The Saints are playoff bound trying to earn home field advantage. The Panthers have a slim chance and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Falcons are out. 

Hit the reset button.

   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are poised to hit the reset button at seasons end. Dirk Koetter has most likely lost his job and Jason Licht may be done as well. At this point, players start playing to save their jobs – not Koetters – and some players have said as much. How this team closes out the season will speak volumes about its future. Give up and make the next staff decide on your future or play hard and set the tone for those who are with this team next year. The next test, the Cowboys.

   The offensive struggles are evident. The once formidable offense has crumbled. Part play calling, part effort, this team has lost its swagger. Jameis Winston faces another stout defense this week. The Cowboys are a top ten defense. They possess a competent scheme ranking seventh best in yards per game passing and fifth rushing. The 19.2 points per game average is good for fourth overall. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense will have to prove they can adjust. The team has only scored ten points in the second half over the last three games. Koetter and staff have been out coached in the third and fourth quarters through much of the year. Yet another reason for his impending departure. This team cannot win if it cannot adjust. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must learn to put together a full game, but it may have to wait till next year with a new staff. 

   The defense will have its hands full on Sunday. If they could not stop Gus Edwards, how will they stop Ezekiel Elliott? Averaging 4.7 yards a carry Elliott will run against the Buccaneers defense. They currently allow opposing running backs to average 4.8 yards a carry. To make matters worse, the emergence of Amari Cooper has boosted the Cowboys offense.  Mark Duffner will have to draw up a game plan to stop Cooper. Doing so could make the Cowboys one dimensional, giving this defense an opportunity. The Cowboys were shut down last week, but they are still a threat. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have nothing to lose at this point…except some jobs. 

Down and out the Falcons look to kill of the Panthers’ chance at the playoffs.

   The Falcons and Panthers will battle it out to see who may end up in second in the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will most likely be at the bottom. So these two teams will be playing for pride and to finish the season on a positive note. Coming off of a win against the Cardinals, the Falcons may have found some confidence. The Panthers on the other hand have now dropped six games in a row. 

   Looking to play spoiler, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will bring their high flying passing attack to Carolina. The Falcons established the run against the Cardinals. Although it remains to be seen if they can put together two games in a row with a balanced offense. If Tevin Coleman rushes for over 100 yards this week it will be the third time all season. The soon to be free agent may be making the case to be the primary back next year, with both Ito Smith and Devonte Freeman out. We know what Ryan and Jones can do, can the rest of the offense establish themselves as a supporting cast for next year?

   Though the offense has a lot of question marks, the defense is a bigger puzzle. Atlanta is 24th in total yards allowed and 29th in points allowed. They have generated little pass rush and created only 14 total turn overs. Young players like Takkarist McKinley, Deadrin Senat and Isaiah Oliver can make this a cohesive unit moving forward. The Falcons have invested a lot of draft capital in this defense in recent years but it did not live up to expectations this year. A solid effort this week could instill some confidence in the defense for the future. 

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Break the losing streak or lose all hope.

   The Panthers have lost the last six games. They have lost the last five by one touchdown or less. This offense has lost it’s luster. Cam Newton’s injury is destroying this teams chance at winning. While Newton continues to struggle and is injured, back up Taylor Heinicke is still not a better option. Cam’s injured shoulder prevented him from making deep throws and destroyed his short yardage accuracy on Monday. With an extremely long shot at making the playoffs he will start again this week in hopes of keeping the Panthers alive. Around Newton his young receiving corps is starting to step up. Though none have yet to claim true number one receiver capabilities and prowess yet. It’s a good thing they will face the Falcons terrible defense. Christian McCaffrey should go off and carry the team this week while the other weapons should have plenty of opportunities as well.  

   Since the firing of defensive staff members and his takeover of play calling, Ron Rivera might have this defense refocused. They played well against the Saints and will try to repeat the performance against the Falcons. The Falcons are the 5th best in passing yardage, but are 31st in running the ball. Julio Jones will need to garner attention and draw double coverage to make Matt Ryan look elsewhere for plays. Easier said than done.  Even after slowing Brees down the Panthers secondary allows, on average, 250.3 yards a game. LSU tandem, Eric Reid and Donte Jackson will have to tighten up the secondary this week.

This game will be another brawl in the NFC South.

Secure the number one seed.

   The Saints, coming off a Monday night win, will host the Steelers who just downed the Patriots.  In an epic battle of playoff bound teams the Saints will need to put together a complete game. Win and they secure the number one seed, lose and they need to beat the Panthers one more time. 

   The Saints offense has struggled the last three games averaging only 17.6 points; only half their average in all the games prior (37.1 points).  The Steelers are allowing opposing teams an average of 22.6 points per game and coming off a win where they held the Patriots to ten. Luckily, the Saints look unbeatable at home. That’s why it’s so important for the Saints to win home field advantage. Drew Brees will need to get the ball out quickly with Pittsburgh second in the league for sacks. Not a good sign for Brees who lost center Max Unger on Monday. Watch Unger and his status this week. If he can’t suit up Cameron Tom will most likely take his place. The Saints offense needs to get back on track and start getting hot now in order to carry momentum into the playoffs. Without it they may fall short. 

   On the other side of the ball, the Saints have been able to smother teams. The rising defense has essentially kept the Saints alive in games where the offense stalled. They may need to do it again this week. The Steelers are third best in average pass yards per game, making up for an injured and depleted running game. Look for the Saints secondary to step up against JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. Eli Apple played well Monday night and will get tested heavily during this match up. Apple looked more comfortable and will try to repeat his performance. Cameron Jordan has six sacks in the last four games. He will need to lead the defense in disrupting and bringing down Ben Roethlisberger. Ben is notorious for evading pass rushers and extending plays. The defense will have to keep him contained and put him on his back to win. 

Both teams want to go into the playoffs with momentum, this game will be pivotal. 

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