Czar: In the six of the last eight years, a team from the NFC South has either played in or won the NFC Championship Game. How good is this division?
Terry Bradshaw: Well, based on that record, you have to say it’s very good.
Howie Long: The unusual thing about it, too, is how the teams have rotated being good, often the worst team from the year before comes back to be the top team the next season.
TB: Howie is right. But let’s remember that Tony Dungy built a defensive team in Tampa Bay, that Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl with and then John Fox came into Carolina with defensive ideas and twice went to the title game with Jake Delhomme. Atlanta did it with Michael Vick early in the decade and then they got Matt Ryan and they have been solid. The Saints got Sean Payton and Drew Brees and they have been very good almost every year together.
Jimmy Johnson: Gregg Williams has built a very good defense for the Saints, too.
TB: The end of that Monday night game in Atlanta was one of the best jobs of quarterbacking that I ever saw from Brees. He was solid in his pickups and displayed so much confidence and patience. Payton did an awesome job, too, of calling the plays. And I was surprised at how much Atlanta’s defense came after him, too.
With the season winding down, which team tops our power rankings?
HL: Brees was under siege a lot. And New Orleans’ defense also played great up front.
Czar: OK, what did that game tell you about these teams heading into the playoffs?
HL: One thing it told me is that Atlanta is a different offensive team when they aren’t dealing with second-and-3, third-and-4. They are also a different football team if you take away their time of possession edge. They made some uncharacteristic turnovers. They need to expand who they are going to on offense because if teams can take away Michael Turner, golly, they struggle.
TB: I think the Saints showed that if you shoot the gaps and get into Ryan’s face, he’s like any other quarterback. He became kind of average in that game.
JJ: What surprised me in that game was how Gregg Williams lined up his cornerbacks one-on-one on their receivers for virtually the entire game.
HL: The only time he switched back to coverage in the secondary was on Atlanta’s final drive.
JJ: I thought that was a gutsy call by Williams, but I also believe he knew that was the only way his defense had a shot at stopping Turner.
TB: It was also saying that even if Atlanta beat his corners that his pressure was going to get to Ryan.
JJ: That was the gamble he took, and it worked.
Curt Menefee: Jimmy, I know you aren’t a fan of losing, but do you think Falcons coach Mike Smith is pretty happy the way it turned out.? They had won eight straight and they are going to have home-field advantage, but this loss gives him something to yell about when the playoffs start.
JJ: Well, this probably got their attention because I think they were starting to believe they couldn’t lose at home. You are right. I don’t think losing helps you. But the next time they have a big game at home Smith will have something to build on.
TB: I will also say this. On that last drive, we didn’t see Matty Ice at all. We saw a quarterback rushing the ball and panicking. I mean, he looked like a lot of quarterbacks do under pressure.
JJ: If the Falcons aren’t running the ball with Turner, Ryan isn’t as efficient and effective as he normally is.
HL: He had nowhere to go with the ball.
TB: And where he went was wrong.