Final Word: NFC South

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

My favorite matchup: Carolina receiver Steve Smith and Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib have each talked about how they’ve matured this offseason. There might be some truth to that. But these are two of the most competitive people on the planet. Both like to talk on the field. They could end up lining up against each other often, and that’s where things could get entertaining. We might find out how much volatility Talib and Smith have left.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireFor the majority of his career, Steve Smith has been Carolina's lone receiving threat.
The streak will end: I’m not big on predictions, but I’ll make one here. New Orleans safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper went through all of last season without an interception. They’ve got rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III coming into what should be a hostile Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be looking to force some rookie mistakes. Either Jenkins or Harper (maybe both) will come up with a pick.

Milestone time: Barring a tie against Kansas City, the Falcons will make history Sunday. Atlanta enters the game with the Chiefs with an all-time 299-399-6 record. If the Falcons win, they’ll be the 24th team to reach 300 wins. If they lose, they’ll be the 15th team with 400 losses.

Play it again: I’ve got a hunch this might be the last time we use this stat, or at least one of the final times. That’s because I think this is the year Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan finally shows he can throw the deep ball. However, until he shows that, it’s worth a reminder that long passes haven’t been Ryan’s strength in the past. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has the second-worst completion percentage on throws of more than 20 air yards (minimum 75 attempts) since the start of the 2009 season. Ryan has completed just 27.4 percent of those throws. Only Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick (26.2) has been worse. On the positive side, Ryan might have time to throw the deep ball because Kansas City’s best pass-rusher, Tamba Hali, is suspended for the game.

Chasing Freeman: Carolina coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott like to get after the quarterback in any game. But they might have a stronger desire than usual to do that against Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. We all know how Freeman dropped off from a strong season in 2010 to a poor one last year. The drop-off was particularly noticeable in how Freeman performed against the blitz. In 2010, he completed 61 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 53.9 Total QBR when facing at least five pass-rushers. In similar situations last year, Freeman’s completion percentage dropped to 54.8 with four touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 34.9 Total QBR.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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