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Friday, October 23, 2009
Final Word: NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com


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

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

 
 Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI
 Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking spent 11 seasons with the Falcons.
Changing of the guard? Quarterback Josh Johnson will get the start for Tampa Bay against New England in London. I’m thinking there’s a good chance this will be Johnson’s last start. He’s done some good things at times and I think he’s shown he can be a good backup quarterback. But the Bucs never have viewed Johnson as any sort of long-term answer. Since Byron Leftwich flopped, the Bucs turned to use Johnson as a bridge. He’s a fill-in until the Bucs decide to play rookie Josh Freeman and I think that decision will come soon. The Bucs have a bye after they get back from London and that would be a perfect time to get Freeman practice time with the first team. Freeman is raw and that’s why the Bucs didn’t want to play him early on. But we’re approaching the halfway point of the season and Tampa Bay needs to start showing some progress in its rebuilding program. It’s time to let the guy who’s the focal point of that rebuilding process get on the field.

Ready to erupt. Carolina receiver Steve Smith said he was no longer an asset to the Panthers after catching only one pass for four yards last week. Something tells me Smith’s going to be a lot more productive against the Bills on Sunday. Smith has always been a very emotional player and he has had plenty of outbursts in the past. History has shown the Panthers usually try very hard to soothe their best player after one of his outbursts. They will find ways to get him the ball more than once this week.

The Brooking factor. Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking probably knows Atlanta’s defense better than some of the Falcons. He spent his career with Atlanta until joining the Cowboys this year and was one of the defensive leaders as coach Mike Smith took the Falcons to the playoffs in his first season. Can Brooking’s knowledge of Atlanta’s defense help Dallas’ offense? You bet and I’m sure the Dallas offensive coaching staff tapped into Brooking this week. There’s not much the Falcons can do about that. I’m sure they’ve changed their signals, but Brooking still knows their defensive tendencies and most of the personnel.

The perfect season. The most amazing stat so far this season is that the Saints have yet to trail an opponent. They’re great at jumping out to leads and dictating the game. If they can do that against the Dolphins, they might be able to dictate Miami’s Wildcat offense out of the game plan and force Chad Henne to spend the day passing, which would play right into the hands of the New Orleans defense, which leads the league in takeaways.

A season-saver? I haven’t been particularly impressed by Carolina’s two-game winning streak. They beat Washington and Tampa Bay and struggled to do that. But the Panthers have a chance to go on a three-game winning streak if they can beat Buffalo. The NFL is all about momentum and the Panthers would have a shot at playoff contention if they can get to .500 and have momentum behind them. Yes, the Panthers have plenty of issues, but there’s still a lot of talent on this team and Carolina could be a dark horse if things start clicking.