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

Graphic by Robert Robinson

Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14

How have five weeks already passed in the 100th season of NFL football? It feels like just yesterday the festivities were beginning, and we were all hoping for our team to begin making a statement as January approaches. In the NFC South, it’s become clear that while one team is still performing at or above their expectations, one is arguably free-falling off a cliff with no reasonable end in sight. Here’s where the division stands entering Week Five*, 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 (4-1)

Week Five Result: Won 31-24 vs. Tampa Bay

Analysis: “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” That was the chant in the Superdome as the Saints’ QB2 utterly torched the Bucs secondary for four touchdown passes, even beating them a couple of times with his legs. He took on the challenge the Bucs’ incredible run defense posed and said “I’m gonna exploit the mismatch here. Get ready for this”. Of course, he had a plethora of assistance from his boys in Kamara, Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, Ted Ginn Jr., and even utility man Taysom Hill on a few snaps. And of course, the defense did their part too, sacking Jameis six times and absolutely blanketing Mike Evans. While that left Godwin open, completely shutting down a top-ten receiver in the NFL is not easy to do, especially in your own division. Kudos, Saints. You’re doing great in Brees’ absence.

Up next: Sunday @ Jacksonville. The Saints must now leave the comfort of the Bayou to travel east up I-10 for a game against Gardner Minshew and the “Sacksonville” defense. While the Jaguars are coming off a close loss to the Panthers, the Saints need to look at the film and figure out how to let Kamara go off on this defense. Since Kamara is essentially the equivalent of McCaffrey in terms of elusiveness, it shouldn’t be hard for Sean Payton to conjure up some more magic for another week.

Carolina Panthers (3-2)

Week Four Result: Won 34-27 vs. Jacksonville

Analysis: 3-0. That’s the record for the Panthers since Cam went down and Kyle Allen came into the fray. While I still respect Cam for what he’s doing, I don’t think he can reasonably say that, given the team’s success right now, that he’d want to come in and uphend the chemistry they have. The defense is steadily improving (Kuechly got tackle #1,000 for his career), their kicking game appears to have the answer for when Gano leaves, and McCaffrey is just something special (how did he hold on to the ball in that helicopter spin/flip for a score?). While credit is due for Jacksonville, who played great up until the final whistle, Carolina got a much-needed victory to keep pace with the Saints in the hunt for the division title.

Up Next: Sunday @ Tampa Bay (London). Gerald McCoy must be licking his chops in this game, especially considering he’s the second player to face his former team in a home game across the pond in London (Khalil Mack was the first this year). I honestly can’t see how the Bucs can stop McCaffrey from tearing up the stat sheet for another week; if anything, he should be the frontrunner for MVP. Of course, it’ll be given to a quarterback again, so he’ll have to settle for OPOY.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

Week Four Result: Lost 31-24 @ New Orleans

Analysis: For a brief moment in this game, it seemed as though the Bucs had a chance to make a statement that last week’s win over the Rams wasn’t a fluke. Then Jameis threw a pick on the first drive (overturned by delay of game), the Bucs apparently didn’t recover a muffed punt, and Bruce Arians lost both of his challenges and was visibly upset on the sideline with the explanations given to him. It was mentioned that for the Bucs to win, they had to stop Alvin Kamara. While they mostly kept him in check, that opened the door for Michael Thomas to demonstrate why he earned that big payday in the offseason. Side note: I love Chris Godwin. That dude is something else, and his performance as the Bucs No.2 receiver is something to commend.

Up Next: Sunday vs. Carolina (London). Tampa now travels across the Atlantic Ocean

to face the division rival Panthers in their league-sanctioned London contest as per the rules of getting the right to host the Super Bowl in 2021. Like the previous week featuring Khalil Mack facing his former team in London, this time it’s Gerald McCoy’s turn. Let’s see if Shaq Barrett can pressure Kyle Allen and if the Bucs defense can stop McCaffrey, who’s on an absolute tear right now.

Atlanta Falcons (1-4)

Week Three Result: Lost 53-32 @ Houston

Analysis: I said last week against the Titans that their game was the epitome of Atlanta’s season to this point. I was wrong; I just needed to wait one more week. Against the Texans, it was this game that showcased the Falcons season to this point: sloppy performance on defense, constantly getting beaten over the top, the offense being subpar early, and just getting in their own way. It seemed like Will Fuller couldn’t stop getting open (14 receptions, 217 yards, 3 TDs), and the Falcons couldn’t register a sack for the second straight week. Also, the team forced three fumbles early, didn’t recover any of them, and gave up first downs on the ensuing scramblings. That said, while the offense did keep it close late, being down only one score right at the two-minute warning, the defense was burned again, and Ryan threw his league-leading seventh INT of the year, this one being returned for the final margin of victory. The team has been preaching “accountability” across the board; why aren’t the practice results showing up on game day? One positive note: Atlanta did hold a lead entering halftime, albeit a 17-16 score. But three straight punts coming out of the half? Unacceptable.

Up Next: Sunday @ Arizona. Atlanta now goes out west to Arizona, where they will stay and practice before their game against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Honestly, this might be the only game left on their schedule that they could reasonably win. But if their defense plays ANYTHING like they have the past two weeks, failing to register a single sack on the two most suspect offensive lines in football, then Kyler might just showcase why he won the Heisman last year. Oh, and also, he’s coming off his first career win in the NFL. Quinn’s seat is hot; can he cool it off before games against the Rams and Seahawks?

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