NFC South Recap, Week 16

The Panthers dropped out of the playoff race back in September, but they will have a hand in deciding which team wins the NFC South. The Atlanta Falcons need a win this week to wrap up the division title; if Carolina can pull the upset, it opens the door for the New Orleans Saints.

Atlanta Falcons (12-3)

What went right? Coach Mike Smith will be the first to tell you there were more positives than negatives in this one. However, the negatives will send you home in January.

What went wrong? This was supposed to be the coronation of this year's NFC South champion in front of their home crowd. Instead, it will have to wait another week when the 2-13 Carolina Panthers come to town. A bad shotgun snap led to Atlanta's first fumble in seven games and Michael Turner also fumbled for the first time this season. Not the kind of firsts you want heading into the playoffs.

What question needs to be answered? Can they put this one behind them quickly? They'll have to. Beating the Panthers and clinching the NFC's top seed should be a cakewalk, but losing to a playoff team in front of a national audience this late in the season will invite doubt into the minds of the players, fans and pundits.

New Orleans Saints (11-4)

What went right? The defending champs clinched a playoff spot and -- barring a loss to Tampa Bay next week -- will enter the playoffs as one of the league's hottest teams. Drew Brees led a 90-yard drive that ended with the go-ahead score with just over three minutes remaining. On the ensuing drive -- the drive the Falcons seem to score on every week -- Gregg Williams' defense shut the door on any Matt Ryan comeback.

What went wrong? Under pressure all night, Drew Brees made some poor decisions. He threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, one of which was returned for a touchdown and gave the Falcons the lead. Similar decision making in the coming weeks will end the Saints' hopes of a repeat.

What question needs to be answered? Are they the team that's hot at the right time? It seems to happen every season that some teams peak too soon and some hit their stride just as the playoffs begin. The Saints may be the latter and they appear to be given the gift of playing the winner of the NFC West in the first round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6)

What went right? With their playoff hopes on life support, the Bucs showcased their youth on Sunday, destroying the Seattle Seahawks, 38-15. Josh Freeman threw five touchdowns, two each to Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams, while LeGarrette Blount rushed for 164 yards. Whether or not they sneak into the playoffs this season, this team looks built to be there soon and for years to come. If only their fans would start showing up to the games.

What went wrong? If Tampa Bay is lucky enough to get into the postseason, they'll have to get there without another key starter. Rookie WR Arrelious Benn was placed on IR after suffering knee ligament damage. He is the seventh starter the Bucs have place on IR in the last month.

What question needs to be answered? Can they get a little help? The Bucs will be haunted by the Week 15 loss to the Detroit Lions for months. It's doable, but it's going to take a lot for Raheem Morris' team to claim the last spot in the playoffs. First, they have to handle their end and beat the Saints in New Orleans. The Saints may rest a few key starters as they'll have to travel the following week for the first round of the playoffs, so the Bucs may catch a break there. Then they'll need the Packers to lose to the Bears at Lambeau Field and have the Giants lose in Washington.



Which team will take home the NFC South title? Talk about it in 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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