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NFC South midseason recap

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The first half of the 2019 season hasn’t been kind to the Buccaneers. Let’s check in on the NFC South at the midway point of the year.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The midway point of the 2019 NFL season is here, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are nowhere near where they want to be. With the arrival of Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles, the Bucs were expected to take a step up from their back-to-back 5-11 records in 2017 and 2018. Right now, they’re on pace for 4-12. That. Isn’t. Good.

But despite their struggles, they aren’t even the most miserable team in the NFC South right now. With that in mind, let’s check in on the division as a whole through eight games.

1. New Orleans Saints (7-1)

Total Offense: 14th (375.2 yards per game)

Scoring Offense: 15th (24.4 points per game)

Passing Offense: 10th (261.0 passing yards per game)

Rushing Offense: 15th (114.2 rushing yards per game)

Total Defense: 5th (316.5 yards allowed per game)

Scoring Defense: 10th (19.5 points allowed per game)

Passing Defense: 16th (232.2 passing yards allowed per game)

Rushing Defense: 4th (84.2 rushing yards allowed per game)

Best Win: 33-27 at Seattle Seahawks

Worst Loss: 27-9 at Los Angeles Rams

Offensive MVP: Teddy Bridgewater — 132-of-195 (67.7%), 1,370 passing yards, 9 TD, 2 INT

Defensive MVP: Cameron Jordan — 28 tackles (19 solo), 8 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 1 FR

Recap: It’s odd to say that the Saints’ offensive MVP so far this season is now on the bench for the foreseeable future, but that’s how important Teddy Bridgewater was in the first half. When Drew Brees went down with an injury, Bridgewater stepped in and went 5-0 as New Orleans’ starter, keeping the team atop the NFC even without its future Hall of Fame quarterback. It wasn’t always pretty, but Bridgewater helped the offense complement what has been a pretty strong defense, which has been led by Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore. With Brees back and the defense playing well, the Saints are still a top-tier Super Bowl contender.

2. Carolina Panthers (5-3)

Total Offense: 22nd (339.8 yards per game)

Scoring Offense: 10th (26.1 points per game)

Passing Offense: 25th (206.9 passing yards per game)

Rushing Offense: 7th (132.9 rushing yards per game)

Total Defense: 19th (360.4 yards allowed per game)

Scoring Defense: 21st (25.5 points allowed per game)

Passing Defense: 9th (227.0 passing yards allowed per game)

Rushing Defense: 26th (133.4 rushing yards allowed per game)

Best Win: 16-10 at Houston Texans

Worst Loss: 51-13 at San Francisco 49ers

Offensive MVP: Christian McCaffrey — 165 rush, 865 yards, 5.3 YPC, 10 TD; 42 rec, 363 yards, 8.6 YPR, 3 rec TD

Defensive MVP: Luke Kuechly — 78 tackles (44 solo), 5 TFL, 7 PD, 2 INT

Recap: Cam Newton played in just two games this season and lost both of them. But rookie quarterback Kyle Allen has stepped in and performed admirably, helping Carolina to a 5-1 record in his six starts. But the Panthers wouldn’t be where they are without the MVP-caliber play of Christian McCaffrey. He has been one of the league’s best players through eight games, carrying the load for the offense with Newton sidelined. The defense, with the help of a stout pass rush and the always-steady Luke Kuechly, has given the team a good chance to win in six of their eight games. The inexperience of Allen may catch up to them eventually, but the Panthers have an outside shot at stealing an NFC Wild Card spot.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)

Total Offense: 13th (376.6 yards per game)

Scoring Offense: 4th (28.8 points per game)

Passing Offense: 7th (277.4 passing yards per game)

Rushing Offense: 19th (99.2 rushing yards per game)

Total Defense: 23rd (371.6 yards allowed per game)

Scoring Defense: 31st (31.5 points allowed per game)

Passing Defense: 31st (293.5 passing yards allowed per game)

Rushing Defense: 1st (78.1 rushing yards allowed per game)

Best Win: 55-40 at Los Angeles Rams

Worst Loss: 32-31 loss vs. New York Giants

Offensive MVP: Mike Evans — 50 rec, 842 yards, 16.8 YPR, 7 TD, 105.3 YPG

Defensive MVP: Lavonte David — 62 tackles (39 solo), 1 sack, 6.5 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT

Recap: The Buccaneers could realistically have between four and six wins right now. Instead, they have two. A horrific pass defense has been the biggest culprit, while some inconsistency on the part of quarterback Jameis Winston has also hurt at times. But Winston has put the team in position to win more games than they have, thanks in large part to the play of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The front seven hasn’t been a problem for Tampa Bay, as Vita Vea and Lavonte David have led a fantastic run defense while Shaquil Barrett has provided a huge boost for the pass rush. But the Bucs just haven’t found ways to win, as four of their six losses have been by one possession. The rest of the season will be all about building for the future yet again.

4. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

Total Offense: 9th (385.2 yards per game)

Scoring Offense: 20th (20.6 points per game)

Passing Offense: 1st (316.8 passing yards per game)

Rushing Offense: 29th (68.5 rushing yards per game)

Total Defense: 25th (379.5 yards allowed per game)

Scoring Defense: 30th (31.3 points allowed per game)

Passing Defense: 23rd (261.1 passing yards allowed per game)

Rushing Defense: 21st (118.4 rushing yards allowed per game)

Best Win: 24-20 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Worst Loss: 34-33 at Arizona Cardinals

Offensive MVP: Julio Jones — 50 rec, 712 yards, 14.2 YPR, 4 TD, 89.0 YPG

Defensive MVP: Grady Jarrett — 44 tackles (22 solo), 3 sacks, 9 TFL, 2 FF

Recap: The Falcons have been a disaster in 2019. They haven’t been able to run the ball, Matt Ryan got out to a terrible start with six interceptions in the first three games and the defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody. Even Matt Bryant struggled badly enough to be released by the team. Julio Jones has still been Julio Jones, Austin Hooper has stepped up nicely and the defense has seen some good from Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones. But the addition of former Buccaneer head coach Dirk Koetter to the coaching staff hasn’t been much of a help, and with seven losses in eight games, head coach Dan Quinn’s seat is pretty hot. As much of a letdown as Tampa Bay has been in 2019, Atlanta has been even worse.