Watching this division week in and week out has become very entertaining. So, I missed the latest episode of Family Guy to watch Sunday Night Football. I didn’t really need to laugh. What I really needed was watching Chucky AKA Jon Gruden grimace for a little better than three hours. What is he upset about? The economy? The Presidential campaign? His team is playing really well. He should be happy.
Nonetheless, there are some happy, and some not-so-happy campers in the NFC South going into their film rooms today. Let’s break them down, shall we?
Atlanta Falcons (4-2):
Looking Back: The feel-good story of the season took a week off to rest and watch that Family Guy episode I missed. I wonder if Mike Smith will call me and let me know if it’s worth looking it up online to watch it. Either way, this bunch deserved a week off after one of the strangest endings you’ll ever see versus Da Bears.
Looking Forward: Brotherly love. That’s what the Falcons get after their bye week. Brotherly love and lots of it. They’ll be heading to the city where Santa Claus got booed. The defense has been playing well and they get the task of taking on Donovan McNabb and an offense that has had trouble finding an identity. The Eagles defense has found its rhythm and they will certainly be pinning their ears back and going after Matt Ryan. If the feel-good story is to continue, this team will have to pull off another upset.
Carolina Panthers (5-2):
Looking Back: In our last installment, we said something about how much difference a week makes. Here we go again. The Bucs had put one on this team only to see them come back home and put one on the Saints. This was the classic matchup of the irresistible force and the immovable object. This time, the immovable object was not going to be moved. Julius Peppers showed up and harrassed Drew Brees all day. Meanwhile, the offense found some balance and took it to their divisional rivals. What kind of “boogie” does Tom Benson do when his team loses?
Looking Forward: Another high-octane offense comes to Charlotte next week from out west as the Arizona Cardinals pay a visit to Busted Bank Stadium. If pressure from the front four worked against New Orleans, maybe it will work in this game. The defense will have to continue playing at a high level. Could this be the shootout game we thought would happen this past weekend? Will Chris Harris have another fumble recovery? And will Carolina play keep away by running the ball 50 times?
New Orleans Saints (3-4):
Looking Back: This was a tough spot for the Saints. Often this season we’ve seen teams blow out an opponent one week only to get slaughtered the next. It was deja vu all over again as the offense sputtered and the defense, sans Sedrick Ellis, had trouble handling Carolina’s balanced offense. Drew Brees had a tough day getting rushed by a former college basketball star while the rhythm of their vaunted passing game was never found. A couple of turnovers and coming away empty inside the five yard line once didn’t help.
Looking Forward: If you want to feel sympathy for a team, any team, feel it for this squad. Picture this – your boss sends you on a road trip to the east coast only to schedule another road trip like halfway around the globe immediately after it. Why the NFL wants to play regular season games in a nation where they think the term football refers to soccer is beyond me. Oh, sure, the Saints are considered the home team but they’ll be a long way from the Superdome and their homes. After a few days of eating fish and chips, this team gets to play an angry San Diego team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2):
Looking Back: It was neither the prettiest nor the most lopsided victory but Jon Gruden will take it. The Bucs met up with the team that came into the league with them. This time around, they played their parts nicely. One was a playoff contender that plays solid defense while the other is a floundering franchise that can’t seem to keep anyone healthy. Seneca Wallace versus Derrick Brooks? Are you kidding me? No contest! You almost had to wonder if this was Florida State playing one of the many cupcake teams that Bobby Bowden likes to schedule. Tampa Bay meet Middle Tennessee State!
Looking Forward: Gruden has his defense playing well while he has Jeff Garcia managing games effectively. They could be viewing another train wreck this weekend when they pay a visit to Dallas to play the suddenly hapless Cowboys. The Bucs will either get a Dallas team that has tucked tail or one that is pissed off about losing badly to the Rams. And which quarterback will they be facing? Will it be the ageless Brad Johnson – a former Buc who led them to a Super Bowl title – or Tony Romo? Either way, Derrick Brooks has to be licking his chops at the chance to pummel T.O. after a short grab over the middle. One can only hope he gets his chance.