NFC South: 2010 Week 15 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Falcons 34, Seahawks 18

December, 19, 2010
Wrapping up Atlanta's victory against Seattle.

What it means: The Falcons are 12-2. They’ve won eight in a row and still are in the lead in the battle for the NFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Although nothing besides a spot in the playoffs has been clinched at this point, the Falcons control their own destiny if they win out, and they likely still would be fine if they slipped up and lost one. Heck, they could even go into the final game of the season with the top spot locked up and rest their starters a bit.

Best news of the day: When the Falcons touch down in Atlanta after a five- (or so) hour flight from Seattle sometime in the middle of the night, they can rejoice that a three-game road swing came without a loss, and there’s a very real chance that they might not have to get on a plane again this season. If they do, the only scenario for that might mean a trip to Dallas for the Super Bowl.

Next-best news of the day: There’s no sense going into much detail of the play-by-play of a game that went precisely as it should have and didn’t really feature anything spectacular. In other words, Matt Ryan was efficient with three touchdown passes, Michael Turner ran relatively well and the defense produced some turnovers. In short, the Falcons did what they’ve been doing all season. They played smart football and didn’t beat themselves. You can win a lot of games when you do that.

What’s next: With New Orleans losing to Baltimore, the Dec. 27 Monday Night Football game between the Saints and Falcons loses a little of its luster with Atlanta in control. But these two teams don’t like each other and the last thing the Falcons want to do is let the Saints back into the NFC South race or do anything to help their playoff chances.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
A few thoughts on the Panthers win over the Cardinals.

What it means: In this much-anticipated showdown between rookie gunslingers Jimmy Clausen and John Skelton, the Panthers won, but still might have delivered the worst possible result. Carolina’s still the leader in the battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, but, at 2-12, the Panthers now have only one less loss than the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos are losing by 10 to Oakland as I write this. A loss would put the Broncos at 3-13. Carolina still is in pretty good shape if it comes down to tie-breakers. But, what if the Panthers do something really crazy, like finish John Fox’s regime on a three-game winning streak. If that happens, they better hope Clausen really finishes strong because they’ll be booting the chance to get Andrew Luck at No. 1, if he decides to pass up his senior season.

Positive Panther stat of the day: Clausen got his first victory as an NFL starter in what will probably be Fox’s final home game at Bank of America Stadium. Reminds me of something I heard about Clausen not too long ago: “He ain’t in Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure.’’

Positive Panther stat of the day II: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards. When healthy, which wasn’t the case for much of the season, Stewart’s been very solid.

What’s next: The entire nation (maybe even some lucky viewers in Canada and Mexico) gets to see the surging Panthers on Thursday night as they travel to Pittsburgh. Word on the street is general manager Marty Hurney has planned a side meeting with University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, the son of former Carolina assistant Sal Sunseri, to see if he can coax him into entering the draft if Luck runs out.

Wrap-up: Lions 23, Buccaneers 20

December, 19, 2010
Some observations from the Detroit Lions' 23-20 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What it means: Thick in the middle of the playoff race, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the inexcusable. They lost at home to the Detroit Lions, a team that hadn’t won on the road since Josh Freeman was two years old. All right, I’m stretching that a little. But the Lions stopped the longest road-losing streak in NFL history at 26 games. That drops the Bucs to 8-6. They’re still in the playoff picture. But, next week’s game with Seattle no longer looks like a certain win. Maybe it’s best the Bucs don’t make the playoffs anyway. The way they’ve been getting hit by injuries lately, a playoff game likely would be an ugly loss to end the season. Maybe it’s best the injuries caught up to the Bucs before they could get into the playoffs.

Déjà vu: Speaking of the injuries, the current Bucs remind me a lot of the Carolina Panthers back in the 2005 season. John Fox did his best job as a coach that season, somehow finding a way to get the Panthers all the way to the NFC Championship Game, even though Carolina was down to running backs you’d never heard of before. Fox got everything he possibly could have from that team. But, when the Panthers went out to Seattle for the title game, they simply ran out of gas. It appears that’s kind of what’s happening with the Bucs this season. Raheem Morris has gotten everything he possibly can from this young team. Heck, the Bucs already might have more wins than they realistically should have. Although the future looks incredibly bright for the Bucs, it’s fair to say that any defense that allows Drew Stanton to throw for 252 yards and Maurice Morris to run for 115 has hit a wall and needs an offseason to fix what’s broken.

What’s next: The Bucs host the Seahawks the day after Christmas in a game that was flexed to the 4:15 p.m. time slot. The game still has playoff implications for both teams. But Raymond James Stadium, which has had its share of empty seats this season, will be far from full. It was going to be that way no matter what. But the loss to the Lions makes it even less appealing.