Could a beast be emerging in the NFC South? An answer was provided in resounding fashion Monday night about which team now controls its own destiny in the division and the conference. The most competitive division in the NFL and the best division in football has spoken.
Take note, NFL. This division might not produce two playoff teams but it could produce three.
Atlanta Falcons (8-5):
Looking Back: This is a game bunch. They never seem to give up. Didn’t we tell you? Matt Ryan is no longer a rookie. They gave the Saints all they could handle in the Big Easy. They came up short, unfortunately. Still, what a game! A back and forth, up and down game that had pretty much everything. The loss will sting for the Falcons since they have to come away thinking it’s one they should have won and now they are two games back in the division with three to play.
Looking Forward: The Falcons are now two games behind the division-leading Panthers and in a dogfight with about a half dozen teams for a wild card playoff spot. They will be hosting the Buccaneers and that, most assuredly, will provide the kind of fight they will have to be prepared for. This is an opportunity to not only stay in the race but to also avenge a week two 24-9 loss in Tampa, Fla.
Carolina Panthers (10-3):
Looking Back: Could this be the beast from the South? Posting 300 yards on Tampa Bay should send a message to the rest of the division and to the league that John Fox’s group means business. This game felt like the playoffs and the Panthers played it like one. Could they be a little concerned about Ken Lucas’ coverage skills, however?
Looking Forward: At 7-0 in Charlotte, confidence shouldn’t be a problem for Carolina as they host the Denver Broncos. Over-confidence, however, could be an issue. Something will have to give here. Denver has been a very inconsistent team playing defense one week then taking the next three weeks off. If the Panthers can control the ball on the ground, this could be a long day for the Broncos. But if the Panthers secondary isn’t up for the challenge, Jay Cutler could have a field day.
New Orleans Saints (7-6):
Looking Back: It wasn’t easy but New Orleans managed a huge win over the Falcons on Sunday. Their playoff hopes were fading fast and about to disappear completely and permanently before their very eyes but that explosive offense pulled one out. After this one, is Drew Brees the leader for MVP? And how happy are the Saints to have Reggie Bush back from his injury?
Looking Forward: From the frying pan to the fire. The playoffs could be a faint hope for this team and they’ll be facing another squad who have to be feeling the same way – the Bears. Can the offense remain hot against a tough defense on the road after a short week? The big question is – how much of a factor will that NFC Championship Game loss after the miraculous 2006 season in Chicago be in this one? Could revenge be on their minds? Maybe just a little bit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4):
Looking Back: Is Monte Kiffin leaving to go back to college? After the way his defense got manhandled on Monday night he may be considering it. When is the last time that Derrick Brooks and company gave up 300 yards rushing to anybody? It’s been a long time. Now they have to regroup. They did establish Antonio Bryant as a legitimate threat in the passing game on national television which could help further revive his career.
Looking Forward: The road warriors have to suck it up now and head for Atlanta to play Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Shoring up the run defense will be absolutely critical facing a running back like Michael Turner. If this is the beginning of another late-season swoon by the Buccaneers (see last December) it will be pinned on their defense. Ouch!