NFC South Review: Week 6

By Robert Knarr

A new leader has emerged atop the NFC South, as the Panthers had a thrilling comeback against the Seahawks.  Meanwhile, the Falcons played poorly and lost against a Saints team that looks determined not to quit.  The division continues to be exciting and arguably one of the better ones in football.  If the Saints can rattle off a few wins in a row, they have the potential to jump back in contention, especially with the Panthers tough upcoming schedule and the Falcons finally showing some vulnerability.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 21-31

Atlanta FalconsNew Orleans Saints

The Falcons finally lost and looked bad doing it.

The Saints are definitely a tough team at home, and aren’t as bad as they’ve played so far this season.  So the Falcons probably shouldn’t be too concerned.  Let’s also not forget that Julio Jones seems to be playing at less than full health.  The Falcons lost a couple fumbles, had a punt blocked, and couldn’t stop the Saints offense.  That’s a recipe for losing if I’ve ever seen one.  Roddy White finally got a touchdown, his first of the season, but has still had a precipitous drop-off.  He has 138 yards on the year.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones

Looking forward, the Falcons are still highly likely to make the playoffs and have a good shot at winning the division.  However, they need Julio to get healthy.  He has 198 yards and no touchdowns in his last 3 games.  This wouldn’t be such an issue, but Matt Ryan has nobody else to throw to other than Devonta Freeman.  Leonard Hankerson is not stepping up, and Jacob Tamme is not the tight end that’s gonna be a consistent passing threat.  This team is built around the explosiveness of the offense, and I’d be a little worried looking forward.  However, there’s no reason to hit the panic button.

While the passing game has taken a step back, the running game is booming.  Freeman has 100 yards rushing on 13 carries and a touchdown, while also compiling 8 receptions for 56 yards and another touchdown.  This team is still good, but I’m having a hard time determining how good, partly because of their easy schedule.  However, with a better defense than last year and a still dangerous offense I expect them to continue to compete for the NFC South division title.

The Saints meanwhile are in the midst of needing to win nearly every game from here on out.   I keep saying that they’re better than they’ve been playing, and they showed it on Thursday.  Drew Brees is dangerous and one of the best quarterbacks in the league still.  He’s smart enough and talented enough to turn to different targets on a regular basis.  Even without a dominant target, someone is still going to get open.  This is evident by Ben Watson’s play last Thursday, as he racked up 127 yards on 10 receptions while scoring a touchdown.

Mark Ingram

Mark Ingram

The running game didn’t contribute much as Mark Ingram was only able to get 46 yards on 20 carries, and CJ Spiller and Khiry Robinson were again afterthoughts.  Ellerbe had a big game as he had 10 tackles, forced a fumble, and later recovered one.  The Saints defense plays well enough as long as they get big production from Brees and company.  They are now 2-4, but have played the Panthers, Falcons, Cardinals, Eagles, and Cowboys.  They also lost to arguably their weakest opponent the Bucs.  It’s also probably too late for them to come back, but with an easier schedule the rest of the way, a big run isn’t out of the question.

Fantasy Implications – Tevin Coleman is hardly more than a handcuff at this point.  He looked like he might make a big impact as he had some big runs, but then lost a fumble.  I’m holding onto him, as I think the Falcons will keep working him in, and an injury to the any running back is always around the corner.  But, if I needed to I’d drop him.  I continue to, of course, preach patience with Julio.  He hasn’t been fully healthy and has still had moderate production.  Matt Ryan continues to roll and should be started every week.  If you picked up Freeman, then you’re well on your way to the fantasy playoffs.  I’d just pray he doesn’t get injured as he continues to be the best back in the game.

Ben Watson will probably lead the tight end pickups.  I’m hoping to snag him as Brees has clearly shown a propensity to make use of his tight ends in the past, and no other big targets have successfully emerged as a No. 1.  However, don’t be surprised if he regresses to his usual self.  Snead, Cooks, and Josh hill came in behind Watson with 5 targets each.  I wouldn’t start any of those guys, but would try to hold onto either Cooks or Snead.  They both have big potential.  Spiller continues to disappoint, and I’m starting to doubt he ever becomes a big part of this offense.  I’m not sure why though. Brees again looks like a solid QB1, and could join the elite if he can have someone emerge as top target.

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks: 27-23

Carolina PanthersSeattle Seahawks

This was one of the biggest victories I can remember the Panthers having in a long time.

Sure, they beat the Cardinals last year in the playoffs, but they were without Carson Palmer.  The Panthers finally proved they are for real, since many were criticizing their soft schedule.  I’ve even heard some say that they still haven’t, since the Seahawks are 2-4.  This is ridiculous.  They might not be as good as last year, but to go into Seattle and win is incredibly tough.  The Seahawks have one of the best home crowds in the game, evidenced by numerous false starts in the game by the Panthers.  The game was incredibly physical.  Seattle was ahead for most of the game. They played solid defense, controlled the ball with zero turnovers, and made a huge play on a brilliant flea flicker.  But they collapsed in the fourth quarter, again, and continue a rough season.  This game wasn’t gifted to the Panthers by any means.  They made huge drives, four of 80 yards, while also holding Marshawn Lynch to 54 yards on 17 carries, but let Jimmy Graham have a huge day that ended up being forgotten in the tumult of their collapse.

Cam Newton Scoring

Cam Newton

The Panthers won this game through an extraordinary performance by Cam, Olsen, Stewart, and many big defensive stops.  Newton and Olsen connected for several big plays, including the game-winning touchdown.  Olsen had 7 catches for 131 yards total.  Cam had a huge day, despite 2 touchdowns, throwing for 269 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 7 times for 30 yards.  He led several big drives, and looked unstoppable towards the end, using his cannon of an arm.  Jonathan Stewart also got involved.  He had 78 yards on 20 carries and 2 touchdowns.  Those aren’t huge numbers, but they’re big against Seattle, and helped open the pass game up.  Kuechly came back and had a terrific day with 14 total tackles.  Kawann Short also played big with two sacks, a hit, and three pressures.

Fantasy Implications – Not much has changed with the fantasy prospects of this team.  Newton continues to be a terrific option, despite the mistakes, because of his running ability.  Olsen had a big game, and I’d expect him to have many more.  He was bound to come around eventually.  Stewart finally had a good game.  he didn’t pick up a ton of yards, but had a couple touchdowns.  He will always be limited, because Cam is unstoppable running inside the 10.  Devin Funchess had his biggest game.  After the bye, it seemed clear the Panthers want to get him more involved.  He had 6 targets, but only converted 2 of those for 24 yards.  His hands are a problem, but so were Benjamin’s last year and they kept going back to him.  Furthermore, they don’t have any other great options.  I’d pick him up and stash him.  Wait and see if he can get his act together.

On the other side of the ball, Jimmy Graham had a huge day.  This was his biggest game of the year by far, and one of the reasons they almost beat the Panthers.  Now, let’s see if he can keep it up.  I’d bet against it, but I’m not sure why.  They should utilize him how they did on Sunday, but I don’t think they will.  This is mostly conjecture at this point though.

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