It’s taken 17 weeks and 16 games but the NFC South will have a division winner on Sunday. The race is between New Orleans and Carolina after the Saints knocked the Falcons out of title contention with a victory last week, avenging an earlier loss to Atlanta that had created a three-way tie at the top. With a win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, the Saints can clinch their first division title since 2011 and their third NFC South crown.
The division is volatile heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The Saints can finish anywhere between a No. 3 and No. 5 seed and the Panthers could rise to the No. 2 seed if things play out their way. Carolina has clinched a playoff spot and can take the division with a win and a Saints loss. They could also rise to a No. 2 seed if the Rams and Vikings both lose. The Panthers might be the hottest team in the division having won three straight and seven of their last eight. But two losses to the Saints took control of their fate out of their hands.
The Saints and Panthers are in no matter what. Meanwhile, the Falcons have the most on the line in their Week 17 contest with Carolina. A victory at home would give the NFC South three playoff teams for the first time and also give the division three 10-win teams for just the second time. The division has come a long way since the 2014 season when Carolina claimed the title with a losing record. The South has represented the NFC in each of the past two Super Bowls and the odds increase with three teams taking part in the tournament.
The only thing we know heading into Week 17 is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be home once the postseason begins. A disappointing campaign after coming so close to reaching the playoffs last season has rumors flying about Dirk Koetter’s job security. There are no moral victories in the game and three straight losses by a field goal and a fourth by six points in overtime has only added to the frustration.
New Orleans Saints -190
Carolina Panthers +400
Atlanta Falcons N/A
Tampa Bay Buccaneers N/A
1. New Orleans Saints ( 11-4 SU, 9-6 ATS, 8-7 O/U )
1. Carolina Panthers ( 11-4 SU, 9-6 ATS, 9-6 O/U )
3. Atlanta Falcons ( 9-6 SU, 6-9 ATS, 5-10 O/U )
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers ( 4-11 SU, 5-9-1 ATS, 7-8 O/U )
Panthers at Falcons ( -4, 45 ), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET – FOX
Saints at Buccaneers ( +6.5, 49.5 ), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET – FOX
It was a disastrous 2016 for the Carolina Panthers, who followed up a 15-1 season and a Super Bowl appearance with a losing season.
Star quarterback Cam Newton regressed and injuries also took their toll on the team.
Carolina has many of the same key players in the fold and will aim for a bounceback. The Falcons overtook the Panthers for the NFC South title last season and subsequently made it to the Super Bowl themselves. The division will be competitive with the Saints and Buccaneers also in the fold, but the Panthers do have the ability to bounce back and make a push for the playoffs again in 2017. Continue
The Atlanta Falcons had a tremendous season in 2016, winning their division and advancing to the Super Bowl. However, there is a bitter taste in the team’s mouth as it famously blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead against the New England Patriots to fall short of the title.
While offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has departed to coach the San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons have a lot of the same players returning as they hope to make another deep playoff run. The offense was humming at an unstoppable pace at the end of last year, and quarterback Matt Ryan and elite wide receiver Julio Jones hopes to lead the way again. Continue
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2016 season with a winning record. That has not happened since 2010. The team progressed this season on the defensive side of the ball under the direction Mike Smith. However, the offensive side of the ball seemed to stall under the direction of new Head Coach Dirk Koetter
It took some time for the Buccaneers defense to come around. In Weeks 8 and 9 the team gave up more than 1,000 yards of offense. The team came off of a Thursday night game with a mini-bye week and the tune changed. The unit responded and clamped down helping the Bucs go on a five-game win streak and get into playoff contention. Continue
The New Orleans Saints have walked a familiar road the past few seasons -- a dominant offense coupled with a woeful defense. The mastery of Drew Brees has kept the team competitive but New Orleans has slowly dropped off after winning the Super Bowl in 2010.
Brees is getting up in age but he still continues to play at an elite level. New Orleans added running back Adrian Peterson to pair with Mark Ingram as an interesting backfield, but the team’s fate will once again ride on the defense. While defensive end Cameron Jordan is a star, there aren’t many above-average pieces around him and that must change. Continue
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