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

Graphic by Robert Robinson

Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14

Week Nine is in the books, folks, and now we’ve only got one team in the league that’s still undefeated. 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 Eight’s overall standings, but the gauntlet is now about to begin, and I’m looking forward to how all four teams perform during that span. With that, here’s where the division stands entering Week 10*, 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 Nine Result: Bye

Analysis: New Orleans was on a bye week, so they had enough time to ensure Drew Brees is back to 100% for their next opponent. Also, they ensured Teddy Bridgewater stayed put until free agency, preventing another quarterback-needy team from trading for the former Vikings starter.

Up next: Sunday vs. Atlanta. It’s time for New Orleans to run the gauntlet in their division, much like their foe this Sunday afternoon. The Saints and Falcons have been on different ends of the spectrum (figuratively and literally), so anything’s possible when the two bitter rivals square off. This is the third time either team has been favored by more than 12 points, but with New Orleans firing on all cylinders, plus the history in the Superdome, it’s hard to see them slipping up.

Carolina Panthers (5-3)

Week Nine Result: Won 30-20 vs. Tennessee

Analysis: The Panthers needed to get a win after being absolutely thwacked by the 49ers last week. Fortunately, their opponent just happened to be against an inferior opponent in the Titans, who incidentally with Ryan Tannehill under center played better against the lowly Bucs than the Panthers. Carolina also didn’t have Mario Addison available (personal reasons) but still managed to win this game in his honor while keeping pace with the Saints. Also, McCaffrey is still dominating in the backfield, and if he doesn’t get serious MVP considerations, he should be first runner-up no question.

Up Next: Sunday @ Green Bay. Green Bay got what Aaron Rodgers stated in the postgame, a “slice of humble pie” in their loss to the Chargers. And when Rodgers makes a statement like that, I’ll translate it: he’s not happy, and their opponent better look out. Carolina has to travel into Green Bay to face this guy who's mad as hell over a loss to a team that can’t sell out their own stadium? Good luck, Panthers. You’re gonna need it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)

Week Nine Result: Lost 40-34 (OT) @ Seattle

Analysis: I honestly didn’t expect the Bucs to play the way they did on the road against the Seahawks. Tampa Bay, with Jameis still at the helm, played just enough to almost come away with the victory, even though he did have a very much-like-himself turnover (that while it looked like it was his fault, it wasn’t). As for the Bucs defense, they still are inept, especially in the secondary. Russell Wilson picked them apart, especially with the connection he’s developed with Tyler Lockett and rookie DK Metcalf. Throwing for five touchdowns is a very impressive feat, even if it’s against a defense that surrenders the second-highest points in the NFL. But I’ll give credit where it’s due: Tampa came to play against an NFC powerhouse this year and nearly won. Nice game Tampa.

Up Next: Sunday vs. Arizona. Tampa Bay faithful, rejoice! Your Buccaneers are finally returning home to play in front of you at Raymond James Stadium. I realize it’s against a minorly inferior opponent in the Cardinals, but that doesn’t mean they should take them lightly. In fact, if they play anything like how they did in the Pacific Northwest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs pull out the victory they couldn’t get against an MVP-favorite.

Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

Week Nine Result: Bye

Analysis: Atlanta had a bye week, and in that timespan cut Matt Bryant, signed Younghoe Koo, signed Ryan Allen, and changed the roles of three of their coaching staff. Hard to tell what’s going to come of it, but I respect Arthur Blank for holding firm and not firing Dan Quinn (at least for now).

Up Next: Sunday @ New Orleans. Like their bitter NFC South rivals, the Falcons begin their NFC South gauntlet play on the road. As a diehard fan, would I like to see my squad walk into the Superdome and turn this season around? Of course, but I’m also a realist, and right now nothing seems to be working in Atlanta’s favor. Maybe we can upset the best team in our division (yes, you read that right). However, I would much rather see them do that on Thanksgiving night when we’re celebrating with those we love and are thankful for. For now, let’s keep playing bad and try to get this Chase Young player out of Ohio State.

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