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State of the NFC South: Where does the division stand after Week Eight?

Graphic by Robert Robinson

Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14

We’re officially at the midway point of the season, ladies and gentlemen. By this point, the playoff picture is roughly being set, with contenders either just emerging or officially declaring themselves as the favorites to represent their conference in Miami this February. In the NFC South, this division doesn’t change much from Week Seven’s overall standings, but the gauntlet is merely two weeks away, and I’m looking forward to how all four teams perform during that span. With that, here’s where the division stands entering Week Nine*, complete with an analysis of their respective contests and previewing the next opponent:

*- how the division looks from first to last place

New Orleans Saints (7-1)

Week Eight Result: Won 31-9 vs. Arizona

Analysis: We’ve got a report of the skies being “clear and Brees-y” over New Orleans, folks. Yes, the return of the prodigal son to his rightful throne showed up a week earlier than expected and played nearly identical to how he was before suffering the injury. It was great for the Saints to go 5-0 in his absence, but everyone usually agrees with the common element: Drew Brees gives the Saints’ offense the best chance to win games. He targeted Michael Thomas 11 times; Thomas caught all 11 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Granted, his return game was against the lowly Cardinals, but they were on a roll as well, coming into the Superdome riding a three-game winning streak. Yet Kyler Murray learned early about the dangers of playing in New Orleans when their team is winning: that stadium can get loud, even deafening at times.

Up next: Bye. The Saints’ next game is November 10th at home against the Falcons.

Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Week Eight Result: Lost 51-13 @ San Francisco

Analysis: “Yowie-Wowie!” That’s currently what WWE superstar Bray Wyatt uses as one of his catchphrases in his “Firefly Fun House” segments. For Carolina, that was basically what transpired on the West Coast against the nuclear-hot 49ers. The Kyle Allen hype train essentially came to a screeching halt, and with good measure too, as Nick Bosa sacked him three times (the team had seven total) and added an interception for good measure. Also, the Panthers defense had no answer for former NFC South foe Tevin Coleman, who finished with 105 yards rushing and three touchdowns (he also had a receiving touchdown to boot), becoming the first 49ers player to accomplish said feat since Jerry Rice. If there’s one positive to take out of this game, it’s that McCaffrey is still a beast, as he scored the first touchdown by a running back against the 49ers defense all season.

Up Next: Sunday @ Tennessee. Coach Ron Rivera stated after the game that Cam Newton is still recovering from his foot ailment, so despite how pedestrian Kyle Allen was (even against a dominant opponent), he’s getting the start against the Titans. It’s still possible that Carolina might ship Cam off to a team that needs a quarterback (hello, Chicago), but the chances of that legitimately happening are the same chances as the sports almanac from the “Back to the Future” trilogy existing.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)

Week Eight Result: Lost 27-23 @ Tennessee

Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Jameis Winston isn’t the answer at quarterback for the Buccaneers. Yes, he did throw two touchdown passes to Mike Evans, who racked up 198 yards receiving. But he also had two fumbles lost (one of which wasn’t his fault) and two interceptions (I can discredit the one to Perriman because of poor route running, but the one to Godwin is indefensible), all of which played a critical role in the Bucs dropping their third straight game after the thwacking of the Rams. Heck, the Bucs couldn’t get the ground game going, aided by Perriman (go figure) tackling Dare Ogunbowale on a third-down draw play from the Tennessee 5. Also, I could go off about the fumble that wasn’t returned for a touchdown (even though it was), but that’s just how the NFL has been with officiating lately. If there’s any consolation for Bucs fans here, it’s that they’re now the third NFC South team to have a fumble taken away by incompetent referees and inadvertent whistles.

Up Next: Sunday @ Seattle. The Bucs’ time away from Raymond James continues for two more weeks. After the loss to Tennessee, the squad now must travel to the Pacific Northwest for a date with MVP-candidate Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. While Seattle is banged up, losing two of their offensive players in concurrent weeks, it remains to be seen if the Bucs receivers will take their head coach’s postgame press conference statements to heart and prove to him that it’s not their fault; it’s Winston’s.

Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

Week Eight Result: Lost 27-20 vs. Seattle

Analysis: Yeah, yeah, the Falcons lost again. There’s no surprise given how disappointing they’ve been in the first half of the season. However, three positives came out of this game: 1) They got SACKS (as in multiple); 2) Matt Schaub threw for 460 yards (proving he can still be a spot starter in this league), and 3) the Falcons covered the spread. I bet nobody thought that when it was 24-0, which is the sixth game this year they’ve been down by 10+ points entering the intermission, that it was possible. But Atlanta played well enough to almost pull off the upset over Seattle. Stinks that Devonta Freeman fumbled inside the five and Matt Bryant missed two field goals (though from 50+ for someone of his age, I can let it slide just a little). But the reality has sunk in for the Falcons: this season did not live up to what anyone predicted, and I’m honestly left wondering who they could defeat in the second half of the campaign (provided they even want to hurt their draft stock).

Up Next: Bye. The Falcons take a bye week to figure out if they can at least try and salvage their season, even if internally they’re looking towards 2020. For now, their next opponent begins the NFC South gauntlet, as their next contest is a road game against the Saints.

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