The Falcons lost on Sunday, but it didn’t really dent their chances in a hotly contested NFC South. That’s because the NFC South is a hot bag of wet hair at the moment.
To understand just how lousy the division is, let’s take a look at the standings.
NFC South, post-Week 7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3-4
Atlanta Falcons: 3-4
Carolina Panthers: 2-5
New Orleans Saints: 2-5
No team in this division has a winning record at the moment, and no team has a positive point differential, with the Buccaneers the closest at 124 points scored and 124 points against. Atlanta’s at -8 after the loss to the Bengals, while the Saints and Panthers are both at -25. Three out of these four teams lost this past week, and the once proud NFC South looks like it could put a pretty mediocre team into the playoffs.
Buccaneers: Lost to the Panthers
It’s grim in Tampa Bay. A good defense has helped the Buccaneers stay in games, but in this one the defense faltered and the offense was terrible. Tom Brady finally looks too old or too distracted to pull together consistently great games, and as Arif Hasan wrote at The Athletic, Tampa Bay’s “let’s get the band back together” ethos this past offseason is largely backfiring.
The Buccaneers probably have too much talent to stay down all year, but they simply aren’t going to be the fearsome squad of the past two years if they can’t drag this offense back to being respectable.
Panthers: Beat the Bucs
It’s no great surprise that Steve Wilks is a better head coach than Matt Rhule, Wilks is an experienced option as the interim, as he has extensive time in a variety of defensive roles in the NFL, but he also has head coaching experience from the ill-fated 2018 season in Arizona. Wilks was fired after one year with brutal talent after going 3-13, and will likely hope that pulling Carolina out of the mire might get him noticed for head coaching vacancies again.
This was a good start. P.J. Walker played a pretty crisp game, Carolina’s defense smothered Tampa Bay, and a no-name group of running backs did enough to help power the Panthers to victory. This team was always too talented to be as bad they were through the early weeks of the season, and so while they’re not exactly going to be good this year or even necessarily next year, they’ll likely be feisty the rest of the way. It’s not exactly ideal timing for the Falcons to face them.
Saints: Beaten by the Cardinals
In recent years, New Orleans has bled talent owing to cap space, retirements, and the occasional odd trade of players like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The Saints are used to pulling in replacements and making the whole thing hum, but with Sean Payton leaving and years of trading up in the draft thinning out their options, this year’s squad is just plain lousy.
They don’t have a quarterback, with both Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton mixing fine stretches with terrible interceptions, as was the case against the Cardinals when Dalton threw not one but two pick sixes. They have holes all throughout the roster and inevitably head into next year without a lot of cap space to work with, at least until Mickey Loomis chainsaws it. They also don’t have a first round pick, because the Eagles have it, meaning they can’t even lose their way into their next franchise signal caller.
Things look grim for them, and I love it.
Falcons: Well, you know
We don’t need to rehash what the Falcons did yesterday, which is why I saved them for last. The biggest reason that loss to the Bengals didn’t feel more crushing is because it didn’t exactly drop the Falcons out of contention here, as you’ll note above.
Atlanta has a pretty good chance of at least hovering around the division lead for the rest of the season, given that every other squad here has major problems. The injuries piling up in the secondary and the frustrating lack of a consistent, effective passing attack may lead to short-term problems, but the first six weeks of the season were not a mirage. Atlanta might just take this thing a year ahead of schedule, ssuming (unwisely) that things go well.