The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold their bye week, and that means we get to watch the team's division rivals lose tomorrow. That's what I hope is going to happen, at least. Let's go through those three NFC South games and see how the teams match up.
The Atlanta Falcons have been steamrolling the NFL so far this year. They're 4-0, their offense looks explosive and powerful and their defense is surprisingly strong. Matt Ryan looks like a much-improved quarterback this season, as he seems quicker in his mechanics and better inside the pocket.
But they have weaknesses: the defense has been playing well, but lacks quality. They have no real pass rush, while the secondary is weak. So far, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has managed to compensate for those weaknesses with scheme and deception, but he can't keep that up forever. At some point, they will crack.
The Washington Redskins may just be the team to crack that defense. As we saw against the Bucs, they have a versatile offense and Robert Griffin III is no slouch. They should be able to run all over the surprisingly weak Falcons run defense (29th in rush yards allowed, allowing 5.2 yards per carry), and if the Washington defense can hold up this should be a victory for the Redskins.
Unfortunately, as we could also see against the Bucs last week, the Redskins defense is terrible and depleted. The Atlanta Falcons offense is on fire, especially the ridiculously productive pass defense, and they should be able to carve up Washington. The Falcons aren't invincible, but they certainly look like the class of the NFC right now.
This matchup should be interesting. Cam Newton finally had a productive game last week, yet the team still lost because they couldn't contain the Atlanta Falcons. There's no shame in that, as the Falcons are really good, but they're facing a different beast this week.
The Seattle Seahawks are absolutely terrible on offense: the running game is working decently, but Russell Wilson is quite simply not good enough to be a starting NFL quarterback right now. That leads to low-scoring, ugly games based on defense and the running game. Good old Buc Ball.
The question isn't whether the Seahawks are going to put up points, because they won't - even against a lackluster Panthers defense that lacks quality at every position except linebacker. The question is whether the Panthers can be productive against a very stout Seahawks defense. That defense is one of the best in the league against the run, and very good against the pass. They have a quality pass rush and, more importantly, a secondary riddled with talent.
Despite the focus on Cam Newton's shortcomings this year, he has actually been relatively productive as a passer. He is ranked first in the league in Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, a statistic that takes sack yardage into account. Five interceptions make that production look worse, but stories of Newton's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Can he produce against Seattle, though?
Well, the New Orleans Saints are terrible this year. Who saw that coming after an offseason filled with drama and disaster, including a season-long suspension for the head coach and a six-game suspension for his prospective replacement. Add to that the Drew Brees contract squabble that was eventually settled, and we do not have a recipe for success.
So far, that has shown on the field. This team looks nothing like previous New Orleans teams, mostly because Drew Brees is struggling to connect with his receivers. He's completed just 57.6% of his passes - some ten percentage points below his normal performance - and simply isn't as accurate as he was in previous years. Meanwhile, Marques Colston appears to have lost a lot of explosion after years of annual knee surgery and even Darren Sproles has been mediocre. The team has a stable of talented runners, but can't get any push without Carl Nicks: Mark Ingram is running at a clip of 2.8 yards per carry.
Finally, the Saints defense is absolutely terrible. They have no pass rushers whatsoever, while their new coordinator specializes in defenses who can pressure with four players. Spagnuolo doesn't have the talent to run a good defense in New Orleans, where even the free agent additions at linebacker look mediocre. The Saints will always be dangerous as long as they have Drew Brees, but this team is having a terrible year.
Facing off against the San Diego Chargers won't help them much, as the Chargers have looked pretty good so far this year. Their offense has been high-powered in every game, except against the Atlanta Falcons, while the defense has been surprisingly sturdy. Quite frankly, there's really no reason for them to struggle against the Saints - but this is a Norv Turner-coached team.