NFC South Recap, Week 14

The Panthers finally had a say in the NFC South race in Week 14; unfortunately, all Carolina did was pad Atlanta's already stellar record. While the Falcons soared, the rest of the division kept pace in what is once again the NFL's best three-team race.

Atlanta Falcons (11-2)

What went right? Finally a ho-hum, bury their opponent early and not let them back into the game win for the Falcons. The stats show Michael Turner dominated with 128 yards rushing and three touchdowns and the defense chipped in with five sacks of Jimmy Claussen, but the Falcons won't get giddy over it. They're smart enough to know this was the Panthers -- that's what they're supposed to do to them.

What went wrong? It was cold and rainy. That is about it.

What question needs to be answered? Will the much anticipated Week 16 game against the New Orleans Saints even matter? If the Falcons win their game this week at Seattle and again against the Panthers in Week 17, they will hold the tiebreaker over the Saints, meaning their rematch won't affect Atlanta's playoff position.

New Orleans Saints (10-3)

What went right? Safety Malcolm Jenkins continues to make a name for himself, intercepting two Sam Bradford passes and returning one for a touchdown. Jenkins' pick-six put the Saints ahead, 21-6, and Drew Brees' three touchdowns made sure the St. Louis Rams never had a chance.

What went wrong? Roman Harper may secretly wish something else had gone wrong for the Saints. In the fourth quarter, Steven Jackson appeared to fumble at the goal line. Harper, a 28-year-old safety, picked up the loose ball for what seemed like a certain 99-yard touchdown. Around midfield, though, Bradford ran down Harper and forced him out of bounds. The fumble ruling got overturned, so the play won't count anywhere but in the Saints' locker room.

What question needs to be answered? Are the playoffs a sure thing? New Orleans currently holds the fifth seed in the NFC, but there is no room for error in their next three games against playoff-hungry opponents. This week they travel to Baltimore for a game that will shake up playoff races in both conferences. Then they have the tilt in Atlanta before welcoming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a game that could be a win-and-in contest.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)

What went right? Just when it looked like all hope was lost for the Buccaneers to make the playoffs after last week's crushing defeat, Graham Gano lined up to kick a measly extra point to send the game into overtime. The snap sailed over the holder's head and the Bucs sailed right back into the playoff hunt. With the Green Bay Packers losing a stunner in Detroit, the Bucs now have very real hope with home games against Detroit and Seattle before the finale in New Orleans.

What went wrong? It's been going wrong all season and if they make the playoffs it will surely get exploited, I'm talking, of course, about Tampa Bay's run defense. The first quarter wasn't even finished yet and Redskins RB Ryan Torain had gained 102 yards on the ground; he finished with 172 yards. If they're lucky enough to make the playoffs, the flawed run defense will lead to a quick exit.

What question needs to be answered? Will they have enough bodies to fill an active roster? After losing Aqib Talib and Jeff Faine last week, the Bucs lost rookie DT Gerald McCoy and LB Quincy Black to injury on Sunday. All four will end the season on injured-reserve.

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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