Final Word: NFC South

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 12 games:

A Super omen? A victory against the Falcons would give the Buccaneers their first five-game winning streak since the 2002 season. Yep, that’s the same season the Bucs went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTCan quarterback Josh Freeman guide the Buccaneers to a Week 12 win against the Falcons?
Something’s got to give: Perhaps the biggest key to the game between the Falcons and Bucs will be Tampa’s running game, led by rookie Doug Martin, against an Atlanta run defense that has struggled lately. Poor tackling has been a problem, and the Falcons have allowed a league-worst 2.2 yards per rush after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s got to change or the Falcons could be in big trouble because Martin is averaging 2.3 yards after contact, which puts him fourth in the league among players with at least 75 rushing attempts.

Can’t afford a repeat: The last time the Saints and 49ers met was in January, when San Francisco eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs. One of the reasons San Francisco won that game was that the pass rush was all over Drew Brees. He was under duress on 29.9 percent of his drop-backs. San Francisco’s pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, has been very good so far this season, and that’s a major concern because right tackles Zach Strief and Charles Brown both are banged up.

Strength on strength: On passes of at least 15 yards downfield, Brees has thrown a league-high 13 touchdowns this season. But the 49ers rank first in the league with only one touchdown allowed on passes of 15 yards or more.

No connection: There are many reasons why Carolina’s offense has struggled this season. But here’s one of the bigger ones: Cam Newton and Steve Smith haven’t been connecting on the deep ball. When targeting Smith more than 10 yards downfield, Newton has completed only 47.6 percent of his passes and only one has been a touchdown. As a rookie last season, Newton completed 57.9 percent of his passes to Smith on throws that went more than 10 yards downfield, and Smith had seven touchdowns in those situations.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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