Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14
The NFC South just became the first division in the 100th iteration of NFL football to have a team clinch a playoff berth with the Saints’ win on Thanksgiving night. Because of this, Sean Payton has garnered some COTY discussion, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see his name in the top five come February. However, that’s only one coach in this division, and he’s been a model of consistency since his hiring in 2006 (and the turmoil from 2012-2014). So with that, here’s where the division stands entering Week Fourteen*, 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 (10-2)
Week Thirteen Result: Won 26-18 @ Atlanta
Analysis: Short story here: New Orleans clinched the NFC South for the third straight year and also got revenge against the Falcons from a few weeks ago. The Saints virtually had their way with Atlanta’s offensive line, sacking Matt Ryan nine times and forcing three turnovers, with defensive tackle Shy Tuttle stiff-arming Ryan into the turf. That said, the Saints almost could’ve lost this game because of some late miscues, but that’s why Cameron Jordan is an elite talent; he makes up for the mistakes. Plus, NO went to sleep this weekend as NFC South champs. They woke up today as the #1 seed for the second straight year.
Up next: Sunday vs. San Francisco. The matchup of the NFC is now about to transpire this weekend as the 49ers come to the French Quarter in a game with major implications. Like mentioned above, if the playoffs started today, the Saints would be the 1 seed and the 49ers would be the 5. A win for either team only strengthens either side’s hold on home-field advantage come January.
Carolina Panthers (5-7)
Week Thirteen Result: Lost 29-21 vs. Washington
Analysis: Blowing a 14-point lead to a Washington team that has been inept at just about everything is an unacceptable loss for a team with slight playoff hopes alive. It was interesting to see Carolina lose such a lead to a rookie quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, but it was more about Derrius Guice (12 carries, 125 yds) that sealed Carolina’s fate. Also, Kyle Allen did a decent job in this game, but with the game on the line inside the Washington 5, Allen legitimately ran backward for a good 25-30 yards total before being stripped, sealing the game. This kind of loss would lead to a coach being let go of his position at the end of the season. For the Panthers, they decided to do it early.
Up Next: Sunday @ Atlanta. This matchup will be the first time since 2011 where the Panthers play a divisional opponent without Rivera at the helm. Will a sudden change before the final quarter of the season make any difference? Probably not, but it’s interesting to see how Carolina responds to such a decision made by David Tepper.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Week Thirteen Result: Won 28-11 @ Jacksonville
Analysis: Last week, it was all about Chris Godwin and Jameis Winston coming back from a two-turnover performance. This week, it was all about the defense, and how. The first three possessions for Jacksonville: interception to Devin White, strip-sack by Shaquil Barrett that White returned for a touchdown, and a strip-sack recovered by Ndamukong Suh inside the Bucs 20. Heck, the Bucs defense was smothering on Nick Foles, the Jaguars decided to return to “Minshew Mania”, and for a brief moment in this game, it almost looked like he was going to bring Jacksonville back from a 25-0 halftime deficit. Bruce Arians stated that his glass after the Falcons game was “going to get a hell of a lot more full”, and it appears he delivered because the Buccaneers are still technically alive for that coveted No.6 seed in the NFC. And when you’re the one team in the NFC that hasn’t made the playoffs at least once since 2007, you’ll do anything to break that mediocrity.
Up Next: Sunday afternoon vs. Indianapolis. Looking at this upcoming matchup for
the Bucs, it’s pretty interesting which segments of the team have the most trust. Offense right now, it’s Indy; defense and special teams, Tampa Bay have the edge. This means a game like this Sunday’s will not only have potential playoff implications (both teams fighting for the wild card with IND fighting for division title), but it’ll come down to which team has the better coaching in this game. For something like this, I’ll go with the hot team in Tampa, but don’t be surprised if the expectations the media is starting to generate might come back to hurt the Bucs.
Atlanta Falcons (3-9)
Week Thirteen Result: Lost 26-18 vs. New Orleans
Analysis: For Atlanta, this is the second straight season where they played their bitter rival Saints on Thanksgiving and came out on the losing side of the equation. Even more infuriating was that they allowed the Saints to clinch the division on their turf. After watching this game intently, three things were prevalent: 1.) Matt Ryan has no time in the pocket (15 sacks and an additional 32 hits in a five-day span); 2.) The defense has, outside of the Chris Godwin coming out party, has shown massive improvements this past month; and 3.) it’s rare to recover an onside kick in the NFL (going into the game, teams were 2/34 combined). The Falcons did it three times against the Saints (two officially).
Up Next: Sunday vs. Carolina. The Falcons’ NFC South gauntlet mercifully is going to end this Sunday afternoon against a Carolina Panthers team which recently let Ron Rivera go as their head coach. The last time these teams met, Atlanta’s defense smothered the Panthers to the tune of four interceptions and a 29-3 victory. Now they have to contend with the same team, but a different man at the helm. To some individuals in the local and national media, this game could be like the Washington game for Carolina; a loss here, and Quinn’s gone. I maintain this statement: if Quinn goes 2-2 or 3-1 in this final quarter, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arthur Blank keeps him around. The Saints did it with Payton, and look how that’s turned out.