Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Friday, November 18, 2011
Final Word: NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 (remember, the New Orleans Saints have a bye):

Crunch time: It would be a very long shot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go into Lambeau Field and defeat the Packers. But I’m going to be keeping a close eye on this one for reasons other than the final score. I want to see if the Bucs show effort in this one. In last week’s loss to Houston, a lack of effort was a serious problem. There’s been a lot of emphasis around One Buccaneer Place this week on getting a better effort. I’m real curious to see if that happens. If it doesn’t, coach Raheem Morris officially could move onto the hot seat. When a team isn’t giving much effort in the second half of a season, ownership -- and the rest of the world -- will look at that as a reflection on the coach.

Josh Freeman
Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown 13 interceptions this season.
Running away:The Bucs have started slowly on offense pretty much all season and have had a tendency to fall behind early. That’s become an even bigger problem in the current three-game losing streak. The Bucs have been quick to abandon the run after falling behind. In the past three games, they’ve averaged just seven running plays in the second half. When that happens, quarterback Josh Freeman is placed in a tough spot. Freeman, who only threw six interceptions last season, already has thrown 13 this season. That leads the NFC and is second in the NFL. The last Tampa Bay quarterback to have 13 interceptions through the first nine games of a season was Trent Dilfer back in 1996.

Road woes: The Carolina Panthers have lost their past 11 road games. That ties them for the second-longest road losing streak in the league since 2006 and it’s the longest active streak in the NFL. The only longer streak was by the Lions, who lost 26 straight road games from 2007 to 2010.

Home woes:The Falcons were dominant in the Georgia Dome in the first three years of coach Mike Smith’s tenure. But they’re 2-2 at home this season. A loss to Tennessee on Sunday would give the Falcons more home losses than they’ve had in any season since Smith took over. But it’s not like the Georgia Dome has suddenly become a friendly place for visiting teams. It was about as loud as I’ve ever heard it last Sunday. People who say the Falcons are struggling at home need to remember their two losses have been to the Packers and Saints.

Stay in your lane: The Atlanta linebackers are going to be a key in Sunday’s matchup. They need to keep Chris Johnson from turning the corner. After a very slow start, Johnson has come on the past two games. Through Week 8, he was averaging just 2.5 yards per carry when running outside the tackles. In the past two games, he’s averaged 5.7 yards when running to the outside.