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NFC South standings: A quick look at the stakes of today’s Falcons loss to Carolina

It was a costly loss.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A win against Carolina would have kept the Falcons in the thick of the playoff hunt. A loss, we all knew, would be damaging, if perhaps survivable. The kind of loss we saw today, though? Woof.

With the easy New Orleans win over the Buccaneers and the Falcons’ close, wrenching 20-17 loss to Carolina, there’s now clear striation in the NFC South race. Here’s a closer look.

NFC South Standings

New Orleans Saints: 6-2

Carolina Panthers: 6-3

Atlanta Falcons: 4-4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-6

The Saints have been playing well for weeks, as much as I hate to admit it, and they have a two game lead on the Falcons and half game lead on the Panthers because of it. We’ll see what happens when they move past their current slate of opponents, but I wouldn’t bet against them now.

The Panthers, in these eyes, are still a middling football team with the potential to be much more. The way Atlanta played in this game, Carolina should have blown them out of the water, but they only held on to win by three points, and I remain dubious that their offense can function at a high enough level to beat offensively competent teams. That said, they’re only a half game out of first and could very well sneak into the playoffs even if they can’t roll past New Orleans.

The Falcons look like they’re toast. They’ve got plenty of football to play and may well have it in them to pull off some big wins en route to a playoff berth, but they have now scored under 20 points in about half their games this season, and they continue to make so many mistakes that I have to rub my eyes in anger and disbelief at least a handful of times per game. It’s either an immediate turnaround or a lost year, and I know better than to put a ton of stock in the former.

The Bucs are done, and will likely fire Dirk Koetter by the end of the year. They may have the weakest roster in the NFC South after half a season, and they’re playing like it, but Koetter and company haven’t been able to get more out of them. Adios, Buccaneers.