Final Word: NFC South

Nuggets of knowledge about the Week 17 games.

The Cowher watch. Which team will Bill Cowher be watching more closely? The former Steelers head coach's name has surfaced in speculation about the Panthers and Buccaneers' positions. But I’m not putting too much stock in either scenario. The Carolina speculation has been floating for a long time simply because Cowher lives in North Carolina. But I don’t know that Cowher is a guy that owner Jerry Richardson really would be interested in. The Panthers, who play hosts to the Saints in the season finale Sunday, might stick with John Fox for one more year. I’m not sure the Carolina job is what Cowher really wants. Just my gut, but I say he ends up in a much bigger market. The same theory applies to Tampa Bay. Why would he want to take over the Bucs' roster when ownership hasn’t spent a lot of money on free agency in recent years? Besides, I’m thinking Raheem Morris is going to get another year if the Bucs are at least respectable against the Falcons on Sunday.

Something to play for. Speaking of the Falcons, this thing about possibly having back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history means a lot more than you would think. Everyone in Flowery Branch, Ga. (and I’m talking all the way up to the highest level of the organization) is aware of this little statistic. The Falcons aren’t going to the playoffs, but they’re going to treat the game against the Buccaneers just like a playoff game.

Turning Stewart loose. I generally don’t give fantasy football advice (and if you saw the record of the team I have with an old college buddy, you’d know why), but I’m pretty comfortable in saying, if you have Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart, start him. Stewart’s been running great lately, it appears DeAngelo Williams probably will be out with an injury and the Saints haven’t been stopping the run.

A bright spot. There’s been a lot to criticize on Atlanta’s defense and I think that has cost the linebackers from getting the positive attention they deserve. Veteran free-agent pickup Mike Peterson had a strong and immediate impact, Curtis Lofton showed he’s an every-down player and Stephen Nicholas did everything the coaches asked in his first year as a starter. Yeah, Carolina’s Jon Beason and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma are better than any of the Falcons individually. But I’ll take Atlanta’s starting linebackers over any other group in the NFC South.

No Brees, no problem. The Saints reportedly will sit quarterback Drew Brees for the regular-season finale. Not a bad idea because there's no reason to even risk getting Brees hurt. Let Mark Brunell get some work and let Brees get some rest. But coach Sean Payton would be wise not to follow the exact same plan with the rest of his starters, particularly the defense. The Saints have played badly of late and work is needed in a lot of spots. Yes, the Saints will have plenty of time to practice during their first-round bye. But it might be wise to start getting things tuned up now.