All three NFC South rivals are playing today, with the Falcons sitting comfortably until Monday night’s tilt with the Giants. Here’s who each one of those teams are playing and what a loss would mean for them, though we’re obviously rooting for losses in all three cases.
Panthers (3-2) @ Eagles (3-3)
It’s hard to get a read on Carolina. They have exactly one impressive win to their name, over a Bengals team that has been pretty feisty this year, and extremely narrow wins over the putrid Giants and so-so Cowboys. They’ve lost to the Redskins and, of course, the Falcons to put their record at 3-2.
There’s no question they have the worst offense in the division, having scored 20 points fewer than the Buccaneers, 46 fewer than the Falcons, and 59 fewer than the Saints. In a division marbled with bad defenses, though, they’re also the most stingy, and it always feels like the offense has the personnel to be better despite their disastrous offensive line situation. It would surprise me if Carolina wasn’t at least solid this year, but it’s been a true mixed bag thus far.
Their opponent this week is the NFL’s stingiest and best defenses, with the Eagles having only allowed 117 points to more competent offenses than Carolina’s. The Eagles have been less impressive on the other side of the ball and less impressive overall than many expected coming into the season, as they’re siting at .500 thanks to injuries, less than stellar overall play, and some quality Nick Foles time. They certainly can hold Carolina in check at home, but will they?
A loss here would put the Panthers at .500, with the Falcons breathing down their necks if they can get a win of their own against the Giants. Let’s welcome that outcome as we root for the Falcons to get the hell out of the basement.
Browns (2-3-1) @ Buccaneers (2-3)
Maybe the Bucs get a bounce off the firing of Mike Smith, but I doubt it. Their cornerback situation has been a disaster thus far in 2018, their pass rush is one of the NFL’s weakest (alongside the Falcons, of course), and the offense simply hasn’t been good enough to overcome that on a weekly basis.
Unlike the Panthers, who certainly could prove to be a good team as the season wears on, Tampa Bay feels like a team just trying to hang on. They need the offense to click at a higher level than it has been and make dramatic strides on defense to improve dramatically just to hang in. Otherwise they’re basically the 2018 Falcons to this point with even dimmer hopes.
The Browns, meanwhile, are a team with loads of talent and an unwillingness to use it effectively. Baker Mayfield is adjusting to the NFL and there are holes on defense, but the team’s commitment to stopping the run and running its least effective backs as often as possible has capped their upside too. They’re capable of beating the Bucs, a team with not a lot of hope on defense, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on it.
The Bucs would be in the basement all by themselves if the Falcons win and they lose, which again is the outcome we want. The question is whether Cleveland will do us a solid or not.
Saints (4-1) @ Ravens (4-2)
The Saints are the sole truly good team in the division to this point. They’ve outscored everyone else and have allowed the second-fewest points, though their defense still doesn’t look stellar outside of a pretty ferocious group up front. There’s no particular reason to believe they’re going to suffer a sudden and dramatic pullback in performance, even if their schedule gets much tougher from here on out.
The Saints need Drew Brees to stay healthy to remain devastating on offense, but he’s always durable, so the hope is dim there. They have plenty of weapons, the division’s best offensive line, and a defense with enough pieces to be solid. It’s annoying, but they’re in the driver’s seat for the NFC South unless injuries occur or they turn back into a black-and-gold pumpkin with no warning.
They do have a tough opponent this week, perhaps the toughest they’ll face. The Baltimore Ravens are the only team Drew Brees has never beat, and they’re far and away the best defense in the NFL this year, having held their opponents to just 77 points in six games. The Saints figure to inflate that total a bit—this is one of the best offenses in football—but Baltimore is solid enough on offense to win this one if they can control the clock and make Drew Brees’ life miserable. Their victory is no lock, but this is not a team the Saints figure to have an easy time with.
A Saints loss here would drop them to 4-2, still which could have them effectively tied for the division lead if Carolina wins. The Falcons aren’t catching New Orleans anytime soon, sadly, but of course we’d still like to see them lose to tighten up the NFC South.
What are your predictions for these games?