An NFL season plagued by season-ending injuries and unpredictability continues.
State of the Division
The New Orleans Saints continue their three game win streak in the NFC South. The Saints were the only team in the division to win over the weekend, and now sit in second place behind Carolina. Atlanta travels to New York to face a Jets team that was robbed of a win over New England. The Falcons were unable to beat the Jay Cutler-led Dolphins and are not looking like the Super Bowl team they were a year ago. The Panthers had the toughest task against Philadelphia and fell short, while the Buccaneers the game and Jameis Winston in the desert.
Who will emerge as the leader of the NFC South?
Carolina Panthers (4-2) – Following the loss to the division rival Saints, Cam Newton impressed with a win over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Carolina defeated a gritty Lions team, but their two game win streak ended with a home loss to the Eagles. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly suffering yet another concussion, the defense will need another leader to take charge. David Mayo did well, but is no Kuechly. Offensively, the Panthers will continue to get rookie Christian McCaffrey the football in space. Cam, McCaffrey and the tandem of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess will have to pile up points while the defense has to find a way to stay the course with Kuechly’s status uncertain.
Next four games: @Chicago, @Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Miami.
Atlanta Falcons (3-2)– The teetering Atlanta Falcons could be winless against the AFC East by Monday morning. Matt Ryan and company will have a chance to avenge last year’s Super Bowl collapse as they face the Patriots. Atlanta can’t seem to shake the Super Bowl hangover. The Falcons have looked more like the week one version that narrowly escaped Chicago with a win than the week two version that dismantled Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers. Atlanta could easily be 1-4, and if they continue to struggle, they could play their way out of a playoff spot and division crown. “Matty Ice”can’t afford to freeze up and has to use his weapons, healthy or not, to the best of his ability in order to keep Atlanta in the mix.
Next four games: @New England, @New York (Jets), @Carolina and Dallas.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)– The streaky Buccaneers continue to perplex with their week to week performances. In the season opener, Jameis Winston and company looked sensational as Tampa embarrassed Chicago. A week later, it was the Bucs that were embarrassed by Minnesota. Winston led his team to a nail-biting victory over the winless New York Football Giants on a field goal by Nick Folk that missed bonging off the upright by a millimeter. The Buccaneers would have knocked off the Patriots had Folk not went 0-3, costing Tampa nine points in a game decided by five. Winston was knocked out of the game in Arizona with an AC joint sprain and his availability against a tough Buffalo Bills team remains uncertain. If Winston has to miss time, Tampa will have to count on “The Amish Rifle” Ryan Fitzpatrick to keep them in the race for the South. Five games into a 16 straight schedule will make it difficult for Tampa Bay to weather the storm, especially if the captain of the ship is sidelined.
Next four games: @Buffalo, Carolina, @New Orleans and New York (Jets).
New Orleans Saints(3-2)– Quarterback Drew Brees continues to defy father time. An offense centered around Brees’ arm has the once lowly Saints threatening for first place. Brees has thrown 10 touchdown to just two interceptions, and has his team looking to win four in a row against a Packers team without number 12 under center. New Orleans shipped Adrian Peterson to the desert, as rookie Alvin Kamara continues to impress. With a decisive division win against the NFC South leading Panthers under their belt, the Saints shouldn’t be taken lightly. The only blemishes on their record are against New England and Minnesota, both of which hold winning records. Rookie Marshon Lattimore shined last week as his pick 6 added to the 52 point onslaught. Dennis Allen has the defense playing fierce, the question is can New Orleans sustain their defensive production?
Next four games: @Green Bay, Chicago, Tampa Bay and @Buffalo.
Next Four Weeks Predicted Standings
The next four weeks won’t be pleasurable for Atlanta and Tampa Bay. The Falcons won’t beat an AFC East team and won’t win in Carolina. If Dallas takes the field without Zeke Elliott, it’s possible Atlanta could steal a win against the Cowboys. With Winston’s status unknown, the Buccaneers season could be in jeopardy. Fitzpatrick’s track record proves he can’t be counted on, despite showing flashes of brilliance from time to time. He has a tendency to score for both teams, putting his team in a hole. New Orleans and Carolina will both be on a hot steak and could very well be on a collision course to determine who wears the NFC South crown at season’s end.
Carolina – 8-2
New Orleans – 6-3
Atlanta – 3-6
Tampa Bay – 3-6