As training camp approaches, SI.com goes around the league and asks 10 key questions for each division.
1. Can Carolina rebound from an injury-dominated 2004 to be Super Bowl material again?
Remember late last season, when absolutely no one in the NFC playoff hunt wanted to see Carolina qualify, Philadelphia included? The Panthers' bid to become the first team to start 1-7 and make the postseason fell one win short, but it still left them looking like one of the teams to beat in the NFC this year. JohnFox's team has few holes, and the only competition in camp will be for backup roles and on special teams. The Panthers have to prove they can beat the Falcons -- against whom they went 0-2 in 2004 -- but barring another plague of injuries, Carolina won't come up short of the playoffs this time.
2. Can Michael Vick take his passing game to a new level?
It seems like we've been hashing over the topic for decades now, but it might surprise you to learn that Vick still has only 40 career NFL starts under his belt. First, the good news: Vick's 56.4 completion percentage last season was a career high. Still, with a mere 181 completions for 2,313 passing yards in 2004, there's plenty of room to improve. The Falcons are counting on Vick being more comfortable and confident in the West Coast offense, with sharper timing and quicker decisions. He needs to be, because the run-first Falcons could use some offensive balance.
3. Can the Falcons win big again with an offense that's so heavily keyed to the run?
Logic says no, but in 2004, Atlanta went against modern-day conventional wisdom in the pass-happy NFL and thrived. The Falcons ranked first in rushing and 30th in passing, were the only team to collect more first downs (133) on the ground than in the air (120) and averaged more rushing yards per game (167) than passing yards (150.8). Atlanta's 20 rushing TDs were an NFC- high, and Vick finished just 98 yards shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season. Atlanta can expect defenses to load up against the run and dare them to beat them with the pass.
4. Will the Saints pick up where they left off in 2004, when they won their last four games and saved head coach Jim Haslett's job?
It's a bit of a oxymoron, calling the roller coaster-like Saints the NFL's most unpredictable team over the course of the past four seasons. After all, since winning its division in 2000, New Orleans is a perfectly sea level 32-32, finishing between 7-9 and 9-7 every year. But that really doesn't tell the story, does it? Haslett still is on the job because his guys can play -- but seemingly only when they want to. Fast starts, fast finishes: The Saints have had both in recent years. If they can avoid flat-lining for half the season one of these years, they could make some noise in a tough division.