With the Saints on a Bye, It's Time to Take a Glance at the NFC South

The week seems so dull without Saints football, doesn’t it?  It’s always a weird feeling flipping through the channels during the first round of matchups on Sundays and realizing that the Black and Gold won’t be taking the field for another week.  Then again, there’s always a positive for fans during the bye week.  For one week during the year, every member of the “Who Dat Nation” can take a breather, grab a nice lunch and relax as they take a peek at the other 31 teams in the league.  Of course, when the Saints aren’t playing on Sundays, three other squads immediately grab the attention of any hardcore Saints fanatic:  the Atlanta Falcons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers.

In recent weeks, the battle for the NFC South crown has slowly heated up.  After taking down both the Bucs and the Falcons over the course of the last two weeks, the Saints have been sitting comfortably atop the division.  With the Week Eleven bye, though, these same squads had an opportunity to gain some ground.  The Falcons did just that with a 23-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday; the same cannot be said for the Buccaneers, who fell to the undefeated Packers in a 35-26 contest.  With that loss, the Buccaneers are slowly dropping out of potential playoff contention, as their 4-6 record will make it difficult for any playoff dreams to transform into realities.  On the other hand, the Falcons are slowly beginning to creep up on the first-place Saints once again, as their 6-4 record sticks them one game under their division rivals in New Orleans.

So how does the remainder of the season look for these three squads?  Let’s take a look, shall we? 

Although they have what appears to be a monstrous hill to climb, the Buccaneers’ schedule may provide them with all of the equipment needed to overcome the obstacle.  Before the season comes to a close, Tampa Bay will take on Tennessee (5-5), the Carolina Panthers (2-8), the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7), the Dallas Cowboys (6-4), the Panthers for a second time and then the Falcons in the season finale in the Georgia Dome.  If the Bucs find a way to win the remainder of their contests, they would be sitting with a 10-6 record and a 5-1 record within the division, sticking them right back in the playoff hunt.

For the Falcons, life shouldn’t be too much more difficult.  In the next six weeks, the Falcons will take on the Minnesota Vikings (2-8), the Matt Schaub-less Houston Texans (7-3), the Panthers, the Jaguars, the Saints (in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday Night Football) and the Buccaneers.  All in all, the last two weeks of the season will be the toughest challenge for Matt Ryan and the “Dirty Birds,” and the Week 16 matchup in “The Big Easy” the day after Christmas could have some serious implications.  It should be interesting to see how both of the Saints’ key division rivals play out the remainder of the year.

Finally, we take a glance at the hometown boys, as the Saints’ schedule appears to be a tad more challenging.  In Week Twelve, the Black and Gold take on New Orleans-native Eli Manning and the New York Giants (6-4), followed by the Detroit Lions (7-3), the Titans, the Vikings, the Falcons and the Panthers.  Out of those six squads, three could pose serious threats to the Saints’ division title hopes, assuming that New Orleans takes care of business against the lesser threats on the schedule (Because we all remember how that “free win” contest against the St. Louis Rams (2-8) went.).

When you take a look at the big picture, the NFC South crown remains up for grabs.  Any hiccups along the way could prove to be fatal for any of the three premier clubs within the division.  For the sake of the “Who Dat Nation,” let’s hope the Black and Gold have their remedies ready just in case one of those hiccups begins to take form.

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