Nothing stays the same in the National Football League, unless you’re a New England Patriots fan. Teams rise and fall and while New Orleans has had its fair share of falling the past few seasons, this year has a different ring to it. The Saints are winning. Unfortunately, so are the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. Which sets up a wild race to the finish in the NFC South. Sorry Tampa Bay fans, you’re not invited.
Nothing comes easy.
As the teams enter the stretch looking toward the finish line and the NFC South division title one only has to look back to 2014 to see how far these teams have come. You could call this season the “anti-2014.” In 2014, these teams couldn’t get out of their own way and the division winner (Carolina) wasn’t so much the winner but just the team that didn’t lose the most. But this year is a different story and no team is going to win the division with a 7-8-1 record. With five games remaining each team is not only in the hunt for the division crown but also in position to get an NFC wild card berth as well.
New Orleans Saints (8-3)
As fun as it has been to watch the Saints storm through their eight-game win streak and back into the NFL’s conscience the fact remains that by this time next week the Saints could be in third place. Think about it. That’s hard to believe but true and an indication of just how hard it is to win in the NFL.
On top of that rough fact is a mounting injury problem developing with the squad right when you want everyone healthy. The team is missing starters at every level of the defense and Terron Armstead, the Saints best offensive lineman, is struggling to stay healthy.
But all is not lost Who Dat Nation. The Saints have already overcome the loss of Nick Fairley, Delvin Breaux and Zach Strief. The Saints also have you. As in, with five games to go three of their contests are in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in front of the faithful. Plus, out of the three teams, the Saints might have the easiest road (but all of these roads are tough).
After hosting Carolina on Sunday, the boys in Black and Gold travel to Atlanta next Thursday. Like I said, the line between first and third place is a thin one but, conceivably, over the next week the Saints could deliver a knockout blow to their NFC South rivals.
Carolina Panthers (8-3)
Look. I like the way Cam Newton dresses. That has nothing to do with this story but I just wanted to mention that the dude is fly.
Anyway, the Panthers will come to town this weekend sporting a four-game win streak and seem to be peaking for a stretch run. The Panthers will be looking for a bit of revenge for the 34-13 beat down the Saints gave them in Charlotte.
The Panthers are built around a tough defense and have a still-deadly weapon in Newton. They’ve already knocked off the Patriots in Foxboro so don’t expect them to be intimidated this weekend in the Superdome. Outside of a bizarre week seven loss to the hapless Chicago Bears, the Panthers are silently playing some of the best football in the league.
Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
For all of the Superbowl hangover talk and 28-3 jokes the fact remains that the Falcons have found their footing and have hustled their way back into the NFC South race.
Much like Carolina’s early win versus the Patriots, the Falcons went to Seattle and beat the Seahawks 34-31 in front of the 12th man. Not an easy task. Of course, tough jobs get a lot easier when you have an absolute beast of a receiver like Julio Jones, who put up TecmoBowl stats (12 catches, 253 yards) last week against, you guessed it, Tampa Bay. That should instill fear in your heart as you look at the injury report and still see Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley listed as questionable. Yikes.
In a beautiful twist for the NFL, the Falcons and Saints will meet twice in the last five weeks. The bitter rivals officially have the opportunity to put a stake in each other’s playoff-dreaming hearts. Next Thursday is going to be a wild one in Atlanta. Both teams realistically could be coming off of losses and there will be a sense of desperation in the air. Or both teams could continue their solid play and come in with wins and it will be a more heavyweight championship affair as the teams head into the late rounds of the season. Or the Saints win this week, Atlanta loses and then the Saints destroy them and crush any of their hopes for a division title.
I’m going with that one.
This time next week will be an entirely different picture for the division but two things will remain the same — its going to be a wild finish and everyone is happy they don’t have to root for the Buccaneers. Who Dat.