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NFC South Road Ahead: Week 13

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It’s time to take a look at what’s ahead for the NFC South on Thanksgiving Weekend.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC South is a ridiculous mess. It’s the NFL’s hottest mess, as written by the SB Nation mothership. In Week 12, the Saints needed a missed chip-shot field goal to beat the Panthers AT HOME and the Bucs dominated a Falcons team that had just dominated the other two teams in the division in back-to-back weeks. What’s going on with this division?

The NFC South title race may not be interesting, as the Saints have run away with first place. But all four teams are still interesting to keep up with, at the very least.

It’s time for a peek at the road ahead for the division in Week 13.

Updated NFC South Standings (Through Week 12)

  1. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
  2. Carolina Panthers (5-6)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (3-8)

NFC South Week 13 Schedule

Thursday Night Football: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (8:20 p.m.)

Overview: This is the second meeting between the Saints and Falcons in the month of November. Back on Nov. 10, Atlanta stunned New Orleans at the Superdome in dominating fashion, winning 26-9. In that game, the Falcons went up 13-3, then allowed the Saints to get it to 13-9 before going on a 13-0 fourth-quarter run to win in convincing fashion. Drew Brees was sacked six times and the Saints’ powerful offense was held without a touchdown. Matt Ryan wasn’t spectacular, but he did enough to complement his defense’s strong outing.

On Thanksgiving, the Falcons will try to recapture the same formula that led to their previous win over the Saints. They even get a chance to do it on their home field. But New Orleans will surely be looking to exact some revenge, especially considering how unimpressive it was in its Week 12 win. Atlanta’s offensive line was a mess on Sunday, which hurt the offense’s performance as a result. It’s hard to stop Brees and his talented weapons once. It’s even harder to do it twice in 3.5 weeks. This has the potential to be a fun game on Thanksgiving night, but it has just as much potential to be an easy New Orleans win.

Saints Outlook: The Saints haven’t been quite the same in the last few weeks, perhaps with the exception of their Week 11 win over the Bucs in Tampa. And despite there being some questions about the state of the team after a near-disaster at home against the Panthers this past Sunday, the Saints are still 9-2. They’re not far off from clinching the division. Plus, with Green Bay getting embarrassed by San Francisco on Sunday Night Football, New Orleans is now in position for a first-round bye in the playoffs. A win Thursday would obviously move them closer to the division title and help them stay on the 49ers’ tail for home-field advantage.

Falcons Outlook: Atlanta followed its Week 10 win over New Orleans with another impressive win over Carolina. Even at 3-7, things seemed to be trending in the right direction after such a terrible first half of the year. Instead, Dan Quinn and his team fell right back into sole possession of last place in the division with a bad loss on their home field to the Bucs. Quinn is firmly on the hot seat and every game the rest of the way will impact his future. The Falcons showed they could beat the Saints just three weeks ago, but it’s hard to see lightning striking twice (even if the game is at home).

My Pick: Saints 34, Falcons 20

Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers (1:00 p.m.)

Overview: Once 5-3, the Panthers have fallen hard. Losers of three straight, they return home this Sunday to host a Redskins team that is in an even worse position. This has all the makings of a “get right” game for Carolina, as Washington is one of the worst teams in the league. Kyle Allen was spectacular in last week’s close loss to the Saints, completing 23 of his 36 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Surely, the rest of this season will be important for his development and should tell the team’s front office whether or not he’s their quarterback of the future. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey remains as dangerous as ever. He could have a monster game against a defense that is ranked in the bottom five against the run.

While this could certainly be a big bounce-back game for the Panthers, the Redskins shouldn’t go down without a fight. They’re coming off of Dwayne Haskins’ first win as a starter. It took two Dustin Hopkins field goals in the final 1:49 to beat the Lions this past Sunday, and the Panthers aren’t exactly the Lions. But perhaps Haskins gained some confidence from the win, or maybe Derrius Guice and the rest of the Washington backfield can expose Carolina’s iffy run defense. Those are a lot of maybes. Yeah, this should be a win to get the Panthers back to .500.

Redskins Outlook: With a win last week, Washington hurt its draft positioning. The rest of 2019 is more or less about evaluating Dwayne Haskins and the rest of the roster. A top-five pick should still be in the cards, as the Redskins are 2-9 with games against the Panthers, Packers, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys left. Maybe they win that Giants game? But the best-case scenario — record-wise — right now is probably 3-13. The best-case scenario for their future? Losing out to finish 2-14. That probably starts on Sunday.

Panthers Outlook: The Panthers have played their way out of the playoff picture. At 5-6, there’s virtually no chance that enough goes right down the stretch for them to pass the Seahawks (9-2) or Vikings (8-3) for a Wild Card spot. As noted above, the rest of this season is about determining whether Kyle Allen is the future of the franchise. It doesn’t seem like Cam Newton will be back, so it’s time to decide what Allen can be for this offense.

My Pick: Panthers 24, Redskins 16

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars (1:00 p.m.)

Overview: An in-state battle (!!!)... between two 4-7 teams... We can only hope this game between the Bucs and Jaguars is as fun as the last time these two teams met, which was in 2015. The Bucs, with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, won that game in Tampa by a score of 38-31. Neither of these teams are going anywhere in 2019, but neither team is in full-on tank mode either. Both should show up for a fight on Sunday in Jacksonville, which could lead to a fun game to kick off the month of December.

Tampa Bay’s win over Atlanta in Week 12 was impressive in some ways, but it was still against a bad team. Jacksonville is better, but not by much. The Bucs will be looking to take advantage of a Jags defense that has allowed 42, 33 and 26 points in the last three weeks. There’s no Jalen Ramsey in that Jacksonville secondary, so we won’t get a marquee matchup between the loudmouth and Mike Evans. But it should still be a treat to watch Tampa Bay’s offense on Sunday, and it will be even more intriguing to see how the defense follows its big Week 12 performance. This could certainly be a game with a lot of points, but it’s one that the Bucs are capable of winning to stack victories for the first time this season.

Bucs Outlook: Tampa Bay is in full-on evaluation mode, though this team is still trying its best to win as many games as possible in 2019. The defense seems to be on the verge of coming together, but we’ll need to see some consistency from that unit before we can feel good about this team in 2020. Speaking of 2020, will Jameis Winston still be around as the team’s quarterback? Things seem to be heading in that direction, but the final stretch of this season will likely be a major factor in his future. Fans might be worried about draft positioning, but you know Bruce Arians and his team aren’t giving it an ounce of thought. These guys just want to win.

Jaguars Outlook: It’s been a weird year for Jacksonville. After losing their first two games, the Jaguars got back to 2-2. They’ve lost five of seven since, with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s trade demand being granted in the process. There’s still plenty of talent on this team, what with both Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in the quarterback room, Leonard Fournette in the backfield and D.J. Chark emerging as a dangerous receiver. The Jags are in a similar spot as the Bucs. They aren’t tanking, but they are likely headed for a rebuild/reset this offseason. That means — you guessed it — evaluation is the key for the final month of this season.

My Pick: Bucs 30, Jaguars 20