Raise your hand if you expected the Falcons to be two games up on the rest of the NFC South just four weeks into the season. Those of you with faith may turn around smugly to everyone else, including me.
Atlanta’s gotten off to a fine start to this season, and while there are many tough games ahead, winning three of your first four games makes a big difference in setting you up for the rest of the year. This is a confident, capable Falcons team that needs to iron out issues on defense to be successful the rest of the way, though they’re going to lose a few shootouts. I haven’t set my sights too high just yet, but as you’ll see below, these standings are a thing of beauty.
NFC South Standings
Atlanta’s now got to travel to Denver and Seattle, two of the most challenging games on the schedule, so this thing could all fall apart over the next two weeks. Still, the Falcons have positioned themselves well for that stretch, with a 3-1 record, a 2-1 record in the NFC South, and offensive dominance paired with minor but tangible defensive progress. They could be in this until the end of the season, as crazy as that would’ve sounded a month ago.
Tampa Bay looked very effective against the Falcons, and Jameis Winston was getting some justified early season press for his excellent passing. Things have gone sideways in a hurry in Tampa Bay, though, and playing Denver in Week 4 went as poorly as you would predict. Winston’s made some bad throws, but the larger issues are with an underwhelming defense, some seriously weird time management (hi, former Falcons coaching staff!), and general offensive malaise. They could snap out of it, but I hope they don’t.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are a team in disarray. Cam Newton is getting pounded, they’ve been unimpressive offensively in at least 10 quarters thus far in 2016, and their secondary looks absolutely brutal. They have enough talent to come out the tailspin and contend for the NFC South, but this certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to be a team capable of making a Super Bowl run for a second consecutive year.
The Saints are just a tire fire, and things are coming to a head, even if they’re still perfectly capable of putting up a ton of points. They squeaked one out over the Chargers, but with benchings already coming in and neither the cap space nor the talent on the roster to do better on defense, it’s going to get worse before it gets better in New Orleans. They staved off a 0-4 start, though.