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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Stock Watch: NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas

FALLING

Tampa Bay’s pass rush. Aside from a cornerback blitz by E.J. Biggers, the Bucs put almost no pressure on Matt Ryan on Sunday. Michael Bennett has put himself in position for a nice contract extension or a decent deal somewhere else. But Bennett could make his market value explode if he produces sacks in key times against good teams.

Tampa Bay’s secondary. The Bucs gave up 353 passing yards to Ryan. Then, things got even worse on Monday when starting cornerback Eric Wright, who sat out with an injury Sunday, received a four-game suspension. That leaves the Bucs dangerously thin at cornerback, with Biggers, Leonard Johnson and LeQuan Lewis as the top three cornerbacks. The pass rush better get straightened out in a hurry because this secondary is facing a big mismatch when it goes up against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense Sunday.

Jabari Greer, cornerback, New Orleans. For the last several seasons, I thought Greer was one of the most underrated players in the division, maybe even the league. But he gave up a big pass play to San Francisco’s Mario Manningham and missed several tackles Sunday. Come to think of it, Greer hasn’t looked to be at the top of his game much of this season.

RISING

Cam Newton, quarterback, Panthers. He turned in his best performance, by far, of the season in Monday night's win against Philadelphia. Newton completed 18 of 28 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 52 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly he was efficient and poised and he didn’t make any major mistakes. Makes you wonder why he didn’t play like this more often earlier in the season.

Julio Jones, receiver, Falcons. If you haven’t seen his 80-yard touchdown catch from Sunday, here is the replay. Jones did a tremendous job adjusting to Ryan’s throw without ever losing his concentration or track of the ball. He finished with a career-high 147 receiving yards. For some reason, I think he’ll end up topping that mark many times before all is said and done.

Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker, Falcons. I already thought Weatherspoon was very good, probably the best linebacker in the NFC South. But I didn’t recognize his true value until he came back Sunday after missing three games with an ankle injury and suddenly made Atlanta’s run defense solid.