NFC South Review: Week 13

By Robert Knarr

The NFC South has crowned the Panthers its division champion as they managed to win a close one in Week 13.  The season is wrapping up, but there are still several intriguing story lines to follow.  Can the Panthers remain undefeated?  Will the Falcons overcome their swoon?  Can Winston keep up his development and lead the Bucs to a Wild Card?  Also, where are the Saints headed?

Let’s see if we can figure some of this out as we review the previous week.

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 19-23

Atlanta FalconsTampa Bay Buccaneers

I feel as though I’m repeating myself each week with the Falcons.

It goes something like, “They can’t get it together.  The defense is ok.  What happened to the offense?  They’re sliding out of contention.”  Now, the Falcons have gone from being nearly certain to make the playoffs, to having only a slim chance.  They’re only one game back, but lose the tiebreaker to Tampa.  They also have to play the Panthers twice, not to mention they need to figure out how to score points.  I don’t see it happening.  But, they are getting better and have a somewhat favorable schedule.  So, maybe they can figure things out, get lucky and squeak in.

The Bucs won a tough game, and can surprise some teams if they make it into the playoffs.  The game was close, but the Bucs took advantage of the Falcons inability to finish.  As has been the theme with many Falcons games this year, it was a defensive matchup that they let get away from them late in the game.  The Falcons led 9-6 at halftime and took a 19-16 lead early in the 4th quarter on a TD pass by Matt Ryan to Nick Williams.  Who is Nick Williams?  I had to look him up, which illustrates the lack of depth behind Julio.  Anyway, the Falcons seemed poised for a victory, then through a combination of poor plays and a lackluster late game offense, they let it slip away…again.  Man, this is redundant.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston

They failed to tackle Winston on 3rd and 19 as he scrambled for the first.  Then after the Bucs scored, Matt Ryan threw an interception to end their hopes of a comeback.  As much it may appear so, this isn’t all about the Falcons making bad plays, because the Bucs have a talented young quarterback, a good running game, and a decent offense.

The Bucs, I feel are still unlikely to make the playoffs, but are playing good football at the right time of the year.  That means a lot.  Who would you rather be rooting for to make the playoffs, the Falcons or Buccaneers, despite the fact that they have the same record?  Clearly the Bucs are getting better.  I expect them to compete with the Panthers as early as next season, and are going to be a fun team to watch down the stretch.  Winston is one of the most promising rookie QB’s I’ve seen recently.  But, I don’t expect them to overcome the Seahawks, Vikings or Packers, and several other teams in the NFC.  That’s just my prediction, and I’ve been wrong many times before, and they’re definitely close enough to keep things interesting.

Fantasy Implications Julio is still the league’s leading receiver.  However, he hasn’t shown up quite like he did the first 4 weeks.  I’m done with Ryan, who seems to only look for Julio or Freeman in as a check down.   Freeman has fallen back to Earth, but is still a great guy to have.  He’s getting nearly all the carries and racks up tons of receptions each game.  I still think in the long run, Coleman will take over as the lead rusher, if he can stop fumbling.  The Falcons play the Panthers 2 of the next 3 weeks though, so I wouldn’t be happy starting either guy in those matchups.  Norman will likely blanket Jones and Freeman faces a dangerous front 7.

Regarding the Bucs, Doug Martin is clearly a great back to have.  I’d be content with both Evans and Jackson as each seems to be doing well.  Winston has been solid, but is a better real life QB than a fantasy one at this point.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins is making a bit of a resurgence, but isn’t worth starting at this point.

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 41-38

Carolina PanthersNew Orleans Saints

The Panthers showed they could win a shootout, at least against New Orleans.  The Saints exhibited good fight, but their season is all but over.  This was a tight division game that the Panthers should’ve won easily.  However, Brees can still move the ball in the Superdome (although strangely has been abysmal away from the Superdome), and they play tough in New Orleans.

The Panthers clinched the division for the 3rd year in a row, and should secure the bye as soon as this week.  The Cardinals are giving them stiff competition for homefield advantage, but the Panthers schedule is pretty meek the rest of the way.  The Panthers biggest battle will be against themselves.  This team is pretty young.  Sure, they’ve won the division the previous 2 years, but they also have a huge target on their back this year, and a lot of pressure to go 16-0.  They need to stay focused to live up to their potential and go deep in the playoffs.

Cam Newton

Cam Newton

The Panthers didn’t play their best, but also had a few unlucky plays.  Stephone Anthony recovered a fumble in the middle of a pack for a touchdown.  Both Panthers and Saints players seemed to have given up on the play, and the review didn’t show anything because of all the bodies in the way.  That play made the game 14-0.  However, the Panthers fought back.  About to tie the game before halftime, Gano’s extra point was blocked and scored for two points, also by Stephone Anthony.  Cam then put the Panthers up 27-16.  They seemed to have the game in hand.  However, they had to make two more comebacks in the 4th quarter before they took the lead for good.  The final score came on a 15-yard bullet to Cotchery, on a drive that was kept alive on a fingertip catch by Olsen on 4th down.  Cam certainly strengthened his bid for MVP with another 5 TD game.

This game was a little troubling for Panthers fans.  But, you really can’t argue with 12-0.  Every team has bad games, especially on the road against division opponents.  The defense has been huge for the Panthers, but, they really struggled this game.  It’s not too big of a concern, since Drew Brees still has that potential in him.  Plus, looking at the players they have, gives no indication that their defense has been overachieving.

The Saints need to be thinking about next season.  They have almost no chance of making the playoffs.  They’ve had a touch schedule and some bad breaks.  But, Ingram is out and there’s no denying the deplorable defense.  I have no idea what direction they will take.  Perhaps, the Saints could get back in the playoff hunt next year with a few solid additions.  Maybe, they’ll trade Brees and try to start rebuilding.  Either way, they’re likely done for this season.

Fantasy Implications Again, not much has changed with the fantasy makeup of the Panthers.  Cam continues to be a beast, but might not be so dominant against a Falcons defense that has been improved.  However, he is still a must start.  Jonathan Stewart has been a little worse.  However, he’s still a solid RB2.  Olsen continues to be a beast as well.  However, the wide receivers are largely a crapshoot.  Funchess has taken a backseat again with Corey Brown.  Ginn continues to have good games, but his hands keep him from being a weekly asset.  He’s a decent flex value, especially against weaker defenses.

The Saints running backs are falling apart.  Ingram is done for the season.  Look for Spiller to possibly have a better role, but I wouldn’t count on it.  Word is, they don’t trust his run blocking, which is a big hurdle to overcome.  Perhaps, Tim Hightower will be valuabe taking over.  Brees continues to be up and down, but still has a lot of potential, as he shredded the Panthers extremely good defense.  Like the Panthers, their wide receivers are all a gamble, but Brandin Cooks is definitely the most reliable player and also has the highest potential.  I’d feel comfortable with him as a flex.  However, most of the other players are too much of a risk.

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