NFC South Recap, Week 12

The NFC South has emerged as the most intriguing division in football. While the Carolina Panthers aim for the first overall pick in the draft, the other three teams in the division are in a full-on playoff push. Here is how the frontrunners fared in Week 12.

Atlanta Falcons (9-2)

What went right? The Falcons have gotten criticism this year, including in this space, for making games closer than they need to be. Ultimately, though, it's getting the win that counts and Atlanta got as big of a win as a team can get in November, beating the Green Bay Packers, 20-17. The victory gives the Falcons a one-game lead in the race for home field advantage, as well as the head-to-head edge in the tiebreaker against the Packers.

In the second quarter, Mike Peterson recovered an Aaron Rodgers fumble on a critical third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. From there, Matt Ryan led the offense on a 14-play, 80 yard drive that ended with a Tony Gonzalez touchdown. The game, billed as a possible NFC Championship preview, lived up to the hype and the Falcons now find themselves in the driver's seat in the NFC.

What went wrong? Down by seven late in the fourth quarter, Aaron Rodgers picked apart the Falcons' defense for a 90-yard drive that ended with Jordy Nelson hauling in the game-tying touchdown with just under a minute to play.

What question needs to be answered? Are they only elite at home? While Matt Ryan doesn't lose in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons are only 3-2 on the road, the losses coming at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles. Atlanta will get to try and solve their travelling conundrum with three straight on the road. The first test comes this week as they visit a desperate Buccaneers team in Tampa.

New Orleans Saints (8-3)

What went right? Malcolm Jenkins may have saved the season for the Saints. Already ahead by four points late in the game, the Dallas Cowboys appeared ready to derail the Saints' title defense when Roy Williams hauled in a Jon Kitna pass and was on his way into the end zone. With his eyes on the approaching Tracy Porter, Williams failed to see Jenkins approaching from behind, which allowed the safety to strip the ball away. The offense responded with an 89-yard touchdown drive that ended with just under two minutes to play. The Cowboys missed a 59-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game, allowing the Saints to keep pace with the Falcons in what figures to be an exciting race for the division crown.

What went wrong? Gregg Williams' defense squandered two 17-point leads as the offense jumped on the Cowboys early. The offense is not innocent in surrendering the lead either, as multiple players were stricken with cases of the drops.

What question needs to be answered? Who will flinch first? The Saints are on a collision course with the Falcons to decide the division championship. The two teams have to wait until Week 16 to face each other and it will be interesting to see if either team loses a game between now and then. The Saints don't face another winning team until they travel to Baltimore in Week 15.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4)

What went right? It's nothing new, but this team does not go away. Sadly, that's about the only positive that can be taken away from this one. As usual, the Bucs hung tough, scoring a touchdown to draw within seven points, with just over three minutes to play, but Raheem Morris opted to trust in his defense and didn't attempt an onside kick.

What went wrong? The defense allowed Ray Rice to get three first downs and that let the Ravens run out the clock. Josh Freeman completed just 17 of 37 passes and the Bucs' running game never got going.

What question needs to be answered? Do they have one big win left in them? The Bucs have yet to beat a team with a winning record and if they don't do it this week, their season is over. Currently, they sit as the seventh seed in the NFC and are behind both the Falcons and Saints in the division race. A win against the Falcons on Sunday could make this one of the most exciting division races in a long, long time.

Michael Stolp is a graduate of Wilkes University with a degree in Communications. He grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and recently relocated to Charlotte, NC. To follow his personal blog, click here.


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