z-Saints 11-5: The Saints were an army without generals and lieutenants last year, which was pretty clear with Drew Brees’ struggles (19 interceptions), and the poor play on defense (worst defense in the league). Accompanying Sean Payton in his return is the closest thing the Saints could find to former defensive coordinator Greg Williams, Rob Ryan. With these two men on the sidelines, the Saints are now back on top of the NFC South. The offense is back in sync, whereas their defense is playing better blitzing and covering against offenses.
Although, everything isn’t exactly perfect down in the bayou. They still can’t establish a running game (only averaging 79.8 yards a game) to balance their offense and are getting creamed by opposing running backs on defense (allowing 121.1 yards a game).
Nevertheless, with Drew Brees as their quarterback the offense is doing fine, relying on his arm to guide them, and the defense has only let two teams expose their weaknesses (Patriots and Jets). Also, going in the favor of the Saints is only the up and coming Panthers pose any serious threat .New Orleans might be in store for some epic battles with Carolina in the next couple weeks; still I see them claiming the NFC South when the dust has settled.
Panthers 9-7: Last year the Panthers couldn’t stop anybody in any meaningful way, especially when it counted in the fourth quarter. This year the two defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short) the Panthers drafted have dramatically changed the way the Panthers’ defense plays. Despite losing Chris Gamble in the off-season and trading away veteran Jon Beason, the defense is now ranked first in scoring defense (improving from allowing 22.7 to 13.2 points) and second in rushing defense (yielding 107.2 in 2012 to 79.1 yards this season).The resurgence of DeAngelo Williams, with the versatile Micheal Tolbert and always dangerous Cam Newton have given Carolina a potent running attack (averaging 130.1 yards a game).
However, the Panthers still have been unable to establish a reliable second option in the passing game. In spite of this, Carolina has been dominant and is looking to take that momentum to the playoffs. However, teams such as the Saints (twice), 49ers, and Patriots aim to stop them cold. The Panthers won’t be able to blow out these teams like they have been doing in the past four weeks. Unless Ron Rivera and Cam Newton can get the monkey off their backs when it comes to losing close games (2-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer), the Panthers will find out that the playoffs are still just out of reach.
Falcons 6-10: The Falcons’ plan was to play out the season and rely on a high powered passing attack, while masking a suspect offensive line and a frail defense, to cruise to another division title. Things have not gone according to plan. Injuries to Roddy White, Steven Jackson, and Julio Jones have caused the wheels to fall off the Falcons’ bandwagon. While Matt Ryan is still throwing for similar yardage, inferior receivers mean a smaller margin of error in every throw. This has led to Matt Ryan throwing 10 interceptions to only 15 touchdowns.
With nobody fearing the passing attack and Jackson hurt, the Falcons’ run game has collapsed. The Falcons are dead last in rushing, and somehow are doing worse without Michael Turner in yards per carry (3.7 to 3.5). Another reason for the Falcons’ offensive woes relate directly to the defense. Atlanta isn’t taking the ball away from their opponents like they did in 2012. Last year the Falcons took the ball away 27 times, so far this year that total is only eight. This all adds up to a lost season that once had Super Bowl aspirations.
Buccaneers 1-15: The Buccaneers have had a storybook year. Unfortunately, that story is The Buccaneers and their Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Coach. In Greg Schiano’s first year coaching Tampa Bay his team improved by five wins. Now in year two, they have lost five of their eight games by a total of 17 points. The players have given up on their coach after all the drama, which is the primary reason they are 0-8. Even with all the failure there is still some good. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has played better ( eight touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 83.1) than expected and the secondary has improved. However, this is only helping their resume for next year as a new regime is pretty much a guarantee next season, and will be making a lot of changes.
x – Clinched playoff
y – Clinched Wild Card
z – Clinched Division
* – Clinched Division and Homefield Advantage