NFC South Recap, Week 17

If not for Tampa Bay's home loss to Detroit in Week 15, the NFC South would have provided half of the conference's playoff entrants. As it stands, the division's represented by a No. 1 seed and the reigning champion. Here's a look at how Carolina's competition fared in the final week of the season.

Atlanta Falcons (13-3)

What went right? The Falcons dismissed the Panthers, as well as the notion last week's loss to the Saints was anything other than a tough loss to a quality team. Atlanta locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, as well as the NFC South crown with a decisive 31-10 victory. Roddy White had six receptions for 62 yards and a TD. His 115 receptions were the most in the NFL.

What went wrong? The defense was burned once again by a reverse, this time by WR Brandon LaFell, who zigged and zagged for 60 yards. Earlier this season, the Philadelphia Eagles burned the Falcons for two long TDs on similar plays. You can be sure the Falcons' next opponent will look to expose that weakness.

What question needs to be answered? Is it enough to be battle tested in the regular season? The Falcons have won more than their share of close, down-to-the-wire games, but the playoffs are a different animal.

New Orleans Saints (12-4)

What went right? The Falcons handling of the Panthers meant the Saints could do no better than the No. 5 seed, so Sean Payton began pulling his starters late in what became a meaningless game. The Saints fell to a desperate Bucs team, but at least have a chance to defend their title.

What went wrong? The Saints, bothered by injuries all season, took a few more hits. Emerging star Malcolm Jenkins left with a knee injury that could compromise him during the playoffs. RB Chris Ivory suffered a foot injury and will miss the postseason.

What question needs to be answered? Are a short work week and a long flight to Seattle enough to derail the Saints? New Orleans manhandled the Seahawks at home earlier this season and they'll need a similar performance if they hope to win the franchise's first road playoff game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)

What went right? Raheem Morris told his team early on the season was a race to 10 wins. The team won the race to 10, but unfortunately it needed 11 to get into the postseason. The Bucs ended the season on a high note, though, beating a division opponent on the road. Josh Freeman threw two more TDs and rookie LeGarrette Blount went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

What went wrong? Not much went wrong this week, but the Bucs will be haunted by their Week 15 home overtime loss to the Detroit Lions for much of the offseason.

What question needs to be answered? How will they handle expected success next year? It would be easy to be satisfied with such a successful season, but this year's 10 wins don't guarantee any next season. Morris' team will not be able to sneak up on anyone in 2011 and will have greater expectations to live up to, the first being a playoff birth.



Which NFC South team will be the last standing? Discuss 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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