While the Falcons were idle, the two teams with the best chance to unseat them from a divisional crown won. This is not good news.
We all knew the NFC South was going to be tough this season, so it's little surprise that the Bucs are 5-2 and the Saints are 4-3. Unfortunately, that means the Falcons are going to be dealing with a dogfight all season long. Thankfully, they have a chance to personally knock the Bucs down a peg next week if they can smoke 'em.
In honor of our dearly departed bye week, let's take a brief trip around the division, shall we?
Tampa Bay Bucs, 5-2
As you know, I've spent much of the last week ridiculing Bucs coach Raheem Morris for saying his team is the best in the NFC. I remain unconvinced of his peculiar assertion, but the Bucs are starting to concern me.
Josh Freeman simply isn't making mistakes. Young quarterbacks are supposed to throw a ton of picks, but against the Arizona Cardinals, he threw zero and completed 18 of his 25 passes. I realize the Cardinals are no litmus test, but he's done it all year, with a TD:INT ratio of 8:3. The Bucs are slowly surrounding him with weapons, and LaGarette Blount looks like an actual NFL running back.
The Falcons have the honor of drawing them next, and I'm no longer convinced they'll have this one in the bag. The Bucs are certainly a more dangerous team than the Browns and they're more well-rounded than the Bengals, lack of oppressive offensive firepower notwithstanding. The best bet to beat the Bucs remains pounding them with the ground game, so the Falcons will have to use Turnelling early and often.
I really hope they're 5-3 next time we talk about them.
New Orleans Saints, 5-3
Like a zombie on the ground, you just shouldn't kick the Saints when they're down. You never know if they'll bite your foot.
The Saints did what the Bucs and Falcons emphatically could not, triumphing over the Steelers this week. They're still incredibly difficult to get a bead on, one with no ground game until Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas return and a Drew Brees that is making ill-advised throws at a rate I haven't seen from him since he was a struggling young quarterback with the San Diego Chargers.
That said, they're clearly not just going to go away. The best the Falcons can hope for is that they continue to stumble against bad teams and good teams alike, and muddle into their last game against our beloved Birds with near a .500 record.
Carolina Panthers, 1-6