It’s week 14 in the NFC South and three of the four teams are struggling. On a four game losing streak, the Carolina Panthers look exposed and hope to bounce back against the Cleveland Browns. The Atlanta Falcons, having issues of their own, seek redemption in Green Bay. Sitting on top of the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints look to avenge one of only two blemishes on this season’s record as they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers cross their fingers as they host the Saints in hopes of continuing on a winning streak.

Coming in with a limp.

   This week the Panthers, having lost their last four games, are desperately looking for a win. Their most recent loss was to fellow NFC South rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As luck would have it, they will get the chance to get back on track against the four win Browns.

   The Panthers are licking their wounds and regrouping in Ohio this weekend. Quarterback Cam Newton is struggling. Listed as questionable, he has been dealing with a shoulder injury that has stifled his ability to throw the long ball. Unable to stretch the field, the Panthers are not playing like they were earlier in the season. This has made the play calling shift to short crossing routes and out routes to running back Christian McCaffery.

The offense lacks complementary play makers on the outside. Devin Funchess is a good receiver, but arguably not a true number one. Greg Olsen is often injured, now on IR again, as his age is catching up with him. The rest of the receiving corps is mediocre. Its no wonder the team is struggling. The Browns defense is allowing solid yards to opposing passers and rushers. This could be the game the Panthers need to regain their swagger. 

   If that’s not bad enough, the defense is a shell of it’s former self. Carolina was once able to pin their ears back and smother quarterbacks and the run game. Their aging group in the front is starting to slow down. They have not been able to generate pressure that aids the secondary. That is why defensive line coach Brady Hoke and cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura were fired. They will have their hands full this week with a mobile quarterback in Baker Mayfield. In order to win, the Panthers need the defense to remember who they once were and pressure the quarterback. 

At the bottom and looking up.

   The Falcons are in dire need of a win. Much like the Panthers, they have dropped four in a row. They sit dead last in the NFC South. They will travel to Green Bay, who is in a total tailspin after firing Mike Mccarthy.

    To start the year, the tandem of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were being touted as a possible unstoppable duo. It never came around. Without a run game to take the pressure off of Matt Ryan the trio have fallen short of expectations. Now, suffering from injuries, both Jones and Ridley may play Sunday, but not at 100%. The Green Bay secondary is in the top ten against pass yards averaging 224 yards per game. The Falcons run game may need to come up big. The Packers weak run defense, surrendering over 100 yards a game, may be the key to the Falcons capturing victory. If they can run the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, they might be able to escape with the win.

   The biggest question mark for the Falcons may be how to defend against the Packers once dominant offense. At this time, there is no tape or substantial play calling history to analyze as Joe Philbin will call plays. What do you plan against when the offensive play caller has not called plays in years? The defense will have to adjust and contain Aaron Rodgers.  Randall Cobb should see an increased role this week helping jump start this offense after an embarrassing loss. Coming back from injury last week, he was not utilized to the best of his abilities. The Falcons defense is struggling and Rodgers may use it to get back on track in title town.

Right a wrong or the streak continues.

   The Saints will travel to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Clamoring for the chance to right one of only two blemishes on this year’s record. The Buccaneers look to defend home turf. They currently boast a four and two home record and have a defense that has come on of late. Who gets the win?

   The Saints are looking to lock up their playoff spot with their next win. A win will also help them stay in the sweepstakes for home field advantage during the playoffs. They were unable to secure that spot in a surprise loss at home against the Dallas Cowboys. The inexplicable collapse of the New Orleans offense shook the team to its core.

   Drew Brees, the ever savvy veteran, will put that game behind him and look to bounce back in Tampa. Aiding him may be the returning tackle Terron Armstead to protect his blindside. His addition, since being injured in the Cincinnati game, would be a boost for the offensive line. You should also keep an eye on the injury report headed into this game as Michael Thomas did not practice Wednesday and practiced in full on Thursday. Even though he has not amassed double-digit targets since the Rams game, when on the field he draws serious attention.

   On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints will try to hide Eli Apple from Jameis Winston. Apple was picked on early and often last week and seems to be a weak point. As the secondary is averaging the 279.3 yards a game, they will have to step up. One match up to watch will be round two of the battle between Mike Evans and Marshon Lattimore.  Evans won the battle in week one with seven receptions, 147 yards and a touchdown, but a lot has changed since then.

Keys for the Bucs

   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are seeking a third win in a row. Winston is playing smart and efficient. He has limited his turnovers and spread the ball around in a bid to keep his job. The Buccaneers look to continue this trend against a stingy Saints defense that is susceptible in the air. Desean Jackson is still battling a thumb injury; one that looks to keep him out of the lineup. It may not be a bad thing as Winston and Chris Godwin have a better relationship. Godwin had a strong performance filling in for Jackson last week. His five receptions for 101 yards lead the team.

   The resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line looks to be working together well. In hopes of protecting home field, the defense will try to replicate the success that the Dallas Cowboys had. Getting into Drew Brees’ space and interrupting his timing. This may benefit the secondary and help them come up with turnovers. Jason Pierre-Paul (did not practice) and Gerald McCoy (limited practice) will need to be monitored leading up to the game. There will also be some shuffling around in the back field as the Buccaneers players are in flux. Brent Grimes and M. J. Stewart are practicing while Carlton Davis and Justin Evans are not. Can this defense play another solid game? The Saints could be the ultimate test for the Tamp Bay Buccaneers defense.

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