Compare the NFC South to a zeppelin race, if you will.
Through thirteen weeks, the Falcons are flying highest, as is appropriate. The Saints are right behind them, twirling their cartoon villain mustaches. The Bucs developed a leak and are slowly descending toward earth. And the Panthers, rest their souls, exploded before they even got off the ground, showering horrified onlookers with failure.
Yes, the division has more or less become a two zeppelin race, with the Bucs needing to dominate and toss in a healthy dose of Saints failure to get the Wild Card for the South. The Saints, meanwhile, are still within striking distance of our beloved birds. We'll fix their little black-and-gold wagons, I hope.
Quick tour of the division? You bet!
New Orleans Saints, 9-3
How come everyone spends so much time shaking their heads when the Falcons lose close games, but they can't be bothered to do the same for the Saints?
Make no mistake, the Saints were saved against the Cowboys by a truly exceptional play by Malcolm Jenkins and against the Bengals by a stupid mistake by a defender. But just as is the case with the Falcons, you can't hate on it. They came back, they triumphed and they're a damn good football team. Unfortunately, they're also finally a healthy one.
Fortunately, their schedule is damn tough. The Saints aren't going to squeak by the Ravens playing the way they have against the Cowboys and Bengals—they're going to get pounded by them. And I don't like their chances of wandering into the Georgia Dome and leaving with a win unless they can put together a more cohesive effort. Those two losses would go a long way toward locking up the division for the Falcons.
Still, it's going to be uphill. We won't really know until Week 17 where the Saints stand.
Tampa Bay Bucs, 7-5
The Bucs just didn't have it in them this year, whether through a lack of experience, a lack of depth, the ravages of injury or a lack of top-flight talent. Though their schedule isn't impossible to navigate, I seriously doubt they'll be able to catch the Falcons, and even catching the Saints will be difficult now.
They're still a dangerous team, one that will contend for the division for many years to come, assuming they stay on their current path. It's just not in 2010.
Carolina Panthers, 1-11
We'll get a crack at the Panthers this weekend. They're a team with considerable talent but poor coaching and a carousel of awful quarterbacks, so they may attempt to solve that problem in the off-season by drafting Andrew Luck. Right now, they're just about as bad as it gets. Poor Panthers.
New Orleans: 11-5
Tampa Bay: 9-7