Atlanta Falcons Wrap Up Division Title, and More NFC South News

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 3, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 29:  Corey Peters #91 and Jonathan Babineaux #95 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after Peters intercepted a pass by Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints that was overturned on a Falcons offsides penalty at Georgia Dome on November 29, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With a win on Thursday over the New Orleans Saints and with the help of the Denver Broncos, who handed Tampa Bay a loss Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons have clinched the NFC South crown.

The Falcons have now won division titles five times in franchise history: 1980, 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2012. With a trip to the playoffs impending, the Falcons have qualified for the playoffs in each of the last three seasons—the first time a string of three straight playoffs trips have been strung together.

With four games left on the schedule and a 2.5-game lead on the San Francisco 49ers for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the coaching staff will need to make a decision on their strategy for handling the period leading up to the playoffs.

Head coach Mike Smith hasn't commented on any playoff talk and even told the media Friday that he wouldn't watch the Tampa Bay game Sunday, instead choosing to spend time with his family and watch film on Carolina.

With the No. 1 seed close to locked up, will the Falcons rest players to enter the postseason healthy? A shoulder injury to cornerback Asante Samuel and a nagging ankle injury for wide receiver Julio Jones are big items that may need to be addressed.

But momentum is another. The Falcons were bounced from the playoffs in each of the last two season by the hottest team entering postseason play: the Green Bay Packers in 2010 and the New York Giants in 2011.

Would the Falcons rather have momentum like that or a completely rested football team?


Atlanta Falcons

Even though the Falcons beat the Saints, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave Matt Ryan a failing grade for Thursday night's performance.

The Atlanta Field Report grades offered a rosy picture, but warned that the team needed to find a way to fix its third-down problems on offense.


Carolina Panthers

Not only did the Panthers lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Charlotte Observer reported that safety Sherrod Martin was on crutches in the locker room and wide receiver Brandon LaFell suffered a foot injury that may be serious.

Carolina's only top grade was given to Cam Newton Sunday. Every other grade handed out by the Charlotte Observer was lower.


New Orleans Saints

Larry Holder from the Times-Picayune is updating the status from Monday's bounty appeals hearing all day.

The Times-Picayune offers play-by-play observations from Thursday's loss to the Falcons.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pewter Report looks at the most impressive and most disappointing aspects of Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos.

The Tampa Tribune thinks the playoff hopes for Tampa Bay took a huge hit Sunday.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.