Last to first. It’s been the mantra of the NFC South since the day it was born. Literally. In six previous seasons we’ve seen the last place team from the year before go on to win the division the following year five times. Last year’s cellar dweller in the NFC South? Atlanta.
Could this be a little bit of history repeating? And who in the world would have ever predicted it?
Call it premature but it could be happening before our very eyes and not just with any team but with a squad quarterbacked by a rookie and whose running back came into the weekend third in the league in rushing. Until last year, Michael Turner was a career backup in San Diego. Shoot, he’s already carried the rock more times this year than he had in his entire career prior to arriving in Atlanta.
Strange indeed. And if the Falcons do win the division can we start calling this the Dirty South?
Atlanta Falcons (7-4):
Looking Back: Perhaps they didn’t want to admit it but this was a must win. Lose to Carolina and fall three games back in the standings. Not only did they win but they did it in convincing fashion. This bunch just hung 45 (FORTY-FIVE) points on a team that prides itself on its defense. Forget using the rookie tag from here on out. Matt Ryan looks like a seasoned pro. The players certainly believe. The Carolina Panthers certainly believe. The rest of the league may want to start believing. This team is for real.
Looking Forward: A road trip to the warmth of San Diego is next. Funny, the Falcons could roll into town with a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach to face a veteran team and a veteran coach. The funny part is that there could be fewer changes in Atlanta in the offseason than there are in sunny San Diego. If the Falcons can convert the home demolition of the Panthers into momentum, they could begin racking up victories in a big way. The five teams remaining on their schedule have a combined 25-29 record.
Carolina Panthers (8-3):
Looking Back: Slow starts against Oakland and Detroit might not have been hard to overcome. A slow start against Atlanta doomed the Panthers on Sunday. Zero yards and zero first downs in the first quarter hurt even more when the opposition is rolling to 17 points in their first three possessions. If a reader would be so kind – would you please put out an APB on Julius Peppers? He’s been showing up big against the likes of the Lions and Raiders but he pulled a Houdini against a quality team this weekend.
Looking Forward: The Frozen Tundra awaits. Thank goodness Brett Fah-vruh doesn’t. The test of travelling into one of the most difficult places to play will separate the men from the boys. Carolina matches up well with Green Bay but this ain’t about matchups, is it? This is about winning and the Panthers have to get back to winning or risk falling out of the race. The Panthers had better hope the Pack’ is feeling as generous on Sunday as they were on Monday night.
New Orleans Saints (6-5):
Looking Back: Can I paraphrase The Who here? “Drew Brees got such a supple wrist!” Must be the only way to explain the pinball-like numbers that the Saints were tilting the Superdome scoreboard with Monday night. And just think – some of us were convinced that Green Bay could play some defense. How many times can a team score from 70 yards or more in a game, anyway? Are you serious? Did you say 51 points? For the first time all season, the Saints have won two straight.
Looking Forward: A new tune would have New Orleans “on the road again” to play the Buccaneers. (Maybe I should have made a reference to riding on the “City of New Orleans” but I digress.) This is the classic matchup of the irresistible force versus the immovable object. Brees and company were feeling the force strongly in week one and defeated Tampa Bay and the Visored One by four. The problem? The Saints have won only once on the road in five tries this season and the team they beat, Kansas City, would hardly be competition in the BCS top 25 (if they could even reach bowl-eligible status, that is).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3):
Looking Back: Those darned pesky Lions! They score early and can’t keep it up, can they? Seventeen early points were answered promptly by the Buccaneers who began the work they knew they should have been doing from the opening kickoff. Newsflash: Tampa Bay just scored again.
Looking Forward: A divisional game is next for this resilient bunch. The Saints pay a visit to Tampa Bay with that high-powered offense. The Bucs can avenge their week-one loss at the Superdome when New Orleans beat them 24-20. Recent history suggests that Jon Gruden’s scowl will be prepped and Tampa Bay will be prepared to take care of business.