The Falcons have the best record in the NFC right now, but that doesn't mean they're out of the woods in their own division.
Yes, the NFC South continues to be among the most competitive in all the NFL right now. The Falcons at 7-2 are followed closely by the 6-3 Saints and Buccaneers, with only the sad sack Panthers lagging behind. That leads me to suspect that our Dirty Birds are going to be engaged in a fight 'till the bitter end for the divisional crown. Oh, to be in the NFC West!
Of course, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think we could handle this division. Follow along after the jump and we'll take a quick look at our opposition.
New Orleans Saints, 6-3
Don't look now, but the Saints are roaring back.
Riding an unexpectedly effective defense and a sporadically effective Drew Brees, this team remains the biggest threat to a Falcons NFC South title. They'll really be scary when Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush return at full strength, giving their offense a second dimension it has lacked for much of the season. Unfortunately, they handled a tough Pittsburgh team already, which tells me the sleeping giant is stirring after two crappy losses to the Cardinals and Browns.
This isn't a team built for success in 2012 and beyond, but in the short-term our hated rivals are unfortunately remaining a royal pain in the ass. A Falcons win later this season could be the deciding factor in the division, but overcoming a healthy Saints team won't be easy. Thankfully, our Falcons have made a habit of winning difficult games all season long.
Tampa Bay Bucs, 6-3
Josh Freeman is for real. So is LaGarette Blount. It's fair to say that the Bucs aren't going to suddenly implode.
The Falcons will have a chance to formally torpedo their divisional title bid if they can beat them in their second meeting, assuming the Falcons themselves don't do something stupid along the way. But these Bucs are built for the long haul in a way the Saints just aren't, with a young franchise quarterback, tons of young weapons and a defense still in a rebuilding stage. They're the Falcons' biggest challenge over the next five years, no question.
But they're not there this year. They still have games against an underrated Washington team, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baltimore and a bipolar Seahawks team that could drop 30 on their defense. It seems increasingly likely that they'll finish with a winning record, but I expect at least one of the Falcons and Saints duo to sweep the season series. That will be enough to keep them out of the playoffs in 2010.
Beware the Bucs in 2011 and beyond.
Carolina Panthers, 1-8
I can't even look Panthers fans in the eyes. There's hope for the future here, but the hope for the now is non-existent.
Start Tony Pike!