We are in week 10 and most teams have had their bye week or are on their bye this week. That means that we are officially just past the mid-way point of the season and can start drawing some conclusions. In this article, we take a look at the NFC South.
The Buccaneers are the cream of the South this season. This comes as no real suprise, as Anthony has built a successful franchise that competes year after year. In fact, he's had at least 10 wins every year since the NFL/GZL merger. This is quite a feat, not many GM's can hang their hat on that achievement. This year will be no different, with the Bucs holding a 7-2 record to this point. Their offense is simply dominating people. Averaging an astounding 32 points per game while racking up over 400 yards of total offense each game. The defensive side of the ball is no easy target either, holding opponents to less than 20 points per game and, in particular, harassing opposing QB's to the tune of a 69 QBR against. The Bucs are +4 in turnover ratio and don't look to be slowing down. They completely demolished the poor Bengals this week to the tune of 45-10. They have a relatively easy ride the rest of the season with teams mostly in the bottom half of the league, most under 500. They do have another match-up with the Saints who are the only NFC South team to hold a winning record against the Bucs since the merger. I fully expect the Bucs to run away with the division this year with a 13-3 record.
Next up are those very Saints. They hold steady at 4-4 thus far, but coming off an intra-division loss to the Falcons this week. The team was built by Adam Sloat, who abruptly left the team during their bye week to have newcomer Jordan Goodman take over. The Sloat Saints were coming to the end of a rebuild period, and Goodman has done well to come in and keep the ball rolling. It will take some time for Goodman to really dive in and get a handle on his personnel and how best to utilize them. It is usually quite the learning process to take over a team someone else built, figuring out what they were doing and how. That has shown as Goodman is 1-2 since taking over, with losses to the Falcons and Packers. The rest of the schedule isn't particularly kind with match-ups against the Bucs, Steelers, and Ravens left as well as two tilts with the Panthers and a rematch with the Falcons. The offense has generally struggled, averaging less than 300 yards per game and just over 20 points per game. QB Jay Cutler, brought in to be the savior, has been far from, compiling just a 69 QBR through 8 games. First round pick Ricky Austin has played very well on defense, leading the team in tackles with 54 including 7 for loss. I feel the Saints continue the same pace that they have all season and wind up with an 8-8 record when the dust clears.
The Panthers are a team that has struggled to find a identity. They stand at 4-5 on the season, with a bulk of their intradivision games yet to play. This includes two games against both the Bucs and the Saints. They also have the Packers during a brutal last three game stretch where they are at the Bucs and Packers on the road only to come home to finish the season against the Bucs again. This reminds me of last year where the Panthers were cruising along nicely until the last quarter of the season doomed their play-off chances. The offense is playing just well enough to be competitive, averaging just 23 points per game and 355 yards per contest. The defense is giving up 24 a game and 341 yards per contest. They have been able to harass the opposing QB's pretty well, leading to a 76 QBR against and a +3 turnover ratio. Where they seem to have really struggled is in their running game. After rushing for 1800 yards and a 5.0 ypc average, second year running back and reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, Gerard Campbell has been fairly pedestrian in his second season. He's down to just 4.2 yards per carry and has already fumbled as many times as he did all of last season. In fact, he only played 13 games in his rookie season as the primary back, which puts those 1800 yards into much more of a phenomenon. Through 9 games this season, he's yet to reach the 800 yard mark and has not averaged better than 4.8 ypc in a single game. One wonders if there was a change in gameplan or if defenses have just figured out how to tame the beast. What we do know about the Panthers is that they need to fire their training staff. They have 5 players out with significant injuries right now, including 3 with season ending injuries. This has been most devastating on their defensive backfield, with 3 DB's out with big injuries. The combination of the injuries and a simply brutal schedule for the second half means that the Panthers will end up with a 6-10 record if they are lucky.
This leaves us with my own Falcons. What can I really say, the Falcons have played pretty poorly for the most part. Most of it lies on the shoulders of Matt Ryan and possibly the receiving corps. Matt Ryan seems to have been seriously effected by the fact that the front office drafted Bo Callahan in the first round last year. He has played like garbage all season, posting a 63 QBR and completing less than half of his passes. WR Anthony Perez has developed a serious case of the dropsies, with 8 drops already. Interestingly, despite a major restructure of the offensive line, Ryan has actually only been sacked 4 times all season, though he has felt some pressure in some games that didn't turn into sacks. The bright spot on offense has been the stellar play of RB Mario Fannin. Fannin is following up a very good 2016 campaign with an even better 2017. He's averaging 5.6 ypc, already has 7 touchdowns on the ground and almost 1000 yards through 9 games. At this pace, he should reach the 1700 yard mark for the first time in his career. The defense has left much to be desired. New addition Matt Diaz has played pretty well, currently second in the league in interceptions with 5 and has 13 deflections to go with the INT's against only 13 catches allowed, but he is really the only shining star in the defensive backfield. Lofton continues to lead the team in tackles with 63 (8 TFL) and Robert Quinn has had a nice resurgence to sit at second in the league with 7 sacks after only getting 3 last season. Pressure has been a problem for the Falcons despite the good numbers from Quinn. In fact, the defensive line account for all but 1 of the sacks this season. This shows by the fact that opponent QB's have a 97 QBR against the Falcons. They are also giving up nearly 400 yards per game and 28 points per game. The Falcons need something to shake them up if they even hope to compete for a wild card spot this year. They take on the Steelers in week 10 and have a somewhat soft schedule the rest of the way, though many of the teams are similar in caliber as these Falcons. I expect to see Bo Callahan sooner rather than later for the Falcons as they try to get him some snaps for the performance progression and we may even see Matt Ryan get moved. The Falcons end up 7-9 this year.