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

Graphic by Robert Robinson

Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14

The first quarter of the 100th NFL season has officially been completed. We went from a record eight teams being undefeated to three in a matter of 72 hours, while other teams just can’t figure out what’s going wrong. In the NFC South, everything is either discombobulated or separating from the pack, with all their teams starting to figure out what’s going to transpire moving forward. Here’s where the division stands entering Week Four*, 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 (3-1)

Week Four Result: Won 12-10 vs. Dallas

Analysis: Gutsy performance from the Saints defense against a talented Cowboys offense in primetime. Two forced fumbles prevented Dallas from really getting anything going, and a couple of key drops aided their chances. Of course, there’s still some concern about the Saints offense and whether or not they can hold the fort down until Brees returns. This was further evidenced by the fact that the team couldn’t punch it into the endzone yesterday, only scoring on four field goals by Wil Lutz. Yes, they’re 2-0 without him, but I think everyone can agree that New Orleans’ chances of winning vastly improve with him leading the charge.

Up next: Sunday vs. Tampa Bay. The Saints now welcome in the Buccaneers for a good old fashioned slugfest between division opponents. Lest we forget, with Drew Brees at the helm, the Bucs walked into the Superdome and emerged with a 48-40 victory. Of course, back then Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback because Jameis was suspended, and Desean Jackson actually had chemistry with the signal-caller. This time around, it’s Jameis vs. Teddy Bridgewater. Expect something to give in front of “Who Dat” Nation Sunday afternoon.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

Week Four Result: Won 54-40 vs. Los Angeles (NFC)

Analysis: After last week’s debacle, head coach Bruce Arians preached one word above anything else to his players: “Finish”. Coming into this game, it was hard to see the Bucs coming out with a victory, even if it was close. Yet the Bucs went out to LA, weren’t given much of a chance by anyone, and simply decimated the Rams in a high-scoring affair. That said, the Bucs did have an 18-point lead twice in the contest, and with nine minutes remaining, it was a five-point affair. The Rams had one final chance to maybe send the game into overtime, but Shaq Barrett (surprise, surprise) came on the blitz on 1st and 20, stripped sacked Jared Goff (who had four turnovers), and former Ram Ndamokung Suh picked up the loose ball and returned it for the final victory margin.

Up Next: Sunday afternoon @ New Orleans. The Bucs now advance to their second straight road game, this time against a division opponent in the Saints in the Superdome. Last year, the team won 48-40, but they didn’t have Jameis at the helm. We’ll see if Barrett can continue his torrid pace toward DPOY honors this year and if the Bucs can improve to 2-0 away from Tampa before traveling across the pond.

Carolina Panthers (2-2)

Week Four Result: Won 13-10 @ Houston

Analysis: So the Panthers, after starting 0-2 with Cam a the helm, are now sitting at .500 behind Kyle Allen. That said, I do want everyone that represents the Panthers that I fully respect Cam for understanding his own mortality and needing to get back to 100%. People like that don’t deserve the level of criticism he gets, even if it’s sometimes warranted. But back to the game at hand. Allen didn’t really need to do much to get a win, as the Panthers defense did just enough to win the game, including intercepting a pass thrown by, yes, Nuke Hopkins. But I will give Allen props on one particular play: when JJ Watt came in on a beautiful twist rush, stared him down, and ducked/spun around to avoid the sack. Also, hats off to “Run CMC”, who had a staggering 37 touches of the football and accumulated 179 total yards from scrimmage.

Up Next: Sunday vs. Jacksonville. I’ll be honest here, I think this matchup will be the best matchup of Week Five simply because it’s got two relatively unknown quarterbacks who have been performing exceptionally well since getting the starting roles for their respective teams. It’s hard currently to predict how the Jaguars will fare against another predatory cat that’s just up I-95, but we’ll see if Gardner Minshew and the seemingly resurgent “Sacksonville” defense will stop Allen and McCaffrey.

Atlanta Falcons (1-3)

Week Three Result: Lost 24-10 vs. Tennessee

Analysis: I’m sorry, but this game was an epitome of 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 also didn’t help that Matt Bryant clanked a field goal from 32 yards out, which really showcased how uninspired the Falcons were. Needless to say, it’s hard to find anything good about the Falcons at this point, especially considering their own fans were booing them at halftime. Coming into this contest, Atlanta had only been down 17+ points at half a combined three times in the last three seasons. Every one of their losses has seen a deficit that big, and they need to figure out what’s not transferring from practices to the games. It’s one thing to be successful on yourself; it’s another when the chips are on the table.

Up Next: Sunday @ Houston. Atlanta now goes on the road for the next two weeks, and at this point, it’s not looking good for the Dirty Birds. Their first opponent? The Houston Texans, in the same location as their biggest collapse in franchise history. Plus, if Mariota can stay upright against the Falcons defense, imagine what Deshaun Watson will do with Nuke Hopkins on the outside. As a representative of Falcons Nation, I want them to right the ship fast. And I still have hope for them, because my support will never waver. But at the same time, it’s hard to see them pulling off the upset at this point.

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