Final Word: NFC South

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

High-powered offenses: Assuming the Saints play their starters, and they say they will, their game with the Panthers may look like a mismatch at first glance. But, look again. The Panthers are a much better team than they were earlier in the year. They’ve won four of their past five games and they’ve scored 164 points in that span. Since Week 12, only the Saints (189 points) and the Patriots (171) have scored more points. Carolina also has won three straight road games after snapping a 12-game road losing streak.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireMatt Ryan is 73 yards away from setting the Atlanta franchise record for passing yards in a season.
Bright spot: The Falcons can take a bit of good news out of Monday night’s loss to New Orleans. They’re very good at bouncing back from a loss. The Falcons have not lost back-to-back games since 2009.

Erasing Jeff George: Like the Saints, the Falcons also are saying they’ll play their starters. Let’s hope that’s true and let’s hope Matt Ryan at least plays long enough to throw for 73 yards. If he does, he’ll set the franchise record for passing yards in a season. The record is 4,143 yards and it was set by Jeff George in 1995. No team should have George at the top of its record book for 16 years.

Last dance? I don’t think the Bucs are literally playing for coach Raheem Morris’ job on Sunday in Atlanta. I suspect ownership already has made a decision and one game isn’t going to change it. There’s been some speculation Morris could stay if he replaces himself as defensive coordinator and makes a change at offensive coordinator. It’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely. The Bucs have crumbled during a nine-game slide. If this were Morris’ first or second year, he might stick. But this is his third year and, by that time, you should be seeing progress -- not major regression -- from a youth movement.

Stats are for losers: Let’s put Tampa Bay’s nine-game losing streak in perspective. It’s the longest active losing streak in the NFL. It’s Tampa Bay’s longest losing streak since losing 11 consecutive games between the 2008 and ’09 seasons. The last time the Bucs lost 10 straight in a single season was 1977, the franchise’s second season, when the Bucs lost their first 12 games. If the Bucs lose to the Falcons, Morris will join John McKay and Leeman Bennett as the only coaches in franchise history to have more than one 12-loss season.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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