The Falcons have now won two in a row, and that and a Buccaneers loss will buy you sole possession of the division lead. With only two games left for both teams, and all of them in the NFC South, this is an important time to have that lead.
The Buccaneers will have to get past the Panthers and Saints, just the same as the Falcons, and we’ll have to hope both those teams roll over for Atlanta while giving Tampa Bay one hell of a fight. With Carolina and New Orleans out of the playoff picture, essentially, they’ve got nothing to left to play for but pride and spoiling someone else’s chances, which makes them dangerous.
Let’s take a look at the standings.
NFC South Standings
Atlanta Falcons: 9-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-6
New Orleans Saints: 6-8
Carolina Panthers: 6-8
Atlanta has suffered a handful of frustrating close losses that have kept this division close, but they’re an obvious playoff team and should be considered the favorites to win this thing. The offense is truly great, the defense has done enough against the lesser lights of the NFL to keep them in it, and they’re set up well so long as they can just keep winning. I’m bullish on their chances.
Tampa Bay suffered a bad defeat against the Cowboys, fueled by a handful of big defensive mistakes and a ton of turnovers by Jameis Winston. They’re still a better team than I’ve given them credit for in the past, and the defense is looking legitimately tough, but I’m convinced they’ll drop a winnable game over the next two weeks. We’ll see if they sneak into the playoffs.
New Orleans is offensively as potent as hell, and they remain my biggest concern over the next couple of weeks by a wide margin. Teams that get into shootouts with them are typically dropped like a bag of dirt (thanks, Al Roker), and they’re essentially out of the playoff picture, so they’re going to play that spoiler role they relish.
Carolina got a tidy little win on the road against Washington, likely putting that team out of the playoffs when all is said and done. Their defense is still tough and the offense looks terrific when Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton are dealing, so they’ll be a bit of a tough matchup this coming weekend, albeit on a short week. There are no truly bad teams in the NFC South this year, which is...unexpected.