NFC South Review: Week 11

By Robert Knarr

The Panthers seem to have run away with the NFC South.  It would take an epic collapse and a brilliant run by either the Bucs or the Falcons to pass them.  Meanwhile, the wild card race is heating up.  The Falcons “certain” path to the playoffs has been obscured by their recent poor play, and numerous teams, including the Bucs, are within 1 or 2 games of them.  The Saints were on bye, so at least they couldn’t fall much further behind.

Indianapolis Colts at Atlanta Falcons: 24-21

Indianapolis ColtsAtlanta Falcons

The game started out pretty well for the Falcons.  They led 14-0 in the second half, and 21-7 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  After that they would manage only 3 first downs and 67 yards for the rest of the game.  Devonta Freeman was lost to a concussion early in the game, but that’s not an excuse for how poorly this team finished.  The big turnaround occurred when Matt Ryan, who threw 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, threw a pick 6 out of his own end zone to allow the Colts to tie the game.  From there Vinatieri finished the game with a go-ahead field goal.

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan

The Falcons can’t put together anything close to a complete game.  They’ve lost 4 out of their last 5, and are beginning to look unlikely to make the playoffs, even though they still hold the second wild card spot.  Clearly, this team was playing over its head the first 5 weeks, had an easy schedule, or some combination of the two.  Unfortunately, their schedule is pretty tough from here on out.  They play the Vikings this week and have 2 games with the Panthers.  Not to mention that they also play improved Bucs and Jags, and division rival Saints.  None of those game are cakewalks.  I think they’ll continue to slide, and end up with a .500 season.  Whether or not that’s good enough for a wildcard spot, I’m not sure.

Fantasy Implications The largest fantasy event in this game was the injury of Devonta Freeman.  He has to go through concussion protocol, and his status at this time is unclear.  If he can’t play, then Coleman will likely start.  He wouldn’t jump easily into the RB2 conversation, and could end up being an RB1 if Freeman is out for an extended time.  He was doing fine as the starter at the beginning of the season, until he got hurt and Freeman took off.  He comes with concerns though, as he has fumbled twice in his last 27 carries.  Julio Jones had a solid game, but didn’t reach the end zone.  Hankerson and Roddy White continue to bring little to the table.  This is part of the reason the Falcons offense has lost some of its explosiveness.  There’s no good options behind Jones.  Meanwhile, Ryan continues his recent mediocrity.  As far as yards, Y/A, rating, and completion %, he’s on a pace similar to his career numbers.  But, he’s also on pace for the lowest amount of touchdowns, since his rookie season, and his interception percentage is up as well.

Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers: 16-44

Washington RedkinsCarolina Panthers

Cam Newton and the Panthers really exploded during this game to remain undefeated, but the game actually started out pretty close.

The game was tied at 14 in the 2nd quarter, before Cam lead an 8 play, 92 yard touchdown drive.  Some controversy arose during the drive, as a pick six by cornerback Chris Culliver was called back on a holding call.  There were a few other questionable calls in the game that went against the Redskins, leading many Redskins fans to b be upset about the outcome.  However, the Redskins only have themselves to blame for losing this game.   Well themselves, the Panthers defense, and Cam Newton.  After that call, the Panthers ran away with the game.  They didn’t give up any more points other than their own intentional safety, which occurred as they attempted to run the clock out.  They allowed 14 total rushing yards on 12 carries.  The Panthers forced 4 fumbles for turnovers, 1 interception, and 5 sacks.  You can’t blame that level of play on the refs.  Carolina was in Cousins’ face for most of the game.  Meanwhile, Cam was brilliant throwing 5 touchdown passes, 246 yards, and 0 interceptions.

Cam Newton

Cam Newton

The question now, isn’t will the Panthers win the division? It’s, how deep will they go in the playoffs?  The Panthers look unstoppable, but that’s often the case and it only takes one bad game in the playoffs to end your season.  The Panthers schedule also hasn’t been too tough, maybe making them look a little better than they are.  However, they look like a complete team, with a dangerous defense, and a more than capable offense.  The road through the playoffs should be a little easier for them as well.  Barring a complete collapse, they will secure at least a bye, and probably home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  But, there’s also some pretty decent teams in the AFC if they get that far.  I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but this team called the Patriots is pretty good also.  It should be exciting see how far they can go.

Fantasy Implications The Panthers key players, Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart, continue to roll.  Cam, especially is an unabashed QB1.  He could end up as the top scorer in fantasy leagues this year.  Jonathan Stewart rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries, and caught a 12-yard TD pass.  He has been a really solid RB2 this year.  Greg Olsen was solid again, getting another TD pass.  The numbers really could’ve been better for the Panthers players, but they weren’t exactly playing aggressively for much of the second half.  Perhaps most importantly, Devin Funchess did well in his first start.  He had 4 receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.  He also had the most targets on the team, with 8.  I’d pick him up in most formats, as he could get better as the year goes on.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 17-45

Philadelphia EaglesTampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston continue to look better and better.

Winston matched Cam’s touchdown total, throwing 5 TD’s, 0 interceptions, and 246 yards.  He had some help from Doug Martin who erupted for 235 yards on 27 carries.  The Eagles scored first, and then again midway through the 2nd quarter to make the score 21-14.  However, after that, they were done.  The Eagles couldn’t get anything going, and couldn’t stop the Bucs.  Winston consistently converted on 3rd down, and is making tremendous strides in his first year.  Right now he has 15 TD’s, 9 interceptions, a rating of 86.5, and 2405 yards.  That’s a great start to a rookie season, especially considering the improvement he’s shown as the season goes on.  That improvement is more important than any individual stat.

Jameis Winston - AP Photo

Jameis Winston – AP Photo

Furthermore, the Bucs have to be seriously considered as a potential playoff team now.  Their record is only 5-5, but that’s just one game back of a scuffling Atlanta team, while the entire Bucs team keeps developing.  They have a real shot at making the playoffs, but the NFC is such a mess there are numerous teams grouped together trying to make a run for the 2nd wildcard spot.  However, the offense is solid, and bordering on explosive with 3 potential stars, Winston, Evans, and Martin.  Vincent Jackson also returned and played decently.  That #2 receiver is a luxury the Falcons don’t have.  Their defense also continues to get the job done, and certainly isn’t keeping them from moving forward.  Gerald McCoy is a star, and DE Gholston helps that line as well.

Fantasy Implications If you own Doug Martin, then chances are your team is doing pretty well.  He has delivered tremendous value considering his ADP, despite some poor games.  Winston took his first step from being a solid actual QB who delivers smart choices and short passes into being a fantasy star.  He had a huge performance, and as I’ve said should continue to make steps toward being the explosive player he has the potential to be.  You could tell once he started making good choices, it was only a matter of time before he started putting up big numbers.  Mike Evans continues to be a good fantasy asset, putting up 63 yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions.  Surprisingly, Vincent Jackson returned and had a decent game.  I don’t think he’ll be very good going forward, but could be an adequate flex options.  Charles Sims is a respectable backup to own.  He’s played well in limited time, and any running back could go down at any moment, which should be obvious after this year.