After 11 games each, the race is on for the top spot in the NFC South. With the Saints, Panthers and Falcons currently all sitting in Play-off positions, the NFC South can claim to be the top division in the NFL even with the lowly Bucs sitting all alone at the bottom.
New Orleans Saints
Yes the Eagles, Vikings and Rams may all be getting most of the NFC publicity but make no mistake, the Saints are back in the big time. A struggling running game, a below average defence, New Orleans were Drew Brees. Suddenly, almost out of the blue, Brees can almost take a back seat as not only do the Saints have a running game, they are also balling on Defense. After dumping Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have been taking turns to burn opposing defences. Ingram was always a talented Running Back but a seemingly never ending line of injuries resulted in him struggling to put together a run of impressive performances. Kamara must be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year as he is probing to be unstoppable either on the run or when catching the pass. However, as New Orleans are well aware, a great Offense is wasted without a Defense and the Saints D must be the biggest surprise of the season. from 2014 to 2016, the Saints ranked 31st, 31st and 27th respectively on total Defense. So far in 2017, the Black & Gold are ranked in the top 15 and are finally giving the ageless Brees, the Defense he deserves.
The Panthers are finding their groove again after a poor 2016. Yes Cam is back to his annoying smiling self after a first half of the season where he spent more time behaving like a teenager who had their iPad confiscated. Fortunately for Newton, all the talk is on his performances on the field of play which will be a relief for all concerned in Carolina after he got himself embroiled in a sexism row in the early part of the season. However, Newton being back to his old self is not the main reason why the Panthers are currently bagging a play-off spot. The real reason for this turnaround is that Luke Kuechly is back and is as good as ever and is driving this Defense. Kuechly has been troubled with well publicised concussion issues for the past couple of seasons but after being given the green light to start playing again, Luke has been an unstoppable force in Carolina’s Defense. Throw in rookie Running Back, Christian McCaffery, to help take the burden off of Newton then the Panthers are the biggest threat to the Saints divisional title hopes.
Good luck in predicting Falcons games. The only thing consistent regarding Atlanta’s performances this season is their inconsistency. The Falcons are still struggling to fire on all cylinders on Offense under their new Offensive Coordinator especially with the loss of Devonta Freeman thanks to a concussion sustained during their match-up against the Cowboys although Atlanta are unbeaten in Freeman’s absence. The Defense is still ranked in the top 10 and one of the reasons why the Falcons can still win games when the Offense is struggling. After the Super Bowl loss and the departure of Kyle Shanahan, this was always going to be a difficult season for the Falcons and to be currently sitting at 7-4 is a testament to the teams resolve, however, with one of the toughest remaining schedules and the ability to look both brilliant and dreadful during the same game, it will be difficult for Atlanta to hold on to the last remaining NFC Wild Card position. However, with confidence high after beating the Cowboys, the Seahawks and the Bucs in their last three games, if the Falcons can keep this level of consistency going then they will also be looking at pipping both the Saints and Panthers to top spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are giving NFL Game Pass Europe a run for their money as biggest disappointment of the season. In fairness to the Bucs though, at least you won’t find many 5 star reviews of their season so far.
Remaining Divisional Games
Despite week 13 just being around the corner, there are still a mouth-watering seven divisional match-ups remaining:-
- Panthers @ Saints (week 13)
- Saints @ Falcons (week 14)
- Falcons @ Buccaneers (week 15)
- Buccaneers @ Panthers (week 16)
- Falcons @ Saints (week 16)
- Panthers @ Falcons (week 17)
- Saints @ Buccaneers (week 17)
With the top three teams all playing each other and the addition of the wounded Bucs who, despite being out of contention, should at east be fighting for the future of their Head Coach and themselves, the NFC South is looking as if it will go right down to the wire and could possibly be sending three teams to the post season.
Image copyright; New Orleans Saints