Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14
We’re almost a quarter of the way through the 100th iteration of NFL football. Around this point, teams will either be solidifying themselves as early playoff contenders, trying to figure out what’s going on or just being a straight-up mess. Of course, the NFC South is no different, with all their teams still really attempting to find their footing. Here’s where the division stands entering Week Three*, 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 (2-1)
Week Three Result: Won 33-21 @ Seattle
Analysis: At the scene of the “Beastquake” from eight years ago, New Orleans returned to Seattle with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, and behind a resurgent defense and special teams, the Saints emerged with a critical victory over the Seahawks and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South. I’ll admit, while I did not pick the Saints to win this contest, I did go on record saying I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the game on their schedule that they stole the victory. It appears as though that hunch was right, but time will tell how the Saints utilize such a victory. Will they begin running away with the division? Or will they falter before Brees returns and set up a scenario where 7-9 or 8-8 could realistically win this division? It’s a waiting game now.
Up next: Sunday night vs. Dallas. A second straight quality NFC opponent, this time at home against the 3-0 (and relatively untested) Cowboys on Sunday night. This game was infamous last season because it was the first game in which Drew Brees looked mortal. Now he’s hurt, and it’s up to Teddy Bridgewater, Alvin Kamara, and a surprisingly revitalized Saints defense to pick up the pace, give the Cowboys their first real test, and try to separate from the rest of the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
Week Three Result: Lost 32-31 vs. New York (NFC)
Analysis: That’s just rough for the Buccaneers yesterday. Jameis Winston played relatively incredible football, Mike Evans finally made an appearance, the defense racked up more sacks (Shaq Barrett, my lord), and yet the one thing Bucs fans have been plagued with since 2008 reared its ugly head again: inaccurate kicking. It was foreshadowed earlier in the contest when Matt Gay went wide left on the first PAT and had the second blocked, but he made four straight field goals afterward, including one from 52. Yet, from one yard longer than the two misses (which Bruce Arians inexplicably said he did on purpose), he missed it. Shocker.
Up Next: Sunday afternoon @ Los Angeles (NFC). Tampa Bay now goes on their daunting road schedule which sees them gone from Raymond James for 49 days straight. First up on that ledger? Traveling to Hollywood for a date with the 3-0 Rams, who are proving that last year’s Super Bowl run wasn’t a fluke. 2-1 seems like a distant memory now.
Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
Week Three Result: Lost 27-24 @ Indianapolis
Analysis: Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what happened, I just want to say that, from all of us here at Blitzalytics, we hope that Falcons' safety Keanu Neal is okay and not severely hurt. Now onto the more important matter: despite having another terrible interception, this loss (while anticipated) is not fully on Matt Ryan, especially considering the two halves were completely different on both sides. Where Jacoby Brissett was carving up Falcons defenders left and right early, Ryan did late. Two scores to Austin Hooper and a touchdown by Julio (yeah, but he can’t score) was almost enough to snag the come-from-behind win. But, once again, the defense struggled to make a stop when it counted and got burned on a gutsy third-down bootleg play that caught everyone napping. Also, the level of undisciplined play was astonishing; 16 for 128 yards?! That cannot happen if you want to win games, no question.
Up Next: Sunday vs. Tennessee. The Titans are just as confusing and up-and-down as the Falcons are, and I can’t make heads or tails of what to expect. Of course, this is the Falcons we’re talking about here, and they just can’t seem to get out of their own way at times, which sets them and their fans up for heartbreak. This might be the most difficult game in the division to predict just on the level of unpredictability both sides will showcase in Atlanta. But, one thing’s for sure: the Falcons need this win to avoid a second straight 1-3 start to their season.
Carolina Panthers (1-2)
Week Three Result: Won 38-20 @ Arizona
Analysis: Cam Newton? More like Kyle “Kryptonite” Allen. It appears as though a quarterback controversy going in Carolina with how the second-year player performed in his second career start. The Panthers came out firing after falling to 0-2 last week and looking completely dismal against the Bucs, even showing that there’s still some life in this squad. However, the fact must be pointed out that they were playing Arizona, a team that hasn’t truly figured out their identity on offense or defense under Kliff Kingsbury. So while it’s nice to get that first win of the season, it does raise a concern about whether or not the Panthers can do it against quality opponents in a loaded NFC.
Up Next: Sunday @ Houston. The Texans just went out west to Hollywood and emerged with a critical victory over the resurgent Los Angeles Chargers, and now return home for two straight games against NFC South opponents (they play Atlanta next week). Of course, Houston’s offensive line is still suspect, and Deshaun Watson can only run around for so long before the big guys up front eventually get him destroyed by hungry defensive linemen. It’s still TBD who will be the quarterback for Carolina for this contest, which might play into their favor. However, they still must stop JJ Watt off the edge, and even though he’s been relatively quiet this year, he’s due for a breakout game.