Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14
The NFC South has arguably been the best division in football, and I’ve maintained the division’s dominance over all the others for good measure: because in-division competition is so hard to predict, even if one team is playing lights out, they cannot overlook those below them in the standings. Plus, all four teams are beginning some long stretches of said play, so all of these games in November and early December could come with some high importance for when playoff seeding rears its head. So with that, here’s where the division stands entering Week Eleven*, complete with an analysis of their respective contests and previewing the next opponent:
*- teams are organized based on first place to last place
New Orleans Saints (7-2)
Week Ten Result: Lost 26-9 vs. Atlanta
Analysis: Colin Cowherd’s three-word game he does on his Monday show really emphasized this contest: “What Was That?” The Saints entered this contest as a 13.5-point favorite and ended up losing by 17 to their most hated rival, looking lost at almost every corner. Give credit where it’s due, Atlanta came to play coming out of the bye week, while New Orleans clearly was overlooking Atlanta, which is a good reason why their six-game winning streak was snapped. But this was just questionable all around. For starters, they had Drew Brees under center and got Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook back. So why did Kamara only have four carries in this game? Yeah, he did slip up on a third-down play inside the Falcons 10-yard line, but who’s to say he would’ve scored? Also, the Saints offensive line needs to regroup ASAP after letting Brees hit the turf six times and hit 11 times total. Unacceptable. Defensively, though, holding Matt Ryan to under 200 yards passing is impressive, but they shot themselves in the foot multiple times with penalties, and the Falcons made them pay for it. Oh, yeah, and they need Marshon Latimore outside, because Eli Apple and the rest of that secondary can’t match up against the elite receivers in this league (a la Julio Jones).
Up next: Sunday afternoon @ Tampa Bay. New Orleans needs to forget this contest and gear up for a road trip to Tampa and round two of their NFC South gauntlet against the Bucs. Of course, the Saints will be mad and try to prove that Sunday’s contest was a one-off. Plus, they already beat Tampa once this year, and that was without Drew Brees under center. Tampa already struggles against the Saints historically, and now they have to deal with the best quarterback in the division? Good luck, Tampa. You’re gonna need it when the Saints go marching into the Bay.
Carolina Panthers (5-4)
Week Ten Result: Lost 24-16 @ Green Bay
Analysis: After watching what happened with Carolina, it’s hard to truly determine what went wrong. Of course, the easiest answers could boil down to two things: Christian McCaffrey was held in check and the Panthers defense had no answer for Aaron Jones (93 yards rushing and 3TDs). That said, I feel like the Panthers just weren’t ready for the cold climate of Lambeau Field to rear its head so early into November, especially with the snow falling late in the contest. Also, on that final play where McCaffrey was stopped, I wish Kyle Allen would’ve pulled that ball back from him because Greg Olsen was wide open in the corner of the endzone for the game-winning score. That was eerily reminiscent of the Packers struggles against the Eagles, ironically also at home and on the same side of the field. While the Panthers didn’t do much to keep pace in the South, they got a reprieve with New Orleans losing at home.
Up Next: Sunday afternoon vs. Atlanta. The Panthers are currently favored by 6 points against the Falcons in the first of two straight contests against divisional opponents. However, they’re 1-6 straight up and ATS against the Falcons in their last seven matchups and have lost five of their last seven home games overall. Carolina could pull out a victory here, but they need to finish drives and not play undisciplined, even if their opponent has been struggling all year. Like the old saying goes, “Any team can win on any given Sunday”.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
Week Ten Result: Won 30-27 vs. Arizona
Analysis: Honestly, Tampa Bay squeaked by the Cardinals, and they probably shouldn’t have if the referee had called a DPI on the final play of the game. Jameis Winston threw another opening drive interception (his seventh since entering the league) and continues to make poor decisions in the pocket. And the defense didn’t do much to give him extra assistance, consistently giving up big plays to Kyler Murray (a 32-yard run after pinning them at their 4? Embarrassing).However, if there is a silver lining that the Bucs can take from this game aside from winning their first home game since Week 13 of last year, it’s that they might have the answer in the backfield in Ronald Jones.
Up Next: Sunday vs. New Orleans. Tampa Bay lucked out against a very impressive Cardinals team. Now they host New Orleans, who absolutely demolished them when Tampa was on their long road trip. However, this time the Saints have Drew Brees under center, and the Bucs have the worst passing defense in the league. Michael Thomas should feast again, but at least Tampa ended their home woes on the field. Let’s see if they can at least put some people in the stands now after having the lowest home attendance in years.
Atlanta Falcons (2-7)
Week Ten Result: Won 26-9 @ New Orleans
Analysis: Unbelievable. That’s what I, like most of America, was probably thinking when watching this contest. The Falcons-Saints rivalry is arguably the most intense in the league today, yet everyone (including Vegas) thought this was going to be a bloodbath with the Saints feasting on the underachieving Falcons. Well, Atlanta showed a pulse yesterday afternoon, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Against one of the shiftiest quarterbacks in the game today, the Falcons came within one sack of matching their season total entering Sunday’s contest. Not only that, but they played blanket coverage for most of the game, despite Michael Thomas (13 receptions, 152 yards) getting his fill. As for the offense, they did their part to secure the win, dominating the time of possession with three drives lasting at least 10 plays, while the special teams was led by new kicker Younghoe “Koo and the Gang”. But the biggest takeaway from this contest: entering Sunday, New Orleans had never been held to under 10 points at home in the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. Credit Atlanta for being the first to do so against their bitter rivals.
Up Next: Sunday @ Carolina. Round two of the NFC South gauntlet sees the Falcons travel up I-85 to Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers. This should be another good matchup, even if the records say otherwise on paper. Can Atlanta win another game against a divisional opponent in their stadium? It’s possible, but they’re going to have to duplicate what they did in New Orleans since Carolina has their own dual-threat back in McCaffrey.