Determining which divisions are the best and worst in the league is always a subjective exercise.
It’s not as simple as looking at overall records, as teams in crappy divisions chalk up easy wins against weak division rivals and the opposite is true for divisions that are tough from top to bottom.
But it’s safe to say that something is amiss in the NFC South.
The reigning division champs have lost their identity
Carolina’s once-dominating front seven has been M.I.A. for two weeks straight.
The Panthers’ defense is ranked 27th in the league against the rush, giving up 140.8 yards per game on the ground. But what’s even more telling is the fact that opposing runners are averaging an incredible 5.7 yards per carry … that’s good for worst in the NFL.
With no real stars on offense to take the pressure off Cam Newton, it could be a long season unless this defense can get its identity back.
It’s OK to feature a rookie as your #1 wide receiver (Kelvin Benjamin, 21 rec, 329 yards, 3 TDs) and to average a paltry 71 yards rushing (29th in the NFL) when you hold the opponent to under 10 points, but as long as the Carolina D continues to front 30-plus points per game you can expect this team to keep losing.
Falling to pieces in New Orleans
The Saints have yet to win a game on the road. Until they do, we have to assume that this team is no longer a legitimate threat to win it all in 2014.
Much ado (by myself included) was made about New Orleans’ new-look secondary, with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd back at the safety positions, but four weeks in the Saints are tied for the fourth-worst pass defense in the NFL.
“When you start the season 1-3 and you get punched like that…very quickly we will find out what we are made of,” – Sean Payton #Saints
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 29, 2014
“Quickly” is most definitely the operative word here. Should they lose to the Bucs in week 5 at the Super Dome they’ll drop to 1-4, and that’s a pretty nasty hole to dig yourselves out of.
The last team to start 1-4 and make it to the playoffs was the 2002 NY Jets.
Falcons can’t outscore opponents every single week
Only one team is ranked lower in total defense than the Falcons, and the Jaguars have yet to win a game (or even compete for one).
On the other hand, Atlanta is tied for first in total offense (Indianapolis) and is second in points.
So what does one of the top offenses and one of the worst defenses work out to record-wise?
It’s great that Matt Ryan’s got his groove back, but over the long haul you can’t expect to win a shootout each and every week.
The Falcons are just as likely to win this division race as anybody, but their defense will need to improve if they want to go anywhere beyond the Wild Card round.
Tampa wins a game, but barely
Winning beats losing, and you can’t help but understand why the Bucs would want to revel in #VictoryMonday after Lovie Smith’s inaugural win as head coach. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here people. Tampa Bay is one of the worst teams in the NFL.
- Points – 18.0 (29th)
- Yards – 290-8 (30th)
- Passing Yards – 194.2 (32nd)
- Rushing Yards – 94.5 (24th)
I believe that Lovie Smith will get the Buccaneers back to playing winning football eventually, but I’m not so convinced that they’re destined to win more than four or five games in 2014. Beating the Saints in week 5 will be the first step towards proving me wrong.
Some see the glass ¼ full and some see it ¾ empty
There’s still three-quarters of a football season left to be played and plenty of time for all four of these clubs to reassert themselves with a new identity. But for now, the South stinks … and I’m not talking ’bout pickled pigs’ feet breath.
— Megan Riggs (@MeganRiggs1) January 31, 2014