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NFC South Standings, Week 12: The lead narrows

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The Falcons are on top by a little bit, but things are tightening up a bit.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

The good news is that the Falcons, by virtue of taking a week to relax and get healthy, did not lose significant ground in the NFC South race. The bad news is that they still lost some ground.

That’s due to a surprising Buccaneers win, chiefly. The Panthers did the Falcons a small favor with their Thursday Night Football win over the Saints, which evened things up a bit in the basement.

On to the full standings.

NFC South Standings

Falcons: 6-4

Buccaneers: 5-5

Panthers: 4-6

Saints: 4-6

The important takeaway here is that the Falcons’ loss to the Eagles means they did not get the desired huge separation from the rest of the division, and they won’t be able to absorb many more like that without it potentially costing them dearly in the standings, especially with Tampa Bay winning. Every team is now two games or fewer behind, which is a decent lead, but all it takes is one of those teams getting hot and Atlanta floundering over the last six games to make this thing tighter than it needs to be. We’re hopeful the Falcons will come out of this week’s bye with the defense looking a little tighter and the offense humming again. They’re still the odds-on favorites to win this one, but things are not comfortable right now.

The Buccaneers have a decent record, but have been a pretty mediocre team throughout the 2016 season. Their ugly 19-17 win over the Chiefs shows they can win in a very unfashionable fashion, and they’re suddenly just a game behind in the NFC South, which is very annoying. Their points scored, points against, and overall team performance indicate they should be .500 or worse when all is said and done, and it would be a major upset if they seriously challenged the Falcons for the divisional crown. And yet they’re only a game behind, so I can’t discount them the way I want to.

The Saints had a prime opportunity to stay in the hunt against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football, but they got stomped up until the fourth quarter, when a furious rally fell short. They’re still the most dangerous-looking non-Atlanta team in the division with that offense, but they’re so inconsistent that expecting them to get and stay above .500 is probably a tall ask.

The Panthers have very quietly gotten themselves back into the hunt, winning three of their last four games, albeit none in impressive fashion and none against top-shelf opponents. You would be wise to keep an eye on a team with Cam Newton at quarterback and a tough defense, though without Luke Kuechly, it’s fair to wonder if they can keep their winning ways going. Their schedule gets fairly brutal over the next four weeks against the Raiders, Seahawks, Chargers, and Redskins, so we should know if they’re able to hang around in just a couple of weeks.