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NFC South Standings, Week 16: Falling Falcons

Atlanta’s terrible loss to the Panthers has put them in a tenuous position in the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

You already know what happened Sunday. The Falcons needed to win to keep pace, and instead they were stunned by the Panthers late to drop to 6-8. That puts them behind both the Buccaneers and Saints, and it would be fair to argue that their remaining slate is more difficult than Tampa Bay’s, at the very least. If they’re not cooked, we’ll all be surprised.

Here’s a look at the standings for the week.

NFC South Standings

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-7

New Orleans Saints: 7-7

Atlanta Falcons: 6-8

Carolina Panthers: 2-12

The Bucs have been miserable much of the year and were lucky to get by the Falcons, to put it mildly, but they put together an impressive performance against the Packers and may be choosing the right time to get hot. Given that they were expected to be pretty lousy this year, the fact that they’re .500 and have made some real strides in terms of the success of their ground game and their overall performance will likely keep Todd Bowles on the job and convince this team that they can move forward from here in a productive direction. With the imploding Jaguars, Saints, and Panthers left on their schedule, I like their chances of winning the NFC South right now, even if I don’t like them.

The Saints, meanwhile, will have to finish the year against the tricky Rams, the Bucs, and finally the Falcons, who may have nothing left to play for except spoiling the end of the season for New Orleans. They thumped a bad Giants team and are hanging around, and if I’m not necessarily a believer in a bright future in New Orleans for any number of reasons, they’re keeping pace in a trash division and should push Tampa Bay. I do fully expect at least one inexplicable implosion the rest of the way, and if you pencil in a loss against the Rams and that flat game comes against the Bucs, it’ll be over for them.

The Falcons are not eliminated yet, but their road is a tougher one after losing to the Panthers and with the Saints on the road and two games against improving squads in the Bears and Colts still to come. The loss to Carolina made it clear that they can’t be counted on to win even when they’re facing off against the worst team in the NFL, so expecting them to top the surging Colts or the now-game Bears is probably expecting too much. At the moment, I’m bracing for them to go 7-10 or maybe 8-8, finishing second or third in the NFC South, and flirting with a fourth consecutive top ten pick. It damn well better be the last one for a while.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are abysmal but get the satisfaction of potentially ruining Atlanta’s playoff hopes and showing some late gumption. It was a much-needed win for a team that couldn’t get anything going all season, and if they’d like to do similar things to the Buccaneers and Saints down the stretch, that would be just fine.