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

Graphic by Robert Robinson

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 the 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. The gauntlet continues for all four teams in this division, and I speak from experience when I say it’s one thing to win out-of-division games; it’s another to have bragging rights over those you are in close proximity of. So with that, here’s where the division stands entering Week Thirteen*, 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 (9-2)

Week Twelve Result: Won 34-31 vs. Carolina

Analysis: Short story here: New Orleans lucked out against Carolina. For the second straight game at home against an NFC South opponent, the Saints played down to their competition and damn near lost the game as a result. Had Joey Slye not missed that kick (more to come later), it might’ve been “NFC Championship 2.0” in New Orleans after another questionable call went against them. But, give credit where it’s due: the Saints needed this win to all but wrap up the division, and they got it. Plus, Michael Thomas (much to my chagrin) continues to dominate in this division. Still, ain’t better than #11 in Atlanta though.

Up next: Thursday night @ Atlanta. The Saints’ time in the NFC South gauntlet finishes up with a matchup against the Falcons on Thanksgiving night. This is the second straight year the teams have met up in primetime on this holiday, and it's about time the division is getting some love. Of course, New Orleans will want to prove that Atlanta dominating them in their building was a fluke, and they very well might get their chance to even the score. Plus, a win here clinches the South for a third straight year.

Carolina Panthers (5-6)

Week Twelve Result: Lost 34-31 @ New Orleans

Analysis: Kyle Allen and Christian McCaffrey did everything they possibly could to secure a win in one of the most hostile environments in football. Sadly, it wasn’t enough, and it was punctuated by one of the weakest ways to lose a football game I can think of. The Panthers, right out of the two-minute warning, had a 28-yard field goal to take the lead, and Joey Slye missed it wide right worse than Billy Cundiff did against the Patriots. For reference, that kick had the highest probability of any kick attempt made this season at 93.5%. And with the Saints, you give them an inch, they’ll take five miles, and the Panthers were just so dejected defensively that Brees torched them and brought them into field goal range to win (though I’ll admit, Wil Lutz almost missed his attempt too). On the bright side, at least Carolina got a little fun by challenging a non-PI call and getting it reversed against the Saints. Oh, karma you sly devil.

Up Next: Sunday afternoon vs. Washington. The Panthers might’ve gotten a minor reprieve after this heartbreaking loss to the Saints as they now return home to welcome in Washington, who just won their first game with rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins under center. Carolina desperately needs this win to try and keep whatever slim playoff hopes they have alive, but they also need to be watching the Saints-Falcons game on Thursday night because a Saints loss (god forbid) would keep the division title up for grabs. A Saints win, however, and the Panthers can almost guarantee to begin shining up the golf clubs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

Week Twelve Result: Won 35-22 @ Atlanta

Analysis: This game will be referred to forevermore as the “Chris Godwin Show”. My lord, Atlanta had no answer for the Bucs No.2 receiver, though I’ve known since Tampa picked him up out of Penn State that he was going to be great in this league. He showed it on Sunday afternoon, catching seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, one on a very close pass that could’ve been incomplete and another on third-and-goal where he had an immense concentration on a hit from Falcons cornerback Kendall Sheffield. Of course, Tampa still had to deal with two problems that have been prominent since 2015: Jameis Winston committing turnovers and their inaccurate kicking game. That said, Jameis always plays well against the team he had close proximity to growing up, so to see his team respond by keeping him upright and shrugging off those INTs means that he’s got at least one more week in the Bay.

Up Next: Sunday afternoon @ Jacksonville. Tampa at least gets to remain in the state of Florida for the next two weeks, coincidentally against AFC South opponents. First up? A trip up I-75 to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars, who are also reeling and might’ve seen any possible playoff scenarios wiped out by former All-American back from (you guessed it, Florida) Derrick Henry. Let’s see how Tampa performs on the road for a second straight week.

Atlanta Falcons (3-8)

Week Twelve Result: Lost 35-22 vs. Tampa Bay

Analysis: Short-term happens all the time in this league, and this year it was Atlanta playing the cards against us. These last two weeks have everyone something to think about because that was how we expected them to play all season. Returning home for three weeks should’ve made it better for them to continue things down the stretch, and they revert to the same team they were in the first half. The Falcons had absolutely no answer for Chris Godwin, who torched the secondary for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and their defense which had secured 11 sacks recently couldn’t touch Jameis Winston once. At least they still got two interceptions, so they’re trying to win the turnover battle.

Up Next: Thursday night vs. New Orleans. Round four of the NFC South gauntlet for the Falcons sees the team have a quick turnaround for a Thanksgiving night game against the bitter rival Saints. Yes, the Falcons did obliterate New Orleans on their turf, but they’re playing absolutely abysmal inside their own house, so it’s making me wonder if they can put up a fight on national TV. Plus, they could not only sweep the Saints but prevent them from clinching the division on their turf and earn some turkey legs courtesy of NBC. A triple threat, if you ask me. remain home for the remainder of this schedule.

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