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Falcons remain undefeated, tied up with the Panthers at 4-0 atop the NFC South standings

The Falcons are playing great football, but at least record-wise, the Panthers are matching them every step of the way.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC South was beyond awful in2 014, and thus far in is not. That's a pleasant enough surprise.

The division has settled into two tiers, as I noted last week. In one, you have a pair of undefeated teams that have feasted on largely weak opponents, but look like quality football teams. In the other tier, you have a couple of teams that are in rough shape and look like they're already out of contention just four games in.

NFC South Standings, Week 5

Falcons: 4-0
Panthers: 4-0
Buccaneers: 1-3
Saints: 1-3

The Falcons put together their best game of the season, beating the crap out of the Texans in the Georgia Dome. It was an eye-opening game, even if Houston looked weak and aimless in this one, and it tells us a lot about just how far the Falcons have come.

The Panthers scuffled a little bit early, but eventually took off and stomped the Buccaneers, as they should. The defense, a quality ground game, and Cam Newton continue to carry the load for Carolina, but that looks like more than enough to get the job done, particularly against middling teams. They've given themselves a great cushion, and we'll see if the Falcons can keep pace.

The Buccaneers are just not a good football team. There are so many quality pieces here, it seems unbelievable that they could stumble so badly nearly every week, but until Jameis Winston gets his feet under him and the defense can play well as a cohesive whole, their fate is mediocrity. There's hope here, but it's not looking like it's hope for 2015.

The Saints, meanwhile, need a tremendous series of breaks to come out of their tailspin. Drew Brees doesn't look like the same guy thanks to injury and age, Sean Payton is making some curious choices with his ground game, and the defense has pieces but hasn't delivered a complete effort yet. They did beat the Cowboys, however, and that may give them a little momentum. I try never to sleep on the Saints, even if I was convinced they'd lose last night.

The bottom line is that barring a miracle turnaround, this division will come down to Carolina or Atlanta. Right now, both of them look like they'll be pushing for playoff spots this year.