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NFC South Road Ahead: Week 11

What lies ahead for the NFC South in Week 11?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe we’re already in the middle of November? That means the 2019 NFL season is more than halfway over, and theoretically, things should start heating up down the stretch.

However, in the NFC South, it feels like we’re a little ways off from seeing things heat up. The race for the division crown only really has two teams, with the leader looking like a lock to win it.

Nonetheless, each and every Saturday as the season winds down, we’ll be checking in on the division to see what lies ahead.

Updated NFC South Standings (Through Week 10)

  1. New Orleans Saints (7-2)
  2. Carolina Panthers (5-4)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (2-7)

NFC South Week 11 Schedule

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1:00 p.m.

Overview: The Saints and Bucs are set to meet for the second time this season, with the first coming in New Orleans back on Oct. 6. The Saints won that game 31-24 without Drew Brees, who has since returned from injury. There could be a lot of offense at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. On the New Orleans side, Brees and Michael Thomas look like a mismatch for the young Buccaneer secondary, which will be without the recently released Vernon Hargreaves III. A cornerback group led by a second-year guy and two rookies against a future Hall of Famer in Brees and one of the league’s best receivers in Thomas? Yikes.

There is hope for Tampa Bay, though, as New Orleans comes in pretty banged-up. Left guard Andrus Peat is out with a broken arm, which could open up some opportunities for Vita Vea to get some pressure up the middle. Plus, the Bucs were without Jason Pierre-Paul for their last game against the Saints, so his return could be impactful in this game, considering Todd Bowles will need his pass rush to get home early and often. On the other side of the ball is perhaps an even bigger injury for New Orleans, as cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who was largely responsible for holding Mike Evans without a catch during their October meeting, has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. That could mean big day for Evans and Chris Godwin if Jameis Winston can take care of the football. These two teams typically play each other pretty well, so Sunday’s game could be a good one.

Saints Outlook: New Orleans is no doubt looking to right the wrongs of last week’s embarrassing loss to the last-place Falcons. Losing that game the way they did, especially with Brees being healthy, was a bad look. Dropping a second straight to a divisional opponent would be an even worse look, though it still wouldn’t be cause for panic in the Big Easy. A win here solidifies the Saints’ NFC South lead and ties them with the idle Packers for the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

Bucs Outlook: At 3-6, playoffs are an afterthought for Tampa Bay right now. Instead, the goal should be progress. A win, of course, would be a huge indicator of progress. The Bucs have yet to win back-to-back games under Bruce Arians, and they’re looking to earn a season split with the Saints for the fifth straight season. Getting to 4-6 wouldn’t exactly inspire a presale for NFC Wild Card tickets, but it would represent a step in the right direction for a young team that is still learning how to win. If you manage to beat a team like the Saints, you have to feel pretty good about it.

My Pick: Saints 38, Bucs 31

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers — 1:00 p.m.

Overview: This is the first meeting between the two teams this season, with the second coming on Dec. 8. Being that this game is in Charlotte and the Panthers are the better team overall, this one should go in their favor. Ron Rivera’s defense might be bad against the run, but the Falcons have one of the worst rushing attacks in the league this year. Plus, the Carolina pass rush is extremely formidable. And on offense, Kyle Allen should do enough to complement what is sure to be a big day for Christian McCaffrey against an Atlanta defense that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL.

But on the flip side, might the Falcons have figured some things out last week? That remains to be seen, but they have to feel good about Matt Ryan leading the way into Carolina. The veteran quarterback is 6-1 against the Panthers in his last seven games against them. He hasn’t had the best season in 2019, but he and Julio Jones — with Calvin Ridley in the mix as well — can still be dangerous. With James Bradberry returning from a groin injury, Donte Jackson listed as questionable with a hip injury and Ross Cockrell out with a quad injury, the Carolina secondary could be vulnerable for Ryan to feast on.

Falcons Outlook: Despite their win last week, the Falcons are still in the middle of a lost season. Dan Quinn is on the hot seat, which means every game the rest of the way will have big implications for him. Whether his team responds or not will say a lot about his future with the organization. This doesn’t feel like a team that will play for a better draft position, so expect a hungry Atlanta team to show up to Bank of America Stadium eyeing the upset.

Panthers Outlook: The Panthers, somewhat surprisingly, find themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff picture even with Cam Newton sidelined for the last seven games. Allen has stepped in and played pretty well, while McCaffrey has continued to carry the offense on his back. The team likely has a bad taste in its mouth after a 24-16 loss to the Packers at Lambeau last week. They can rectify that this week. A home victory over the rival Falcons would put them at 6-4, which keeps them heavily in the running for a wild card spot. If you want to get even crazier, a win paired with a Saints loss would have them just one game back of the division lead with both of their matchups against New Orleans still on the schedule.

Pick: Panthers 28, Falcons 24