Getting the Big Picture: NFC South Playoff Implications (Week 15)

Austin Penny@@AustinPennyAnalyst IDecember 12, 2008

The New Orleans vs. Chicago game was already in the books by the time this was published, so the preview will not be included.  With Robbie Gould’s overtime field goal for the Bears, the Saints have been pretty much eliminated from playoff contention. 

Their best possible record they could finish with is 9-7 and it is unlikely that any of the teams sitting in the NFC playoff picture will go down the drain enough to allow New Orleans to sneak into the playoffs. 

Thursday marked the third straight year that the Saints’ season has effectively ended in Chicago at Soldier Field.

There are two big games involving NFC South teams this weekend and the playoff race is getting tighter as we head down the home stretch. 


Carolina……..10-3……..vs. Denver

Tampa Bay….9-4………@ Atlanta

Atlanta………..8-5………vs. Tampa Bay

Saints………….7-7………@ Chicago (L 24-27)


Tampa Bay @ Atlanta  Sunday 1pm  FOX

Tampa Bay will be looking to rebound after their disappointing Monday Night loss to the Panthers.  Atlanta will be in the same boat as they look to keep their wild card hopes alive after a tough loss in New Orleans last week. 

Both teams struggled on defense but according to the match ups, that hurts Tampa Bay more.  Tampa allowed a combined 301 yards on the ground between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on Monday, and if they cannot shore up their defense before this week’s game, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood will have a field day. 

The Bucs will look to improve upon their offensive line’s play, as Jeff Garcia has been sacked 15 times in the last four games.  Monday was no exception, as Garcia hit the deck five times—tying a season high.

The Falcons have played much better at the Georgia Dome this year than they have on the road, and the atmosphere there will play a big part in the game on Sunday. 

The crowd noise will play a factor in Tampa Bay’s play calling, as audibles will be tough to relay at the line of scrimmage.

If Atlanta can pull off the win, they will own the tiebreaker for second place in the NFC South over the Buccaneers based on a better record in common games.

Whichever way the game goes, the victor will pretty much have a chokehold on an NFC Wild Card spot and if the Panthers slip up at home to Denver, the division race will still be up in the air for the last two weeks of the season.

In the teams’ first meeting this year, Tampa Bay laid down a 24-9 thumping on Atlanta in Matt Ryan’s first road game. 

His quarterback rating dropped from a 137.0 in the opening day victory over Detroit to an abysmal 29.6 in Tampa as he completed only 13 of 33 passes for 158 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The Bucs' defense also dragged Ryan down four times on the day.

Much has changed since then, as Ryan has emerged as the best rookie quarterback in the league and the Atlanta Falcons have turned from a rebuilding team to a team on the cusp of a playoff berth. 


Denver @ Carolina  Sunday 4:15pm  FOX

The Panthers will look to go undefeated at home for the first time since the 1996 season on Sunday when they host the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos.

The Panthers are coming off of an emotional victory on Monday night over Tampa Bay and will be looking to avoid a hangover against the league’s second best offense. 

Despite the fact that the Broncos top five running backs are on injured reserve, Denver averages just less than 400 yards per game of total offense.

Jay Cutler has been up and down all year and said himself that when he is good, he is really good and when he is bad, he is really bad. 

Cutler has thrown at least one interception in 10 of the Broncos 13 games this year and has 15 total on the season.  Despite that glaring stat the Broncos offensive line has performed well this year and Cutler has been sacked only seven times all season.  Rookie offensive tackle Ryan Clady has exceeded expectations on that offensive line. 

The Panthers will look for more of the same from their offense.  DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for just over 300 yards on Monday night and they should have no problem moving the ball on the ground as the Broncos’ 28th ranked defense is terrible against the run. 

Their pass defense isn’t much better and with Champ Bailey questionable, Jake Delhomme could prosper and Steve Smith could have another big game like he did on Monday.

Two former Panthers will be making return trips to Bank of America Stadium as both of the Broncos starting safeties—Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel—have played for Carolina in recent years.

The match up to watch will be the Panthers defense against Cutler and the Broncos’ passing game.  With wide receivers Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley, and rookie Eddie Royal, the Broncos have viable threats at their top three receiver positions. 

The Panthers defense has been suspect when it comes to defending the pass this year and they will need big games from the entire secondary, most notably Ken Lucas, who has struggled in recent weeks after a great start to the year.

If the Panthers win and the Cowboys lose, or any one of a few other combinations plays out, the Panthers will be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 when they lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.


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