Midseason report: NFC South MVPs

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
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Midseason MVPs: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are my picks for midseason most valuable player for each team in the division:

Atlanta Falcons: Michael Turner

The Falcons were very up and down early in the season before going on their current three-game winning streak. Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White aren’t having great statistical years. But there has been one common thread in the games in which the Falcons have played well. Turner and the running game have been strong in each of those games. For all the offseason talk about improving the downfield passing game, the coaching staff seems to have come to the realization that the real key to the offense is Turner and the running game. When Turner is running well, the deep passing game can come naturally.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDrafting Cam Newton has paid off for the Panthers.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton

General manager Marty Hurney took the gamble of his life when he used the No. 1 overall draft pick on Newton. Critics questioned Newton’s accuracy and said he might have trouble running an NFL offense after running a very basic one at Auburn. Well, it took all of two games (both with more than 400 passing yards) for Newton to silence the critics. There’s no doubt Hurney finally got this team a franchise quarterback, and Newton has brought hope to a fan base that’s been depressed for a couple of years. Yes, the Panthers are only 2-6. There’s room for Newton to improve, particularly when it comes to avoiding turnovers. But he has shown he can put points on the board in a hurry. That’s something Carolina never has had before. Once the Panthers are able to fine-tune their defense, this team will be a contender throughout Newton’s career.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

Running back Darren Sproles was my second choice and I know a lot of fans would put him ahead of Brees. There’s no question Sproles has been a wonderful addition to the Saints. But I’ve got to stick with Brees. Although his 11 interceptions are a bit troubling, Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season (5,084). Sproles has been a huge upgrade over Reggie Bush. If Brees can upgrade Marino’s record, that’s MVP material. And I'm not just talking about MVP for the Saints. I'm talking about MVP for the entire NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber

In a season in which the Bucs have been more up and down than any NFC South team, Barber has been the one exception. At 36, the cornerback has shown no signs of slowing down, and with the possible exception of left tackle Donald Penn, he has been the team’s most consistent player. Barber has two interceptions, a sack and has recorded the first safety of his career. This is a player who has started every game since 1999. If the Bucs could just take a little bit of Barber’s stability and rub it off on his younger teammates, this team would be in much better shape.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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