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NFC South report: Atlanta’s looking up at Tampa Bay again

The Falcons had their moment in the sun, but it was a short moment.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Falcons had the NFC South all to themselves for a week or so, and then they entered into a short-lived tie atop the division with the Buccaneers, albeit one where Tampa Bay owned a tiebreaker. Unfortunately for all of us, that time atop the dreg heap that is this division didn’t last long at all.

The 4-6 Falcons are now the division’s second fiddle again, with the 5-5 Buccaneers earning a win over the Seahawks in Germany and taking it back. The Bucs have now won two straight and the Falcons have lost two straight, and really, it’s that simple. The Falcons now have to make up some ground if they want to come out on top at the end of the year, which of course they do quite badly.

We’ll get into Atlanta’s schedule later today—suffice to say there are winnable games on there if the Falcons can get back to playing better, more consistent football—but for now let’s check in on the division as it stands today.

NFC South standings, Week 11

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-5

Atlanta Falcons: 4-6

Carolina Panthers: 3-7

New Orleans Saints: 3-7

Heading into Week 11, the Buccaneers are in a fairly good spot. They’ve been playing competent football the past couple of weeks after a hilariously awful three game stretch, they have decent-to-bad opponents the next three weeks in the form of the Browns, Saints, and 49ers, and their offense is settling down and looking like it might actually keep them in games. There’s plenty of time for this to go back up in flames—god, I hope it does—but they’re going to be in the mix for the division until the bitter end.

The Falcons can be, too, if they figure a few things out. Atlanta’s lackluster defense and iffy passing attack have been holding them back for a little while now, but it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t that long ago that they were putting it all together against the 49ers. Getting A.J. Terrell back should help, and finding a way to help Marcus Mariota (or Desmond Ridder, if they make the switch) get into a rhythm and survive a shaky offensive line would go a very long way as well. They have ground to make up to catch Tampa Bay, but I still think they have a shot to do so.

The Panthers aren’t all that far behind right now, though they’re not nearly as good when they can’t play divisional opponents. Carolina has found a workable formula with D’Onta Foreman and company running well and a very good defensive front wreaking havoc, but getting that working consistently and overcoming a shaky passing game have proven to be challenges. They’ll likely top out at third in the division barring a massive Atlanta swoon.

The Saints may just finish in the basement. I thought they were weirdly overrated heading into the season, but never in my wildest dreams did I see New Orleans falling apart this completely. With their loss to the Steelers, Andy Dalton under center, and the defense struggling mightily, there just isn’t all that much going well here. I noted that the Falcons might be the division’s best long-term bet recently, but the Saints at the moment would seem to be easily the worst. That’s a delight.