: Overhauled porous secondary that nearly set NFL record for yards allowed through air now has Revis, generally regarded as top cornerback in league when healthy. He comes off major knee injury that sidelined him most of last season with Jets. How much will he practice and will he be 100 percent by Sept. 8 season opener against his old team? Goldson was All-Pro with San Francisco in 2012 and figures to help second-year safety Mark Barron's development. Another objective: improving anemic pass rush. After losing Bennett, who led Bucs with nine sacks, Schiano is counting on big years from ends Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn.
EXPECTATIONS: With Freeman entering final year of rookie contract and Revis beginning six-year, $96 million deal, anything short of ending six-year playoff hiatus will be major disappointment. RB Doug Martin comes off outstanding rookie season ( 1,454 yards rushing), and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams eager to build on standout seasons, Freeman has supporting cast capable of run at NFC South title if Revis and Goldson can shore up defense.
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Panthers got off to 1-5 start for second straight year under coach Ron Rivera, but finished strong by winning five of six to save his job.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, DT Colin Cole, CBs Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore, S Mike Mitchell, WRs Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Chris Gamble, LB James Anderson, WR Louis Murphy.
CAMP NEEDS: Panthers need to focus on re-establishing running game, getting DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart more involved in offense. Defensively, they still have questions in secondary, but hope solid pass rush will alleviate pressure on back end.
EXPECTATIONS: High, with Cam Newton heading into third season. Newton has put up good stats, but reality is overall record is 13-19. There is plenty of pressure on Rivera to get his team off to quick start and reach playoffs after two losing seasons.
AP NFL website:

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