Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Last year the NFC South had three teams in the playoffs. This year, it may only be one. The Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all but out. While the Panthers hope to stay in the race and stop the Saints from having home field advantage in the playoffs. 

Rock bottom.

   After losing to the struggling Packers the Atlanta Falcons look to earn a little respect, as they face the Arizona Cardinals this week. The basement dweller face off is a game to show that neither team has given up. They have not given up on trying to find a winning formula or players that will be the hallmark of their team next season. Finding the formula the Falcons want to end the five game skid before moving onto divisional rivals the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

   On Sunday it will be strength against strength, as the Falcons high flying passing game will match up against the Cardinals stingy secondary. Currently only allowing 210.8 yards a game passing to opponents they look to demoralize the Falcons. The Falcons will try to keep feeding Julio Jones the ball. Jones will have the opportunity to eclipse 100 catches and 1,500 yards on the season in this game. The weakness of the Cardinals is the run defense. Fortunately for them, the Falcons are the league’s worst at running the ball with 81.2 yards a game average. Atlanta will use the last three games to evaluate their run game and offensive line in preparation for the off season. With a losing record guaranteed the Falcons will be making some changes.

   On the defensive side of the ball Arizona does not pose a huge threat. The Falcons should be able to adjust the crumbling defense they currently have and give some younger guys playing time. As with any team in any season player evaluation never ends. It only becomes more highlighted when you’re out of the playoff race and only have next year to look forward to. Grady Jarrett is a free agent this year and will seek to improve his ability to get paid. The younger guys like Takkarist McKinle, Damontae Kazee, Duke Riley, Isaiah Oliver and Foye Oluokun all need to step up and trend in the right direction. A win here would go a long way to building some confidence going into a new year. 

To many questions, not enough answers.

   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel and take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. An important game to watch as the Buccaneers look to answer plenty of looming questions. Who is Jameis Winston and is he the future of the organization? Does Dirk Koetter keep his job? What other staff members keep their jobs?  Can some of these questions be answered this week? We will see.

   Trying to answer probably the most important question, Winston played well in the first half against the Saints. Then the Saints adjusted. Dirk Koetter didn’t, allowing the Saints defense to blank the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half. The offense will have a bigger test this week as they face one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Ravens are in the top five in yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed and in rushing yards allowed. That all equals a tightfisted defense that leads the NFL in points per game. Jameis will have to continue to protect the ball. The game plan will have to be executed to perfection. Koetter may have to pull out a few trick plays in order to score enough points. If this team is to win this week, he has to be perfect.

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   Against the defense Lamar Jackson AND Joe Flacco will be suited up. Jackson will get the start.  If we can do to Jackson what we were able to do to Cam Newton, whom I think is better, we should be fine. Baltimore ranks in the bottom half of the league in passing. They possess a multiple faceted rush attack. So did Carolina. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can contain Jackson then they should fare well. Jackson has rushed for no less than 67 yards since starting.  This game hinges the Buccaneers being disciplined. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can get Carlton Davis and Justin Evans back this week it will go a long way to aiding the secondary. One thing is for sure, this should be a low scoring game.

Divisional rival showdown with playoff implications.

Looking for home field advantage.

   The New Orleans Saints, after traveling to and beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will finish a three game away stretch in Carolina. Seeking home field advantage for the playoffs they look to dash any and all hopes for the Panthers to even reach them.  Carolina has other plans, as they aim to stay in the chase, crossing their fingers that they can get some outside help. The panthers are five and one at home. 

   When it comes to this Saints offense it all revolves around Drew Brees. He is completing 75.7 percent this season, his highest in his career. He will do so while using star athletes and undrafted players alike. The ability to use any player on the field leaves opposing defenses in a constant state of confusion. Going against the Panthers Brees will look to exploit a team allowing 25.5 points per game, 24th in the league. They give up this amount of points by allowing opposing quarter backs to complete 67.5 percent of their passes.  The Saints can run the ball to. The duel threat of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II are averaging 125.3 yards a game. When the Saints get Terron Armstead back, this offensive line will only get better.

   With a resurgent defense, the Saints have not allowed more than 17 points a game since week 10. With the panthers reeling, the Saints defense can pin their ears back and attack Cam Newton. The Panthers have given the ball way 16 times this season, with six in the last three games. With Greg Olsen out Christian McCaffrey seems to be the only viable weapon the Panthers have. The Saints will look to contain him and make Newton beat them another way.  Two big names to watch are Sheldon Rankins and Cameron Jordan. They have both had a sack or more in four of their last five games.

Needing to get back in the race.

   Trying to claw their way out of the litter box The Panthers offense will have to find a way to get more players involved. McCaffrey cannot carry this team by himself.  Newton, who earlier was supposedly playing his best ball yet, has had five straight games with interceptions. This team looks flat with Greg Olsen gone and Devin Funchess’ disappearing act. It will be up to rookie DJ Moore and second year man Curtis Samuel to push this offense. If the team can get these two involved more and reawaken Funchess, they may put up a fight.

 As if the offense wasn’t a big enough problem, enter the Panthers defense. Giving up 20 or more points in each of the last five games they look drained. After firing two coaches and demoting another, Ron Rivera started calling the plays. He did not get the defense on track last week. Going against a prolific offense like the Saints is going to prove even more difficult. Even worse is the fact they must play them twice in the next three weeks. Does this defense have enough left in the tank? After all, they are only half a game out of a wild card spot. Motivation should not be hard for the Panthers to find on Monday, as all they have to do is bring the broom the Saints mailed to them last year.

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