NFC South Recap, Week 15

Half of the teams in the NFC South fell in Week 15; amazingly, the Panthers were not one of them. The Buccaneers took one step closer to joining Carolina in the also-ran category, while the Saints took some luster out of next week's meeting with the Falcons.

Atlanta Falcons (12-2)

What went right? The Seattle Seahawks and their famed 12th man were no match for a far superior Falcons team. At times, it seemed like having a 12th player on the field wouldn't stop Atlanta from cruising in this one. Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes and the defense chipped in a score of its own as the Falcons clinched a playoff spot. They can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with one win in their final two games.

What went wrong? There weren't many negatives. Jason Snelling fumbled twice, but both were recovered by the Falcons. It has been that kind of season in Atlanta.

What question needs to be answered? Are they peaking too soon? It seems to happen every year; a team that gets a first-round bye usually has several weeks between meaningful games. Luckily for the Falcons, the rival New Orleans Saints come to town next week. There should be no shortage of focus for this one.

New Orleans Saints (10-4)

What went right? The Saints came back from a 21-7 deficit against a very good Baltimore Ravens team in a cold, hostile environment before surrendering two fourth-quarter field goals and falling, 30-24. The good news for the Saints is that the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all lost, leaving New Orleans in control of the fifth seed in the NFC playoff race.

What went wrong? If these teams should meet in the Super Bowl, the Saints had better use some practice time to figure out how to tackle Ray Rice. Rice gashed the Saints for 153 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while also contributing 80 receiving yards and a touchdown reception.

What question needs to be answered? Are their bags packed? With the loss, the Saints' chances of catching the Falcons for the division title suffered a massive blow. Barring a Falcons collapse against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17, the Saints may have to win three road playoff games to get back to the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)

What went right? Everything outside of Raymond James Stadium went swimmingly for the Bucs. The teams they needed to lose lost, only the Bucs couldn't handle their own business. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn't enough. Now the Bucs need even more help to make their playoff dreams come true.

What went wrong? "How do you cover Calvin Johnson?" was the question. The Tampa Bay defense is still searching for the answer. Johnson had 10 receptions for 152 yards, two of the biggest coming on the game-tying and game-winning drives. The loss was Tampa Bay's first this season in a game decided by three points or less, and it comes at the worst possible time.

What question needs to be answered? Are they satisfied with just being a contender? This loss puts the Bucs' playoff hopes on life support, but they are still breathing. If they can refocus and beat the lowly Seahawks on Sunday, they will still need some help, but it's not impossible. While this defeat was disheartening, it may not be as devastating as the one the Giants suffered on Sunday. The Bucs' resolve seems to get tested every week and they pass more times than they fail. That resolve may just by them one more miracle.

Should the Carolina Panthers play to win? Talk about it inside the message boards.

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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